Science and the ‘utopian socialists’
Three socialists were singled out by Engels as being utopian. They were:
- Henri Saint Simon (1760–1825)
- Charles Fourier (1773–1837)
- Robert Owen (1771–1858).
In fact, each of them considered their own work to be scientific and practical.
Saint Simon took the view that the French Revolution had neglected class
structure in the name of human rights. He included industrialists and bankers in
the ‘producing’ class, believing that workers and capitalists have a unity of interests,
sustained by what he believed would be a spread of wealth and ownership across
society as a whole.
Is it right to call this argument ‘utopian’? Saint Simon believed that the old order
had unwittingly produced the basis for a new order, and, indeed, he sounds like a
Marxist steeped in Hegelian dialectics when he argues that ‘everything is relative –
that is the only absolute’ (Geoghegan, 1987: 11). His celebrated argument that the
state gives way to administration (so central to Marxist theory), was based upon a
belief that the modern credit and banking system had already demonstrated its
attachment to scientific principles, and that these could exert a discipline that would
make the state redundant. Why did Engels call this system ‘utopian’ when it so
manifestly stresses the importance of science and historical necessity? Saint Simon
clearly does not fit into Engels’s view that modern socialism is based upon the class
antagonism between capitalist and wage worker (Marx and Engels, 1968: 399). But
it does seem unfair to ascribe to Saint Simon (as Engels does to the utopians in
general) the view that socialism is not an ‘inevitable event’ but a happy accident,
when Saint Simon had laid so much emphasis on science and historical development.
Fourier, on the other hand, did consider the worker and capitalists to have
conflicting interests. He was particularly concerned at the way in which the industrial
revolution has stripped work of its pleasure. His solution was to establish
‘phalanteres’ – cooperative communities of some 1,600 people working in areas of
around 5,000 acres in the countryside or small towns. Fourier was adamant that
his was not a utopian socialism. He described utopias as ‘dreams’, schemes without
an effective method that have ‘led people to the very opposite of the state of well-
being they promised them’ (Geoghegan, 1987: 17). He believed that his socialism
was based on a scientific project for reconstruction. Indeed, so precise a science was
socialism that Fourier took the view that civilised society has 144 evils; humans
have 12 basic passions; they do 12 different jobs; and need 9 meals to sustain them.
As for Robert Owen: he saw himself as a practical, hard-headed person of
business, and he owned cotton mills in New Lanark in Scotland. He was struck as
to how under rational socialist management they could still be profitable, and he
decided to advocate village cooperatives between 300 and 2,000 people working
land between 600 and 1,800 acres. It is true that his schemes were dogged by failure.
The community that he established at New Harmony in the USA collapsed after
three years in 1827, and his labour bazaars, at which goods were to be exchanged
according to the amount of labour embodied in them, did not survive the economic
crisis of 1834. His national trade union was called a ‘grand national moral union
Chapter 10 Socialism 217