Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia (1949).



I have pointed out that in "utopian" socialism there is an organically constructive and organically purposive or planning element which aims at a re-structuring of society, and moreover not at one that shall come to fruition in an indefinite future after the "withering away" of the proletarian dictator-state, but beginning here and now in the given conditions of the present. If this is correct it should be possible to demonstrate, in the history of Utopian socialism, the line of evolution taken by this element.

In the history of Utopian socialism three pairs of active thinkers emerge, each pair being bound together in a peculiar way and also to its generation: Saint-Simon and Fourier, Owen and Proudhon, Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer. Through the middle pair there runs the line of cleavage separating the first phase of this socialism -- the phase of transition to advanced capitalism -- from the second, which accompanies the rise of the latter. In the first each thinker contributes a single constructive thought and these thoughts -- at first strange and incompatible with one another -- align themselves together, and in the second Proudhon and his successors build up the comprehensive synthesis, the synthetic idea of restructure. Each step occupies its own proper place and is not interchangeable.

A few figures will help to make the relations between the generations clear. Saint-Simon was born twelve years before Fourier and died twelve years before him, and yet both belong to the generation which was born before the French Revolution and perished before 1848 -- save that the younger, Fourier, belongs by nature and outlook to the eighteenth century and the older, Saint-Simon, to the nineteenth century. Owen was born before the great Revolution, Proudhon at the time of the Napoleonic triumphs; thus they belong congenitally to different generations but, as they both died between 1848 and 1870, [17] death united them once more in a single generation. The same thing is repeated with Kropotkin, who was born before 1848, and Landauer, before 1870: both died soon after the first World War.

Saint-Simon -- of whom the founder of sociology as a science, Lorenz von Stein, justly says that he " half understood, half guessed at society (that is, society as such in contradistinction to the State) "for the first time in its full power, in all its elements and contradictions" -- makes the first and, for his epoch, the most important contribution. The "puberty-crisis" which mankind had entered meant for him the eventual replacement of the existing regime by "le regime industriel". We can formulate it in this way: the cleavage of the social whole into two essentially different and mutually antagonistic orders is to yield place to a uniform structure. Hitherto society had been under a "government", now it was to come under an "administration", and the administration was not, like the former, to be entrusted to a class opposed to society and made up of "legalists" and "militarists", but to the natural leaders of society itself, the leaders of its production. No longer was one group of rulers to be ousted by another group of rulers, as had happened in all the upheavals known to history; what remains necessary as a police force does not constitute Government in the old sense. "The producers have no wish to be plundered by any one class of parasites rather than by any other. ... It is clear that the struggle must end by being played out between the whole mass of parasites on the one hand and the mass of producers on the other, in order to decide whether the latter shall continue to be the prey of the former or shall obtain supreme control of society." Saint-Simon's naive demand of "messieurs" the workers that they should make the entrepreneurs their leaders -- a demand which was to weld the active portion of the capitalists and the proletarians into one class -- contains, despite its odd air of unreality, the intimation of a future order in which no leadership is required other than that provided by the social functions themselves; in which politics have in fact become what they are in Saint-Simon's definition: "the science of production," i.e. of the pre-conditions most favourable to this. In the nature of things governments cannot implement policies of this sort; "government is a continual source of injury to industry when it meddles in its affairs; it is injurious even where it makes efforts to encourage [18] it." Nothing but an overcoming of government as such can lead society out of the "extreme disorder" in which it languishes; out of the dilemma of a nation which is "essentially industrial" and whose government is "essentially feudal"; out of division into two classes: "one that orders and one that obeys" (the Saint-Simonist Bazard expressed it even more pungently soon after the death of his master, in 1829: "two classes, the exploiters and the exploited"). The present epoch is one of transition not from one sort of regime to another, but from a sham order to a true order, in which "work is the fountain-head of all virtues" and "the State is the confederacy of all workers" (so runs the formula of the Saint-Simonists). This cannot be the affair of a single nation only, for it would be opposed by other nations; the "industrial system" must be established over all Europe and the feudal system, persisting in bourgeois form, annihilated. Saint-Simon calls this "Europeanism". He realizes, however, that altering the relationship between the leaders and the led is not the sole intention, but that the alteration must permeate the whole inner structure of society. The moment when the industrial regime is "ripe" (i.e. when society is ripe for it can be "determined with reasonable exactitude by the fundamental circumstance that, in any given nation, the vast majority of individuals will by then have entered into more or less numerous industrial associations each two or three of which will be interconnected by industrial relationships. This will permit a general system to be built up, since the associations will be led towards a great common goal, as regards which they will be co-ordinated of themselves each according to its function". Here Saint-Simon comes very near to the idea of social re-structuring. What he lacks is the conception of genuine organic social units out of which this re-structuring can be built; the idea of "industrial associations" does not provide what is required. Saint-Simon divined the significance of the small social unit for the rebuilding of society, but did not recognize it for what it was.

It is just this social unit which is the be-all and end-all for Fourier. He thought he had discovered "the secret of association " and in this he saw -- the formula dates from the same time, about 1820, when Saint-Simon gave his "industrial system" its final formulation -- "the secret of the union of interests". Charles Gide has rightly pointed out that Fourier was here opposing the legacy of the French Revolution, which [19] had contested the right of association and prohibited trades-unions; and opposing it because it was from the collapse of the cadres of the old corporations that the "anarchic" principle of free competition had derived, which, as Fourier's most important pupil -- Considerant -- had foretold in his manifesto of 1843 on the principles of socialism (by which the Communist Manifesto appears to have been influenced), would inevitably result in the exact opposite of what its introduction purposed, namely, in die "universal organization of great monopolies in all branches of industry". Fourier countered this with his "association communale sur le terrain de la production et de la consummation" (as Considerant again formulated it in 1848); which is to say the formation of local social units based on joint production and consumption. It is a new form of the "commune rurale", which latter is to be regarded as 'Telement alveolaire de la societe" -- a conception not, of course, found in Fourier himself but only in his school that was also influenced by Owen (whom Fourier did not wish to read). Only free and voluntary association, so we are told in 1848, can solve the great organic problem of the future, "the problem of organizing a new order, an order in which individualism will combine spontaneously with 'collectism' " (sic). Only in this way can "the third and last emancipatory phase of history" come about, in which the first having made serfs out of slaves, and the second wage-earners out of serfs (we find this idea in Bazard as far back as 1829), "the abolition of the proletariat, the transformation of wage-earners into companions (associes)" will be accomplished. But one will scan Fourier's own expositions of his system and the drafts of his projects in vain for the concrete expression of his opposing principle. His "phalanstery" has been compared with a large hotel, and in fact it offers many similarities to those typical products of our age which meet the greatest possible part of their requirements with their own production -- only that in this case production is managed by the guests themselves, and instead of the minimum conduct regulations as in the notices in hotel-rooms there is a law which regulates the daily round in all its details -- a law that has various attractions and leaves one's powers of decision fundamentally untouched but is, in itself, meticulously exact. Although the supreme authority, the "Areopagus", issues no commands, but only gives instructions and each group acts according to its will, nevertheless this will simply "cannot [20] deviate from that of the Areopagus, for he is the puissance d'opinion". Many things in this law may strike us as bizarre, but all the same it expresses some important and fruitful ideas, such as the alternation of various activities -- a notion that foreshadows Kropotkin's "division of labour in time". On the other hand, and regarded precisely from this standpoint, the phalanstery is a highly unsocialistic institution. The division of labour in the course of a summer day leads the poor Lucas from the stables to the gardeners, from there to the reapers, the vegetable-growers, the manual workers, etc., while the same division of labour leads the rich Mondor from the "industrial parade" to the hunt, from there to fishing, to the library, greenhouses and so on. When we read that the poor have to enjoy a "graduated state of wealth that the rich may be happy", or that "only through the utmost inequality of worldly possessions can this beautiful and magnanimous agreement be reached", i.e. the renunciation by the rich of a great part of their dividends in favour of work and talent -- we realize that these units which bear the stamp of a mechanical fantasy have no legitimate claim to be considered as the cells of a new and legitimate order. Their uniformity alone (for despite their appearance of inner diversity they represent, item for item, the same pattern, the same machinery) renders them totally unsuitable for a restructuring of society. Fourier's "universal harmony" which embraces world and society means, in society itself, only a harmony between the individuals living together, not a harmony between the units themselves (although some people may, of course, imagine a "federation of phalanges"). The interconnection between the units has no place in his system, each unit is a world on its own and always the same world; but of the attraction which rules the universe we hear nothing as between these units, they do not fuse together into associations, into higher units, indeed they cannot do so because they are not, like individuals, diversified, they do not complement one another and cannot therefore form a harmony. Fourier's thought has been a powerful incentive to the Cooperative Movement and its labours, in particular to the Consumer Co-operatives; but the constructive thinking of "utopian socialism" has only been able to accept him by transcending his ideas.

Fourier's chef d'oeuvre appeared in 1822, the Traite d'Association Domestique Agricole; Saint-Simon's Le Systeme Industriel in [21] 1821 and 1822; and from 1820 dates Robert Owen's Report to the County of Lanark, which appeared in 1821 and was the matured presentation of his "plan". But Fourier's La Theorie des Quatre Mouvements et des Destinies Generates, which contains his system in a nutshell, had already appeared in 1808; Saint-Simon's De la Reorganisation de la Societe Europeenne in 1814; Owen's A New View of Society -- the theoretical foundation of his plans -- in 1813 and 1814. If we go still further back in time we come to Saint-Simon's earliest work at the turn of the century, in which the impending crisis of humanity is already announced, and Fourier's article on universal harmony, which may be regarded as the first sketch of his doctrine. At the same time, however, we find Owen engaged in purely practical activity as the leader of the cotton-spinners in New Lanark, in which capacity he brought about some exemplary social innovations. Unlike that of Saint-Simon and Fourier his doctrine proceeds from practice, from experiment and experience. No matter whether he knew of Fourier's theories or not, Owen's teaching is, historically and philosophically speaking, a rejoinder to theirs, the empirical solution of the problem as opposed to the speculative one. The social units on which society is to be built anew can in this case be called organic; they are numerically limited communities based on agriculture and sustained by the "principle of united labour, expenditure and property, and equal privileges", and in which all members are to have "mutual and common interests". Already we see how Owen, as distinct from Fourier, presses forward to the simple pre-requisites for a genuine community where the rule is not necessarily and exclusively common ownership, but rather a binding together and "communizing" of property; not equality of expenditure, but rather equality of rights and opportunities. "Communal life," says Tonnies of the historical forms of "community", i.e. the "true and enduring forms of men's life together", is "mutual possession and enjoyment, and possession and enjoyment of common property". In other words, it is a common housekeeping in which personal possessions can stand side by side with common ones, save that through the building of a common economy (quite otherwise than in the scheme of Fourier) only a narrow margin is set between differences in personal possessions and that, as a result of mutuality, of mutual give and take, there arises that very condition which is here termed "mutual [22] possession and enjoyment", i.e. the appropriate participation of all members in one another. Precisely this conception underlies Owen's plan. (Later he goes further and reckons common ownership and co-operative union among the basal foundations of his projected Colony.) He does not fail to appreciate that great educational activity is required for its realization. "Men have not yet been trained in principles that will permit them to act in union, except to defend themselves or to destroy others.... A necessity, however, equally powerful, will now compel men to be trained to act together to create and conserve." Owen knew that ultimately it was a matter of transforming the whole social order, and in particular the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. "The interest of those who govern has ever appeared to be, and under the present systems ever will appear to be, opposed to the interest of those whom they govern," This must continue "while man remains individualized", that is, while society refuses to build itself up out of the real bonds between individuals. The change will reach completion in each single one of the village communities planned, before it extends from them to the community as a whole. The Committee governing the individual village will "form a permanent, experienced local government, never opposed to, but always in closest union with, each individual governed". Certainly there remain at the outset the problems of what Owen calls "the connection of the new establishments with the Government of the country and with the old society", but from his appellation "the old society" it is clear that Owen is thinking of the new society as growing out of the old and renewing it from within. At the same time various stages in the evolution of the new society will have of necessity to exist side by side. A characteristic example of this is given in the Draft of Statutes (inspired by Owen) put forward by the "Association of All Classes of All Nations", founded in 1835, which, using a term that had only just begun to be current in this sense, called itself "The Socialists". Of the three divisions of this association the lower two have only the function of Consumer Co-operatives; the third and highest, on the contrary, is to establish a brotherhood and sisterhood which shall form a single class of producers and consumers differentiated by age alone, "without priests, lawyers, soldiery, buyers and sellers''. This is Utopia, to be sure, but a Utopia of that special kind without which no amount of "science" can transform society. [23]

The line of development leading from Saint-Simon to Fourier and Owen rests on no sequence in time; the three men whom Engels names as the founders of socialism worked in approximately the same period; one could almost say that it is a development in contemporaneity. Saint-Simon lays down that society should progress from the dual to the unitary, the leadership of the whole should proceed from the social functions themselves, without the political order superimposing itself as an essentially distinct and special class. To this Fourier and Owen reply that this is only possible and permissible in a society based on joint production and consumption, i.e. a society composed of units in which the two are conjoined, hence of smaller communities aiming at a large measure of self-sufficiency. Fourier's answer affirms that each of these units is to be constituted like the present society in respect of property and the claims of the individual, only that the resultant society will be led from contradiction to harmony by the concord of instinct and activity. Owen's answer, on the other hand, affirms that the transformation of society must be accomplished in its total structure as well as in each of its cells: only a just ordering of the individual units can establish a just order in the totality. This is the foundation of socialism.