Association is an overarching theme in early socialism, linking all of the aspects discussed in this book, religion, education and work. Early socialists were convinced that association was the answer to the social question. This confidence was rooted in the conviction that the problems of contemporary society were caused by a whole range of conflict situations that threatened to fragment social groups and whole countries, as seen in both endemic public disorder and repeated revolutionary upheaval. Divisive issues that the early socialists recognized included harmful economic competition or concurrence, class conflicts, urbanization, technical innovation leading to industrialization and factories, and disruption to family and marriage structures. The answer, according the socialists, lay in the creation of associations, which they variously called harmony, mutualism, Icarianism, solidarity, social workshops, the bank of the people and so on. Their associations varied from new experimental communities designed to remake society as a whole, to smaller schemes to deal with the problem of work insecurity. These included producer and retail cooperatives, based on mutual-aid principles, and worker unions. Some hoped that producer cooperatives would be self-financed; others looked to the state to provide start-up capital. Some hoped that private ownership would wither away; others planned for profit sharing.
In the next four chapters I will reflect on why socialists put such faith in the idea of association and why their solutions were so varied. I shall begin with overarching schemes for a new world, considering the various specific plans to organize work for the betterment of society, first focusing on Fourier, to contrast his ideas for a phalange with those of his followers, the Fourierists. The Saint-Simonians called their organization a religion, and reference has already been made to them as a sect, but their ideas on association also merit attention.
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