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Difference Between Utopian and Scientific Socialism – Socialism’s battle with self-identity

Utopian vs Scientific Socialism

Workers of the world, unite! So goes the famous rallying cry found in The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels. In this unapologetic treatise that favors a classless and stateless society, Marx and Engels laid the foundation for revolutionary socialist thought. The only problem was what kind of socialism should these workers of the world rally around. Much like any ideology , socialism is a fractured entity with several various interpretations of its tenets. Two such diverging interpretations of socialism are utopian socialism and scientific socialism.

It’s important to highlight the commonalities between these two schools of thought first. Their introductions into the philosophical discourse of their given times were considered radical, based on their proponents challenging many traditional institutions and power structures. Both philosophical traditions yearn for an egalitarian society – one where socioeconomic classes or divisions do not hinder people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. These ideas inspired its proponents to do more than talk; they inspired action, whether forming communal enclaves separate from society or fighting revolutions to usurp power.

Utopian socialism predates its scientific counterpart. In fact, it predates Marx and Engels’ seminal text. Prominent philosophers included Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen. Inspired by the French Revolution, many of these thinkers brought forth and celebrated egalitarian principles such as women’s suffrage, ending feudalism, labor unions, social safety nets, and communal living. Many of these early 19th century thinkers inspired communal separation from the mainstream society, where voluntary groups of people lived and worked outside the realms of traditional culture. Utopian socialists could be considered the first hipsters of the socialist movement. In other words, they were socialist before it was cool to be socialist.

For utopian socialists, their namesake wasn’t created until after the fact. Although deeply inspired by utopian socialist philosophers, Karl Marx added “utopian” as a pejorative label as a means of creating buffer zone of distinction between it and scientific socialism. One of Marx’ biggest criticism of utopian socialism is that most of its philosophical foundations predated the Industrial Revolution – a time of great economic expansion and technological advancement that also stratified socioeconomic classes and developed widening gaps of economic equity. Since utopian thinkers were unable to encapsulate their philosophy on this specific historical era, they were unable to identify with the class struggle, which is the centerpiece of all modern socialist thinking.

Utopian socialism was a hodge-podge of egalitarian principles that did not necessarily root itself in empiricism. Marx sought to formalize and codify socialism as a socioeconomic theory drenched in the scientific method. The development of scientific socialism was tested in the laboratory of history. This philosophy established its primary principle that all historical eras were the result of economic conditions. Furthermore, those economic conditions produced inequalities in political, social, and economic power. Economic class stratification was expedited by the rise of industrial capitalism during the second half of the 19th century, which created two disparate classes of people: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The former was the working class which only could provide labor as its primary form of economic capital. The latter was the dominant class of those who owned land, business, and political persuasion. As conditions worsened for the proletariat, scientific socialism described the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system and its subsequent replacement of a classless and stateless socialist system.
Despite its claims of objectivity, scientific socialism is not entirely science – at least, not in the same way physics, chemistry, microbiology, and other natural sciences are. Many critics argue that the socioeconomic philosophy starts with its hypothesis of class warfare and works backwards in history to prove its validity, which is the exact opposite trajectory of the scientific method. Scientific socialism is, like all other ideologies, is lens that certain people use to view the world differently from others.

Regardless of their differences, both utopian and scientific socialism vehemently challenged the status quo of inequity and powerlessness of impoverished people throughout the world. The historical impact of these philosophies cannot be denied – from the formation of the Soviet Union to the wars that were fought to contain the spread of such ideologies in recent decades. Though in decline in global popularity, socialism still presents itself as an ever-present thorn in the side of the political establishment.


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