From Owenite Socialism to Blairite Social-ism: Utopia and Dystopia in Robert Owen and New Labour

Donnachie, Ian and Mooney, Gerry (2007). From Owenite Socialism to Blairite Social-ism: Utopia and Dystopia in Robert Owen and New Labour. Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, 35(2) pp. 275–291.



In this paper we explore some of the enduring themes that characterise Owen, Blair and their respective followers. While Owen and Blair are separated by two centuries, there is a considerable degree of coincidence in their approaches and agendas. New Labour sees itself as constructing a new Britain, a new welfare system and a Third Way approach to politics and the state, which is constructed as new in that it purports to 'go beyond' both 'Old' Labour and the Conservatives. As with Blair and New Labour, for Owen constructing a particular vision of 'new' society was an important objective. This 'newness' is reflected in his most famous icon, New Lanark, as well as in his ideas for a 'new Society' and a 'New Moral World'. For both Owen and the Owenites, and Blair and New Labour, there is a shared effort to distance themselves from 'past failures' while projecting an image of the future, an attempt to construct a model or vision of what a 'good' society should look like. Here ideas of utopia and dystopia come into focus. Indeed we find ourselves concurring with Engels and Marx who suggested that utopian visions by their very nature actually created dystopias in their wake. However, we argue, Balir's vision of a social-ist society is very much at odds with the vision of progressive socialist society constructed by Owen, though both undoubtedly generated dystopian outcomes from utopian agendas.

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