5.2.1 Utopian Socialism

Étienne Schmitt

Utopian socialism designates socialist currents that seek to transform society through an ideal organization. Utopian socialism is opposed to “scientific socialism” currents that seek to correct to transform society through pragmatic solutions. This division was imposed by Friedrich Engels(pdf) (1970/2020) to undermine the credibility of the so-called “utopian” currents, since Friedrich Engels refers to them as unrealistic.

Historically, utopian socialism included several currents with different philosophical influences, but with the common point of wanting to establish ideal communities. Two currents were very influential: Saint-Simonism, and Owenism.

Saint-Simonism: The Workshop Utopia

Figure 5.1. Saint-Simon (1760-1825).

Claude-Henri de Rouvroy Count de Saint-Simon (simplified to “Saint-Simon”) is perceived as a “utopian” author by Marxist thinkers because it integrates a religious dimension based on the belief that the law of gravitation is the foundation of all things. Saint-Simonism aims to create a society in which the social classes would join together to manage the nation for the common good. Industry would be thought of as the engine of such a society, with politics existing only to maximize it. Saint-Simon imagined a parliament composed of three chambers: a chamber of inventors who conceive the projects, a chamber of scientists who examine the projects, and a chamber of industrialists who adopt and execute them. Society would be like a workshop in which everyone works together. However, Saint-Simonism is not deterministic believing anyone can ascend the social ladder because of his/her hard work. Therefore, it does not establish any inequality based on gender, birth, social class or cultural criteria. Saint-Simon has influenced many authors. Karl Marx took up several Saint-Simonian concepts (Durkheim, 1958/2018), including the notion of social class that he conceptualized.

Owenism: The Co-operative Movement

Figure 5.2. Robert Owen (1771-1858).

Robert Owen was the precursor of the cooperative movement. 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). This approach aspires to change society through cooperatives i.e., communities in which the production means and the property are collective. 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 because of the Fabian Society, a political club that established the Labour Party, was inspired by him. From Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbin, all trends within New Labour are claiming the Owen’s legacy.

What is Utopian Socialism?

A set of idealistic currents that seek to transform society through ideal organizations.

Examples of Socialist Ideal Communities

  • The workshop (Saint-Simonism) led by inventors, scientists, and industrialists in which everyone works together.
  • The cooperative (Owenism) in which the production means and propriety are collective, and the workload and incomes are fairly distributed among workers.


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Political Ideologies and Worldviews: An Introduction - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2023 by Étienne Schmitt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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