Written by Vladimir Moss



     In 1844 Engels published The Condition of the Working Class in England, the first major exposé of the terrible plight of the English proletariat. Marx built on this work to argue that the workers would not better their lot through helping themselves, and still less through receiving help from governments or employers, but through revolution. At first it seemed that the workers agreed…

     Thus the result of increasing poverty in the 1840s, writes Eric Hobsbawm, “was social revolution in the form of spontaneous risings of the urban and industrial poor”, which “made the revolution of 1848 on the continent, the vast Chartist movement in Britain. Nor was discontent confined to the labouring poor. Small and inadaptable businessmen, petty-bourgeois, special sections of the economy, were also the victims of the Industrial Revolution and of its ramifications. Simple-minded labourers reacted to the new system by smashing the machines which they thought responsible for their troubles; but a surprisingly large body of local businessmen and farmers sympathized profoundly with these Luddite activities of their labourers, because they too saw themselves as victims of a diabolical minority of selfish innovators. The exploitation of labour which kept its incomes at subsistence level, thus enabling the rich to accumulate the profits which financed industrialization (and their own ample comforts), antagonized the proletarian. However, another aspect of this diversion of national income from the poor to the rich, from consumption to investment, also antagonized the small entrepreneur. The great financiers, the tight community of home and foreign ‘fund-holders’ who received what all paid in taxes… - something like 8 per cent of the entire national income – were perhaps even more unpopular among small businessmen, farmers and the like than among labourers, for these knew enough about money and credit to feel a personal rage at their disadvantage. It was all very well for the rich, who could raise all the credit they needed, to clamp rigid deflation and monetary orthodoxy on the economy after the Napoleonic Wars; it was the little man who suffered, and who, in all countries and at all times in the nineteenth century demanded easy credit and financial unorthodoxy. Labour and the disgruntled petty-bourgeois on the verge of toppling over into the unpropertied abyss, therefore shared common discontents. These in turn united them in the mass movements of ‘radicalism’, ‘democracy’ or ‘republicanism’ of which the British Radicals, the French Republicans and the American Jacksonian Democrats were the most formidable between 1815 and 1848.”[1]

     Violent collectivist reaction to the excesses of liberal individualism seemed inevitable. However, there were still some who can be called socialist but who believed in peaceful reform and the importance of individuals. Thus M.S. Anderson writes: “Two main schools of thought can be distinguished within [early nineteenth-century socialism]. On the one hand was that which traced from the Jacobin regime of 1793-94 in France and which was uncompromisingly activist and power-oriented. Represented from the 1830s onwards most clearly by the fanatical professional revolutionary Auguste Blanqui, it believed that the new age could be ushered in, in any existing society, only by a violent coup d’état which must be the work of an enlightened minority, the agents of an inexorable historical process. Once established in power, this minority would establish a regime based on complete social and political equality, the end towards which history was inescapably moving. After some unavoidable coercion the majority, their eyes opened by education, would embrace the new regime with enthusiasm. It would then become permanent and unalterable, since no man, as a rational being, could wish to change it. Aspirations of this kind were first given practical expression in the Babeuf conspiracy of 1796 in Paris. Through the Conspiration pour l’égalité of Buonarotti, a history of that conspiracy published in 1828 which became ‘the manual of the communist movement in the 1830s and 1840s and the chief source of its ideology’, they were to remain part of the European, later the world, revolutionary vision until our own day.

     “Side by side with this harsh and uncompromising scheme there developed another current of thought, represented in Great Britain by Robert Owen and in France by Charles Fourier and to a lesser extent Louis Blanc and that most idiosyncratic of thinkers, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. These writers, dominated less by ideas of historical inevitability than by a desire for justice and for the lessening of human suffering, disliked the totalitarianism, the violence, the centralization of power which were essential to the Jacobin-Babouvist-Blanquist outlook. They dreamed rather of a new society, achieved peacefully or with a minimum of violence, in which patterns and initiatives would emerge from below. Owen and Fourier, the most extreme representatives of this attitude, envisaged the dissolution of central authority and its transfer to small self-contained communities based on a perfect division of labour.”[2]

     These “Utopian” Socialists were particularly influenced by the economic ideas of the so-called Philosophical Radicals: Jeremy Bentham, Malthus, Ricardo and James Mill, the father of J.S. Mill. Utopian socialism, writes Bertrand Russell, “began in the heyday of Benthamism, and as a direct outcome of orthodox economics. Ricardo, who was intimately associated with Bentham, Malthus, and James Mill, taught that the exchange value of a commodity is entirely due to the labour expended in producing it. He published this theory in 1817, and eight years later Thomas Hodgskin, an ex-naval officer, published the first Socialist rejoinder, Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital. He argued that if, as Ricardo taught, all value is conferred by labour, then all the reward ought to go to labour; the share at present obtained by the landowner and the capitalist must be mere extortion. Meanwhile Robert Owen, after much practical experience as a manufacturer, had become convinced of the doctrine which soon came to be called Socialism. (The first use of the word ‘Socialist’ occurs in 1827, when it is applied to the followers of Owen.) Machinery, he said, was displacing labour, and laisser-faire gave the working classes no adequate means of combating mechanical power. The method which he proposed for dealing with the evil was the earliest form of modern Socialism.

     “Although Owen was a friend of Bentham, who had invested a considerable amount of money in Owen’s business, the Philosophical Radicals did not like his new doctrines; in fact, the advent of Socialism made them less Radical and less philosophical than they had been. Hodgskin secured a certain following in London, and James Mill was horrified. He wrote:

     “’Their notions of property look ugly;… they seem to think that it should not exist, and that the existence of it is an evil to them. Rascals, I have no doubt, are at work among them… The fools, not to see that what they madly desire would be such a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring upon them.’

     “This letter, written, in 1831, may be taken as the beginning of the long war between Capitalism and Socialism. In a later letter, James Mill [writes]: ‘These opinions if they were to spread, would be the subversion of civilized society; worse than the overwhelming deluge of Huns and Tartars.’”[3]

     “His creed,” writes Sir Isaiah Berlin, “was summarised in the sentence inscribed at the head of his journal, The New Moral World: ‘Any general character, from the best to the worst, from the most ignorant to the most enlightened, may be given to any community, even the world at large, by the application of proper means, which means are to a great extent at the command and under the control of those who have influence in the affairs of men.’ He had triumphantly demonstrated the truth of his theory by establishing model conditions in his own cotton mills in New Lanark, limiting working hours, and creating provision for health and a savings fund. By this means he increased the productivity of his factory and raised immediately the standard of living of his workers, and, what was even more impressive to the outside world, trebled his own fortune. New Lanark became a centre of pilgrimage for kings and statesmen, and, as the first successful experiment in peaceful co-operation between labour and capital, had a considerable influence on the history both of socialism and of the working class. His later attempts at practical reform were less successful. Owen, who died in deep old age in the middle of the nineteenth century, was the last survivor of the classical period of rationalism, and, his faith unshaken by repeated failures, believed until the end of his life in the omnipotence of education and the perfectibility of man.”[4]

     In his Declaration of Mental Independence, Owen declared that from then mankind should consider itself liberated from "the trinity of evils responsible for all the world's misery: traditional religion, conventional marriage and private property". And since traditional religion was the main buttress of conventional marriage and private property, it was the worst evil. Perhaps that is why he founded his own religion, becoming “the self-styled ‘Social Father of the Society of Rational Religionists’, before converting to Spiritualism and enjoying conversations with the shades of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson…”[5]

     Kind-hearted entrepreneurs who would support Owen remained few and far between. His last scheme, in New Harmony, Indiana, failed because when he tried to put into effect his belief in the abolition of private property, his workers did not respond. Their nature, alas, was not as perfectible as Owen believed...[6]

     John Stuart Mill drew from Owen’s failure the conclusion that only state action could solve the problem of poverty and inequity. In his Principles of Political Economy, he made another proposal that was to be seen as the essence of socialism: redistribution. With this proposal, writes Barzun, he "broke with the liberal school by asserting that the distribution of the national product could be redirected at will and that it should be so ordered for the general welfare. That final phrase, perpetually redefined, was a forecast.... It was [its] underlying idea - essential socialism - that ultimately triumphed, taking the twin form of Communism and the Welfare State, either under the dictatorship of a party and its leader or under the rule of a democratic parliament and democracy.”[7]

      However, the English liberal solutions of self-help and education (Owen) and redistribution of wealth (Mill) were rejected by radical thinkers on the continent, especially in France. The most radical was the anarchist Proudhon, who anticipated the nihilists of the following generation by calling for the destruction of all authorities, even God. “’The Revolution is not atheistic, in the strict sense of the word… it does not deny the absolute, it eliminates it…’ ‘The first duty of man, on becoming intelligent and free, is to continually hunt the idea of God out of his mind and conscience. For God, if he exists, is essentially hostile to our nature… Every step we take in advance is a victory in which we crush Divinity.’ ‘Humanity must be made to see that God, if there is a God, is its enemy.’”[8] It was Proudhon who uttered the famous words: “What is property? Property is theft.” [9] “By this phrase,” writes Evans, “he did not intend to dismiss all private property; rather, he wanted society to own all property but to lease it all out to prevent profiteering and unfair distribution. Nevertheless, his declarations resonated across the century as a slogan for socialists, communists and anarchists alike. Proudhon was vehemently opposed to female equality. If women obtained equal political rights, he declared men would find them ‘odious and ugly’, and it would bring about ‘the end of the institution of marriage, the death of love and the ruin of the human race’. ‘Between harlot and housewife,’ he concluded, ‘there is no halfway point’.”[10]


     Other French thinkers tried to be more constructive. Among them was the Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), ‘who had has a career more adventurous than most: he had served under Washington at Yorktown in 1781, narrowly escaped the guillotine during the Revolution of 1789, and been incarcerated as a lunatic with the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) at the asylum in Charenton. He continued to live a troubled life thereafter, even attempting suicide in 1823 by shooting himself. His central concern was with developing a rational form of religion in which people would obtain eternal life ‘by working with all their might to ameliorate the condition of their fellows’.”[11]

     Saint-Simon’s “earliest pamphlet,” writes J.L. Talmon, “A Letter from a Citizen of Geneva, contains the bizarre scheme of a Council of Newton. The finest savants of Europe were to assemble in a mausoleum erected in honour of the great scientist, and deliberate on the problems of society. The author thereby gave picturesque expression to his view that in the French Revolution popular sovereignty had proved itself as fumbling, erratic and wrong as the divine right of kings, and that the tenets of rationalism about the rights of man, liberty and equality, had shown themselves just as irrelevant to man’s problems as theological doctrine. Not being rooted in any certainty comparable to that of science, old and new political ideas alike became only a pretext for the will of one set of men to dominate all others – which was all, in fact, that politics had ever been.

     “What had made men yield to such palpable error for so long and then caused Saint-Simon to see through them at precisely that moment? Unlike eighteenth-century philosophers – such as his masters Turgot and Condorcet – Saint-Simon does not invoke the march of progress, the victory of enlightenment, or the sudden resolve of men. He points to the importance assumed by scientific advance, technological development and problems of industrial production, all based upon scientific precision, verifiable facts and quantitative measurements which left no room for human arbitrariness.

     “In the past, mythological and theological modes of thought, medieval notions of chivalry, metaphysical preoccupations and so on were the accompaniment – or, as Saint-Simon more often seems to suggest, the matrix – of the economic conditions and the social-political order of the day. In brief, frames of mind, modes of production and social political systems hang together, and develop together, and the stages of such overall development cannot be skipped. The industrial system which the nineteenth century was ushering in had its beginnings in the Middle Ages. Within the womb of a civilization dominated by priests and warriors, shaped by values and expectations not of this world, geared for war and inspired by theatrical sentiments of chivalry, there began a mighty collective effort to fashion things, instruments and values designed to enhance men’s lives here and now: industrial production, economic exchange and scientific endeavour. The communes had at first no thought of subverting the feudal-theological order, within which they made their earliest steps – firstly because they were as yet too weak for such a revolt, and secondly because they did not value the external accoutrements of power. They believed only in positive tangible goods and solid achievements in the social-economic and scientific domain.

     “This was the cause of a divorce between content and form. While in external appearance warriors and priests still held the reins of authority, real power was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the productive classes. These classes, whose position, indeed whose very existence, lacked acknowledged legitimacy in the official scheme of things, developed a special ethos. Knowing the ruling classes to be incompetent to deal with matters of decisive importance to them, the bourgeoisie restored to a theory of laissez-faire which condemned all government interference and glorified individual initiative and the interplay of economic interests. In order to clothe this class interest in theoretical garb, bourgeois spokesmen evolved the doctrine of the natural rights of man and the theory of checks and balances and division of power. These designed to curb the power-drives of the feudal forces, and indeed succeeded in undermining the self-assurance of the aristocratic order.

     “In Saint-Simon’s view, the French Revolution signified not so much the triumph of rationalist-democratic ideas as the total victory of the productive classes and the final swamping of feudal-theological values by positive forces. But this fundamental fact was distorted and obscured by those metaphysicians and lawyers who, having played an important part in helping the industrial classes to win, mistook their secondary role for a mission to impose their ideas and their rule upon society. Instead of stepping aside and letting the imperatives of industrial endeavour shape new institutions, they set out to impose their conjectural ideas upon society, side-tracking the real issues and befogging them with rhetoric and sophistry. In effect their intention was not to abolish the old system which divided society into rulers and ruled, but to continue it, only substituting themselves for the feudal lords; in other words, to rule by force. For where the relationship between rulers and ruled is not grounded in the nature of things as is that, for example, between doctor and patient, teacher and pupil – that is, on division of functions – the only reality is the rule of man over man based on force. This form of relationship dated from the days when man was considered to need protection by superiors because he was weak, lowly and ignorant, or had to be kept from mischief because he was riotous and savage. It was no longer justified since the Revolution had proved that man had come of age. It was time for government, in other words the state, to make room for an administration of things, and conscious, sustained planning of the national economy. The need to keep law and order, allegedly always so pressing and relentless, would be reduced to a minimum when social relations were derived from objective necessities. The whole problem was thus reduced to the discovery of the ‘force of things’, the requirements of the mechanism of production. Once these had become the measure of all things, there would be no room for the distinction between rulers in the traditional political sense. The nexus of all human relationships would be the bond between expert knowledge and experience on the one hand, and discipleship, fulfillment of necessary tasks, on the other. The whole question of liberty and equality would then assume a quite different significance.

     “In fact men would no longer experience the old acute craving for liberty and equality. A scientific apportioning of functions would ensure perfect cohesion of the totality, and the high degree of integration would draw the maximum potential from every participant in the collective effort. Smooth, well-adjusted participation heightens energy and stills any sense of discomfort or malaise. There is no yearning for freedom and no wish to break away in an orchestra, a choir, a rowing boat. Where parts do not fit and abilities go to waste, there is a sense of frustration and consequently oppression, and man longs to get away. The question of equality would not arise once inequality was the outcome of a necessary and therefore just division of tasks. There is no inequality where there is no domination for the sake of domination.

     “Such a perfect integration remained to be discovered. Pursuing his quest, Saint-Simon stumbled upon socialism, and then found himself driven to religion. Waste, frustration, deprivation, oppression were the denial of both cohesion of the whole and the self-expression of the individual. Those scourges were epitomized in the existence of the poorest and most numerous class – the workers. And so what started with Saint-Simon as a quest for positive certainty and efficiency gradually assumed the character of a crusade on behalf of the disinherited, the underprivileged and frustrated. The integrated industrial productive effort began to appear as conditioned upon the abolition of poverty, and dialectically the abolition of poverty now seemed the real goal of a fully integrated collective endeavour.

     “But was the removal of friction and waste enough to ensure the smooth working of the whole? And would rational understanding suffice to ensure wholehearted participation in the collective effort? Saint-Simon was led to face at a very early stage of socialism the question of incentives. He felt that mechanical, clever contrivances, intellectual comprehension and enlightened self-interest were in themselves insufficient as incentives and motives. And so the positivist, despising mythical, theological and metaphysical modes of thought, by degrees evolved into a mystical Romantic. He became acutely aware of the need for incentives stronger, more impelling and compelling than reason and utility. In a sense he had already come to grips with the problem in the famous distinction between organic and critical epochs in history, a distinction which was destined to become to important in the theory of his disciple, Auguste Comte.

     “These two types of epoch alternate in history. There is a time of harmony and concord, like the pre-Socratic age in Greece and the Christian Middle Ages, and there are times of disharmony and discord, like post-Socratic Greece and the modern age, which began with the Reformation, evolved into rationalism, and came to a climax in the French Revolution. The organic ages are period of a strong and general faith, when the basic assumptions comprise a harmonious pattern and are unquestioningly taken for granted. There are no dichotomies of any kind, and classes live in harmony. In the critical ages there is no longer any consensus about basic assumptions; beliefs clash, traditions are undermined, there is no accepted image of the world. Society is torn by class war and selfishness is rampant.

     “The crying need of the new industrial age was for a new religion. There must be a central principle to ensure integration of all the particular truths and a single impulse for all the diverse spiritual endeavours. The sense of unity of life must be restored, and every person must be filled with such an intense propelling and life-giving sense of belonging to that unity, that he would be drawn to the centre by the chains of love, and stimulated by a joyous irresistible urge to exert himself on behalf of all.

     “Saint-Simon called this new religion of his ‘Nouveau Christianisme’. It was to be a real fulfillment of the original promise of Christianity, and was to restore that unity of life which traditional Christianity – decayed and distorted – had done its best to deny and destroy. The concept of original sin had led to a pernicious separation of mankind into a hierarchy of the perfect and the mass of simple believers. This carried with it the distinction between theory and practice, the perfect bliss above and the vale of tears below; the result was compromise and reconciliation with – in effect, approval of – evil here and now.” [12]

     Saint-Simon reduced Christianity to Christ’s words: “Love thy neighbour”. “Applied to modern society,” writes Edmund Wilson, this principle “compels us to recognize that the majority of our neighbours are destitute and wretched. The emphasis has now been shifted from the master mind at the top of the hierarchy to the ‘unpropertied man’ at the bottom; but the hierarchy still stands as it was, since Saint-Simon’s whole message is still his own peculiar version of the principle of noblesse oblige. The propertied classes must be made to understand that an improvement in the condition of the poor will mean an improvement in their condition, too; the savants must be shown that their interests are identical with those of the masses. Why not go straight to the people? he makes the interlocutor ask in his dialogue. Because we must try to prevent them from resorting to violence against their governments; we must try to persuade the other classes first 

     “And he ends – the last words he ever wrote – with an apostrophe to the Holy Alliance, the combination of Russia, Prussia and Austria which had been established upon the suppression of Napoleon. It was right, says Saint-Simon, to get rid of Napoleon, but what have they themselves but the sword? They have increased taxes, protected the rich; their church and their courts, and their very attempts at progress, depend on nothing but force; they keep two million men under arms.

     “’Princess!’ he concludes, ‘hear the voice of God, which speaks to you through my mouth: Become good Christians again, throw off the belief that the hired armies, the nobility, the heretical clergy, the corrupt judges, constitute your principal supporters; unite in the name of Christianity and learn to accomplish the duties which Christianity imposes on the powerful; remember that Christianity command them to devote their energies to bettering as rapidly as possible the lot of the very poor!’”[13]

     Saint-Simon is an important link between the Masonic visionaries of the French revolution and the “scientific” vision of the Marxists. The importance he attached to economic factors and means of production formed one of the main themes of Marxism – although Marx himself dismissed him as a “Utopian socialist”. That he could still think in terms of a “New Christianity” shows his attachment to the religious modes of thought of earlier ages, although, of course, his Christianity is a very distorted form of the faith (he actually took Freemasonry as his ideal). Marx would purge the religious element and make the economic element the foundation of his theory, while restoring the idea of Original Sin in a very secularized form. As for the incentives which Saint-Simon thought so necessary and which he thought to supply with his “New Christianity”, Marx found those through his adoption of the idea of a scientifically established progress to a secular Paradise, whose joyous inevitability he borrowed from the dialectical historicism of one of the most corrupting thinkers in the history of thought – Hegel.

     One of Saint-Simon’s disciples was Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who founded the extremely influential doctrine of positivism. “Comte,” writes Norman Davies, “held that all knowledge passed through three successive stages of development, where it is systematized according to (respectively) theological, metaphysical, and ‘positive’ or scientific principles. The theological and metaphysical states had to be discarded in order to arrive at the state of true knowledge, which is science. Comte placed the sciences in a kind of hierarchy with a new “science of society”, or sociology, at the summit. The social scientists’ task was “to know in order to foresee, and to foresee in order to know”.[14] 

     Comtean positivism is one of the corner-stones of the modern world-view; and his idea of science as the only true knowledge became as accepted in the capitalist West as in the communist East.


     Another Utopian Socialist figure was Charles Fourier (1772-1837). He believed in the old chiliastic dream of Paradise on earth, in which men would live to be 144 years old.[15] He had other dreams, too: “He believed that the world would last precisely 80,000 years and that by the end of that time every soul would have traveled 810 times between the earth and certain other planets which he regarded as certainly inhabited, and would have experienced a succession of existences to the precise number of 1626![16]

     “His starting point,” according to Talmon, “was very much that of Rousseau. Man, he believed, had come out of the hands of nature a good and noble being. The institutions of civilization had brought about his undoing. Greed and avarice were the root of all evil. They had created the existing dichotomies between private morality and commercial and political codes of behaviour, between things preached and ways practiced. Morose, ascetical teachings about the evil character of the natural urges were motivated by the avarice and ambition of the greed and strong, who wished to instill into their victims a sense of sin, and with it humility and readiness to bear privations, perform the dirtiest jobs, and receive the whip. The attempt to stifle natural impulses had the effect of turning the energy contained in them into channels of perversion and aggressiveness.

     “Such impulses were inflamed by the spectacle of avarice rampant and all-pervasive, in spite of the official ascetic teachings. Fourier may have moralized, may have dreamed of the waters of the oceans turning into lemonade and of lions changed into modern aeroplanes and carrying men over vast distance; but his homilies and dreams are buttressed by a very acute analysis and critique of commercial, if not quite capitalist, civilization. He also analysed history into a succession of social economic stages, and sketched a historical dialectic from which Marx and Engels could – and it seems did – learn something.

     “Here, however, we are concerned with Fourier’s contribution to the problem of organization and freedom. In his view, the state and its laws were instruments of exploitation, and any large centralized state was bound to develop into an engine of tyranny. Fourier therefore held that the state ought to be replaced by a network of small direct democracies. Each should enjoy full autonomy and be at once a wholly integrated economic unit and a closely-knit political community. In these ‘phalanstères’ all would be co-partners, everybody would know all the other members (Fourier laid down a maximum of 1800), and decisions would be reached by common consent. By these means men would never be subjected to some anonymous, abstract power above and outside them.

     “Fourier also tackled the problem of reconciling integration with self-expression. He argued that it was absurd to expect to eliminate the love of property, desire to excel, penchant for intrigue or craving for change, let alone sex and gluttony. Such an attempt was sure to engender frustration and anti-social phenomena. And there was no escape from the fact that people had different characteristics and urges of different intensity. Happily, benevolent nature had taken care of that by creating different sorts of characteristics and passions, like symphonic compositions in which the most discordant elements are united into a meaningful totality. The task was therefore reduced to the art of composing the right groups of characteristics – perfectly integrated partnerships based on the adjustment of human diversities. It followed that the other task was to manipulate the human passions so cleverly that they would become levers of co-operative effort and increased production instead of impediments to collaboration. (This implies an ardent faith in education and environmental influence comparable to Robert Owen’s. [17]) To take first the love of property: it would not be abolished or made equal. There would be a secured minimum of private property, but beyond that it would depend on investment, contribution, type of work, degree of fatigue and boredom, and so on, with progressively decreasing dividends. Persons of diverse characteristics joined into one group would stimulate each other, and competition between groups would be strongly encouraged. The paramount aim was to turn labour into a pleasure instead of a curse. In order to obviate the danger of boredom, spells of work would be short and changes in the type of labour frequent. Gangs of children would be set the task of doing the dirty jobs in a spirit of joyous emulation. Finally, industry would be combined with an Arcadian type of agriculture.

     “This is Fourier’s solution to the dilemmas which have plagued our common sense for so long: who will do the disagreeable jobs in a perfectly harmonious society, and what will be the relationship between superiors and inferiors in it?”[18]

    “It was above all Fourier,” writes Evans, “who propounded the identity of women’s emancipation and general human emancipation, a belief shared by Flora Tristan: ‘The extension of privileges to women,’ he wrote, ‘is the general principle of all social progress.’ He too compared women to slaves: marriage for them was ‘conjugal slavery’. In the phalanstery, women would have fully equal rights and would be free to marry and divorce as they wished. Just as Cabet invented the word ‘communism’, so Fourier invented the word ‘feminism’. The Saint-Simonians were equally preoccupied with women’s place in society. Enfantin proclaimed ‘the emancipation of women’ as a central goal of a new Church that he would lead. He included in this concept, however, the ‘rehabilitation of the flesh’, and his advocacy of the sexual emancipation of women brought a conviction for offending public morality in 1832. Far more conventional was Cabet, who, perhaps surprisingly, thought that the main constituent unit of communist society would not be the individual but the heterosexual married couple and their children, so that shared childrearing did not come into his vision. Every women should be educated, but the aim of her education should be to make her ‘a good girl, a good sister, a good wife, a good mother, a good housekeeper, a good citizen’.”[19]

     Before leaving the French thinkers, we should briefly take note of the great historian Jules Michelet. In the first half of his book, The People, written shortly before the 1848 revolution, he analyzed industrial society in a way that anticipated Marx, but which was broader in scope and more balanced in its vision. “Taking the classes one by one, the author shows how all are tied into the social-economic web – each, exploiting or being exploited, and usually both extortionist and victim, generating by the very activities which are necessary to win its survival irreconcilable antagonisms with its neighbours, yet unable by climbing higher in the scale to escape the general degradation. The peasant, eternally in debt to the professional moneylender or the lawyer and in continual fear of being dispossessed, envies the industrial worker. The factory worker, virtually imprisoned and broken in will by submission to his machines, demoralizing himself still further by dissipation during the few moments of freedom he is allowed, envies the worker at a trade. But the apprentice to a trade belongs to his master, is servant as well as workman, and he is troubled by bourgeois aspirations. Among the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, the manufacturer, borrowing from the capitalist and always in danger of being wrecked on the shoal of overproduction, drives his employees as if the devil were driving him. He gets to hate them as the only uncertain element that impairs the perfect functioning of the mechanism; the workers take it out in hating the foreman. The merchant, under pressure of his customers, who are eager to get something for nothing, brings pressure on the manufacturer to supply him with shoddy goods; he leads perhaps the most miserable existence of all, compelled to be servile to his customers, hated by and hating his competitors, making nothing, organizing nothing. The civil servant, underpaid and struggling to keep up his respectability, always being shifted from place to place, has not merely to be polite like the tradesman, but to make sure that his political and religious views do not displease the administration. And, finally, the bourgeoisie of the leisure class have tied up their interests with the capitalists, the least public-spirited members of the nation, and they live in continual terror of communism. They have now wholly lost touch with the people. They have shut themselves up in their class; and inside their doors, locked so tightly, there is nothing but emptiness and chill….

      “’Man has come to form his soul according to his material situation. What an amazing thing! Now there is a poor man’s soul, a rich man’s soul, a tradesman’s soul… Man seems to be only an accessory to his position.’”


March 16/29, 2018.



[1] Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital 1848-1875, London: Abacus, 1997, pp. 54-55.

[2] M.S. Anderson, The Ascendancy of Europe, 1815-1914, London: Longman, 1985, pp. 340-341.

[3] Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, London: Allen and Unwin, 1946, pp. 808-809.

[4] Berlin, Karl Marx, London: Fontana, 195, pp. 32-33. Owen also wanted to abolish the family….

[5] Evans, The Pursuit of Power. Europe 1815-1914, London: Penguin, 2017, p. 173.

[6]Alan Jacobs, Original Sin: A Cultural History, New York: HarperCollins, 2008, pp.174-188.

[7] Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, New York: Perennial, 2000, pp. 527-528.

[8] Proudhon, in Rose, Nihilism, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1994, p. 61.

[9] Marx disagreed with the latter statement insofar as it presupposed real rights in property. Nevertheless, he admitted the importance of Proudhon’s analysis of private property relations. “The two forces,” writes Berlin, “which Proudhon conceived as fatal to social justice and the brotherhood of man were the tendency towards the accumulation of capital, which led to the continual increase of inequalities of wealth, and the tendency directly connected with it, which openly united political authority with economic control, and so was designed to secure a growth of a despotic plutocracy under the guise of free liberal institutions. The state became, according to him, an instrument designed to dispossess the majority for the benefit of a small minority, a legalised form of robbery…” (Berlin, op. cit., pp. 82-83)                                                                                           [10]Evans, op. cit., p. 175.

[11]Evans, op. cit., pp. 172-173.

[12] Talmon, Romanticism and Revolt: Europe 1815-1848, London: Thames & Hudson, 1967, pp. 58-65.

[13] Wilson, To the Finland Station, London: Phoenix, 2004, pp. 84-85.

[14] Davies, Europe: A History, London: Pimlico, 1997, p. 790.

[15] Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen), Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Writings, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2003, p. 623.

[16] Wilson, op. cit., p. 89. These early socialists, in spite of their materialist bent of mind, were peculiarly susceptible to quasi-religious visions. Thus Saint-Simon had visions of Charlemagne, and it was revealed to him “in a vision that it was Newton and not the Pope whom God had elected to sit beside Him and to transmit to humanity His purposes” (Wilson, op. cit., p. 83). As for Owen, “he came in his last days to believe that all the magnanimous souls he had known, Shelley, Thomas Jefferson, Channing, the Duke of Kent… - all those who when living had listened to him with sympathy, of whom he had felt that they had really shared his vision, and who were lost to him now through death – he came to believe that they were returning from the other world, to make appointments with him and keep them, to talk to him and reassure him” (Wilson, op. cit., p. 97).

[17] Cf. Owen’s words: “Every day will make it more and more evident that the character of man is, without a single exception, always formed for him; that it may be, and is, chiefly created by his predecessors: that they give him, or may give him, his ideas and habits, which are the powers that govern and direct his conduct. Man, therefore, never did, nor is it possible he ever can, form his own character” (in Anderson, op. cit., p. 341). (V.M.)

[18] Talmon, op. cit., pp. 68-71.

[19]Evans, op. cit., pp. 173-174.

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