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Socialism developed in the 19th century as a response to injustice and inequality. It called for the public ownership and control of the means of production. The mines and mills of Europe operated in surroundings of intense squalor and ugliness. Karl Marx (1818-93) and Friedrich Engels (1820-95) proclaimed deterministic laws of social development which were yoked to an affirmation of violent revolution. Simultaneously, democratic socialism emerged principally in the British Labour Party and the German Social Democrats.

Democratic Socialism was embraced by Christian socialists in England (F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley), Switzerland (Herman Kutter [Emil Brunner's predecessor in the chair of theology at Zürich], and Leonhard Ragaz), the United States (Washington Gladden, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Norman Thomas), and Canada (J. S. Woodsworth).

The democratic Christian socialists rejected antireligious, materialistic, violent, dogmatic, bureaucratic, centralized, and deterministic communism. They saw the kingdom of God as a powerful historical reality providing the dynamic for social change in the direction of a welfare state and a just democratic society thus correcting the abuses of capitalism and using a qualified form of public ownership already tested in the post office, railroads, and public utilities.

Later socialist revisionists chastened by communist totalitarianism further emphasized people power instead of class analysis, rejected public ownership as a first principle, and made a strong emphasis on pluralism and tolerance.

When the New Deal program of Franklin Roosevelt in the United States and the Liberal Party in Canada embraced welfare legislation it lessened the appeal of socialism since the new social legislation covered social needs from the cradle to the grave.

Socialism outside North America and Europe is an ambivalent mixture of primordial relations of tribalism, language, religion, blood and a quest for modernization and industrialization. The old socialists talked about social equality and political freedom. The new governing socialist elites of the Two-Thirds World talk about economic development and political power.

In the Hispanic world socialism has been reaffirmed mainly by Catholic Christians under the rubric of liberation theology in which the God of the Bible blesses the poor, rejects unjust economic and political establishments, and urges the church to be a prophetic voice. Violence is accepted reluctantly as a necessity after the failure of peaceful means. Gustavo Gutiérrez, José Miguel Bonino, and Camillo Torres are representative voices of Hispanic liberation theology. South American Mennonites have not accepted liberation theology.

In Canada the New Democratic Party (NDP) is a viable, effective socialist party which has organized provincial governments in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario and has gained occasional momentum federally in Ottawa. In Manitoba, Vic Schroeder, a member of the Winnipeg Charleswood Mennonite Church served as Minister of Finance in the NDP government (1987). Other Mennonites have held portfolios in western Canadian socialist governments. J. J. Siemens of Altona, Manitoba was a major figure in the prairie cooperative movements who unsuccessfully ran for office with the NDP.

Author(s) Donovan E Smucker
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Smucker, Donovan E. "Socialism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 28 Sep 2020.

APA style

Smucker, Donovan E. (1989). Socialism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 834-835. All rights reserved.

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