This article will help you to differentiate between Marxian socialism and Utopian socialism.
There are a number of differences between the two forms of socialism. The socialism formulated by Marx and Engels is founded on materialistic conception of history whereas their Utopian predecessors wanted to build up a socialist society in an imaginary and impractical way.
The Utopian socialists were very much under the influence of French materialist ideas that saw in man the product of nature and the environment in which he lived and had been brought up. They believed that to change society with its manners and customs it was necessary to change the conditions under which people lived.
These conditions, they believed, could be changed if all the members of society were made to realize that the conditions did not conform to human nature, that they were corrupting and spoiling people by inculcating in them such ugly qualities as avarice, arrogance, greed, laziness. From this it follows that in order to change society its members must be re-educated.
This, in turn, would only be possible when the conditions under which people lived were changed, for they determined the morals, customs and character of people. The Utopians were, therefore, in a vicious circle. In order to change, morals conditions must be changed. Again, in order to change conditions, morals must be changed. This is the vicious circle.
In his Socialism:
Utopian and Scientific Engels observes that Hegel had freed history from metaphysics he had made it dialectic. But his conception was essentially idealistic. Now idealism was driven from its last refuge the philosophy of history. At last the materialistic treatment of history has been propounded.
According to Marx and Engels it is unscientific to interpret the progress of history and society as the struggle between ideas as suggested by Hegel. Rather it is a struggle between two historically developed classes bourgeoisie and proletariat.
The struggle between the two classes continues until a radical change or transformation of the old bourgeois society takes place. These happen only when the proletariat captures state power and place all the means of production under the management of society as a whole. This is socialism.
Engels says that, viewed in this light socialism is not the brainchild of any ingenious man. It is the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes the antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat are irreconcilable. The intransigence of both these classes leads to struggle which will ultimately lead to revolution.
The emergence of two main classes and antagonisms between them are to be treated as primary causes of socialism. This is the materialistic interpretation of socialism. Some of the earlier socialists had an idea of history.
Name of Saint-Simon may be mentioned in this connection. But they did not explain it in terms of matter and they took no help of dialectics. The socialism of the earlier days was incompatible with the materialistic conception.
The earlier socialists criticized the existing capitalist mode of production and its consequences. They could not explain them.
The early socialists or Utopian socialists particularly Saint-Simon thought that capitalism was the root cause of miseries that is, exploitation and oppression of the working class. But the way out they suggested was absolutely impractical. They did not explain the nature of exploitation. The earlier socialists believed that under capitalism exploitation is inevitable, but they did not proceed further.
They failed to suggest a way out from the exploitation for which capitalism was primarily responsible. They also failed in other respects also. They did not present capitalistic mode of production in its historical connection and its inevitableness during a particular historical period.
The socialist predecessors of Marx had no clear idea about surplus value. That was their great defect. The two discoveries the materialistic conception of history, and surplus-value have made socialism scientific.
The basic proposition of the materialistic conception of history that the production and next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of social structure. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in man’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.
They are to be sought not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.
Because of the conflict between productive forces and production relations, feudalism collapsed. Similarly the same type of conflict has been the cause of the disintegration of capitalism.
The germs of the conflict are within the capitalist mode of production. “This conflict engendered in the mind of man, like that between organized sin and divine justice. It exists objectively, outside us independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought it on. Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex, in thought, of this conflict in fact, it’s ideal reflection in the minds, first, of the class directly suffering under it, the working class.”
The division of society into classes is the inevitable consequence of unlimited growth of capitalism. Marx and Engels have said in the Manifesto that bourgeois and proletariat are at loggerheads and this is due to the conflict of class interest.
Engels writes in Socialism:
Utopian and Scientific “Modern socialism is, in its essence, the direct product of the recognition, on the one hand, of class antagonisms existing in the society of today between proprietors and non-proprietors, between capitalists and wage-workers; on the other, of anarchy in production.”
Anarchy in the productive system and contradiction in the capitalist system of production have led men to think that capitalism is unreasonable and not congenial to the interest and general well-being of the working class.
Growing misery and dehumanisation have created heaps of discontent in the minds of men. So any discontent about capitalism is not the product of imagination or idealism. It is not divine thought divorced from reality.
The interpretation of history with a materialist outlook and the working of capitalism in general and particularly after the Industrial Revolution have exposed the darkest aspects of the bourgeois system. The emancipation of the working class is possible if the present capitalist system is changed or overthrown.
Here is the basic difference between Utopian socialism and scientific socialism. Thought of socialism came from real situation of objective facts and it is to be achieved through class struggle. Thus socialism is closely related to materialistic conception of history.