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Why Was Karl Marx So Disparaging Of The Utopian Socialists

2496 words - 10 pages

In order to answer the question posed, I will examine what is meant by the term Utopian Socialism. With reference to this question I will conduct a brief biographical study of one of the great utopian socialist thinkers, Robert Owen. This will include an examination of the accomplishments of Robert Owen. The essay will then move on to examine the central criticisms of the utopian socialists as levelled by Karl Marx.

The term Utopian Socialism as defined in the Dictionary of Politics highlights Utopianism as “An approach to social or political theory based upon the design of a perfect society”. (Robertson, (1993) pg 479) Such thinkers as Owen and St Simon dreamt of ...view middle of the document...

Owen’s political theory was instrumental in the instigation of improvements within the following areas: housing, reduction of working hours, child employment, education and raising living conditions. This led the utopian socialists to argue that is was possible to witness a peaceful and productive industrial community. Marx however argued that due to the dawning of a new industrial era “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat”. ( Marx and Engels, (1848), pg 33)

Owen became convinced that the advancement of humankind could be furthered by the improvement of every individual’s personal environment. He reasoned that since “character was moulded by circumstances, then improved circumstances would lead to goodness” (Web page, A Web of English History, 11/04/02) This was a far cry from the revolutionary ideals of Marx and Engels who argued that the advancement of human kind would only be seen when the “workers of the world unite” (Marx and Engels, (1848) pg 72)

One of the most crucial components of Owen’s political theory is that of morality. This attitude manifests itself in several ways. In its philosophical outlook of the world Owen believed that one’s surroundings at birth would determine how an individual would behave. In other words, “society creates the character of the individual and he is at its mercy. Men do no wrong; they are impelled by their surroundings”. (Sargant, (1971), pg 4) Marx would argue that man, far from being impelled by his surroundings “can and must liberate himself”. (Marx and Engels (1848, pg 41)

In terms of political change Owen and many of the utopian socialists argued that the working class would not take part in political agitation. “Owen was convinced that through representative government that was tolerant, prosperity and happiness would be achievable by all”. (Pollard and Salt, 1971, pg 42) Marx and Engels were critical of Owen’s belief that governments could be tolerant and representative. They argued that in order that, “classes with conflicting economic interest, shall not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power seemingly standing above society that would moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself about it and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state”. (Engels, (1884), pg 205-6) It is clear to follow Engels’ view that far from a representative government instigating happiness and prosperity, as the government consisted of the bourgeoisie, it would be the bourgeoisie that prospered yet again at the expense of the proletariat.

Another criticism by Marx of the utopian...

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