5.2.1 Utopian Socialism

Dr. Étienne Schmitt

The first division was established by Friedrich Engels ([1876] 2020), who contrasts “utopian” currents that seek to transform society through an ideal organization with “scientific” currents that seek to correct it through scientifically elaborated solutions. Although this categorization seeks to undermine the credibility of the so-called “utopian” currents, since Friedrich Engels refers to them as unrealistic, the fact remains that socialism is divided between idealistic and more pragmatic currents. Historically, utopian socialism included several currents with different philosophical influences, but with the common point of wanting to establish ideal communities. Utopian socialists included several authors of the first half of the 19th century who are perceived as the precursors of socialism, such as Saint-Simon and Robert Owen.

Saint-Simonism: the workshop utopia

Claude-Henri de Rouvroy Count de Saint-Simon (simplified to “Saint-Simon”) is perceived as a “utopian” author by Marxist thinkers because his perspective integrated a religious dimension or more specifically a scientism based on the belief that the law of gravitation is the foundation of all things. Beyond this aspect, Saint-Simonism wished to create a society in which the social classes would join together to manage the nation in the collective interest. Industry would be thought of as the engine of such a society, with politics existing only to maximize it. To do this, Saint-Simon imagined a parliament composed of three chambers: a chamber of inventors who conceive projects, a chamber of scientists who examine the projects, and a chamber of industrialists who adopt and execute them. Society would be similar to a workshop in which everyone works together, fulfilling his or her role. However, Saint-Simonism is not deterministic, as it suggests that social elevation is the consequence of work. Therefore, it does not establish any inequality based on gender, birth, wealth or cultural criteria. Saint-Simon has influenced many authors from both the left and the right. Karl Marx took up several Saint-Simonian concepts (Durkheim 1958–2018), including the notion of social class.

Owenism: the co-operative movement

Robert Owen also belongs to the authors who qualified as “utopian” by Engels. He is the inspirer of the cooperative movement generally referred to as “Owenism”. In Robert Owen’s perspective, “innovations included the upbringing of children, the approach to crime, the design and location of buildings and leisure facilities, the relationships between the sexes, and the way in which work was organized. His claim was that by introducing such changes, based on the principles of rationality and cooperation, behaviour would be transformed” (Newman, 2005, p. 11). Although this approach aspires to change society through cooperatives, that is, communities in which the tools of production, work and property are collective and advocate for the complete equality of their members, Owenism rejects the idea of revolution and is circumspect about the political organization of society (Rogers, 2008). Robert Owen is often seen as the father of British socialism since the Fabian Society, which created the Labour Party, was inspired by him. From Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbin, all trends within New Labour are now claiming Owen’s legacy.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Étienne Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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