[OPE-L] robert owen

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sun Oct 15 2006 - 14:48:48 EDT

Robert Owen (1771 – 1858) was a contemporary of  G.W.F. Hegel. He saw Karl 
Marx launching the Communist Manifesto in 1848 in London. Owen’s name is well 
known among  academics, but he is hardly researched. His work is subject to 
discussions  merely in socialist circles. However, further research would show how 
relevant  his work is. He is rich in ideas about how to solve modern social 
problems and  how to overcome environmental crises by reorganising production 
and  consumption. 
Owen was a self-taught and self-made man. He  received only a primary 
education in Newtown  (County Powys) in Wales and an apprenticeship in London. But he 
developed a good grasp of  the sophisticated questions of social, moral and 
political philosophy, and  political economy. He was influenced mainly by 18th 
century French  philosophers, particularly by P.H.T. d’Holbach. But the 
primary source of his  knowledge was the conditions of the working class in Britain. 
Therefore, all his intellectual  and political activities, theoretical and 
practical knowledge were devoted to  improving the conditions of the working  
Owen wanted to change the world and open up a  new epoch in the history of 
humanity. His main thesis was that throughout  history humanity had been acted 
upon by circumstance. But it was time now that  human beings acted upon their 
circumstances. All his experiments and works  contain in their titles the 
expression ‘new’. His experiment in New Lanark in Scotland (1800-1825), though in 
many senses  revolutionary, was still an experiment to show how the profit of 
the owners of  the means of production could be improved by improving the 
conditions of the  working class. The only experiment which might be classified as 
socialist was New Harmony between 1825 and 1829 in Indiana in the USA. In all 
his experiments he paid  particular attention to the education of children 
and in his educational  experiments he combined theory and practice. After the 
failure of his experiment  in Indiana he was involved in publishing  
periodicals. He introduced the term ‘socialist’ in social and political  philosophy. 
Since Friedrich Engels’ distinction between utopian and  scientific 
socialism, Owen is seen as a utopian socialist. But he was not a  utopian in the sense 
that he was naïve and hoping to change the world by  experimenting with 
small-scale socialist settlements. With his experiments he  wanted to stimulate the 
imagination, to show practically that production can be  organised on the 
principle of meeting peoples’ needs and that a new society can  be established 
throughout the world on the principle of internationalism. He was  aware of the 
fact that this would require huge effort. If he was a utopian,  then, it was in 
the sense that he thought that this effort could be made by  capitalists, who 
were interested merely in improving their profit, and by  statesmen who were 
interested primarily in enlarging their powers and empires.  But having seized 
power, even Lenin suggested that one must return now to Owen  to learn how to 
build a socialist society or in Owen’s words a New Moral  World. 
Dogan Gocmen 

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