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Owenism, co-operation, socialism and political economy, 1817-1835

Dean, Russell (1996) Owenism, co-operation, socialism and political economy, 1817-1835. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis analyses the complex interrelationship between British socialism and political economy in the period in which both discourses flourished. The thesis begins by reviewing previous studies of Owenism and suggests an alternative thematic approach to elucidate the relationships between Owenism and political economy, in terms of both differences and similarities. Chapter one focuses on the initial period when Owenism was most closely identified with key individuals like Robert Owen, and argues that the pervasive historiographical view that Owenism was essentially incompatible with political economy is too simplistic. In fact, early Owenites were never totally successful in extricating themselves from the competitive, capitalist theoretical web which they closely identified with political economy. Chapter two extends this argument to the period when Owenism emerged from its largely eponymous stage, and a variety of Owenite, co-operative and socialist discourses developed, with divergent perspectives on their relationships with competitive capitalism. Chapter three argues that the ubiquitous view of a binary opposition between pro-private property political economists and 'communistic' Owenites ignores strong contrary evidence. Not all Owenites wanted to abolish private property; indeed some wanted to extend private property rights on the basis of the moral imperative provided by the labour theory of value. Chapters four to six examine the relationship of political economy and Owenism to the labour theory of value/exchange. The major argument in these chapters is that for both Owenites and leading political economists like Ricardo and Malthus, the labour theory of value was a transcendental organising principle, but it was an economic model which neither the socialists nor economists could sustain. Finally, chapter seven argues that the widespread view that the Malthusian population theory represented a significant site of difference between Owenites and economists is erroneous. This thesis demonstrates that the intimate links between Owenism and political economy require a reconsideration of both the historical context and the historical character of British socialism to 1835.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Supervisor(s): Hooper, John
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