Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
View original article here:
Ten socialist classics
======== SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC ===================================
Phil Gasper introduces a short work by Frederick Engels that provides a
popular account of historical materialism.
April 11, 2008 | Issue 669
FREDERICK ENGELS' pamphlet /Socialism: Utopian and Scientific /
is--alongside /The Communist Manifesto/--the best short introduction to
It was originally part of a much longer work that Engels, Karl Marx's
lifelong friend and collaborator, published in 1878: /Herr Eugen Dühring's
Revolution in Science/ (often known as the /Anti-Dühring/)--a polemical
response to the confused ideas of a German academic whose views were having a
negative influence on the socialist movement in that country.
Dühring's theories have long since disappeared into the dustbin of history,
but they gave Engels the opportunity to write a detailed exposition of
Marxist philosophy. As he put it in a letter to Marx, the book was "an
encyclopedic survey of our conception of the philosophical, natural-science
and historical problems."
A few years later, at the request of French socialists, Engels reworked three
of the chapters from /Anti-Dühring/ to create a popular account of the
origin of socialist ideas and the Marxist theory of history, which he calls
But Engels' pamphlet is not just an exposition of the Marxist view of
history. It is also an attempt to put it into practice.
As he explained in the introduction to the first English edition (published
in 1892), historical materialism "seeks the ultimate cause and the great
moving power of all important historic events in the economic development of
society, in the changes in the modes of production and exchange, in the
consequent division of society into distinct classes, and in the struggles of
these classes against one another."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ENGELS APPLIES this perspective to explaining the origins of socialism in the
late 18th and early 19th centuries.
So he begins /Socialism: Utopian and Scientific/, by stating, "Modern
socialism is, in its essence, the direct product of the recognition, on the
one hand, of the class antagonism existing in the society of today
between...capitalists and wage workers; on the other hand of the anarchy
existing in production."
But while every set of ideas has material roots, the people who develop it
inevitably draw on existing ideas in doing so.
In the case of the first socialists, the ideas of the 18th century French
materialist philosophers, which had helped pave the way for the French
Revolution of 1789, were one major influence.
Eighteenth-century French thinkers attacked existing society, its
institutions and traditions, as fundamentally irrational, and proposed in its
place a "kingdom of reason; henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege,
oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality
based on Nature and the inalienable rights of man," Engels wrote.
But while these philosophers believed they were articulating universal truths
for all humanity, Engels points out that in reality, they were putting
forward ideas that represented the perspective of the rising bourgeoisie (the
capitalist class), which wanted, for example, to abolish class privileges in
the legal system, but not social classes themselves.
But because, Engels went on, "capitalists cannot exist without wage workers,"
as the bourgeoisie grew, so did the modern working class, giving rise to more
radical ideas, including "[u]topian pictures of ideal social conditions,"
based on common ownership and the abolition of class distinctions.
Ideas of this sort go back at least as far as the 16th century, but were
developed in greatest detail in the decades after the French Revolution by
"the three great Utopians," as Engels called them--Claude Saint-Simon and
Charles Fourier in France, and Robert Owen in Britain.
Engels clearly has enormous admiration for all three of these figures and
their criticisms of bourgeois society, but he also points out the limitations
of their ideas, which were rooted in the fact that capitalism was not yet
None of these utopian socialists offered a clear class perspective. Like the
18th century philosophers who preceded them, they appealed to abstract
principles of pure reason and justice. But unlike their predecessors, they
held that such principles revealed capitalism to be irrational and unjust.
From their point of view, as Engels wrote:
>If pure reason and justice have not, hitherto, ruled the world, this has
>been the case only because men have not rightly understood them. What was
>wanted was the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and who
>understands the truth. That he has now arisen, that the truth has now been
>clearly understood, is not an inevitable event, following of necessity in
>the chain of historical development, but a mere happy accident.
The theoretical weakness of utopian socialism was that it could not explain
why its ideas had emerged when they did, rather than earlier or later. The
practical weakness was that it offered no strategy to bring about socialism,
apart from persuading others by argument and example that it was a more
rational way of organizing society.
But if those currently in power--the capitalist owners of the means of
production and their supporters in government and in the military--reject
this conclusion, as they surely will, how is socialism to be brought about?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
TO ANSWER this question we need a more scientific understanding of how
societies develop and change, and here Engels argues that the ideas of German
philosophy--and in particular, those of Hegel, with their emphasis on
"dialectics as the highest form of reasoning"--are invaluable.
In Hegel's philosophy, Engels wrote:
>[T]he whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a
>process, i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development;
>and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a
>continuous whole of all this movement and development.
> From this point of view, the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild
>whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the
>judgment-seat of mature philosophic reason and which are best forgotten as
>quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of man himself.
The weakness of Hegel's approach was that he saw historical development as
being driven by a clash of ideas, rather than by a clash of material and
But as capitalism developed in the early 19th century, "class struggle
between proletariat [wage workers] and bourgeoisie came to the front in the
history of the most advanced countries in Europe," Engels wrote, increasingly
giving "the lie to the teachings of bourgeois economy as to the identity of
the interests of capital and labor, as to the universal harmony and universal
prosperity that would be the consequence of unbridled competition."
Historical circumstances themselves now made it possible to merge dialectics
with an understanding of the centrality of class struggle and the underlying
economic structures that give rise to it, leading to the historical
materialist analysis of society outlined earlier.
The task of socialism, writes Engels, was "no longer to manufacture a system
of society as perfect as possible, but to examine the historico-economic
succession of events from which [the proletariat and the bourgeoisie] and
their antagonism had of necessity sprung, and to discover in the economic
conditions thus created the means of ending the conflict."
The final, and longest, section of /Socialism: Utopian and Scientific/
sketches a Marxist analysis of capitalism, focusing on the growing
contradictions between a system of production that is increasingly
socialized, and a system of appropriation that leaves ownership in the hands
Modern economies depend on a complex division of labor and cooperation
between vast numbers of individuals in the process of production, but under
capitalism, ownership of the means of production and the wealth that they
generate is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority.
Following Marx's analysis in /Capital/, Engels shows how this contradiction
inevitably gives rise to the recurrent economic crises that have plagued
capitalism since it first emerged. Engels' description seems to fit the
contemporary world just as well as it did the capitalism of the 19th century:
>In every crisis, society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own
>productive forces and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless
>face to face with the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing
>to consume, because consumers are wanting.
The only solution to this contradiction is social ownership of the means of
production to permit the economy to be rationally planned, and only the
modern working class has the power to bring this about. History has thus not
only posed the problem of capitalism's destructive crises, but also created
the conditions that permit its resolution.
Engels' pamphlet was written with the hope that if the working-class movement
has a clear understanding of the problem, then it will be more likely to
successfully bring about the solution.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Series: Ten socialist classics  SocialistWorker.org writers introduce 10
of the most important writings by leading thinkers in the revolutionary
* The Communist Manifesto 
* Socialism: Utopian and Scientific 
* Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State 
* The Civil War in France 
* The Mass Strike 
* Reform or Revolution 
* State and Revolution 
* What Is To Be Done? 
* Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism 
* Permanent Revolution 
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
What else to read
* Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto 
* Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific 
* Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
* Karl Marx, The Civil War in France 
* Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike 
* Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution 
* Vladimir Lenin, State and Revolution 
* Vladimir Lenin, What Is to Be Done 
* Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism 
* All three works by Vladimir Lenin can be found in Essential Works of
Lenin: "What Is to Be Done?" and Other Writings 
* Leon Trotsky, Permanent Revolution 
Previous: The Communist Manifesto  Next: Origin of the Family, Private
Property and the State 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Published by the International Socialist Organization. Material on this Web
site is licensed by SocialistWorker.org, under a Creative Commons (by-nc-nd
3.0) license, except for articles that are republished with permission.
Readers are welcome to share and use material belonging to this site for
non-commercial purposes, as long as they are attributed to the author and
Sign up for e-mail alerts from SocialistWorker.org.
Published by the International Socialist Organization