Scientific socialism

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Scientific socialism is the term used by Friedrich Engels[1] to describe the social-political-economic theory first pioneered by Karl Marx. The purported reason why this socialism is "scientific socialism" (as opposed to "utopian socialism") is because its theories are held to an empirical standard, observations are essential to its development, and these can result in changes/falsification of elements of theory.

Although Marx denounced "utopian socialism", he never referred to his own ideas as "scientific socialism". Similar methods for analyzing social and economic trends and involving socialism as a product of socioeconomic evolution have also been used by non-Marxist theoreticians, such as Joseph Schumpeter and Thorstein Veblen.


Scientific socialism refers to a method for understanding and predicting social, economic and material phenomena by examining their historical trends through the use of the scientific method in order to derive probable outcomes and probable future developments. It is in contrast to what later socialists referred to as "utopian socialism"; a method based on establishing seemingly rational propositions for organizing society and convincing others of their rationality and/or desirability. It also contrasts with classical liberal notions of natural law, which are grounded in metaphysical notions of morality rather than a dynamic materialist or physicalist conception of the world. [2]

Scientific socialists view social and political developments as being largely determined by economic conditions as opposed to ideas in contrast to utopian socialists and classical liberals, and thus understand that social relations and notions of morality are context-based relative to their specific stage of economic development. Therefore as economic systems, socialism and capitalism are not social constructs that can be established at any time based on the subjective will and desires of the population, but instead are products of social evolution. An example of this was the advent of agriculture which enabled human communities to produce a surplus; this change in material and economic development led to a change in social relations and rendered the old form of social organization based on subsistence-living obsolete and a hindrance to further material progress. Changing economic conditions necessitated a change in social organization.[3]

Similar perspectives

Thorstein Veblen, the founder of evolutionary economics, believed that technological developments would eventually lead toward a socialistic organization of economic affairs. However, his views regarding socialism and the nature of the evolutionary process of economics differed sharply from that of Karl Marx; while Marx saw socialism as the ultimate goal for civilization and saw the working-class as the group that would establish it, Veblen saw socialism as one immediate phase in an ongoing evolutionary process in society that would be brought about by the natural decay of the business enterprise system and by the inventiveness of engineers.[4]

Veblen's methodology for analyzing economic developments is similar to that of scientific socialism and also contrast to neoclassical/classical political economy and utopian socialism; he understood that society and economics was constantly evolving and that this process affected the fundamental basis of established social relations.

See also


  1. Frederick Engels - Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. 1880 Full Text
  2. Socialism and Modern Science, by Ferri, Enrico. 1912. From "Evolution and Socialism" (P.79): "Upon what point are orthodox political economy and socialism in absolute conflict? Political economy has held and holds that the economic laws governing the production and distribution of wealth which it has established are natural laws ... not in the sense that they are laws naturally determined by the condition of the social organism (which would be correct), but that they are absolute laws, that is to say that they apply to humanity at all times and in all places, and consequently, that they are immutable in their principal points, though they may be subject to modification in details. Scientific socialism holds, on the contrary, that the laws established by classical political economy, since the time of Adam Smith, are laws peculiar to the present period in the history of civilized humanity, and that they are, consequently, laws essentially relative to the period of their analysis and discovery."
  4. Wood, John (1993) (in English). The life of Thorstein Veblen and perspectives on his thought. introd. Thorstein Veblen. New York: Routledge. . "The decisive difference between Marx and Veblen lay in their respective attitudes on socialism. For while Marx regarded socialism as the ultimate goal for civilization, Veblen saw socialism as but one stage in the economic evolution of society." 

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