THE UTOPIANS


The Avant-Garde originated in the European bourgeois revolutions of the first half of the 19th Century. The dominant economic influence of this age was the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the dominant ideological/political influence was revolutionary France. 42

Probably the first use of the term 'Avant-Guard' to designate an Artistic vanguard appears in the work of the French Utopian Socialist Henri de Saint Simon 43 (1760-1825), the influence of his ideas cannot be overestimated , it will suffice to note here that his secretary was August Comte regarded as the founder of both Positivism and Sociology and that he was acknowledged by Marx in the Communist Manifesto. It is from the writings of the French Utopians, Saint-Simon , his rival Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and also Robert Owen (1771-1885) in England that many of the key concepts of Marxism and European anarcho-communism developed in the years between the fall of Napoleon and the revolutions of 1848; the decisive years of the European industrial revolution as economic power passed from the rural landlords to the urban bourgeoisie.
The idea of the Artist as vanguard first appears in a dialogue between an Artist, a Scientist and an Industrialist co-written by Saint - Simon in 1825. To Saint-Simon this trinity of professionals represents the enlightened hope of a new society, and foremost is the Artist ;

'It is we, artists, who will serve you as avant-garde: the power of the arts is in fact most immediate and most rapid: when we wish to spread new ideas among men, we inscribe them on marble or on canvas;...and in that way above all we exert an electric and victorious influence. We address ourselves to the imagination and to the sentiments of mankind; we should therefore always exercise the livliest and most decisive action; and if today our role appears nil or at very least secondary, what is lacking to the arts is that which is essential to their energy and to their success, namely , a common drive and a general idea.' 44

According to Donald D. Egbert 45 Saint-Simon's formulation of the Artist as the political vanguard pre-dates the use of 'Avant-Guard' as a solely political term.
The weapon of Saint-Simon's vanguard was scientific rationalism, with rationalism the vanguard would sweep away all the privileges of birth and construct a new meritocracy , a golden age of prosperity and peace as the scientists, the industrialists and the Artists rule a united European community . 46

Although Marx and Engels acknowledged the 'Utopian Socialists' as the precursors of their scientific socialism they also dismissed them as crude idealists 47 who since they were working before the consolidation of bourgeois capitalism could not base their theories on a clear analysis of the material dialectic of history, these 'Utopias' were not to be the triumph of the proletariat, they were to be the project of all classes of humanity. And this is a paradox in the Marxist charge of 'Utopianism', for whilst Marx never formulated or even speculated on what Communist society would be like , practical experimentation in communal living was integral to the 'Utopian Socialists', they all built Utopias; the Owenites at New Harmony in Indiana, the Fourierists in France, Rumania and Texas and the Saint-Simonians at Menilmontant near Paris. Predictably most of these short lived communities were formed by bourgeois misfits and ended in schism and debt, but they were not theoretical , they were commune/ism in practice.
Central to these experimental communities was Art. The activities of the Artist disciples of both Saint-Simon and Fourier in the 1830's, notably their architectural designs for Utopian communities, and the influence of Utopian Socialism on the circle of Victor Hugo, supports Poggioli's assertion that the Avant-Garde finds its first expression in 19th Century Romanticism.

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