Presentation on theme: "Robert Owen 1771-1858. Robert Owens formal education ended at the age of 10, when he went to work. His employer owned a good library, and young Owen read,"— Presentation transcript:
Robert Owens formal education ended at the age of 10, when he went to work. His employer owned a good library, and young Owen read, when he wasnt working.
By age 20, Owen was an ultra-efficient, and very much in demand, manager, of cotton mills. For a founder of Socialism, its notable that Owen himself was also proof that some men of humble origin could prosper under Capitalism.
In 1799, he convinced his business partners to buy the largest cotton mill on earth, the New Lanark Mill, powered by a waterfall on the River Clyde.
Built in 1783, the mill was a tourist attraction, the Poster Mill, as it were, of the Industrial Revolution.
The Mill employed 2,000 workers 500 of whom were children, recruited from Scottish Poor Houses. Children as young as 5 worked 13 hour days.
Owen changed this. As he him- self had, child- ren now went to work at age 10, and worked 10 hour days, until the age of 18. As no new children joined the workforce, child labor was phased out.
Until turning 10, New Lanarks children went to school. Adults took classes at night. Owen founded the worlds first pre-school and adult ed classes. For Owen, nurture trumped nature.
He founded a company store, which sold goods at cost, almost. This was the worlds first consumer-cooperative. Modest profits from the store funded educational projects.
The mill was now an attraction for social reformers. It seemed a functioning Utopia. And, all the while, the mill turned a profit. But Owens partners werent satisfied with the margin of profit, so Owen bought them out.
Owens new partners settled for a 5% return on their investment, whereas the average British mill owner, during this critical era of capital accumulation, was accustomed to profits of up to 50%!
When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, unemployment was catastrophic. The unemployed were considered paupers, and pauperism became a crime.
Owens proposal to Parliament posited the creation of communal farms that were quite like an Israeli Kibbutz. Children would be raised communally, to inculcate cooperation.
Parliament didnt go for this, and, Owen became disillusioned with Britain. In 1825 he bought 30,000 acres in Indiana, U.S.A., and founded an agrarian commune, named New Harmony. The above picture is the plan, but it went unrealized.
New Harmony was a debacle. Its demise would be remarkably mirrored with the implosion of 1,000s of hippy communes, 150 years later! Owen lost nearly all of his vast fortune.
Owens one huge shining success, New Lanark, was hardly a back-to-the-land commune! It was an ultra-modern, ultra- mechanized factory, both ultra-efficient, and ultra-profitable.
Owen believed that machines diminished humans, and they can, but New Lanark flourished because it produced an in-demand product competitively.
New Lanark succeeded within the free market. It was Socialism WITHIN Capitalism. Simply because its set in nature, an agrarian commune isnt some Garden of Eden, automatically. Self-Sufficiency is no panacea.
When Owen returned to Great Britain, in 1829, Owenites were everywhere. Owen became the figurehead of a number of attempts at mass unionism, and, of the first producer-cooperatives.
Robert Owen was, to paraphrase Dr. Katherine Shelfer, a cool guy . He was a century ahead of his time, and then some.