In the early nineteenth century, radicals all over Europe and America began to conceive of a 'New Moral World', and struggled to create their own utopias, with collective family life, communal property, free love and birth control. In Britain, the visionary ideals of the Utopian Socialist Robert Owen, attracted thousands of followers, who for more than a quarter of a century attempted to put theory into practice in their own local societies, at rousing public meetings, in trade unions and in their new Communities of Mutual Association.
Barbara Taylor's brilliant study of this visionary challenge recovers the crucial connections between socialist aims and feminist aspirations. In doing so, it opens the way to an important re-interpretation of the socialist tradition as a whole, and contributes to the reforging of some of those early links between feminism and socialism.
About the Author
Barbara Taylor's books include Eve and the New Jerusalem, The Last Asylum and On Kindness, a defence of fellow feeling co-written with the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. She is a longstanding editor of the leading history journal, History Workshop Journal, and a director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre. She teaches History and English at Queen Mary University of London.
The problematic relationship between socialism and feminism has engendered much debate. Professor Taylor's contribution is a strong case for the greater feminist content of Owenism as against other socialist movements, including Chartism and much of Marxism. Owenism traces its roots to the radical egalitarianism of the 1790s and to Mary Wollstonecraft, whose Vindication of the Rights of Women Taylor deems not simply a "founding text in bourgeois feminism," but a "high point in democratic radicalism." The counter-revolutionary impetus and religious revivalism of the early 1800s divided liberalism and utopianism, however, reinstating patriarchal authority and class privilege and setting utopianism on a divergent path. It was Robert Owen's belief, subscribed to by many artisans and craft workers, that society at large could be harmonized. In Owenism's first, enthusiastic period (1824-33), Owenites argued against tracing woman's dependence to Eve's sin by presenting evidence of the importance of social environment from such diverse fields as "physiology, anatomy, sensationalist psychology, phrenology, [and] Lamarckian evolutionist theory." They attacked the "sex slavery" of female dependence and the monogamous family, and were eager to substitute "natural" relations for contractual ones (especially as they considered sexual desire to be a natural force virtually beyond human control). Such ideas encouraged women workers to participate in organizing craft unions, and to speak out. Then the movement's emphasis shifted. "Whereas in 1829-34 Owenism had been identified with cooperative shops, and Labour exchanges, and trade unionism, by the early 1840's it was an organization dedicated to community experimentation: and the dissemination of heterodox propaganda." Within the seven British communities, stress was placed on flexibility of work roles and the importance of the "social family" over the biological one. Sadly, personal and class conflicts between Owen and his followers ended these experiments - at the cost, Taylor believes, of a distinctive moral vision. "After 1845, sex oppression and class exploitation increasingly became viewed not' as twin targets of a single strategy, but as separate objects of separate struggles. . . ." A meticulously researched history of one social movement through Which others are neatly refracted - and with which, as Taylor observes, feminists may "still identify." (Kirkus Reviews)
Number Of Pages: 432
Published: 1st January 2000
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.7 x 2.8
Weight (kg): 0.34
Edition Number: 1