The 30 years preceding World War I were critical for the development of European workers' parties.
When Marx died in 1883, only Germany had a viable working-class movement; by 1914 most central and western European countries had large and growing workers' parties with leaders committed both to what they understood as Marx's political ideas and to full participation in respresentative politics.
In this study of pre-1914 European socialist parties, Gary Steenson offers new interpretations of the history and nature of the working-class socialist movements in Germany, France, Austria and Italy.
Relying on the correspondence between Friedrich Engels and party leaders, he analyzes Engels' view of European politics and his strategic counsel.
A concluding chapter determines the relative "Marxness" of each party during this period.
Instead of emphasizing theoretical works that were little known at the time, Steenson derives the standards for Marxian political orthodoxy from party publications and the political press - easily available to those seeking to apply Marx's theories - as well as Engels's voluminous correspondence. Steenson argues that in this period the socialist working-class parties of Germany, France, Austria and Italy saw no contraction between their adherence to Marxism and full participation in democratic, representative politics, and that in those countries where democratic forms did not exist, prominent Marxists led the struggle to obtain them.
European Marxists did not see themselves as elite vanguards destined to force the pace of history on a reluctant working class, but as the means by which workers themselves could realize their historical role.