Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Blue Meanie

: : : : .

OK, call me a blue meanie if you will. I took a quick look at the Norman Geras article linked to by Stuart in comments below, re: Utopia.

I intend to answer tangentally.

Firstly, I have just finished reading a bob-awfeul 20's thriller by John Buchan The Three Hostages. An Bullshot story if ever I read one - with what were once distinct High Tory views proudly on display: the sort of casual elitism and racism that now would be completely unacceptable in polite society.

I consider it, though, worth reading as a form of literary archaeology (OK, I'm justifying reading a book I found in a pile in my room for some reason). It reveals a lot of interesting features of the genre, and shares not a few characteristics with Dracula.

The relevence here, I think, is that it allows us to remember what was once thought, how people thought differently. It also allows us to do so by understanding how people thought - ISTR Althusser suggested that in literature we can see ideology rather than experience it.

I'd suggest that the process involved is one of un-othering the past. Whilst we see differences between how people thought, felt and acted in the past and in other societies, what we are looking for or through is the core humanity that remains the same: that's the only way we can understand and appreciate history.

So, to Norm. The key quote is this:
it remains true that from the outset socialism was utopian. It was a distant land, another moral universe. It was radically other vis-a-vis the order of things it aspired to replace.
Now, I do not believe Socialism is an other radically different from capitalism. It is not its opposite, it is its continuation, its outgrowth. Capitalism produces combined labour, breaks the gift relationship and replaces it with a generalised duty, spreads unownership. Ultimate unownership is common ownership. Ultimate co-operation is the death of the gift relation.

The genuine other of capitalism has been romantic anti-capitalism of the return to small shopkeepers or medievalism kind.

I think Norm's explanatation places socialist utopia (his maximum utopia) in a position of being an ideological fantasy support - an unobtainable impossible; a kind of social eros. I think the minimum utopia is maximal enough, in un-othering this future, via reference to our present. We have to build on existing ideas. Our notions of socialism come not from an ideal or a blue print but from our own day-to-day experience here and now.

Update Damn - I had meant to also cunningly weave in a mention to this post which links to a fascinating discussion paper which I also think is relevent - what could be more utopian than having people play act a participatory democracy? I've said before, Stalin was the ultimate utopian.


Blogger DespairToWhere said...

Great post, Bill. And thanks for taking the trouble to answer the question.

11:00 AM  

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