Robert Owen and the Idea of SocialismJune 27, 2021
Owen was very interested in science as well as philosophy.
Being close friends with Robert Fulton, who adapted the steam engine to ships, Owen also participated in fruitful discussions on science, religion, and society at the home of John Dalton, the most important chemist of the time.
He became one of the respected members of the “Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society”, which includes famous scientists and thinkers, and made several successful presentations on working life and human character there. He also wrote articles on human character, science and production. Because of his emphasis on putting science into the service of society, intellectuals described him as a “thinking machine” or “philosopher who thinks about creating humans with chemistry”.
The secret of Robert’s success was not in the technology he used, but in his social and philosophical views. According to him, “mankind was neither inherently good nor evil. The deterioration of social conditions was destroying human beings morally and mentally. If given the opportunity, there was no beauty he couldn’t achieve.”
Now Robert Owen wanted to test his political and philosophical thoughts on an original model. His aim was to establish a “life and production center” whose conditions he determined himself. This was the first opportunity he had. David Dale, a fabricator from a well-established Scottish family and managing director of Glasgow’s Royal Bank, had offered Robert Owen to set up a joint business. But for this he had to go to Lanark, for there was a weaving mill that was not working well. On January 1, 1800, Owen, in his own words, “became the head of the Lanark Government”. But Owen’s relationship with David Dale was more than just a corporate partnership. Owen had fallen in love with Dale’s 19-year-old daughter named Caroline. In a short time, this love would turn into marriage and they would have 7 children from this marriage, each of whom would be successful in another field. In short, Owen had been the son-in-law of one of England’s leading bourgeois.
The Lanark Project, on the other hand, would “change the lives of not only the employees but all the people living in the region and offer them a happy life”. The people “lived in laziness, poverty, all kinds of moral depravity. Everyone was in debt, sick and miserable.” The people had to be saved.
Workers had to work 15-16 hours for low wages; Children between the ages of 6 and 13 brought from the orphanages of the region worked 13 hours a day for full stomach. Families lived in a single house, in a muddy sea, struggling with diseases. Child and female mortality rates were very high. In addition to the aforementioned bad conditions, prostitution, gambling, alcohol, fighting and murders were also considered daily cases. Engels, one of the theorists of scientific socialism, would later write down these conditions in his magnificent work “The Condition of the Working Class in England”.
Unfortunately, the workers themselves showed the greatest resistance to Owen, who set his mind to change all these conditions. Because of the moral structure and character disorder that came from the habits and traditions of the years, no one trusted anyone; no one expects favors from anyone, behind every good deed, a capan was looking for a son. Twelve years later, Owen wrote of his experience under the title A New View of Society, 1813. Everything was noted down there in detail:
The most advanced technology was used in the factory; most of the machines were his invention; the working hours of adult workers were reduced to 10.5 hours, and they were resting for 1.5 hours; child labor was prohibited; a fund was created as the first step in sickness, accident and old age insurance; a number of administrative measures were taken to reduce crime rates; no workers were stealing; alcohol is prohibited; controls were increased and an education campaign was launched to enlighten everyone. Both literacy and vocational courses were organized for women; kindergartens were established for children.
When problems arose, the police and courts were disabled, and a committee of workers’ representatives dealt with all the problems. There was complete self-government. There was freedom of religion and opinion, but no one could impose his own belief on another. No one had any privileges.
In addition to work safety, he attached great importance to cleanliness and health. Mass housing units were built close to the factory, thus preventing wastage of time; Houses and lodgings were built, enabling workers’ families to live in collective and regular houses. Workers could only trust Owen 6 years later, when he too was unable to produce due to a lack of materials and workers continued to receive their wages after sitting idle at home for several months. According to Owen, human character could be shaped by changing social conditions. It was possible to establish a world of harmony without exploitation, oppression, misery and humiliation. But first circumstances would change and people would be formed step by step. For the first time, Owen referred to this order as “socialism”. Moreover, according to him, capitalism is a feudal system.