After reading this article you will learn about the similarities and differences in the ideas of early socialists and Marx.
Similarities in Ideas of Early Socialists and Marx:
Plamenatz says that most of the ideas that go to make up the social theory of Marx and Engels are already present somewhere or other in the early socialists’ works. The early socialists anticipated several aspects of Marxian socialism.
The early socialists on the one hand and Marx and Engels on the other hand have held the view that without changing the relations of productions and relations of property a radical change of society is not possible. Both Saint-Simon and Marx have interpreted the evolution of society almost in the same light.
We can say, Marx is indebted to Saint-Simon for the materialist interpretation of history. Saint-Simon started from the primitive society.
Marx also did the same thing. Like early socialists Marx holds the view that the overall progress of society is due to technological progress, although the technology has been misused by the capitalists for the fulfillment of their narrow and sectarian economic purposes. For that deliberate misuse technology cannot be overthrown.
Rather, it is to be employed for common benefit. Both early socialists and Marx thought that the capitalist system of production was singularly responsible for the miseries of the working class. Both also concluded that there were contradiction in the capitalist system and because of these contradictions the capitalist system would collapse the vacuum would be filled up by the socialist system.
However, as regards the collapse of capitalism and advent of socialism there are differences of opinion. The advocates of capitalist system argue that in capitalism there is a self-regulatory system or mechanism which would save it from crises. This controversy created a lot of heat and a schism grew among the socialists or Marxists.
Later on Gramsci said that the civil society saved capitalist system from many crises. Resemblance between them is to be found on another point. The socialist predecessors of Marx resented the amount of wage paid to the workers because it was quite insufficient for comfortable living.
It was termed by them survival wage. Marx also has strongly criticized this minimum wage system. The workers cannot get any opportunity to raise their living standard. A large portion of the commodities manufactured by the capitalists remained unsold and because of that reason capitalism suffers from frequent overproduction.
Anarchism comes to be the dominant feature of capitalism. So all socialists, Utopian and scientific—came to the conclusion that private ownership of the means of production leads to poverty unemployment and inequality. So this system is to be abolished at first.
As to the nature of future society, the early socialists and Marx share views. In the future society which will be socialist there shall be no system of private ownership and, hence, private property. All the early socialists agree on this point.
Marx also accepts the proposal of the abolition of private ownership. Marx and his predecessors have endorsed the importance of planning in building up of future society.
The Fabian socialists of the eighties of the nineteenth century also talked about planning. But there were differences between Marxian planning and Fabians’ planning. The early socialists also thought of planning but that was absolutely of different type.
In the future society envisaged by Marx and his predecessors all able-bodied individuals will have the right to work and their remuneration will be based on their labour. The right to work and proportionate remuneration are really revolutionary concepts.
For the removal of inequality and eradication of unemployment and exploitation the right to work and right to proportionate remuneration are to be recognized and implemented. These rights are also essential for the abolition of class distinctions, town and country differences.
Both early socialists and Marx have insisted upon the importance and spread of education. The emancipation of workers is possible only if they are ready to make sincere and concerted efforts. The spread of education in its proper form can enlighten the mind and outlook of workers.
They must understand their position and must know the way out. Without education workers cannot raise themselves to the level of consciousness. Marx and Engels have repeatedly insisted upon indoctrinating the workers in order to raise their mental upliftment and to fit them for revolution.
The capitalist system is generally called a system of exploitation. It not only exploits the workers by not giving their due share, it simultaneously exploits the women. Both the early socialists and Marx were conscious of this heinous act and they wanted a way out from this situation. Early socialists and Marx have argued for the equal wage for equal work.
The early socialists also have argued for the abolition of child labour and lessening of working hours. Particularly, we find Robert Owen take steps in this direction. In the ideal society the political power is to be replaced by economic administration. Exploitation of man by man or rule of one over another is to be stopped.
To sum up both the early socialists and Marx thought and planned of an ideal state where there would not be a place of animosity among various sections of people, no exploitation, no misery and nothing else. In a sense the future society, that is, a socialist society, will be ideal in all respects and aspects. We believe that it is Utopian. Both early socialists and Marx were Utopians.
The similarities between early socialists and Marx are quite impressive. But behind these similarities there are so many differences which are more impressive.
Differences in Ideas of Early Socialists and Marx:
The Utopians have imagined of a society which will have equality abolition of private property, no exploitation, no poverty. All these are ambitious economic goals. But, according to them, these are to be attained without changing the political system.
By appealing to the existing political authority and capitalists and adopting reforms all these economic objectives can be achieved. On this point Marx and Engels are at variance. First of all, the political structure is to be changed.
In a bourgeois set-up, workers cannot improve their economic lot. Moreover, the state is the instrument of exploitation. So it would be the first task of the proletariat to capture state power.
Kolakowski has drawn our attention to another difference. The starting point of Utopians reflections is poverty, which they are bent on relieving. But Marx enters into greater detail and depth.
The poverty of the proletariat is not of prime importance. His starting point is dehumanization. Let us quote Kolakowski…”the fact that individuals are alienated from the in own labour and its material, spiritual and social consequences in the forms of goods, ideas and political institution, and not only from these, but also, from their fellow beings and ultimately from themselves. The germ of socialism in capitalist society consists in the working class’s awareness of dehumanisation, not of poverty”.
The recognition and emphasis on dehumanisation is the most important aspect of Marxian philosophy. He believes that the capitalists are fully conscious of their profit, vital role in the productive system and their ability to control economy.
So they will not voluntarily surrender their position and privileges. To resort to persuasion and peaceful means is sheer nonsense.
According to early socialists, reforms and peaceful means are the best way to achieve socialism. Contradicting them, Marx asserts that revolution, which is a political action, is the only way to achieve socialism.
Again, revolution is not possible without consciousness. Hence the consciousness of the capitalists can be fought by the consciousness of the workers. “Free human action cannot bring about a radical change of conditions if it is only a question of ideal and an attempt to reform society from outside it is constructive only when it proceeds from the society’s awareness of itself as a dehumanised society and this awareness can only arise in the working class which experiences the acme of dehumanisation”.
Utopian Socialists Attitude to Religion and Nationalism:
Our brief survey of the various aspects of early socialists clearly reveals that their chief concerns were sorrows, sufferings and growing impoverishment of the working class. The medieval period and its thinkers consciously or unconsciously thought of religion of people and from their attitude to religion we come to know that religion was, in fact, a sort of determiner of political and other affairs or factors.
The early socialists did not give much importance to religion and this may be due to the fact that they consciously neglected this aspect of human behaviour. People of post-Industrial Revolution had developed a materialist outlook and naturally they had less interest in religion. However, the Utopians thought of religion and some expressed sporadic views above religion.
Robert Owen and Proudhon were extremely hostile to religion. It is asserted that Owen’s mind was rational and enlightened like many others of the eighteenth century. He says that while men’s consciousness and rationality did not develop adequately and were ignorant of the social phenomena, they were great believers of religion.
Church and religious institutions played a very positive role in building up faith in religion is general and Christianity in particular. Owen blamed church for people’s attitude to religion and its evils in private and social life.
The growth of science and education created a positive impact upon the mind of men and they were persuaded to believe that only environment could build up human character.
“The church had taught that man is responsible for his own actions and can justly be blamed and punished for the harm he does. If was this doctrine that Owen believed to be the most pernicious of errors”.
Owen has also said that churches were diverting men’s attention from real causes and preventing them from doing beneficial activities. This was responsible for the tardy progress of society during the medieval period.
The bad and pernicious teachings of church, Owen says, forced men not to take any initiative in development. This type of attitude of Owen is quite expected from a person like Owen who was a great sympathizer to common people’s woes and problems. He was very much materialist minded.
This is an interesting aspect of Owen’s political thought; like medieval thinkers he did not combine religion and politics. Even like Machiavelli he did not make any attempt for the separation between the two.
He simply denounced religion and did not recognize its importance in the material world. Marx and Engels have said that Owen had developed a scientific teaching of materialism and real humanism.
All these led to the logical basis of communism. We, therefore, conclude that Owen’s attitude to religion was quite scientific and relevant to his political philosophy socialism.
Plamenatz has observed that Proudhon too was quite apathetic to religion. But he is not sure whether this was his belief.
In the opinion of Proudhon, in the early stages of social progress and evolution, man’s consciousness and rationalism did not adequately develop and, in fact, they were ignorant of many happenings of society that led them to lay their faith on religion and other supernatural concepts. But at this developed stage of evolution and social progress religion has hardly any place. But, like Owen, Proudhon did not blame religion for various social evils.
Proudhon admitted that in that past religion had good effects. Being influenced by religion, people behaved well and brought about unity among sections of society.
This was due to the fact that they were ignorant:
“Perhaps he believed that while organized force was still necessary to maintain social discipline, religion provided supplementary sanctions. Perhaps he believed that at a time when men were still too ignorant to know how to remove the social causes of their wretchedness, it was good that they should have religion to comfort them” But in the higher stage of social progress men do not require religion.
It is an obstacle to social progress. Religion is responsible for the loss of self-confidence. Because of religion man failed to realize his dignity.
There is a difference between Owen and Proudhon so far as attitude to religion is concerned. While Owen blamed church, Proudhon blamed man. “He accuses man for taking refuge in God to escape his worldly responsibilities”
Here we witness a contradiction in Proudhon’s thought. If men were ignorant how could they stand against religion? He should have realized that men were overpowered by the church in many affairs. In this respect Owen is more logical than Proudhon.
Saint-Simon stands apart from both Owen and Proudhon. He is of opinion that every society requires certain beliefs and religious principles which guide people in their day-to-day life. Without such beliefs and principles people will face numerous problems according to Saint-Simon, theology and morality are interconnected. For the unity of the state, religion is also necessary.
In the Middle Ages religion played a very constructive part. But Saint-Simon was conscious of the excesses of religion in those days. He was against the imposition of religious beliefs upon any person. For this reason he did not like the continuation of medieval system of religious practice. He has said that progress of science and other practical subjects has been a great cause of the decline of religion.
During the later years of his life Saint-Simon observed the growth of selfishness in the minds of men and he was in dilemma whether the medieval practice of religion could be revived.
He, however, came out of it and concluded that selfishness and egoism could be fought by enlightening the minds of men through the spread of liberal and scientific education. He thought of a compromise between religion and science.
Saint-Simon has said that people in the medieval period inclined to religion for comfort and peace. Now it is the duty of science and industrial development to provide this and if they succeed that will ensure the decline of medieval type of religion.
It is interesting to note that Saint-Simon’s ideas about religion constitute the important part of his main political philosophy. The growth of capitalism and rise in the inequality of distribution of wealth created frustration in the mind of the majority and these people were inclined to religion for solace.
In a roundabout way he suggested that the state should shoulder the responsibility of balanced development of society which will create apathy in the minds of people towards religion.
Plamenatz maintains that Saint-Simon’s idea about religion is not fully consistent. The Utopian socialists did not elaborate their ideas about nationalism. But a thorough study of their writings reveals that they had certain amount of conception on this subject.
The three prominent Utopian socialists were Saint-Simon (1760- 1825), Robert Owen (1771-1858) and Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Needless to say that the Utopian socialists had the opportunity to experience the development as well as evils of Industrial Revolution.
When Charles Fourier died, the age of the Industrial Revolution was more than 75 years and naturally by that age the Revolution attained certain amount of maturity.
It has been pointed out by some that nationalism travelled along with Industrial Revolution. The industrialists sailed to far and wide areas to find out the markets for their products.
It is interesting to note that they carried their language, religion, culture etc. along with the commodities. They sold the commodities in the markets and propagated their religion among the people of far-flung areas.
They also made attempts to establish the superiority of their religion, culture, language etc. This is the characteristic feature of post-Industrial European societies. It was the belief of Saint-Simon that the growth of industry was making the nation states more and more dependent upon each other. The industrialists for the sale of the excess product went out in search of markets in the far-flung areas of the globe.
Nationalism made way for one type of cosmopolitanism. The geographical barriers were obliterated. There was hardly any place of militant or narrow nationalism in the wake of rapid industrialisation.
Class divisions and distinctions were also on the decline. “The industrial class had interests transcending national barriers”.
Saint-Simon believed that only an international order could bring about peace. “Saint-Simon believed that governments, constituted as they were in his day, were moved by ambitions surviving from an earlier type of society. These ambitions were both dangerous and absurd in an industrial age”.
So, for an industrial age, a new outlook is necessary for an international order.