for the productive classes’, but his dictatorial leadership demonstrated the problem
with his theory of character. Character was, as Geoghegan points out, externally
determined, so that only an exceptional person (like Owen!) could initiate reform
for a relatively passive population (Geoghegan, 1987: 14).
Robert Owen had, however, a lasting effect on the British labour movement as
a practical reformer, and the consumer cooperatives that he advocated still exist –
the Co-op stores – on every high street in British cities today. Although Owen’s
notion of science stems from an uncritical reading of the Enlightenment, he certainly
regarded himself as a person of scientific, secular and empirical values. Indeed, a
youthful Engels was to describe Owen’s views as ‘the most practical and fully
worked out’ of all the socialists (Geoghegan, 1987: 23).
The belief that socialism should be scientific and not utopian is highly contentious.
There is a terminological point that we need to tackle right away. In the Communist
Manifestoof 1848, Engels was to explain that the term ‘communism’ was preferred
because it was seen as a working-class movement from below. Socialism, he argued,
was a respectable movement initiated from above (Marx and Engels, 1967: 62).
Later Marxists called themselves socialists and social democrats. It was only after
1917 when Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted to distance themselves from other
socialists (who had supported the First World War and opposed the Russian
Revolution) that the term ‘communist’ was resurrected.
Berki has argued that Marx transformed socialism from underdog to a ‘fully
grown part of the modern landscape’ (1974: 56). Both Marx and Engels highly
prized scholarship and learning. Marx was a philosopher, who devoted most of his
life to studying political economy, and in 1863 published Das Kapital, orCapital,
a work that Engels was to describe as the bible of the working class. Engels, for
his part, read and wrote widely about natural science, anthropology, history, politics
and economics, and both regarded science, not as the pursuit of facts rather than
values, but simply as coherent and systematic thought.
Why did Engels in particular see Saint Simon, Fourier and Owen as utopians?
In the Communist ManifestoMarx and Engels praised the ‘utopians’ for producing
‘the most valuable materials for the enlightenment of the working class’. Measures
like the abolition of the distinction between town and country; the disappearance
of the family; the wages system; the private ownership of industry; the dying out
of the state; and a positive relationship between the individual and society were
suggested by the utopians and became part of Marx and Engels’s own arguments.
Nevertheless, the label is contentious, for Marx and Engels clearly regarded the
utopians as painting ‘fantastic pictures of a future society’, a fantasy which reflected
the historically undeveloped state of the working class itself (1967: 116).
Why then was Marxism seen as scientific? Marxism, Marx and Engels argued,
is a scientific socialism, because it is:
- A theory of class conflict It holds that in class-divided societies there are
incompatible social interests that lead to exploitation. This is why class is both
an economic and a political reality, since between the classes there is war. In
218 Part 2 Classical ideologies