Friday, 2 August 2013

Two cheers for Utopia

One day last week, reviews of the Five Leaves Utopia issue of our annual journal turned up in Anarchist Studies and the Communist Party's Communist Review. I imagine it would be hard to find two journals further apart but still on the left. Communist Review (CR) is still debating what went wrong in the former Soviet Union (though it has a good poetry section) while Anarchist Studies' (AS lead article is "Toward a Peak Everything Postanarchism and Technology Evaluation Schema for Communities in Crisis". Yes, it can be that kind of academic journal. Both took Utopia seriously, devoting a lot of space to it.
AS would perhaps be expected to review favourably as many of the writers - as the CR was quick to pick up - were from a libertarian background and the reviewer Diogo Duarte finds that many of the shorter pieces "written like chronicles, often starting from personal experience or a biographical episode of the author that could be as different as a coastal walk... a journey to Patagonia" which "offer us uncommon approaches to the topic or reflections on how utopia can be found in banal actions or habits" are the most entertaining reads but at the same time "utopia is used in such a broad way that it becomes impossible to discern what the criterion was behind the inclusion of the text." As editor of the work, I am not sure what my criterion was either, so the point was fairly made. I suppose that I wanted exactly that - well written pieces including those AS described as having "historical depth" as well as the more personal approach.
Over at CR Steve Johnson finds the book very readable and you can tell in his review that he found the book a pleasurable read, yet noticed that what was not on offer was any idea or strategy on how to reach utopia. I'm still looking for those. Steve also cleverly picks up that much of the utopian language of the libertarian left has been picked up by the right "with its talk of free schools and alternative education" suggesting that "anti-statism without a wider political strategy can have deeply reactionary consequences. Big Society anyone?
As editor, the pieces that bookended Utopia were, for me, the most important. The first was by Mike Marqusee (a Marxist), a piece which AS described as making "a short but strong claim on the importance of utopian thought and the consequences of its absence". The last was the picture, reprinted here from the (Marxist) Country Standard where, prefiguring the work of the anarchist illustrator Cliff Harper's famous sequence of illustrations in Undercurrents and elsewhere (which should have been included in the journal!), the unknown illustrator imagines how we will live in a better society. Good to see the reading room there.
Does this mean that there is more in common between anarchist academics and members of the Communist Party than we thought? Maybe. Just don't mention Kronstadt.

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