Plekhanov 1913

Utopian Socialism in the Nineteenth Century

Source: From Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976), pp. 534-76.
Transcribed: for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Moscow Editor’s Note: ‘This article was written by Plekhanov for Mir Publishers in August and September 1913 and was published in Volume 2 of The History of Western Literature in the Nineteenth Century, in the section “The Epoch of Romanticism” (Moscow, 1913).’

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West European literature in the first half of the nineteenth century was, as it is always and everywhere, an expression of social life. Since an important part in the social life of that period began to be played by phenomena the aggregate of which gave rise in social theory to the so-called social question, it seems relevant to preface a review of that literature with a brief outline of the teachings of the utopian socialists. By stepping beyond the limits of the history of literature, in the narrow meaning of the term, such a characterisation will help us to understand the literary trends proper. But for lack of space I shall have to confine myself to indicating the most important shades of nineteenth-century utopian socialism and elucidating the main influences that determined their development.

As Engels pointed out in his polemic with Dühring, nineteenth-century socialism seems at first glance to be but a further development of the conclusions arrived at by the eighteenth-century philosophy of Enlightenment. As an example, I will mention that the socialist theoreticians of that period very readily appeal to natural law [1] which held such an important place in the arguments of the French Enlighteners. Besides, there is not the slightest doubt that the socialists took over in its entirety the teaching on man adhered to by these Enlighteners in general and the materialists — La Mettrie, Holbach, Diderot and Helvétius in France, and Hartley and Priestley in England — in particular. Thus, already William Godwin (1756-1836) proceeded from the proposition worked out by the materialists that the virtues and vices of every man are determined by circumstances which, taken together, constitute the history of his life. [2] Godwin concluded from this that if this set of circumstances were given the appropriate character, vice would be completely eradicated from the world. After this he had only to decide precisely which measures were capable of giving this set of circumstances the desired character. He examined this question in his main work, Inquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, published in 1793. The results of his study were very similar to what is known now as anarchist communism. In this respect, many of the nineteenth-century socialists strongly differ from him. But they are at one with him in that they take as their starting point the materialists’ teaching on the formation of the human character which they had assimilated.

This was the most important of the theoretical influences under which the socialist doctrine of the nineteenth century took shape. Among the practical influences, the most decisive was the influence of the industrial revolution in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century as well as of the political revolution which is called the Great French Revolution — especially the terrorist period of that revolution. It goes without saying that the influence of the industrial revolution was most strongly felt in Britain and the influence of the Great Revolution in France.

A: British Utopian Socialism


I am allocating first place to Britain just because that country earlier than all others went through the industrial revolution which for a long time determined the internal history of civilised societies to come. This revolution was characterised by the rapid development of machine production, which affected production relations in the sense that independent producers were replaced by hired workers, employed in more or less large-scale enterprises under the command and for the benefit of capitalists. This change in the production relations brought much severe and prolonged suffering to the working population of Britain. Its harmful results were aggravated by the so-called enclosures, which accompanied the change-over from small to large-scale farming. The reader will understand that the ‘enclosures’, that is, the seizure by the big landowners of the lands belonging previously to village communities and the ‘consolidation’ of small farms into large ones, were bound to lead to the migration of a considerable part of the rural population to industrial centres. It is easy to realise also that the villagers expulsed from their old homes increased the supply of ‘hands’ on the labour market, thereby lowering wages. Never before had pauperism reached such formidable proportions in Britain as it did in the period immediately following the ‘industrial revolution’. In 1784, the poor tax reached some five shillings per head of the population, and by 1818 it had risen to thirteen shillings and three pence. Exhausted by want, the working people of Britain were in a state of constant ferment: agricultural labourers set fire to farms, industrial workers smashed factory machines. These were the first, as yet instinctive, steps on the way of protest taken by the oppressed against their oppressors. At the beginning of this period only a very small section of the working class had reached the degree of intellectual development which enabled it to begin the conscious struggle for a better future. This section was attracted by radical political theories and sympathised with the French revolutionaries. Already in 1792, the London Corresponding Society [3] was formed, in which there were many workers, artisans and small traders. Following the fashion of the French revolutionaries, the members of this society addressed each other as citizen, and displayed very revolutionary sentiments, especially after the execution of Louis XVI. However thin the democratic stratum capable of becoming inspired by the advanced ideas of the time, its threatening mood aroused great alarm in the ruling circles, which were following with trepidation what was then taking place in France. The British government adopted against its domestic ‘Jacobins’ a series of repressive measures which boiled down to restrictions on free speech, on the organising of trade unions, and on assembly. At the same time the ideologists of the upper classes felt themselves obliged to reinforce the efforts of the police in maintaining order and to direct the ‘spiritual weapon’ against the revolutionaries. One of the literary monuments of this intellectual reaction was the much-vaunted investigation by Malthus into the law of population: [4] it was provoked by Godwin’s above-mentioned work on ‘political justice’. Godwin attributed all human miseries to the working of governments and social institutions, while Malthus tried to show that they were caused not by governments or institutions, but by an inexorable law of nature by which the population always grows faster than the means of subsistence.

Although the British industrial revolution had such severe repercussions on the condition of the working class, it also meant an enormous increase in the country’s productive forces. This was strikingly evident to all investigators. It gave many of them the occasion to declare that the sufferings of the working class were only temporary, and that in general everything was going splendidly. This optimistic view however was not shared by everyone. There were people who could not observe the sufferings of others with such Olympian calm. The most courageous and thoughtful of these created the British socialist literature of the first half of the last century. [5]

In 1805, Dr Charles Hall (1745-1825) published the results of his investigations [6] into the question of how ‘civilisation’ — he had in view, strictly speaking, the growth of the forces of production in the civilised countries — affected the condition of the working people. Hall proved that the masses grew poorer because of ‘civilisation’: ‘Hence, the increase of the wealth or power of some is the cause of the increase of poverty and subjection of the others.’ [7]

This proposition is very important for the history of theory, since it demonstrates how clearly British socialism in the person of Charles Hall already perceived the opposition of interests between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ classes. And it should be noted that by the ‘poor’ class Hall meant the class of people who live by the sale of their ‘labour’, that is to say, the proletarians, while by the ‘rich’ he meant the capitalists and the landowners, whose prosperity is founded on the economic exploitation of the ‘poor’. As the ‘rich’ live by the economic exploitation of the ‘poor’, the interests of these two classes are diametrically opposed. In Hall’s book there is a section (XV) which is headed ‘On the Different Interests of the Rich and Poor’. The gist of our author’s argument is as follows.

Every rich man must be considered as the buyer, every poor man as the seller, of labour. It is in the interest of the rich man to get as much as he can out of the labour he has bought of the poor man and to pay as little as possible for it. In other words, he wants to get as great a part as possible of the product created by the worker’s labour; the worker, on the other hand, endeavours to get as large a part as possible of that product. Hence their mutual struggle. But it is an unequal struggle. Deprived of the means of subsistence, the workers are usually compelled to surrender, just as a garrison short of provisions surrenders to the enemy. Moreover, strikes are often crushed by military force, whereas only in a few states does the law forbid the masters to combine for the purpose of lowering wages.

Hall compares the position of the agricultural labourer with that of the farmer’s ox or horse. If there is any difference, it is not in the labourer’s favour, for the master sustains no loss by the death of his worker, but he does by the death of his ox or horse. [8] The masters show great resolution in defending their economic interests in the struggle with the workers. As against this, the workers are not equally resolute in the struggle against the masters; poverty deprives them of the economic and moral powers of resistance. [9] Furthermore, the law takes the side of the masters and severely punishes all violations of the rights of property. [10] In view of this, the question arises: how large is that part of the annual national income which is received by the working class taken as a whole? Hall calculates that this class gets only one-eighth of the value of the produce of its labour, the remaining seven-eighths going to ‘the masters’. [11]

This conclusion cannot, of course, be accepted as correct. Hall underestimated the share of the national income received by the workers. But the reader will understand that there is no need now to expose our author’s mistake. Rather we should note that in spite of this arithmetical error, he very well grasped the economic essence of the exploitation of wage labour by capital.

Crime follows in the wake of poverty. Hall considered ‘all, or almost all what is called original corruption and evil disposition, to be the effects of the system of civilisation; and particularly that prominent feature of it, the great inequality of property’. [12] Civilisation corrupts the poor by material privations, but their ‘masters’ acquire vices common to rich people, and above all, the very worst of all vices — the propensity to oppress their fellow-creatures. That is the reason why social morality would gain very much from the abolition of inequality of property. But can it be abolished? Hall thinks it can. He cites three instances from history where equality of property was established; one among the Jews, another at Sparta, and a third under the government of the Jesuits in Paraguay. ‘In all these cases, as far as we know, it was in a great degree successful.’ [13]

Touching on the question of measures that might be taken to eliminate inequality of property, Hall insistently recommends great caution; and not only caution. It is essential, he says, that the reform be in the hands of persons who are disinterested and dispassionate. Such people cannot be found among the oppressed, who would probably press on too violently. We should rather appeal to the oppressors; for where the matter concerns not us personally but others, we are seldom so hasty and violent in implementing the demands of justice, no matter how highly we value them. ‘It would be better, therefore’, says Hall, ‘that the redress of the grievances of the poor should originate from the rich themselves.’ [14] In other words, the interests of social peace demand that inequality of property be eliminated by those who draw all the advantages from it. This is typical not only of Hall; in essence, the vast majority of the socialists of this period — not only in Britain, but on the continent of Europe — held the same view on the question. In this respect, the greatest of the British utopian socialists, Robert Owen, [15] was close to Hall.


At the beginning of the year 1800, Owen was manager of a large cotton mill in New Lanark, Scotland. The ‘poor’ employed in the mill worked much and earned little, were addicted to drunkenness, were often caught stealing, and generally had a very low level of intellectual and moral development. When he became manager of the mill, Owen hastened to improve the material conditions of his workers. He cut the working day to ten and a half hours, [16] and when the mill was idle for some months owing to a shortage of raw materials, he did not throw the ‘poor’ on to the streets as usually happened, and still happens, during ‘breakdowns’ and crises; instead, he continued to pay them full wages. Along with this he showed great concern for the upbringing and education of the children. He was the first to introduce kindergartens into Britain. The results of these efforts proved in every way excellent. The moral level of the workers improved noticeably: the sense of their human dignity was aroused in them. At the same time the profits of the enterprise increased considerably. All this, taken together, turned New Lanark into something extremely attractive to all those who in their goodness of heart did not mind sparing the sheep so long as the wolves did not go hungry. Owen acquired widespread fame as a philanthropist. Even most highly-placed persons readily visited New Lanark and were touched by the sight of the well-being of the ‘poor’ there. However, Owen himself was by no means happy with what he had achieved in New Lanark. He said justly that even though his workers enjoyed comparative well-being, they were still his slaves. So the philanthropist, who had moved even the most hardened reactionaries by his benevolent attitude to the workers, gradually became transformed into a social reformer, scaring the wits out of all the ‘respectable’ people of the United Kingdom by his ‘extremism’.

Like Hall, Owen was astounded by the paradoxical situation that the growth of the productive forces in Britain led to the impoverishment of the very people who were using them. He said: ‘The world is now saturated with wealth — with inexhaustible means of still increasing it — and yet misery abounds! Such at this moment is the actual state of human society.’ The means were there to give wealth, enlightenment and contentment to the people, yet, he went on, the great mass of the world lived in the depths of poverty, in want of a sufficiency of food. Things could not remain like that; a change for the better was needed. And the change will be most easy. [17] ‘The world knows and feels the existing evil: it will look at the new order of things proposed — approve — will the change — and it is done.'[18]

But to ensure that the world approve the proposed reform it was necessary first to make clear to it what man is by nature, what he had been made by the circumstances surrounding him, and what he could become under new circumstances corresponding to the demands of reason. According to Owen, man’s mind had to be born again before he could be wise and happy. [19] In order to promote the rebirth of the human mind, Owen wrote his famous Essays on the formation of the human character. [20]

Like Godwin, Owen was firmly convinced that man’s character is determined by the circumstances of his social surroundings, regardless of his will. Man’s views and habits are obtained from his environment, and these determine his conduct. Therefore the population of any country, or for that matter of the world at large, can have imparted to it, by the appropriate measures, any kind of character, from the very worst to the very best. The means necessary for this are at the command of the government. The government can act in such a way that people can live without knowing poverty, crime or punishment, for these are nothing but the consequences of wrong education and government. Since the aim of government is to make both the governed and those who govern happy, the people who hold political power must immediately set about reforming the social system. [21]

The first step towards this reform should be to bring to the general knowledge that no individual of the present generation will be deprived of his property. Then must follow proclamation of freedom of conscience; the abolition of institutions having a deleterious effect on people’s morals, a review of the Poor Law, and finally and most important, the adoption of measures for the education and enlightenment of the people.

‘Every state, to be well-governed, ought to direct its chief attention to the formation of character; the best governed state will be that which shall possess the best national system of education.’ [22] The system of education, Owen says, must be uniform for the whole state.

Almost the whole of Owen’s subsequent literary and agitational activity boiled down to further developing the views presented above and passionately defending them before public opinion. Thus, adhering to the principle that man’s character is determined by the influence of the conditions surrounding him, Owen raised the question of how favourable were the conditions of the British workers of his day from childhood. Knowing the workers’ conditions of life well, even if only from his observations at New Lanark, Owen could answer this question only by saying that these conditions were most unfavourable. According to him, the diffusion of manufactories throughout the country spoiled the character of the inhabitants and this spoiled character made them wretched. This moral evil was most lamentable, and could only be checked by legislative interference and direction. [23] And this could not be put off indefinitely. If the workers’ position was already worse than it had been formerly, with the passage of time it would worsen still more. The export of manufactured goods had probably reached its utmost height; it would now diminish by the competition of other states, and this in turn would have a serious and alarming effect on the condition of the working class. [24]

Owen demanded the adoption of a Factory Act by Parliament to reduce the working day to ten and a half hours at establishments using machines. The Act had to provide for the prohibition of child labour under ten years of age, and also of children over that age who were unable to read or write. This was a quite specific demand for factory legislation. Owen put this demand forward ‘in the name of the millions of the neglected poor’. [25] It was granted, finally, in a much curtailed form, by a Parliamentary Act in 1819. [26] Unfortunately even this Act, which had cheesepared Owen’s demand, remained a dead letter, as Parliament took no steps whatever to put it into effect. Subsequently the Chief Inspector of Factories reported that ‘prior to the Act of 1833, young persons and children were worked all night, all day, or both ad libitum’. [27]

Not confining himself to the demand for factory legislation, Owen tried to secure a review of the Poor Law. He wished to have established for the unemployed special villages where they could engage in agricultural and industrial work. Owen called these villages, on which he placed great hopes, ‘villages of unity and mutual cooperation’. [28] He thought they would be the medium for the adoption of serious measures for the proper education of the working people and their inculcation with a rational view of life. Believing that these ‘villages’ could easily become prosperous, he saw them as a first step on the road to a social system in which there would be neither ‘poor’ nor ‘rich’, neither ‘slaves’ nor ‘masters’. It was no accident that he proposed to ‘nationalise the poor’. [29] This was essential to him because, in his initial plan, he had proposed that the system of education, as I mentioned earlier when setting forth the content of his Essays, should be uniform throughout the state.

As far back as 1817, Owen drew up a detailed estimate of the expenditure likely to be incurred in building ‘villages of unity and mutual cooperation’. It is hardly worth saying now that the government had no intention of granting the money needed for this venture. Later, in 1834, they did indeed change the Poor Law, but not at all in the way the reformer had suggested. Instead of ‘villages of unity and mutual cooperation’, the destitute poor were confined to workhouses that were no different from convict prisons.

Meeting with failure in his attempts to move the ‘governors’ to carry out social reform, Owen, though he had not lost faith in their goodwill, nevertheless felt compelled to attempt to undertake the task of bringing his cherished ideas to fruition with his own resources, and with the assistance of like-minded people. He began to establish communist colonies in the United Kingdom and in North America. These attempts to put the communist ideal into effect within the narrow limits of a single settlement proved a failure and almost ruined Owen. There were many reasons for this failure. One of the most important was revealed by Owen himself when he said that the success of such enterprises presupposed that their participants possessed certain moral propensities, which were far from general among them at a time when the social environment so strongly distorted the human character. It emerged, therefore, that the communist communities were essential in order to give people a proper education and, on the other hand, this education was a necessary preliminary condition for the success of the communist communities. This is the contradiction on which so many good intentions were wrecked during the past century; and it can only be resolved by the historical process of the development of society as a whole — the process of gradually adapting man’s character to the gradually forming new conditions of his existence. But utopian socialism took very little account of the progress of historical development. Owen was fond of saying that the new social order might come suddenly ‘like a thief in the night’.


At a public meeting in 1817, Owen addressed these remarks to his audience:

My friends, I tell you that hitherto you have been prevented from even knowing what happiness really is, solely in consequence of the errors — gross errors — that have been combined with the fundamental notions of every religion that has hitherto been taught to men. And, in consequence, they have made man the most inconsistent, and the most miserable being in existence. By the errors of these systems he has been made a weak imbecile animal; a furious bigot and fanatic; or a miserable hypocrite. [30]

Words like these had not been heard before in Britain, and they were sufficient to arouse the indignation of all ‘respectable’ men against Owen. He himself saw that ‘respectable people’ had begun to frown on him as a blasphemer. But this did not in any way lessen his frankness or his faith in the goodwill of the powers that be. In October 1830, he delivered two lectures ‘on genuine religion’. These lectures give but a vague idea of the distinguishing features of ‘true’ religious doctrine. [31] But for all that they are clear evidence of Owen’s deep contempt for all ‘hitherto existing religions’. In the first lecture, he declared them to be the sole source of the disunion, mutual hatred and crime that darkened human life. In the second, he said that they had turned the world into one great madhouse. And he demonstrated that it was urgently necessary to take measures to fight them. This again was more than enough to infuriate all the ‘respectable’ gentlemen of the United Kingdom. It might seem that Owen himself ought to have understood that none of them could approve of measures against religions. But it was just this that he did not want to understand.

In the second lecture he said that people who had cognised truth were morally bound to help the government to put it into effect. He then invited his audience to petition the King and both Houses of Parliament to fight religions. The draft petition took for granted that the King wished nothing better than the happiness of his subjects, but that their happiness could only be achieved by substituting for the present unnatural religion, in which, unfortunately, they continue to be educated, a religion of truth and nature. Finally, this religion could triumph without danger to society or, at the very most, only with some temporary inconveniences. Hence the King should use his high position to induce his Ministers to examine the role of religion in regard to the formation of the human character. The petition to both Houses of Parliament was couched in the same spirit. [32] The audience endorsed Owen’s draft petitions. Needless to say, the petitions brought no advantage whatsoever to Owen’s cause.

Religious concepts formed on a given social basis sanction this basis. Whoever attacks religion shakes its social basis. The guardians of order are therefore never disposed to toleration where the question of religious convictions is concerned. They are even less disposed to fight religion. Owen overlooked this. And that meant that he was unable to draw all the practical conclusions following from his own teaching on the formation of the human character.

If the character of every given person is determined by the conditions of his upbringing, it is obvious that the character of each particular social class is determined by its position in society. A class that lives on the exploitation of other classes will always be ready to defend social injustice, and not to rebel against it. In as much as Owen hoped to move the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie to reforms that would have ended the class division of society, without knowing it he came up against the same contradiction that had thwarted eighteenth-century materialist philosophy. This philosophy taught that man, with all his opinions and habits, is the product of the social environment. And at the same time it did not cease to repeat that the social environment with all its properties is determined by people’s opinion. ‘C'est l'opinion, qui gouverne le monde’, said the materialists, and with them all the Enlighteners of the eighteenth century. Hence their appeals to more or less enlightened despots, for they firmly believed in the force of ‘opinion’. Robert Owen was just as firm a believer in ‘opinion’. As a follower of the eighteenth-century materialists, he repeated word for word after them that ‘opinions govern the world’. [33] Following their example, he tried to enlighten the ‘governors’. In regard to the working class, he was evidently guided for a long time by the impressions he had absorbed in New Lanark. He tried with all his might to help the ‘working poor’, but he had no faith in their independent activity. And, having no faith in their independent activity, he could recommend to them only one course: never to enter into conflict with the rich, but to conduct themselves in such a way that the rich would not be afraid of taking the initiative for social reform. In April 1819, he published in the newspapers ‘An Address to the Working Classes’. [34] Noting with regret that the working classes were filled with anger at their condition, he repeated that the character of man is determined by his social environment. Remembering this, the workers should not in his opinion blame the ‘rich’ for their attitude to the ‘poor’. The rich will but one thing: to retain their privileged social status. And the workers must respect that desire. What was more, should the privileged wish to acquire still more wealth, the workers must not oppose them. It was essential to occupy oneself not with the past but with the future, that is to say, to concentrate all attention on social reform. The reader may well ask what new element could be brought about by a reform that not only preserved privileges but enriched the privileged even more. The point is, however, that according to Owen the colossal productive forces now at the disposal of mankind would recompense the workers for all their concessions, if only these productive forces were utilised in a planned way. Owen — like Rodbertus later on — did not insist that the workers should receive the whole product of their labour, but only their share of the product should not be too small. As we see, his communism was reconciled to a certain social inequality; but this inequality had to be under social control, and should not go beyond the limits established by society. Owen was convinced that the rich and the poor, the governors and the governed, had really but one interest. [35] Until the very end of his life, he was a staunch advocate of social peace.

Every class struggle is a political struggle. He who is against the struggle of classes will naturally not attach any importance to their political actions. It is not surprising that Owen was opposed to Parliamentary reform. He found that, in general, electoral rights were ‘not desirable’ [36] until such times as the people received proper education; he did not favour the democratic and republican aspirations of his time. He thought that if the republicans and democrats ceased threatening the governments there would in all probability be a beneficial change in the government of the world. [37]

Owen was never a member of the Chartist movement, [38] then fighting for full political rights for the workers. But since the upper classes did not evince the least desire to support his plans for social reform, willy-nilly he ultimately had to set his hopes on the workers’ movement. In the early 1830s, when this movement broadened out and even became menacing, Owen endeavoured to use the growing strength of the proletariat to achieve his cherished ideas. In September 1832, he organised an ‘equitable labour exchange bazaar’, [39] as he called it, in London; almost simultaneously with this he entered into close relations with the trades unions. However, here too the practical results did not measure up to his expectations.

Equitable exchange meant the exchange of goods according to the utmost of labour expended in their production. But if a particular product did not correspond to social demand, no one would buy it and the labour spent in its production would have gone for nothing. In order that products should always be exchangeable proportionally to the sum of labour embodied in each — in other words, in order that the law of value should not operate through a constant fluctuation of prices — planned organisation of production was essential. Production must be so organised that the work of each producer be consciously directed to satisfy definite social needs. So long as this is not the case, fluctuation of prices is unavoidable which means that ‘equitable exchange’ is also impossible. But when this planned production is functioning, there will be no necessity for ‘equitable exchange’, because the products will no longer be exchanged one for the other; they will be distributed at rates determined by society among its members. The ‘equitable exchange bazaars’ [40] were evidence that Owen and his followers, for all their interest in economic questions, still did not understand the difference between commodity (unorganised) production on the one hand and communist (organised) production on the other.

In aligning himself with the trades unions, Owen hoped they would help him rapidly to build a whole range of cooperatives throughout the country, which would be the basis of the new social system. In accordance with his constant conviction, the social revolution had to be accomplished without struggle of any kind. In striving for this, Owen wished to transform an instrument of class struggle — which the trades unions always are to some extent or other — into an instrument of peaceful social reform. This plan, however, was quite utopian. Owen soon realised that he and the trades unions were moving along different paths: the same trades unions which were most sympathetic of all to the cooperative idea were then preparing with special energy for a general strike, something that never at any time or anywhere was possible without infringing social peace. [41]

Much greater practical success came the way of Owen and his followers in the sphere of consumers’ societies. Owen himself was not enthusiastic about these societies, which he regarded as very close to ‘trading companies’.

I have outlined Owen’s activity in such detail because it reflects so vividly both the strong and weak sides of utopian socialism. Having done so, I am now able to confine myself to brief references to these in my further presentation.

Some investigators think that Owen’s influence brought no advantage to the British labour movement. This is an enormous, strange and unpardonable error. Owen, an indefatigable propagandist of his ideas, awakened the thoughts of the working class, placing before it the most important — fundamental — problems of the social structure and providing it with much data for the correct solution of these problems, at least in theory. If his practical activity in general was utopian in character, it must be admitted that here, too, he sometimes gave his contemporaries extremely useful lessons. He was the true father of the British cooperative movement. There was absolutely nothing utopian about his demand for factory legislation. Nor was there anything utopian about his suggestions on the need to provide at least elementary schooling for the children and young persons working in the factories. In turning his back on politics and condemning the class struggle, he was of course very much in error. It is remarkable, though, that the workers who were attracted by his message were able to correct his mistakes. In assimilating Owen’s cooperative and, to some extent, communist ideas, the workers simultaneously took an active part in the political movement of the British proletariat at that time. At least the most gifted of them — Lovett, Hetherington, Watson and others — did so. [42]

To all this should be added that in his fearless advocacy of ‘true religion’ and rational relations between the sexes, Owen influenced the development of the workers’ consciousness not in the social field alone. [43]

His immediate influence was felt not only in Great Britain and Ireland but also in the United States of America. [44]


A zealous adversary of socialism, Professor Foxwell of Cambridge University, asserts that it was not Owen but Ricardo who gave British socialism its most genuine spiritual weapon. [45] That is not the case. True, Engels already remarked that, in so far as the theories of contemporary socialism stemmed from bourgeois political economy, almost all of them leaned on Ricardo’s theory of value. There was good enough reason for this. It is, however, beyond doubt that, at least, many of the British socialists whose teachings relied on Ricardo’s theory of value were pupils of Owen, and turned to bourgeois political economy precisely because, by utilising its conclusions, they wished to proceed further in the direction taken by their teacher. Those whom it would manifestly be wrong to call Owenites will be found to be closely associated intellectually with the communist anarchist Godwin. They turned to Ricardo only so as to be able through him to expose political economy as being in contradiction with its own — moreover fundamental — theoretical principles. Among Owen’s pupils I will refer, first of all, to William Thompson. [46] In the Introduction to the work that I have just mentioned (see footnote) Thompson asks how was it that a nation abounding more than any other in the raw materials, machinery, dwellings and food, in intelligent and industrious producers should still pine in privation. [47] This is the selfsame question which occupied Owen almost from the beginning of the nineteenth century, and was quite definitely formulated by him in some of his published works. Further, Thompson wonders why the fruits of the workers’ labour are mysteriously taken from them through no fault of theirs. We meet the same question in almost all of Owen’s works. Thompson, however, recognises that it is precisely such questions which induce ‘us’ to take an interest in the distribution of wealth. Thus, if Thompson turned to Ricardo — as he actually did, and indeed borrowed much from him — it was the outcome of Owen’s previous influence upon him. Of course, in matters of political economy, Ricardo was very much stronger than Owen. But Thompson approached the problems of political economy from a different side altogether from that of Ricardo. The latter affirmed and demonstrated that labour is the only source of the value of products. But he was quite reconciled with the fact that bourgeois society condemned the workers to subjection and distress. Thompson, on the other hand, could not accept this state of affairs. He desired that the system of distribution of goods should cease to contradict the basic law of their production. In other words, he demanded that the value created by labour should go to the workers. And in his exposition of this demand he followed in the footsteps of Owen.

All the other British socialists who relied on Ricardo’s economic doctrine presented quite the same demand in their criticism of bourgeois society. Ricardo’s main work was published in 1817. [48] Already in 1821 there appeared, in the form of an open letter to Lord John Russell, a short anonymous pamphlet exposing bourgeois society as being founded on the exploitation of the workers. [49] Following this came a series of other productions which were remarkable in their own way. Not all of them owed their origin to Robert Owen’s followers; some of them came from the pens of people more or less strongly inclined to anarchism. Among Owen’s pupils, besides Thompson, I should include John Gray, John Bray, and from the writers who were more or less drawn to anarchism — Piercy Ravenstone and Thomas Hodgskin. [50]

All these writers were for long completely forgotten. When they were recalled — partly owing to Marx, who mentioned them already in his polemic with Proudhon — their works were referred to as the source from which Marx borrowed his teaching on the surplus product and surplus value. It went so far that the Webbs referred to Marx as ‘Hodgskin’s illustrious disciple’. [51] There is absolutely no truth whatever in this. In the works of the British socialists, however, we encounter not only theories of the exploitation of labour by capital but even such expressions as ‘surplus produce’, ‘surplus value’, ‘additional value’. However, it is not a question of words but of scientific concepts. As far as the latter are concerned, every well-informed and unbiased person must admit that Hodgskin, for example, was, to say the least, as far removed from Marx as Rodbertus. Marx is no longer named a pupil of Rodbertus; it is to be hoped that we shall soon cease to hear him being named a pupil of the British socialists of the 1820s. [52] However, enough of that. Although Marx was not a ‘pupil’ of Hodgskin, Thompson or Gray, the fact that these British socialists attained a clarity of political and economic conceptions rare for their times and, as Marx himself said, made a step forward of no small importance in comparison with Ricardo, [53] is yet of the highest importance for the history of socialist theory. In this respect, they were far ahead of the French and German utopian socialists. If our NG Chernyshevsky had been acquainted with them, he would have probably translated one of their works instead of that of John Stuart Mill.

B: French Utopian Socialism


In the second half of the eighteenth century, while the industrial revolution was proceeding in England, a desperate struggle was taking place in France between the third estate and the old regime. The third estate then embraced, to use a well-known expression, the whole of the French people except the ‘privileged’. The struggle against the ‘privileged’ was a political struggle. When political power was snatched from the hands of the ‘privileged’ by the third estate, the latter, naturally, used it to abolish all those economic and social institutions which together formed the basis of the old political order. All the very varied elements of the population constituting the third estate were vitally interested in the battle against these institutions. Consequently, the advanced French writers of the eighteenth century were all agreed in their condemnation of the old social and political order. But that was not all. They differed very little, either, in their views of the new social order which they desired. Obviously in the advanced camp certain shades of opinion were unavoidable. However, despite these shades of opinion, that camp was unanimous in its striving to establish that social order which we now call bourgeois. The strength of this unanimous endeavour was so great that even people who had no sympathy with the bourgeois ideal fell in with it. Here is an example.

The then very well-known Abbé de Mably, when polemicising with the physiocrats, [54] declared against private property and the social inequality it entails. In his own words, he ‘could not abandon the pleasing idea of community of property’. In other words, he defended communism. But this convinced communist believed it was his duty to state that the idea of community of property seemed to him to be impracticable. ‘No human power’, he wrote, ‘could now attempt to restore equality without causing disorders much greater than those it wished to abolish.’ [55] Such was the force of things. Even while admitting in theory the advantages of communism, one had to be content with the idea of the old order being replaced, not by a communist, but by a bourgeois order.

When the revolution brought triumph to the bourgeois system, a struggle at once began among the heterogeneous elements constituting the third estate. The social stratum which was at the time the embryo of the modern proletariat began war against the ‘rich’, whom it put into the same bracket as the aristocracy. Although the most outstanding political representatives of this stratum — such as Robespierre and Saint-Just — were far from holding communist ideas, communism did nevertheless appear on the historical scene, in the person of ‘Gracchus’ Babeuf, in the final act of the great revolutionary drama. The ‘Conspiracy of Equals’ constituted by Babeuf and his associates was as it were a sort of prologue to that still unfinished struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie which is one of the most characteristic features of the internal history of France in the nineteenth century. As a matter of fact, no. It would be more accurate to describe the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’ as the prologue to the prologue of this struggle. In the arguments of Babeuf and his comrades we meet only faint and vague hints of an understanding of the historical essence of the new social order which they had condemned to destruction. They knew, and in different ways repeated, the one theme: ‘In a true society, there must be neither rich nor poor’ ('Dans une véritable société il ne doit y avoir ni riches, ni pauvres.’) Since there were both rich and poor in the society created by the revolution, the revolution could not be considered as completed until this society had given way to a true society. [56] How far removed the Babouvists’ ideas were from those we met with in our examination of British utopian socialism may be very clearly seen from the following.

The British socialists attributed enormous historical significance to the fact that modern society had at its command powerful forces of production. In their view, the existence of these forces of production had for the first time made it a practical possibility to transform society so that there would be neither rich nor poor. In contrast to this, some of the Babouvists were quite reconciled to the assumption that the realisation of their communist ideals would bring ‘the destruction of all the arts’, including, of course, the technical arts. The Manifesto of ‘Equals’ says outright: ‘Perish, if it must be, all the arts, provided real equality is left to us.’ [57] True, this Manifesto, which was written by S Maréchal, did not please many of the Babouvists and was not even distributed by them. However, Buonarroti himself tells us that in defending the plan of communist revolution, he, together with Debon, Darthé and Lepelletier, argued as follows: ‘We were told, moreover, that if it is true that inequality hastened the progress of the really useful arts, it must cease today, that further progress would add nothing to the real happiness of all.’ [58] This meant that mankind no longer had any significant need for the development of technology. Probably Marx and Engels had in mind, by the way, this kind of argument of the Babouvists when they wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the revolutionary literature that accompanied the first proletarian movements was reactionary since it preached universal asceticism and the establishment of primitive equality. [59]

The works of the nineteenth-century French socialists do not have this ascetic feature; on the contrary, we find there a highly sympathetic attitude to technical progress.

It may, perhaps, be said that even the strange and — let the truth be told! — ridiculous dreams of Fourier, regarding anti-lions, anti-sharks, anti-hippopotami and other suchlike kind animals which, in due course, would serve man and thus increase his comforts, were no more than a recognition, in extremely fantastic attire, of the importance and boundless magnitude of future technical progress. But for all that — and this is of vast import for the history of theory — the French utopian socialists in the great majority of cases trailed far behind their British counterparts in comprehending the true nature of the direct social and economic consequences of the technical progress of their time.


As we are aware, the British socialists believed that the growth of the productive forces deepened the division of society into two classes — the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’. At the same time, they saw the opposition between these two classes as opposition between the employers and the wage-workers. The employers appropriate the greater part of the value created by the workers’ labour. This was already clear to Charles Hall, but was only gradually being understood by the French socialist writers. And even those French socialists who realised that the most important contradiction of contemporary society is that between the interests of capital and those of wage-labour never grasped this with the same lucidity that we see in the works of Thompson, Gray and Hodgskin.

Saint-Simon [60] directly continued the work accomplished by the eighteenth-century ideologists of the third estate. He did not speak of the employers exploiting the workers, but only of the employers and workers taken together undergoing exploitation by the ‘idle’ class, who comprised mainly the aristocracy and the bureaucracy. Saint-Simon looked on the employers as the natural representatives and defenders of the workers’ interests. His pupils went further. Analysing the concept ‘idle class’, they included in it not only the landowners exploiting the ‘labouring class’ by the receipt of land rent, but also the capitalists. However, it should be noted that they understood the term capitalists to mean only those whose income was derived from interest on capital. The employer’s profit, they held, coincided with the workers’ wages. [61] We find the same unclarity of view in Proudhon’s works — and a quarter of a century later at that! [62] In March 1850, he wrote:

The union of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat signifies now, as previously, the liberation of the serf, the defensive and offensive alliance of the industrialists with the workers against the capitalist and the nobleman.

Louis Blanc [63] saw the matter more clearly. To him, the social opposition we are discussing took the form of an opposition between the bourgeoisie and the people. But by bourgeoisie he means ‘the aggregate of those citizens who, owning either instruments of labour or capital, work with means which are their own and depend on others only to a certain extent’. What is meant here by ‘only'? And how are we to understand Louis Blanc’s idea that the citizens who in the aggregate make up the bourgeoisie work with means which are their own? Is he thinking here only of the petty — artisan — bourgeoisie? Or are we to understand it in the sense that Louis Blanc, like the Saint-Simonists, regarded the employers’ profit as payment for their labour? There is no reply to this. The people are defined by Louis Blanc as ‘the aggregate of the citizens who, having no capital, depend entirely on others as regards the prime necessities of life’. [64] This by itself gives rise to no objection. But one may ‘depend on others’ in various ways: therefore Louis Blanc’s concept of the people does not coincide with the far more exact concept of the hired worker used by the British socialists in their investigations. In any case Louis Blanc was, in general, little interested in economic concepts. Much greater attention was paid to them by Jean Reynaud [65] and Pierre Leroux. [66] Both of these had belonged previously to the school of Saint-Simon, but had soon become dissatisfied with its teaching. Reynaud asserted that the people was composed of two classes with opposing interests — the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. He called proletarians ‘the people who produce all the wealth of the nation; who have nothing apart from the daily payment for their labour’. The bourgeoisie he defined as ‘the people who possess capital and live on its income’. Recognising the correctness of these definitions, Pierre Leroux even tried to calculate the number of proletarians. He estimated that there were in France up to thirty million of them. [67] That figure was, of course, too high. There is nothing like that number of proletarians in France even at the present time. The overestimation came about as a result of Leroux including among the proletariat not only the peasantry but also the beggars of France, of whom, he reckoned, there were up to four million. Reynaud committed a similar error when he included the ‘village peasantry’ among the proletariat, despite his own definition of the concept ‘proletarian’. On this question, the views of Reynaud and Leroux are very close to those of our Trudoviks. [68] The reader will understand why the economic views of the French socialists of the utopian period were not distinguished by the clarity which was a feature of the British utopian socialists’ concepts: the distinctive features of the capitalist relations of production were more sharply expressed in Britain than in France. The clarity existing among the then British socialists on economic matters did not prevent them from cherishing the belief that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie — two classes diametrically opposed to each other in economic interests — could undertake social reform in complete agreement. The British socialists discerned the existence of the class struggle in present-day society; but they decisively condemned it, and under no circumstances would they link with it the realisation of their plans for reform. Here there was no difference between them and the majority of the French socialists. Saint-Simon and the Saint-Simonists, Fourier and the Fourierists, Cabet, Proudhon and Louis Blanc, sharply differing among themselves on many problems, were all fully agreed that social reform presupposed not the struggle but the complete reconciliation of classes.

We shall see later that not all the French utopian socialists rejected the class struggle. For the moment, however, we must remember that the majority of them were opposed to it and that this opposition explains why they would have nothing to do with politics.

In the mid-1830s, Fourier’s most outstanding pupil, Victor Considérant [69] expressed his satisfaction that interest in politics among the French population had declined. He attributed this to the ‘theoretical’ errors of the politicians: instead of trying to find ways and means to reconcile interests, the politicians gave support to this mutual struggle, which, he said, was ‘profitable only to those who traffic in it’. [70]

At first glance, the peaceful sentiments of the majority of the French utopian socialists appear strange in a country where not long before the storm of the Great Revolution had raged and where, it would seem, advanced people should have held revolutionary tradition particularly dear. But on closer examination it becomes obvious that it was precisely the recollection of the recent revolution which predisposed advanced ideologists, such as Considérant, to seek for measures which might put an end to the class struggle. Their peaceful sentiments were a psychological reaction to the revolutionary passions of 1793. The great majority of the French utopian socialists were terrified at the thought that the mutual struggle of interests might again reach the acuteness which marked that memorable year. In his first work, Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées sociales, published in 1808, Fourier spoke with indignation of ‘the catastrophe of 1793’ which had brought civilised society, as he put it, close to a state of barbarism. Saint-Simon, for his part, had still earlier than Fourier described the French Revolution as the most terrible outbreak and the greatest of all scourges. [71] This attitude to the ‘catastrophe of 1793’ even inspired Fourier with a negative view of the eighteenth-century philosophy of Enlightenment, to which he, however, was indebted for the basic principles of his own theory. Saint-Simon did not approve of that philosophy either, at any rate in so far as it seemed to him to be destructive and responsible for the events of 1793. Saint-Simon considered that the most important task of social thought in the nineteenth century was to study measures necessary ‘to put an end to revolution’. [72] In the 1830s and 1840s his followers tried to solve the same problem. The only difference was that they were concerned, not with the revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, but with the revolution of 1830. One of the main arguments they advanced in favour of social reform was that this ('association’, ‘organisation’) would halt the revolution. They intimidated their adversaries with the spectre of revolution. In 1840 Enfantin praised the Saint-Simonists because in the 1830s, when the proletariat had just tried out its strength in a successful revolt against the throne, they had shouted: ‘Voici les barbares!’ ('Here come the barbarians!’) And he proudly added that now, too, ten years later, he does not cease to repeat the same cry: ‘Here come the barbarians!’ [73]


Enfantin regarded the appearance of the proletariat on the historical scene as being tantamount to the coming of ‘the barbarians'; so did the majority of the French utopian socialists. [74] This is very typical of their mode of thought in general and their attitude to the political struggle in particular. They warmly defended the interests of the working class; they mercilessly exposed many contradictions in bourgeois society. Towards the end of his life, Saint-Simon taught that ‘all social institutions must aim at the moral, intellectual and physical improvement of the most numerous and poorest class’. Fourier asserted with noble indignation that the workers’ position in civilised society was worse than that of wild beasts. [75] But, while bewailing the sad lot of the working class and striving in every way to help it, the utopian socialists did not believe in the independent action of the working class, and when they did, they were afraid of it. As we have only just seen, Enfantin regarded the appearance of the proletariat as being tantamount to an invasion of barbarians. As early as 1802, Saint-Simon, addressing ‘the property-less class’, said: ‘See what happened in France when your comrades held sway there; they brought about famine.’ [76]

An interesting contrast: right up to the February revolution of 1848 the bourgeois ideologists were by no means hostile to the political struggle of classes. In 1820, Guizot wrote that the middle class had to win political power if it wanted to assure its interests in the struggle against the reactionaries who, for their part, were striving to get power and to utilise it in their own interests. [77] And when the reactionaries reproached him that, while preaching the class struggle, he was thus exciting evil passions, he told them that the whole history of France was ‘made’ by the war of classes, and that it was shameful of them to forget that history simply because ‘its conclusions’ had proved to be unfavourable to them. [78]

Guizot believed in the independent action of the ‘middle class’, that is to say, the bourgeoisie, and he was not in the least afraid of it. That was why he demonstrated the necessity of the political struggle of classes. Of course, he, too, did not approve of the ‘catastrophe of 1793’ — far from it! But for a time he considered that its repetition was out of the question. In 1848 he changed his opinion and became, in his turn, an advocate of social peace. Thus the course of development of social thought proceeded and changed in accordance with the course of development of social life.

It is now time to remind the reader that a minority of the socialists in France at that time was in no way opposed either to politics or to the class struggle. In its mode of thought this minority differed substantially from the majority with whom we have been occupied till now. The minority was descended directly from Babeuf and those who shared his views. One of the active participants of the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’, a descendant of Michelangelo, Philippe Buonarroti, [79] a native of Tuscany who became a French citizen by decree of the Convention, [80] appeared in nineteenth-century utopian socialism as the bearer of the revolutionary traditions of the Babouvists. His work (which I mentioned earlier), Histoire de la conspiration pour l'égalité, dite de Babeuf, suivie du procès auquel elle a donné lieu, was published in Brussels in 1828 and was of enormous importance in shaping the ideas of the revolutionary minority of the French socialists. [81] The very fact that this minority came under the influence of a former member of the ‘Conspiracy of Equals’ demonstrates that, as distinct from the majority, it was not embarrassed by memories of the ‘catastrophe of 1793’. The most famous representative of this minority, Auguste Blanqui, [82] remained until the end of his long life an indomitable revolutionary.

Whereas Saint-Simon insisted on measures which would put an end to revolution and the majority of the French socialists quite agreed with him on this, the minority, under the influence of Babouvism, fully shared the view of the ‘Equals’ that the revolution had as yet not been completed, since the rich had seized all the good things of life. Therein lies the cardinal difference between the two trends of French utopian socialism: one aimed to put an end to the revolution, the other wished to continue it.

Those who desired to put an end to the revolution naturally endeavoured to secure agreement among the warring social interests. Considérant wrote: ‘For each class the best means of ensuring its particular interests is to link them with the interests of other classes.[83] All peaceable utopian socialists thought in such a way. They only differed on the measures needed to harmonise the interests of all classes in society. Almost every one of the peaceable founders of socialist systems invented his own special plan to safeguard the interests of the propertied class. For example, Fourier recommended that in the future society the product of labour be so distributed that the workers’ share be five-twelfths, the capitalists’ four-twelfths, and the representatives of talent, three-twelfths of the total product. All the other peaceable utopian plans of distribution invariably made some concession or other to the capitalists; if it had been otherwise, the interests of the propertied class would not have been assured and, consequently, all hope of a peaceful solution of the social problem would have been lost. Only those socialists who were not afraid of this contingency, that is to say, those who were in favour of revolutionary action, could afford to ignore the interests of the capitalists and the ‘rich’ generally. Such action was preferred by the ‘Babouvists’ at the end of the eighteenth century and those French socialists of the nineteenth century who were influenced by Babouvists. Since they saw no need to spare the interests of the ‘rich’, people of this turn of mind declared outright that they were not only revolutionaries but also communists. Generally speaking, the concept ‘socialism’ then differed in France from the concept ‘communism’ by the fact that in their draft plans of the future social system the socialists allowed for some — often quite significant — inequality of property, whereas the communists rejected it.

As we have just seen, inclination to a revolutionary turn of mind was to make it easier for French reformers to adopt a communist programme. And, in fact, revolutionaries like Théodore Dézamy [84] and Auguste Blanqui upheld the ideas of communism. However, not all the communists of those days were revolutionaries; the most notable representative of peaceful communism was Etienne Cabet. [85] He expressed most vividly the peaceable tendency of the majority of the French socialists when he said: ‘If I had the revolution in my grasp, I would not open my hand even if I had to die in exile.’ [86] Like the eighteenth-century Enlighteners, Cabet believed in the omnipotence of reason. He was of the opinion that the benefits of communism could be understood and appreciated even by the propertied class. The communist revolutionaries did not rely on this and, consequently, preached the class struggle.

However, we should not think that their tactics resembled those of the present-day international Social-Democracy, which also of course does not reject either the class struggle or politics. They were predominantly conspirators. In the history of international socialism it is hardly possible to find another conspirator so typical as Auguste Blanqui. Conspiratorial tactics leave very little room for the independent action of the masses. Although the French communist revolutionaries relied more on the masses than their contemporaries — the peaceable socialists, nevertheless, in their conception of the future transformation of society, the masses were only to support the conspirators, who were to carry through the main action by themselves. [87] Conspiratorial tactics are always an unmistakable sign of the inequality of the working class. They become a thing of the past as soon as the working class reaches a definite level of maturity.


The utopian socialists of all shades firmly believed in mankind’s progress. We know how much the young MY Saltykov was encouraged by Saint-Simon’s idea that the golden age was not behind but ahead of us. [88] The eighteenth-century Enlighteners were also staunch believers in progress. Suffice it to recall the noble Condorcet. The distinguishing feature of socialism is, strictly speaking, not so much belief in progress as the conviction that progress leads to the abolition of the ‘exploitation of man by man’. This theme is constantly to be met with in the speeches and writings of the Saint-Simonists. [89]

In the past [they said], the social system was always to some degree or other based upon the exploitation of man by man; today the most important progress will be to put an end to that exploitation, in whatever form it may be conceived. [90]

The socialists of all other schools also aspired to this end. Their plans of social organisation in many cases stopped short of this aim. As we already know, these plans often did not rule out a certain social inequality which could, in the last resort, be based only on the ‘exploitation of man by man’. The communists alone avoided this inconsistency, which was explained, on the one hand, by the efforts to reconcile the interests of all classes so as to avoid the class struggle and, on the other hand, by lack of clarity as to what precisely constituted the economic essence of that exploitation. Not without reason did the communist Dézamy chide the Saint-Simonists that their ‘aristocracy of capacities’ ('l'aristocratie des capacités’) and ‘political theocracy’ would in practice lead to almost the same state of affairs then prevailing in society. [91] However, it was not a question of plans of future social organisation, plans which in any case never came to fruition. The important thing was that the utopian socialists launched into social circulation a great idea which, once it had penetrated the minds of the workers, became the most powerful cultural force of the nineteenth century. The preaching of this idea is probably the greatest service rendered by utopian socialism.

In its various ways of proving the necessity of abolishing the exploitation of man by man, utopian socialism could not but touch upon the effect of this exploitation on social morality. The British socialists, especially Owen and Thompson, had already dilated on the theme that the exploitation of man by man corrupted both the exploited and the exploiters. The French socialists, too, devoted much space in their writings to this subject. That is understandable. If the character of man is determined by the conditions of its development — and this was repeated by all utopian socialists without exception — it is obvious that man’s character will be good only where it is allowed to develop in good conditions. In order to make these conditions good, the defects of the prevailing social structure had to be got rid of. The nineteenth-century utopian socialists rejected asceticism, and in one or other way proclaimed the ‘rehabilitation of the flesh’. [92] On these grounds they were attributed a striving to ‘unleash evil passions’, to assure the triumph of man’s baser needs over his more exalted ones. This was foolish slander. The utopian socialists never disregarded man’s spiritual development. Some of them stated outright that social reform was essential precisely in the interests of man’s spiritual growth, being, indeed, its preliminary condition. Already in the writings of the Saint-Simonists there are many strikingly apt illustrations of how poor are the prospects for morality in modern society. This society, they say, is incapable of preventing crimes, it can only punish them; consequently, the ‘hangman is the sole authorised professor of morality’. [93] It is a point of interest that, in repudiating the ‘hangman’, the Saint-Simonists generally repudiated violence as a means of improving human morality. Here again the socialists of all other schools concurred. Even the communist revolutionaries acknowledged violence only as a means of removing the obstacles to social transformation. They were just as energetic as the Saint-Simonists in denying the ability of the ‘hangman’ to be a ‘professor’ of social morality. They, too, understood perfectly well that crimes are prevented not by punishment, but only by eliminating the social causes which incline man’s will to evil. In this sense, the most extreme revolutionaries, the most indefatigable conspirators, were the convinced advocates of ‘not opposing evil by force’.


The views of the utopian socialists on education are also extremely important. We already know the close link between Owen’s concern for the upbringing of the younger generation and his doctrine on the formation of the human character. This doctrine was shared by the socialists of all countries; so it is not surprising that all of them attached immense importance to education. Among the French utopian socialists, the most profound views on education were expounded by Fourier.

Man is not born corrupt, he is corrupted by circumstances. A child has in embryo all the passions proper to an adult. These should not be suppressed, but given suitable direction. If this is done, says Fourier, the passions will become the source of all that is good, great, useful and generous. But they cannot be given suitable direction under the present social order. Its contradictions put the pedagogue in an impasse, as a result of which education is now but an empty word. The children of the poor cannot be educated in the same way as the children of the rich and privileged. The poor man’s son chooses his career at the dictates of necessity; he cannot follow his natural bent. True, the rich man’s son has the material means to follow his calling, but his nature is spoiled by the depraving influence of the exclusive position held in society by the privileged class. Education will cease to be an empty word only when ‘civilisation’, as Fourier calls the bourgeois system, gives place to a rational social order. Today work is a heavy burden and a curse to the workers. In a community organised in conformity with the demands of reason, in the phalanstery, work will be an attractive (attrayant) occupation. The spectacle of labour enthusiastically performed by groups of adults will have a highly beneficial effect upon the rising generation. From its earliest years it will learn to love work. This will be all the easier since, in general, children like to work, and are always eager to imitate the work of adults. This inclination will find its right application only in the phalanstery. There all the children’s toys will become simultaneously implements of labour, and every game a productive occupation. Thus, without compulsion, playing and imitating, the child will be taught all the kinds of work for which it feels an aptitude. But that is not enough. Labour must find meaning in knowledge, and knowledge must be acquired by the young generation in the process of labour useful to society. This means, incidentally, that instruction, in Fourier’s opinion, must take the form known in modern pedagogy as the laboratory system. And this instruction, which as far as possible will take place out of doors, will have nothing compulsory in it. Children and young persons themselves will select freely what they will study and who will teach them.

Only such a system of instruction will, in Fourier’s view, provide for the maximum development of the child’s natural abilities. Its salutary action will be supplemented by the fact that the abolition of the prevailing social contradictions will broaden the scope for the development of man’s social instincts. The productivity of labour will reach its highest peak only when man is able to engage in his favourite occupation in the society of comrades congenial to him.

The reader will agree that all these considerations on education are of very great value. Here is another most interesting point. Fourier held that, beginning from three or four years of age, children should be taught by means of various types of joint exercises the mastering of measured movements, something in the style of the rhythmical gymnastics of Jacques Dalcroze which now meet with such favour everywhere. In the system of the brilliant French utopian, Fourier, ‘measured or material harmony’, ('l'harmonie mesurée ou matérielle’) was one of the conditions for harmony of the passions ('l'harmonie passionnelle’). [94]


French utopian socialism expressed opinions about art too. The Saint-Simonists wrote a great deal about art, striving to make the poet into a prophet, heralding new social truths. But possibly the most thoughtful of all the utopian socialists on questions of art was Pierre Leroux.

Leroux wrote that, as distinct from industry which had the aim of influencing the external world, art was the expression of man’s own life. In other words, it was ‘his life itself, conveying itself to other men, realising itself, endeavouring to perpetuate itself’. [95] Proceeding from this thought, Leroux maintained that art is neither the reproduction of nature nor its imitation. Neither can art imitate art, that is to say, the art of a given period cannot reproduce the art of another period. The true art of every particular historical period reflects the aspirations of that period alone, and of no other. ‘Art grows from generation to generation, like a tall tree that each year adds to its height and raises its top towards the heavens while simultaneously sinking its roots deeper into the earth.’ [96] The beautiful is called the principle of art: but that is wrong, since artists quite frequently portray subjects that are ugly, repulsive and even downright horrific. ‘The domain of art is much more extensive than that of the beautiful, because art is the artistic expression of life, and life is not always beautiful.’ [97] But in that case, what does to express life artistically mean? Leroux believed that it meant expressing life through symbols. He is quite definite on that score. ‘The sole principle of art is the symbol’, he affirms ('Le principe unique de l'art est le symbole’), [98] he asserts. However, by symbolic expression he understood, in general, the expression of life in images. When VG Belinsky said that the thinker expressed his ideas by means of syllogisms and the artist by images, he was in complete agreement with Leroux. [99] In pursuing this idea ‘Pyotr the Red-Headed’ came to the conclusion that the artist was free, but not as independent as some believed. ‘Art is life, which addresses itself to life.’ The artist commits a mistake if he ignores the life around him. Art for art’s sake is to Leroux ‘a special kind of egoism’. [100] All the same, he feels that ‘art for art’s sake’ is the fruit of the artist’s discontent with his social environment. Consequently, he is ready to prefer art for art’s sake to the banal art which depicts the base — Leroux says: ‘the basely materialistic’ — propensities of bourgeois society. At any rate, Leroux puts a much higher evaluation on the ‘morbid’ poetry which gave birth to the Werthers Leiden and Faust of Goethe:

Poets! [he exclaims] Show us hearts, as proud, as independent as those portrayed by Goethe. Only give this independence some purpose, and let it thus turn into heroism... In brief, show us in all your works the salvation of individual destiny linked with that of universal destiny... Out of the titans of Goethe and Byron make men, but do not thereby deprive them of their noble character. [101]

In their time, these views played an important role in the history of France’s literary development. Everyone knows that they greatly influenced the literary activity of George Sand. In general, if there were people among the French Romanticists who rejected the principle of art for art’s sake (for instance Victor Hugo apart from George Sand) it is quite reasonable to suppose that their literary views were not shaped without some help from the socialist literature of the time.

C: German Utopian Socialism


In France and in Britain, utopian socialism was closely related theoretically to the French eighteenth-century philosophy of Enlightenment. This is only partly true of German utopian socialism. Among the German socialists there were some whose views were formed under the immediate influence of French utopian socialism and, consequently, under the indirect influence of French Enlighteners. But there were others among them whose social opinions stemmed not from French but from German philosophy. Ludwig Feuerbach more than any other of the German philosophers influenced the course of development of German socialist theory. There was an entire school in German socialism with theoretical structures which are quite incomprehensible without a previous study of the philosophy of the author of The Essence of Christianity (so-called true or philosophical socialism). That is why I will touch on this school only in an article on the progress of German philosophical thought from Hegel to Feuerbach. [102] Here I shall deal only with that current of German socialism which kept aloof from German philosophy, and arose from the influence of French socialist literature on German minds.

If France at that time lagged far behind Britain in economic development, Germany trailed a long way behind France. More than three-fourths of the population in Prussia lived in the countryside, and handicraft production was the predominant form in all German towns. Modern industrial capitalism had made significant advances only in a very few provinces, for example, in Rhenish Prussia. The legal position of the German journeyman may be summed up in a few words: complete defencelessness against arbitrary action by the police:

Whoever has even once visited the Vienna police headquarters in the morning [writes Violand], will remember the hundreds of journeymen who had to stand packed together for hours in a narrow corridor, waiting for their ‘road-books’, while a policeman with a sabre or baton in his hand kept an eye on them like an overseer watching slaves. It seemed as though police and justice had conspired to drive these poor men to despair. [103]

It was these despairing poor, whom, in Violand’s words, the authorities treated like cattle, that were the chief disseminators of the ideas of French socialism throughout Germany during the 1830s and 1840s. From among them came the outstanding communist writer, Wilhelm Weitling (a tailor by trade). [104] His views will take precedence here. But before proceeding to discuss them, I have a few words to say about one work of the talented Georg Büchner, who died early in life. [105]

This work, published illegally, is entitled Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessen Rural Herald). It was printed in July 1834, in a secret printing press in Offenbach, and was addressed primarily to the peasantry. This is a remarkable fact. We can find no direct appeals to the peasantry either in English or French socialist literature. Even in Germany, The Hessen Rural Herald remained unique. Weitling and his associates wrote for the working class, that is to say, properly speaking, for the artisans. Only the Russian socialists of the 1870s addressed their appeals in the main to the peasantry.

The content of The Hessen Rural Herald is also, one might say, Narodnik. It speaks of ‘the immediate needs of the people’ (to use an expression our Narodniks often resorted to). In it Büchner contrasts the free and untrammelled life of the rich man, which, he says, resembles one continuous holiday, to the bitter life of the poor man, which he likens to an eternal day of toil. Then he points to the burden of taxation crushing the people and sharply criticises the existing system of government. Lastly, he advises the people to rise against their oppressors and cites examples from history, notably, the French revolutions of 1789 and 1830, which prove the possibility of a victorious people’s uprising.

The revolutionary call to the peasantry stood no chance of success in those days. The peasants handed over to the authorities the copies of The Hessen Rural Herald scattered near their huts during the night. The rest of the edition was confiscated by the police, and Büchner had to flee. But the fact that he spoke to the peasantry in the language of a revolutionary is typical of German socialist thought in the 1830s. ‘Friede den Hütten! Krieg den Palästen!’ ('Peace to the huts! War to the Palaces!’) proclaimed Büchner in his Landbote. This was a call to the class struggle. Weitling too addressed the same kind of appeal to his readers. Peaceful moods were revealed and prevailed for a time only in the works of those German socialist writers who had been through Feuerbach’s philosophical school.

In preaching the class struggle, Büchner did not, however, realise the importance of politics in this struggle. He set no store by the advantages of a constitutional regime. Like our Narodniks, he was afraid that a constitution, by bringing about the domination of the bourgeoisie, would worsen still further the position of the people:

If our Constitutionalists succeeded in overthrowing the German governments and setting up a united monarchy or a republic, [106] that would only create a financial aristocracy here, as in France. Better to let things stay as they are.

Such a view of a constitution also makes Büchner akin to our Narodniks. Being a revolutionary, he was not, of course, a supporter of the outrageous political system then existing. He also favoured a republic, but not one which would usher in the rule of the financial aristocracy. He wanted the revolution to guarantee above all the material interests of the people. On the other hand, he considered that German liberalism was impotent precisely because it neither desired nor was able to make the interests of the working masses the basis of its political aspirations.

For Büchner the question of freedom was a question of force. This is the same idea which, many years later, was so well developed by Lassalle in his speech on the essence of the Constitution.

Büchner also wrote a play, Danton’s Tod (The Death of Danton). I refrain from making a literary assessment of the play and shall merely note that its ‘pathos’ lies in the unavailing and therefore tormenting quest for conformity to law in the great movements of history. In one of his letters to his betrothed, evidently dating to the period when he was working on his play, Büchner wrote:

For several days already I have been taking up my pen every minute, but cannot write a word. I have been studying the history of the revolution, I have felt myself crushed, as it were, by the frightful fatalism of history. I see in human nature the most repulsive mediocrity, and in human relations an irresistible force imparted to all in general and no one in particular. The individual personality is only foam on the crest of the wave, greatness is only an accident, the power of genius only a puppet-show, a ridiculous attempt to fight against an iron law, which at best can only be discovered, but which it is impossible to master.

Nineteenth-century utopian socialism, just like the French Enlighteners of the eighteenth century, could not solve the problem of conformity to law in the historical development of mankind. I will say more. The socialism of that period was utopian precisely because it was unable to solve this question. However, Büchner’s persistent efforts in this direction show that he was no longer content with the point of view of utopian socialism. When AI Herzen was writing his book From the Other Shore, he struggled with the same problem that had much earlier worried Büchner.


I have said that the artisan journeymen in Germany were the bearers of French socialist ideas. Here is how this happened. As we know, after finishing their apprenticeship they spent several years in travel. Their travels frequently took them out of Germany, and while residing in more advanced countries they came in contact with progressive social movements there. In France they became acquainted with socialism, and sympathised most with its extreme shade — communism. The most notable theoretician of German socialism at the time, the tailor Weitling, whom I have already mentioned, also experienced the influence of the French utopian socialists, and also became a communist.

Utopian socialism did not appeal to the objective course of historical development, but to the better feelings of mankind. As German writers say nowadays, it was socialism of emotions. Weitling was no exception to this general rule. He, too, appealed to feeling, reinforcing his calls with excerpts from the Bible. His first work, Die Menschheit wie sie ist und wie sie sein sollte (Mankind As It Is and As It Ought to Be), published in 1838, begins with these words from the Gospel:

But when He saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion on them... Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He sends forth labourers into His harvest.

Weitling explains this passage in the sense that the harvest is mankind ripening to perfection, and its fruit is the community of property on earth. ‘The commandment of love calls you to the harvest’, he says to his readers, ‘and the reaping to enjoyment. If then you wish to reap and find enjoyment, fulfil the commandment of love.’ [107]

Owen proceeded from the teaching on the formation of the human character, that is to say, from the known concept of human nature. The French utopian socialists based themselves on the same concept, modifying it here and there to suit themselves. Weitling was no exception. Following Fourier’s example, he proceeded from an analysis of the passions and needs of man; and constructed his plan of future society upon the results of this analysis. [108] However, he did not attribute any absolute significance to his plan. He said himself that plans of this type are very good in that they prove the possibility and necessity for social reform. ‘The more such works there are, the more proof the people will have of this. But the best work of all on this subject we shall have to write with our blood.’ [109] Here we feel a more or less vague consciousness of the fact that the nature of the future society will be determined by the objective course of social development, expressed by the way in the revolutionary struggle of classes. Weitling addressed himself, not to the ‘rich’ and not even to the whole of mankind without distinction of title and rank, but only to the ‘people of labour and affliction’. He took Fourier severely to task for making concessions to capital in his plan for the distribution of products. In Weitling’s opinion, to make such concessions was to sew old patches on humanity’s new clothing and to hold up to ridicule the present and all future generations. [110] He said that every replacement of the old by the new was a revolution. Consequently, communists could not but be revolutionaries. However, revolutions would not always be bloody. [111] Communists preferred a peaceful revolution to one accompanied by bloodshed. But the course of transformation depended not on them, but on the conduct of the upper classes and of governments. ‘In peaceful times, let us teach; in stormy times, let us act’, wrote Weitling. [112] However, he made reservations to this formula which show that he did not have an entirely clear conception either of the character of proletarian action or of what the workers had to be taught. According to him, humanity was now mature enough to understand all that might help it remove the knife pointed at its throat. Weitling condemned Marx’s opinion that Germany in its historical progress towards communism could not by-pass the intermediate phase of bourgeois rule. He wanted Germany to skip over this stage, just as later our Narodniks desired that Russia should skip over it. In 1848 he refused to agree with the proposition that the proletariat should support the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the remnants of feudalism and the absolute monarchy. Being convinced that everyone was wise enough to wish to remove the knife pointed at his throat, Weitling upheld the theory usually expressed in the words: ‘The worse, the better.’ He believed that the worse the position of the working mass became, the more likely it was to protest against the existing order of things. The subsequent development of the European proletariat demonstrated that actually this was not the case. Nevertheless, this theory was repeated in full in the arguments of MA Bakunin. Among the measures which Weitling believed could prove to be necessary in certain circumstances of the struggle for social reconstruction, was one that today seems very strange. He thought it possible to recommend to the communists (true), only conditionally, in certain circumstances, that they should appeal to the slum element of the urban population and adopt ‘new tactics’ in keeping with the low moral level of these elements. In his main work, he expressed this thought only in hints, though fairly transparent ones. [113] Later he came to express it more clearly, building up a theory of the ‘thieving proletariat’ (des ‘stehlenden Proletariats’). Weitling’s associates rejected this theory. [114] But MA Bakunin subsequently created a theory close to that of Weitling’s, the doctrine of the ‘brigand’ as the bulwark of the revolutionary movement. To those who may be too unpleasantly surprised by such theories, I would remind that the type of the great-hearted and heroically bold brigand had quite a respectable place in Romantic literature. [115] And not only in Romantic literature; Schiller’s Karl Moor was also a robber. Utopian socialism in general paid a fairly high tribute to the fantastic.


In Weitling’s main work, which was warmly praised by Feuerbach and Marx, there is much evidence that he understood, more clearly than many of the French utopians, the objective logic of the mutual relations between the classes in capitalist society. The reader will find a number of interesting remarks also in those — first — chapters of his Garantien which deal with the origin of classes and of class rule. In his conception of the motive forces of social development, Weitling remained unquestionably an idealist. However, one senses that he is no longer satisfied with historical idealism, and that he dwells with pleasure on those conjectures which at times occur to him, and which suggest the possibility of a more profound explanation of at least some aspects of social life. I am sure that it was this particular feature of his main work which was one of the reasons why he won Marx’s sympathy and understanding. But for all that, Weitling’s Garantien shows no sign of its author having taken very much interest in economic theory as such. He was a product of his times: and in his times the German socialists did not as yet study economics.

I do not believe [Engels wrote, in his reminiscences of the German Communist League of the pre-Marxist period] there was a single man in the whole League at that time who had ever read a book on political economy. But that mattered little; for the time being ‘equality’, ‘brotherhood’ and ‘justice’ helped them to surmount every theoretical obstacle. [116]

The German Communists obviously bore no resemblance to the British socialists in this respect. It should not be forgotten, however, that as early as the 1830s there was a socialist in Germany who was deeply interested in economic questions and extremely well versed in the literature of political economy. True, he stood quite apart. His name was Johann-Karl Rodbertus Jagetzow. [117]

He said of himself that his theory was only:

... the consistent sequel of the proposition introduced into the science by Smith, and still more profoundly substantiated by the school of Ricardo, the proposition that all articles of consumption, economically considered, must be regarded only as products of labour, as costing nothing apart from labour. [118]

This view of his on labour as the sole source of the value of articles of consumption was expounded in the first of his books, published in 1842 and entitled Zur Erkenntnis unserer staatswirtschaftlichen Zustände. A literal translation of this is ‘Contribution to the Knowledge of Our National Economic Conditions’. But in point of fact Rodbertus did not occupy himself with national economic matters in the proper meaning of the term. He studied the position of the worker in capitalist society, and tried to devise measures that would contribute to improving that position:

The main purpose of my researches [he writes] will be to increase the share of the working classes in the national product, and that on a solid foundation freed from the influences of the vicissitudes of the market. I want to give this class the opportunity also to share in the advance of productivity; I want to abolish that law which otherwise could be fatal for our condition, namely, the law that, no matter how much productivity increases, the workers are always reduced by virtue of the market to a wage-level no higher than the necessary subsistence level; a wage-level which deprives the workers of the possibility of receiving the education of our time... a wage-level which constitutes the most glaring contradiction with their present legal position, with that formal equality with the other estates proclaimed by our most important institutions. [119]

As wages in present-day conditions are always being reduced to the workers’ basest subsistence level, and since the productivity of labour is constantly increasing, the working class receives an ever-lessening share of the product which it creates by its labour:

I am convinced [says Rodbertus] that the wages of labour, regarded as a quota of the product, fall in a proportion at least equal to, if not greater than, that in which the productivity of labour rises. [120]

And if a constant reduction of the workers’ wages — as a share of the national product created by their labour — can be proved, then such menacing phenomena as industrial crises become quite understandable. As a consequence of the relative reduction of wages, the workers’ purchasing power ceases to correspond to the development of the social productive forces. This purchasing power does not increase, or even decreases, while production increases and the markets are glutted with goods. From this arise the difficulties in selling the goods, stagnation in business, and finally industrial crises. Rodbertus is not daunted by the objection that purchasing power remains in the hands of the upper classes, and so continues to influence the market:

Value is inherent in a product [he says], but it does not rise above the demand. What in the hands of a worker is still of value, in the hands of others becomes superfluous, that is, an unsalable product. A long halt must occur in national production to allow the accumulated mass to be distributed, and only then should a large part of national production be restructured so that what is taken from a worker could amount, in the hands of another, to an increment in the purchasing power in the market. [121]

The reduction of the share of the working class in the national product signifies its impoverishment. Rodbertus does not agree with Adam Smith, who contended that a man was rich or poor to the degree that he was assured the satisfaction of his needs. If this were true, the well-to-do German of today would be richer than the kings of antiquity: ‘By wealth [of a person or a class] we have to understand the relative share [of that person or class] in the mass of products determined by the current stage of the cultural development of a people.’ [122]

So the growth of social wealth is accompanied by the relative impoverishment of the class whose labour creates that wealth. Five-sixths of the nation not only prove to be deprived of all the blessings of culture, but have at times to endure the most frightful miseries of destitution which hangs over them constantly. In previous historical epochs, the privations of the working masses — let us assume — were essential for the progress of civilisation. That no longer holds good. Now the growth of the productive forces gives every possibility of eliminating these privations. And Rodbertus asks in his first letter to Kirchmann:

Can there be... a more just demand than that the creators of the old and new wealth also receive some advantage from this increase; than that their income be increased or their labour-time shortened, or that an ever greater number of them enter the ranks of those happy ones who are preferentially entitled to reap the fruits of labour?

Convinced that there is nothing more just than this demand, Rodbertus proposes a series of measures for the improvement of the workers’ lot.

All these measures can be reduced to the regulation of wages by law. The state must establish their level for each branch of production, and then alter them in accordance with the rise in the productivity of national labour. Such a determination of wages would lead logically to the establishment of a new ‘scale of value’.

Since all articles of consumption, from the point of view of political economy, must be regarded only as products of labour, costing nothing apart from labour, only labour can be the true ‘scale of value’. In present-day society, because of the fluctuation of market prices, products are not always exchanged in accordance with the amount of labour expended on their production. This evil must be eliminated by state intervention. The state must put into circulation ‘labour money’, that is, certificates indicating how much labour had been spent on the production of a given article. In brief, Rodbertus arrives here at the same idea of the organisation of exchange which arose first in Britain in the 1820s and then went from there to France (Proudhon). It would be superfluous to enlarge upon it.

It should be added, however, that all such measures were for Rodbertus only of temporary significance. He said that later — in some five hundred years — communist society would be established, and then the exploitation of man by man would come to an end altogether.

In proposing his solution of the ‘social question’, Rodbertus never tired of repeating that this solution must be absolutely peaceable. He believed neither in ‘barricades’ nor in ‘kerosene’, nor yet in the independent political action of the proletariat. He expected everything to come from above, from the royal power which, in his opinion, should and could become ‘social’ (soziales Königthum).

My exposition of Rodbertus’ views has been taken from various of his works, starting with Zur Erkenntnis, published in 1842, etc. It is worthwhile noting, however, that he presented all his views in condensed form as early as the late 1830s, in an article which he sent to the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, but which that paper did not accept. The article was reprinted in Briefe und sozialpolitische Aufsätze by Dr Rodbertus-Jagetzow published by Rudolph Meyer in 1882 in Berlin. (See pp 575-86 in Volume 2: ‘Fragmente aus einem alten Manuskript’.) It is interesting in many respects. But the following points deserve the most attention: first, his view of the working class as barbarians ('Barbaren an Geist und Sitte’ — barbarians in spirit and morals); [123] secondly, the fear that the barbarians living within the ranks of civilised society might become its rulers, just as the barbarians of antiquity became the rulers of Rome. Everything went well so long as it was a question of the present-day barbarians being used by the state in its struggle against the bourgeoisie. But on whom would the state rely in the struggle against these barbarians? Would the latter struggle for long against themselves? In the interests of its self-preservation society will have to carry out social reform. [124]

Rodbertus was afraid of the working class. If he had been less afraid of this class, he would have been less inclined both to his principal utopia — a ‘social’ monarchy, and his secondary utopias closely connected with it, like ‘labour money’.

Today bourgeois economists are fond of repeating that Marx took his economic theory from the British socialists. Some twenty to twenty-five years ago, when they were hardly acquainted with British socialist literature, they ‘discovered’ that Marx owed his position as an economist entirely to Rodbertus. One argument is as unfounded as the other. Moreover, the greater part of Rodbertus’ works appeared at a time when Marx’s economic views were already fully formed in their main features. Nevertheless, Rodbertus holds a place of honour among the German economists, [125] whom, be it said in passing, he regarded with profound disdain.


Notes are by Plekhanov, except those by the Moscow editors of this edition of the work, which are noted ‘Editor’.

1. Natural law — doctrine that law supposedly emerged from the reason and conception of man and independently of the state — Editor.

2. Leslie Stephen finds that in intellectual temperament Godwin, more than any other English thinker, resembled the French theorists of the pre-revolutionary period (History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century by Leslie Stephen, Volume 2, Second Edition (London, 1881), p 264). Let us assume that is so. But Godwin’s theoretical premise was exactly the same as, for example, that of Owen, Fourier and other outstanding socialists of the European continent.

3. The London Corresponding Society, formed in 1792, was the first working-class political organisation in England. The members of the society corresponded with each other, hence the name. Officially it merely presented a programme of universal suffrage and annual parliamentary elections; most of its members were in favour of a republic — Editor.

4. The reference is to Malthus’ work An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1798 — Editor.

5. The ‘enclosures’ gave rise to a whole literature devoted to the agrarian reform. This literature, for example, the works of Thomas Spence, William Ogilvie and Thomas Paine, is in its way very remarkable, and played a fairly significant part in promoting the development of socialist theory in Britain. However, I cannot deal with this here, if only because, belonging to the eighteenth century, it is outside the scope of my theme even chronologically.

6. Charles Hall’s work was entitled Effects of Civilisation on the People in European States — Editor.

7. British socialist writings of the first half of the nineteenth century are now very rare. Consequently, in speaking of some of them, I am compelled to quote from recently published German translations. B Oldenberg translated into German Hall’s book under the title of Die Wirkungen der Zivilisation auf die Massen (Leipzig, 1905). This was the fourth in a series published by the late Professor G Adler under the general title of Hauptwerke des Sozialismus und der Sozialpolitik. The quotation from Hall is on page 29 of Oldenberg’s translation.

8. Ibid, p 38.

9. Ibid, pp 38-39.

10. Ibid, p 47. It should be pointed out that British law then treated a strike as a criminal offence.

11. Ibid, p 40.

12. Ibid, p 76.

13. Ibid, p 82.

14. Ibid, p 49.

15. Born on 14 March 1771, in Newtown, North Wales; died on 17 November 1858.

16. In Britain in the 1830s and 1840s the working day in many enterprises still lasted 14 to 16 hours. The shorter working hours introduced by Parliament in 1833 applied only to juveniles of between 13 and 18 years of age; their working day was reduced to 12 hours — Editor.

17. The last five words are in English in the original — Editor.

18. [The last four words are in English in the original — Editor.] See his letter, which was printed in a number of London newspapers on 9 August 1817, and reproduced in The Life of Robert Owen Written by Himself (London, 1857), as supplementary to his autobiography. The volume in question is referred to as IA. I shall frequently refer to it below.

19. See The Life..., IA, pp 84, 86.

20. The full title of this work is A New View of Society: or Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character, and Application of the Principle to the Practice. There are four of these Essays; two of them appeared at the end of 1812, and the other two at the beginning of 1813.

21. Here and elsewhere I am quoting from the second edition of Essays (1816); see pp 19, 90 and 91.

22. Ibid, p 149.

23. See Observations on the Effects of the Manufacturing System, With Hints for the Improvement of Those Parts of it Which Are Most Injurious to Health and Morals: Dedicated Most Respectfully to the British Legislature (1815). Reprinted in The Life of Robert Owen, IA. The words mentioned are on p 38; cf also p 39.

24. Ibid, p 39. It would be too easy to prove that Owen was mistaken in considering that in 1815 British exports had reached their ‘utmost height’. It is useful to note, however, that in Owen’s views the theory of the markets was already beginning to play a part not unlike that which was assigned to it in the teaching of our Narodniks in the 1880s.

25. The words in inverted commas are in English in the original — Editor.

26. Child labour under nine years of age was prohibited at cotton mills by the Act of 1819; the working day for children and juveniles from nine to 16 years of age was 13.5 hours — Editor.

27. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, published by ON Popova, p 215 [in Russian]. [Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1 (Moscow, 1974), p 264 — Editor.]

28. Observations..., p 78. [The words in inverted commas are in English in the original — Editor.]

29. The Life..., IA, p 60 et seq. [The italicised words are in English in the original — Editor.]

30. The Life..., IA, p 115.

31. It had evidently to consist of a materialist view of nature, slightly modified by the usual phraseology of deism and supplemented by socialist morality.

32. Both lectures are reproduced as a supplement to Owen’s Lectures on an Entire New State of Society.

33. 'Lecture 11’, Lectures on an Entire New State, etc, p 151. [The words in inverted commas are in English in the original — Editor.]

34. Even yet in Britain they speak of the ‘working classes’ instead of the ‘working class’.

35. The Life..., IA, pp 229-30.

36. The last two words are in English in the original — Editor.

37. The Life..., IA, Introduction, Part 3.

38. Chartism — a mass revolutionary movement of British workers in the 1830s and 1840s. The movement started with huge meetings and demonstrations and was carried under the slogan of the People’s Charter, which demanded changes in the electoral law. The three petitions submitted to Parliament were rejected and after 1848 the movement declined — Editor.

39. The words in inverted commas are in English in the original — Editor.

40. Besides the one in London, another was opened at Birmingham.

41. In this essay I have been discussing only the history of certain ideas and not the history of a social movement; but in passing I will remark that the period of Owen’s association with the trades unions was one in which the British workers were rather strongly inclined to practical methods of class struggle, very highly reminiscent of those dear to the hearts of our present-day ‘revolutionary’ syndicalists.

42. The recently published book by Max Beer, Geschichte des Sozialismus in England, has more to say of them (p 280 et seq). Hetherington’s will is worthy of special note (pp 282-83). Lovett and Hetherington were active members of the Chartist movement. There is an autobiography of Lovett, The Life and Struggles of William Lovett, in his Pursuit of Bread, Knowledge and Freedom (London, 1876).

43. Hetherington’s will shows how the most talented workers understood his true religion: ‘The only religion useful to man consists exclusively of the practice of morality, and in the mutual interchange of kind actions.’

44. See Chapter 2, ‘The Owenite Period’, in Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States (New York, 1903). There are both German and Russian translations.

45. See page 71 et seq of his essay ‘Geschichte der sozialistischen Ideen in England’ which is an Introduction to the German translation of the now fairly well-known work by William Thompson, Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness. In referring to this work, I shall be quoting the German translation by Oswald Collmann published in Berlin in 1903.

46. Born in 1785; died in 1833.

47. See page 16 of the German translation.

48. It is called Principles of Political Economy and Taxation.

49. It is entitled The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. A Letter to Lord John Russell. Marx mentions it in Theorien über den Mehrwert, Volume 3 (Stuttgart, 1910), pp 281-306. [Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), pp 238-57 — Editor.]

50. Thompson’s study of distribution came out in 1824; in the following year he published Labour Rewarded. In the same year, Gray (1798-1850) published A Lecture on Human Happiness and in 1831 Social System. John Bray’s book Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy: Or, the Age of Might and the Age of Right is important for the history of economic theory (it was published in Leeds in 1839). It is remarkable, by the way, for the fact that in it Bray seemingly showed a tendency to abandon the idealist view of history common to all the utopians and adopt the standpoint of the materialist explanation of history (see his argument on page 26 that society cannot at will change the direction of its opinions). True, this tendency did not impel Bray to make a serious analysis of the basic causes of social development. I will mention here, too, TR Edmonds’ book, Practical Moral and Political Economy (London, 1828). According to Edmonds, the working class receives only a third of the value it produces; the remaining two-thirds go to the employers (pp 107, 116 and 288). This is quite close to the truth for Britain even today. His views on the social causes of pauperism (pp 109-10) are also well worth attention. In 1821, Ravenstone published the pamphlet A Few Doubts as to the Correctness of Some Opinions Generally Entertained on the Subjects of Population and Political Economy. Among Hodgskin’s works the most important for us here are: 1. Labour: Defended Against the Claims of Capital (London, 1825); 2. Popular Political Economy; 3. The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted (London, 1832). Concerning Ravenstone and Hodgskin, see Marx’s work mentioned above (pp 306-80) [Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), pp 257-319 — Editor]. There is also a work on Hodgskin by Elie Halevy, entitled Thomas Hodgskin (1787- 1869) (Paris, 1903).

51. The History of Trade Unionism (London, 1894), p 147.

52. Hodgskin’s real relationship to Marx may be seen in the — note, very sympathetic — criticism of Hodgskin’s views in Volume 3 — which I have already mentioned — of Theorien über den Mehrwert. In political economy, Marx has the same relation to the British socialists as he has to Auguste Thierry, Guizot or Mignet in the scientific explanation of history. In both cases they are not teachers of Marx but only predecessors, who prepared some — true, very valuable — material for the theoretical edifice later constructed by Marx. As far as Marx’s predecessors are concerned, in considering the history of the scientific solution of the question of the exploitation of wage labour by capital, one should not confine oneself to the British socialists of the first half of the nineteenth century. Some English writers of the seventeenth century had already displayed a fairly clear comprehension of the nature and origin of this exploitation. (See, for example, The Law of Freedom in a Platform: Or, True Magistracy Restored. Humbly Presented to Oliver Cromwell, by Gerard Winstanley (London, 1651), p 12; see also Proposals for Raising a College of Industry of All Useful Trades and Husbandry with Profit for the Rich, a Plentiful Living for the Poor and a Good Education for Youth (London, 1695), p 21; and finally, Essays About the Poor, Manufactures, Trade Plantations, and Immorality, etc, by John Sellers (London, 1699), pp 5-6.) It is strange that no one has yet taken the trouble to discover that Marx borrowed his economic theory from the authors of the above-mentioned works.

53. Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1975), p 238 — Editor.

54. Physiocrats — representatives of a trend in bourgeois classical political economy which arose in France in the 1750s. They proclaimed unrestricted rule of private ownership, rejected protectionism and demanded freedom of trade and competition. They advocated a ‘Laissez faire, laissez passer’ economic policy — Editor.

55. Monsieur l'Abbé de Mably, Doutes proposés aux philosophes économistes sur l'ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques (A la Haye, 1768), p 15.

56. See Analyse de la doctrine de Babeuf, tribun du peuple, proscrit par le directoire exécutif pour avoir dit la vérité. Published as a supplement to F Buonarroti’s famous book, Gracchus Babeuf et la conjuration des égaux. I have at hand the Paris edition of 1869, which is somewhat abridged.

57. Gracchus Babeuf, etc, p 70.

58. Ibid, pp 48 and 50.

59. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6 (Moscow, 1976), p 514 — Editor.

60. Born on 17 October 1760; died on 19 May 1825.

61. See Le Producteur, Volume 1, p 245.

62. Born in 1809; died in 1865.

63. Born in 1811; died in 1882.

64. Histoire de dix ans, 1830-1840, fourth edition, Volume 1, p 4, footnote.

65. Born in 1806; died in 1863.

66. Born in 1797; died in 1871.

67. See De la ploutocratie (Boussac, 1848), p 25. The first edition of this book was issued in 1843.

68. Trudoviks — a group of petty-bourgeois democrats in the state dumas in Russia composed of peasants and intellectuals of Narodnik leanings. The Trudoviks demanded abolition of all estate and national restrictions, and democratisation of local self-government. The Trudovik agrarian programme was based on Narodnik principles of egalitarian land tenure and alienation of privately-owned land with compensation — Editor.

69. Born in 1808; died in 1893.

70. Débâcle de la politique en France (Paris, 1836), p 16.

71. Oeuvres choisies de C-H de Saint-Simon, Volume 1 (Bruxelles, 1859), pp 20-21.

72. My italics.

73. Correspondance politique, 1835-1840 (Paris, 1849), p 6.

74. Echoes of such views on the proletarians may be heard in some of AI Herzen’s discourses.

75. Oeuvres complètes de Ch Fourier, Volume 4 (Paris, 1841), pp 191-92.

76. Oeuvres choisies, Volume 1, p 27.

77. Du Gouvernement de la France et du ministère actuel (Paris, 1820), p 237.

78. See Avant-propos to the third edition of the above book, Du Gouvernement de la France, etc.

79. Born in 1761 in Pisa; died in 1837 in Paris.

80. Convention — the third National Assembly during the French Revolution. It was established as a higher representative institution in France and lasted from September 1792 till 26 October 1795. It proclaimed the First French Republic, completed the abolition of feudalism and ruthlessly disposed of all counter-revolutionary and conciliatory elements — Editor.

81. On this, see Chernov’s book Le parti républicain en France (Paris, 1901), pp 80-89, 281-82. It should be noted, however, that Mr Chernov gives an incorrect description of the attitude of Blanqui to Babouvism and to Saint-Simonism.

82. Born in 1805; died on 1 January 1881.

83. Débâcle de la politique en France, p 63, Considérant’s italics.

84. Very little is said about him by the historians of French socialism, although in certain respects his views are worthy of close attention. I regret that space does not allow me to present his teaching here. I shall mention only this. More than any other, it shows how closely connected were the ideas of the French utopian socialists — and especially of their Left wing, the communists — with the French materialists of the eighteenth century. Dézamy relied mainly on Helvétius, whom he referred to as a bold innovator and an immortal thinker. Dézamy’s main work, Code de la communauté, was published in Paris in 1843. In 1841 he published the newspaper L'Humanitaire. It is interesting to note that Marx, in his polemic with the Bauer brothers, described the Dézamy trend as scientific. [Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘The Holy Family’, Collected Works, Volume 4 (Moscow, 1975), p 131 — Editor.]

85. Born in 1788; died in 1856.

86. Voyage en Icarie (1855), p 565. The italics are Cabet’s. This book (Voyage to Icaria) was first published in March 1842. It is the best known of all Cabet’s works; it describes the life of an imaginary communist society.

87. Regarding F Buonarroti’s attitude to the independent action of the people, see the interesting remark in Paul Robiquet’s Buonarroti et la secte des Egaux d'après les documents inédits (Paris, 1910), p 282.

88. ’the Golden Age, which a blind tradition has hitherto placed in the past, is before us.’ — this is one of the principal theses of Saint-Simon’s philosophical historical system, which he used as an epigraph to his work Opinions littéraires, philosophiques et industrielles. The same words were used as an epigraph to the Saint-Simonist journal Le Producteur. In his series of essays Abroad, Saltykov-Shchedrin wrote: ‘... from there (from... France of Saint-Simon, Cabet, Fourier...) faith in humanity poured into us, from there the conviction came that “the golden age” is not behind us but in front of us... In short, everything good, everything desirable and everything that is full of love — all this came from there.’ [Editor]

89. In the works of Saint-Simon there are but allusions to it; we have already pointed out that in some respects the followers of Saint-Simon went much further than their teacher.

90. See Doctrine saint-simonienne. Exposition (Paris, 1854), p 207.

91. Code de la communauté, p 49.

92. Sometimes this ‘rehabilitation’ itself was presented in a utopian form: for example, some of Enfantin’s fantasies on the relations between the sexes. But in essence it meant the intention ‘here on earth to mount to the kingdom of heaven’, as Heine put it somewhat later. [From Heinrich Heine’s poem Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen (Germany: Winter’s Tale) — Editor.] (See, by the way, De l'Humanité, by Pierre Leroux, Volume 1, 1845 edition, p 176 et seq.)

93. Doctrine saint-simonienne, p 235.

94. See Oeuvres complètes de Fourier, Volume 5, pp 1-84; On Rhythm, pp 75-80.

95. See his Discourse aux artistes, which appeared for the first time in the November and December issues of Revue Encyclopédique for 1831 and was reproduced in his Oeuvres, Volume 1 (Paris, 1850). The passage quoted is on page 66.

96. Discourse aux artistes, p 67.

97. The same thought was expressed later by NG Chernyshevsky and Count Leo Tolstoy.

98. Discourse aux artistes, pp 65-67.

99. It is known that the leading Russian ‘Westerners’ of the 1840s were extremely favourably inclined to Pierre Leroux, whom, for the sake of caution, they gave the nom de plume of ‘Pyotr Ryzhy’ ('Pyotr the Red-Headed’). Of course, their sympathies were not confined solely to his literary views. But it does no harm to point out that they were in agreement with him, too, on the fundamental questions of aesthetics. [Westerners — a trend in Russian social thought in the mid-nineteenth century that admitted that Russia would follow the same path of development as Western Europe (hence the name) and pass through the capitalist stage. The Westerners stressed the progressive nature of the bourgeois system (in comparison with serf-owning Russia), had a negative attitude towards serfdom, their political ideals being the constitutional monarchies and bourgeois parliamentary states in Western Europe, Britain and France, in particular — Editor.]

100. From the article ‘Considérations sur Werther et en général sur la poésie de notre époque’ which appeared in 1839 and subsequently in the first volume of Leroux’s Works, pp 431-51. The remark on the egoism of art for art’s sake is on page 447.

101. Ibid, p 450.

102. See article ‘From Idealism to Materialism’ in Georgi Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1976). Plekhanov did not write the article about ‘true socialists’ — Editor.

103. See Bernhard Becker, Die Reaktion in Deutschland gegen die Revolution von 1848 (Braunschweig, 1873), p 68.

104. Born in 1808; left for America in 1849 and died in 1871.

105. Born in 1813; died in 1837. He was the brother of Ludwig Büchner who became prominent later.

106. The Constitutionalists were working for the political unification of Germany.

107. See page 7 of the New York edition of this work, 1854.

108. Ten peasants form a ‘Zug’ and appoint a ‘Zugführer'; ten ‘Zugführers’ appoint an ‘Ackermann'; one hundred ‘Ackermänner’ appoint a ‘Landwirtschaftsrath’ and so on, and so forth (Die Menschheit, p 32). This is how agricultural work is to organised in Weitling’s future society. He goes into similar detail in describing other sides of its life, I see no point in quoting them here.

109. Ibid, p 30.

110. See his main work Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit, published at the end of 1842. It was republished in Berlin in 1908 on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Weitling’s birth, with a biographical introduction and notes by Mehring. The reference to Fourier’s plan of distribution of products is on pages 224 and 225 of that edition.

111. Ibid, pp 226-27.

112. Ibid, p 235.

113. See ibid, pp 235-36.

114. On this matter and the attitude of other communists to it, see G Adler, Die Geschichte der ersten sozialpolitischen Arbeiterbewegung in Deutschland mit besonderen Rücksicht auf die einwirkenden Theorien (Breslau, 1885), pp 43-44. I hasten to add that Weitling himself soon ceased to defend his ‘new tactics’.

115. See the interesting remarks on this subject in I Ivanov’s preface to the Russian translation of Byron’s The Corsair (Complete Works of Byron, published by Efron-Brockhaus, Volume 1 (St Petersburg, 1904), pp 274-76 [in Russian]).

116. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3 (Moscow, 1973), p 178 — Editor.

117. Born in 1805; died in 1875.

118. Italicised by Rodbertus.

119. Zur Erkenntnis, pp 28-29, footnote.

120. Zur Beleuchtung der sozialen Frage (Berlin, 1875), p 25. This book is a reprint of the Social Letters to von Kirchmann published in 1850-51. It contains the second and third letters. Originally there were three letters. A fourth was published after the death of Rodbertus under the title of Das Kapital (Berlin, 1884).

121. Zeitschrift für die gesammte Staatswissenschaft, Parts 1 and 2 (1878), p 345. Rodbertus’ pamphlet Der normal-Arbeitstag is reprinted there.

122. Zur Erkenntnis, pp 38-39.

123. Compare with Enfantin’s views given above.

124. See p 579 in Volume 2 of the R Meyer publication just quoted.

125. On Rodbertus, see Engels’ preface to the German translation of Marx’s Misère de la philosophie (The Poverty of Philosophy, originally published in French; there is a Russian translation by VI Zasulich edited by myself) [Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (Moscow, 1975), pp 9-24 ('Marx and Hodbertus’, preface to the First German edition of Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy) — Editor], and Theorien über den Mehrwert, by Marx, Volume 2, second section of the first part (Die Grundrente) [Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1975), pp 15-113 — Editor]. Rodbertus’ views were first expounded in Russian at the beginning of the 1880s by the late NI Sieber (in Yuridichesky Vestnik) and by myself (in Otechestvenniye zapiski) [Yuridichesky Vestnik (Juridical Herald) — a liberal bourgeois monthly published in Moscow from 1867 to 1892. Otechestvenniye Zapiski (Fatherland Notes) — literary and political journal published in St Petersburg from 1820 to 1884. In the period between 1839 and 1846 it became one of the best progressive magazines of its time. Vissarion Belinsky and Alexander Herzen were among its editors. From 1863 Nikolai Nekrasov and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin were its editors, and it became a revolutionary-democratic journal — Editor.] My articles on Rodbertus were reprinted in the collection Over Twenty Years (under the pen name of Beltov), pp 503-647. Besides these, see T Kozak, Rodbertus, sozial-ökonomische Ansichten (Jena, 1882); Georg Adler, Rodbertus, der Begründer des wissenschaftlichen Sozialismus (Leipzig, 1883); Dietzel, Karl Rodbertus, Darstellung seines Lebens und seiner Lehre (two parts, Jena, 1886-87); Jentsch, Rodbertus (Stuttgart, 1899); Gonner, Social Philosophy of Rodbertus (London, 1899).