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Marx and Engels are frequently portrayed as holding an unremittingly hostile view of utopian socialism. This negative reading is undermined by the approving comments on the same subject also found in their writings. However, it does not follow that Marx and Engels disparage and laud utopian socialism in an ambiguous or inconsistent manner. There is an underlying structure to their views which renders their considered account of utopian socialism consistent. Two distinctions provide that structure: a chronological distinction (between the first and the subsequent generations of utopians); and a textual distinction (between two kinds of subject matter in utopian writings). These two distinctions correspond to a difference in the degree of approbation that Marx and Engels bestow. They express a distinct preference for the first (over any second or subsequent) generation of utopian socialists, and for the 'critical' (over the 'systematic') dimension of utopian writings. A clear (although not unproblematic) rationale motivates each of those preferences.

Keywords: Charles Fourier; Etienne Cabet; Friedrich Engels; Henri de Saint-Simon; Karl Marx; Marxism; Robert Owen; Socialism; Utopian Socialism; Utopianism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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