Smith, J. Harvey
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of History
Tristan; Flore; 1803-1844; Socialism--History; Feminism--History
Flora Tristan was a unique historical figure whose lifetime (1803-1844) corresponded to the origins of the modern socialist and feminist movements. In the 1830's and 184O's in France she espoused a radical doctrine that included both the emancipation of women and the emancipation, of the proletariat. A major purpose of this study is to analyze and evaluate the French paria's historical contribution to these two causes. It is hoped that a study of her life and thought may also yield new insights into the historical epoch in which she lived. An assessment of Tristan's historical significance necessitated concentration on her mature thought. Part I is accordingly devoted to an analysis of her major ideas, including their implementation in a propaganda tour of France in 1844. By contrast, Part II involves analysis of the individual personality of Flora Tristan. By tracing her emotional and intellectual evolution, it seeks to explain why this unique French woman came to hold the ideas expressed in Part I. Tristan's conceptions of socialism and feminism did not exist in isolation from each other. They were interdependent aspects of her philosophical thought. One of her most original contributions was to establish links between the two causes so that they fused. Ultimately neither the proletariat nor women could free themselves within existing bourgeois society or without freeing the other. Sexual oppression was tied to class oppression through the institution of private property, and both groups had to change the economic structure to achieve emancipation. Significantly, Tristan's vision of the future involved a Female Guide who led the proletariat to progress. Tristan undertook a tour of France on April 12, 1844, to propagandize on behalf of the feminist and socialist messages contained in her most famous work, Union ouvriere. She was the first person to go directly to the French working manses in an attempt to get them, to organize themselves politically. In so doing she proposed the constitution of a united international working class, generally considered the forerunner of the International. In the course of this mission as propagandist she contracted typhus fever and died on November 14, 1844. Recent research has shown that Tristan's tour was more successful than has previously been acknowledged and was at least one impetus for change that helped lead to Louis Philippe's downfall in 1848*- Tristan's success was not an accidental one; her philosophy was more coherent and more in touch with reality than has generally been recognized. Tristan's thought is thus worthy of study in its own right. Tristan, perhaps better than any other single individual, symbolizes the transition from utopian to scientific socialism. Her philosophy does not fit the utopian mold described by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto. Although she displayed certain utopian characteristics, she advanced beyond her socialist predecessors and anticipated ideas that Marx would later advance. Tristan's transitional status is best exemplified in her evolving position on class struggle. Like the Utopians, she had long recognized class antagonisms. Unlike them, in the final analysis, she accepted class struggle as the only viable alternative open to the working class. Her tour of France in 1844 convinced her that the bourgeoisie was the enemy, not the ally, of the working class. It ended any hopes she had of class cooperation and caused her to place new emphasis on class struggle. The task of the day was therefore to prepare for the social revolution that would take place once workers took power, as they inevitably would. As an individual, Flora Tristan suffered life experiences that contributed to a feeling of alienation from her society. Her ability to generalize from these experiences meant emotional commitment to the parias of her day—women and the proletariat. Affected by her intellectual milieu, she created her own philosophical thought.
Beik, Mildred A., "Flora Tristan and the origins of modern feminism and socialism" (1976). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 3150.
Northern Illinois University
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