Utopian Socialism

We explain what utopian socialism is and how it differs from scientific socialism. In addition, we tell you how it originated.

Utopian socialists like Robert Owen sought an ideal society.
Utopian socialists like Robert Owen were critical of capitalist society.

What is utopian socialism?

Utopian socialism, also called first socialism, pre-Marxist socialism or protosocialism, It is the set of political and philosophical ideas of a socialist tendency that arose at the beginning of the 19th century. and that preceded Marxism (baptized by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as “scientific socialism”).

The term “utopian” was coined by Engels in 1880. in your text From utopian socialism to scientific socialismas a way of distinguishing from the political philosophy that he and Marx proposed, all the previous currents, which he branded as “unachievable” because they were not sustained in a proper analysis of capitalist society.

In this way, utopian socialism is more a set of positions and ideas than a structured and organized movement, and its characteristics can be different depending on each author and thinker. Many of the tendencies of pre-Marxist socialism had features in common with Christianity, for example, or with different liberal doctrines.

However, in general they were all critical of the capitalist society that the Industrial Revolution brought with it. Besides, they thought of private property not as a natural and inalienable right, but as a purely historical phenomenon.

The ideas of utopian socialism were important to the rise of Marxist socialism. However, once the International Workers Association (1864-1876) was dominated by the communist ideas of Marx and the anarchists of Mikhail Bakunin, the tendency among thinkers and militants was to consider these utopian positions as reactionary.

You may be interested:  Third Industrial Revolution

The rejection of utopian socialism was due to the fact that it was considered that its postulates were not based on the real conditions of society, nor did they contemplate the class struggle. On the contrary, they proposed ideal societies without having a method or a plan to establish them.

Finally, utopian socialism died out in the 19th century, but left an important legacy of ideas and that would be taken up later by social democracy, cooperatives, the hippie movement, environmentalism, feminism and state capitalism.

See also: Utopian communism

Origin of utopian socialism

During the first centuries of the modern world, the idea of ​​an ideal, egalitarian, more just and balanced society appeared frequently, although always as part of literary works or philosophical musings, as is the case of the famous novel Utopia (1516) by Thomas More.

But After the French Revolution of 1789 occurred, the possibility of transforming society in real and immediate terms became tangible. From this scenario the different currents of utopian socialism arose, inspired by humanism and in a good part of the emerging liberal ideas, and later communism, hand in hand with the theories of Marx.

Representatives of utopian socialism

The main representatives of utopian socialism were:

  • Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825). Philosopher, economist and positivist thinker of French origin, his ideas proposed the need for a new “positive” social reorganization so that the needs of the working class were satisfied. For this, he proposed a new State led by scientists and artists (“the industrialists”) to replace the priests and nobles (“the idlers”). Considered as a forerunner of technocracy and founder along with Auguste Comte of positivism, his thought was important for the liberalism of John Stuart Mill, the anarchism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Marxism itself.
  • Charles Fourier (1772-1837). French economist, sociologist and philosopher, father of cooperatives and critic of industrialization, capitalism, urban civilization, liberalism and the monogamous family. He was also an important satirical writer. His ideas anticipated libertarian socialism and proposed that the place of women in society was a clear indicator of the level of progress. For this reason he is often considered a forerunner of feminism (the term, in fact, is attributed to him in 1837).
  • Robert Owen (1771-1858). Businessman, philanthropist and thinker of Welsh origin, he was a great promoter and leader of the British labor movement. His ideas embraced reformism and opposed the notion of class struggle, proposing instead the doctrine of “human brotherhood.” Along with Fourier and Saint-Simon, he was one of the three great “utopian socialists” praised by Friedrich Engels, even though he did not attack capitalism per se, but rather accused “corrupt capitalism” of creating a corrupt society. .
  • Etienne Cabet (1788-1856). French philosopher and political theorist, disciple of Owen and founder of the “icarian” movement, which tried to found an egalitarian society on US soil. His ideas can be defined as a kind of democratic communism, and he defended the arrival of a more just society through conviction and not revolution. Even so, he was sympathetic to the elimination of money and private property.
You may be interested:  Playa

Differences between utopian socialism and scientific socialism

The main differences between utopian or pre-Marxist socialism and scientific or Marxist socialism can be summarized as follows:

utopian socialism scientific socialism
It covers a set of different tendencies, ideas and philosophical proposals, whose common point is the critique of capitalist society and private property. It is governed by the philosophical proposals of Marxism, both in its analysis of capitalist society and in its revolutionary proposal.
His ideas of a more just and egalitarian society are not accompanied by a method or a program, but are unrealizable, literary or abstract. It has a method of interpreting history (historical materialism) that explains how capitalist society will give way to communism.
He has mainly optimistic ideas about progress and humanity, placing a lot of faith in technology. He understands the change in society as a historical process that the organized working class must unleash.
He does not preach the class struggle. He understands the class struggle as the engine of historical change.
Its main exponents were Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen and Étienne Cabet. Its main exponents were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Continue with: Differences between socialism and communism


  • “Utopian Socialism” on Wikipedia.
  • “Utopian Socialism” in Filosofía.org.
  • “From Utopian Socialism to Scientific Socialism” by Frederick Engels at Marxists.org.
  • “Utopian socialism (social and political philosophy)”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.