KARL MARX (1818-1883)
Marx left his German homeland in 1843 when his radical views met with government disapproval. He moved first to Paris, where he met Friedrich Engels, then to England, his permanent home. There he wrote his most important work, Das Kapital, which argues that history is moving inexorably towards the communist state.
Marx had a complex and, for the most part, reluctant relationship with utopian thought. He attacked utopian thinkers, claiming that “the man who draws up a programme for the future is a reactionary,” and that dreaming of phalansteries, Colonies and Icarias was a useless endeavor. However, he reserved special admiration for Robert Owen, praising him despite his utopian tendencies. Marx was among the first to place a negative value upon the term “utopian.”
Despite this disdain for the “fantasies” of these thinkers, Marx’s program was undeniably utopian in scale and imagination. In some passages, what he envisioned held echoes of Paradise:
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he desires, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
Marx’s disavowal of the utopians was motivated by his desire to proclaim originality, as well as his insistence that he described what was, not what ought to be. Nevertheless, his ideals made him as much a utopian as those he attacked.