Early Socialist Thinkers: Owen, Saint-Simon, and Marx

1.) “The Legacy of Robert Owen to the Population of the World”

Author: Robert Owen. Welsh cotton manufacturer. Utopian socialist and a founder of the cooperative movement. Founder of (failed) New Harmony colony in the U.S. Had a vision of an ideal society.

Context: Great Britain, 1844. Industrial Revolution. Many of the Factory Acts were in place, including many that regulated child labor.

Language: Persuasive, confident, hopeful

Audience: The Grand National Consolidated Trades Union of Great Britain and Ireland

Intent: To persuade listeners to begin a bloodless revolution driven by morality and wisdom.

Message: A complete reworking of society was necessary. “Men of industry” should unite to begin the bloodless revolution that will lead to a new and improved state of human existence.

Why?: Many factory owners during the Industrial Revolution abused their workers with long hours, unsafe conditions, and low wages. Owen ran his factories more benevolently and saw a utopic vision in which all of society was based on moral correctness and wisdom.

2.) “The Incoherence and Disorder of Society”

Author: Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon. French political and economic theorist. Businessman. Believed in a meritocracy. Fought in the American Revolution. Supporter of French Revolution and imprisoned during the Reign of Terror.

Context: Saint-Simon lived in France under Napoleon and during the Bourbon Restoration (constitutional monarchy). Frequent occurrences of civil unrest.

Language: Passionate, sarcastic at times, easy to read

Audience: The industrial class–everyone engaged in productive work.

Intent: Disprove the principle behind laissez-faire economics. Advocate for a meritocracy.

Message: Industry needed to address the needs of the industrial class. Economics cannot be focused merely on statistics; society needs to take care of people and their needs.

Why?: Saint-Simon fought in the American Revolution, and his time in America likely exposed him to a society with fewer class distinctions than the one in which he lived. He also supported the French Revolution’s principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity, and his own work argues in favor of these principles as well. The Bourbon Restoration provided a more conservative government to France, and Saint-Simon may have reacted against his government’s conservative attitudes.

3.) “Estranged Labor” from Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

Author: Karl Marx. German philosopher, economist, and socialist. Moved to Paris in 1843. Prolific Writer. Father of Marxism.

Context: Marx lived in France during the July Monarchy, which was a time of liberal constitutional monarchy. Paris was the de facto headquarters for revolutionaries from all over Europe.

Language: Challenging to follow, very convoluted arguments, passionate tone

Audience: The intended audience (workers; the common man) likely differs from the audience who would be capable of actually comprehending Marx’s argument (academics and philosophers).

Intent: Turn society against capitalism.

Message: Capitalism hurts the laboring class because the more wealth a worker produces, the poorer he becomes. He is alienated from his product and estranged from himself. Society is divided into these propertyless workers and the owners of that property.

Why?: Other economic thinkers of the time, such as Ludwig Feuerbach influenced Marx, and he lived in Paris at a time when revolutionary minds filled the city. The July Monarchy followed the more conservative Bourbon Restoration, bringing a more liberal view into focus. Marx met many people who shared his views, and his views fermented and strengthened in this atmosphere.



4 thoughts on “Early Socialist Thinkers: Owen, Saint-Simon, and Marx

  1. I thought Owen’s writing was very interesting. In most cases, bloodless revolutions are not heard of, especially when issues like human labor is involved. Owen being a cotton manufacturer but at the same time advocating equality for labor workers baffles me. It is clear from his writing that he wanted the concept of Socialism to flourish, but it makes me ponder how a cotton manufacturer would want a system that was not Capitalistic.

  2. It seems like you used the aclaim method very well for these readings. Just to add on to some of what you wrote for Claude Henri de Rouvoy’s piece “The Incoherence and Disorder of Society” for the message portion, I think it is important to note that personal and social interests do not always coincide, which was a reason, in part, for his desire for more structure. He also noted that there should be less optimism in regards to human beings, unlike Adam Smith’s view on how human beings have the potential to become great with instituting basically the “assembly line”.
    Also, it is important to note that his work did not reach his intended audience until after his death, which ultimately ended up inspiring many other French Philosophers.

  3. Adding the “Why?” at the end of each analysis is a great idea. It’s really pushing the ACLAIM method and what it’s supposed to help us understand. I find it interesting how different these men wrote compared to Smith and Malthus from Wednesday. Marx, Owen, and Saint-Simon worried about the new working class that was appearing while the previous men were worried about the produces that we’re being made.

  4. I also found Owen’s writing to be particularly interesting. Although he is a cotton manufacturer, he advocates for the equal rights of workers and education for all children. However, he more than just advocated for their rights, he played a major role as he lead England’s Revolutionary Trade movement. His active involvement in the labor unions as cotton manufacturer prompts me to question why he was such a major advocate. Although as stated in your post, Owen was not like most factory owners, and did not abuse his workers. By running his factory differently and treating his workers fairly, Owen realized the “utopia” that could exist inside factories and felt the need to share his ideas.

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