Practising (for) utopia

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by Ruth Kinna

This essay[1] highlights the constructive, utopian possibilities that spring from a sense of political compromise and argues that this distinctive type of utopian practice lends itself particularly well to anarchism. To show the distinctiveness of the approach in anarchist thought, the paper examines two other models of utopianism: one called realist and the other experiential. The argument is that, while all these conceptions of anarchist utopianism are valuable, the experiments that stem from compromise not only have the potential to inspire activists but also challenge non-anarchists to consider the costs of their everyday, apparently mundane decisions.

On May 27 2013, four days before he was killed in an accident, Mott Green, founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company blogged: “Yes, idealism setting an example for the world. On June 14th, we will unload approximately 18,000 Grenada Chocolate bars and load them onto a large caravan of cyclists on work cycles and pulling trailers to deliver the bars all over Holland. Fully transparent and sustainable supply chocolate-chain from the farm to the store.'[2] Disillusioned with American culture, Green had dropped out of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania in 1988 to work with the homeless in Philadelphia.[3] Arriving in Grenada in the mid-1990s, he established the company in 1999 as an organic, egalitarian co-operative. Cocoa had been farmed in Grenada since the abolition of slavery in 1834, the diversification from sugar produced on British-owned slave plantations encouraged by the liberation.[4] Yet the beneficiaries of production were the commodity brokers who exported the beans, not the farmers who sold them. Grenada’s average annual temperature of 27 degrees Celsius presented what appeared to be an insurmountable barrier to domestic production: chocolate requires a constant temperature of 18 Celsius; and the lure of commodity trading meant that the investment required for tempering the heat and humidity was not readily available. Applying his engineering skills to resolve the technical problems, Green worked with small growers and invested his money to build a plant that enabled local people to become makers and, using only wind and solar power to transport their goods across the Atlantic, sell the finished product in Europe.

If, as Colin Ward observed, ‘everybody’s ideal place is different'[5] the image of a chocolate factory situated in a lush, unspoiled Caribbean island might nevertheless be considered an exemplary model, certainly satisfying the fantasies of millions of chocolate addicts across the globe.[6] Green’s voyage, the island, the fantasy of finding a paradise to indulge in the Mayan food of the gods also touches on a number of literary utopian tropes. The striking difference between his experience and that of the utopian travellers imagined in European literatures is that he apparently transcended the distance between culture and nature. At first living in isolation in a remote bamboo hut, Green lived like Thoreau at Walden Pond, but for his love of jazz which he realised by harnessing the power of the sun.

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Green’s work, I will argue, is an inspiring example of special kind of utopian practice. This kind of utopianism is driven by a wariness of perfection, not only in the sense that perfectionism is associated with illiberalism and coerced conformity, as liberal anti-utopians have long argued,[7] but also in the sense that compromise based on the awareness of imperfection supports a utopian impulse. Voltaire is credited with the phrase ‘the best is the enemy of the good’ but it was the late nineteenth-century activist Errico Malatesta who imported the idea into anarchism. Malatesta interpreted Voltaire’s dictum to mean: ‘let us do what we can, assuming we cannot do all we would wish; but do something we must’.[8] For Malatesta, ‘doing something’ meant remaining committed to struggle by means of direct action and holding fast to long term goals, even in the face of popular indifference and apathy. He made his disappointment explicit. ‘All of us, without exception’, he argued, are obliged to live, more or less, in contradiction with our ideals; but we are anarchists and socialists because, and in so far as, we suffer by this contradiction, and seek to make it as small as possible. In the event of adapting ourselves to the environment, we would of course also lose the desire to change it, and would become ordinary bourgeois; bourgeois without money perhaps, but for all that bourgeois in our actions and intentions.[9]

Not all resistance actions are clearly utopian. Brian Martin’s conception of non-reformist reform provides a framework for identifying the utopian dimension. Unlike reformist reform, which reinforces existing institutional practices, non-reformist reform is intended to challenge them: action provides opportunities for participation, serves as a platform for further experimentation and is not easily recuperated by hierarchy.[10] Non-reformist reform can operate in a variety of ways. Martin considers the development of alternative teaching practices in schools and universities and resistance to electoral or military systems. A defining feature is that the actions provide scope for resistance in the everyday, much like the anarchic actions that Colin Ward detailed in Anarchy in Action, his ‘updating footnote’ to Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid.[11] Non-reformist reform becomes utopian when the activities that the resistance is designed to support acquire what theorists of utopian studies define as a critical dimension, not only bypassing existing arrangements but doing so in furtherance of a transformative, alternative ideal. As Lucy Sargisson describes, critical utopias are intended to ‘destroy, transform, and revive the utopian tradition’ in order to bring about social transformations that are responsive to the ‘concerns, needs and wants’ of their creators and dreamers – like Green’s chocolate company.[12] To give another example, the anarchist collective Bicycology functions as many other non-anarchist cycling clubs by providing advice about cycling and organising cycling events, but instead of promoting cycling as a healthy activity and/or campaigning to make cycling safer in a car-dominated environment, Bicycology rejects automobility and presents a critique of the planning priorities and consumption patterns it demands and the corporate capitalist logic that underpins it.[13] Its vision, of a green, non-hierarchical, consensual, human-paced, communal world, is utopian and members’ activities are intended to help bring this utopia into being.

Anarchism supports hundreds of local, countercultural initiatives like Bicycology — vegan and vegetarian kitchens, community farms, fairwear clothing, D-I-Y music and publishing, many documented in Chris Carlsson’s Nowtopia.[14] In order to explore their distinctive features I examine two other conceptions of anarchist utopianism. The first, abstracted from Ronald Creagh’s work, is realist.[15] The second, modelled on Stephven Shukaitis’s work, can be thought of as experiential.[16] Important differences between these approaches emerge in the relationship between reality and utopia and the priority attached to eutopia (meaning good place) — and dystopia (used to describe bad places) — in political imagining. These conceptions should not be treated as mutually exclusive alternatives but are outlined in order to consider how anarchist critique shapes and informs utopian practices and to illustrate how contemporary anarchist action intersects with utopian ways of thinking.

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Realist and experiential utopias

Creagh’s treatment of utopia is framed by an abiding worry about what Marie Louise Berneri termed the mastership of utopia. Typically, she argued, utopian designers envisage utopia as a place of freedom, but in sketching their pictures they succeed only in denying freedom’s possibility. Abrogating even the right to decree ‘that each should do as he wills’, Diderot was the exception proving this rule. Other ‘builders of utopias’ she argued, ‘are determined to remain the masters of their imaginary commonwealths’, ‘lawgivers’ issuing codes to be ‘strictly followed’ and moralists determining the limits of rightful behaviour.[17] Like Berneri, Creagh defends anti-authoritarian utopias, those possessing the dynamic, truly progressive and expressive qualities that Herbert Read made the ‘test of art’,[18] but he suggests that the authoritarian tendencies of utopia can never be underestimated. Even anarchism exhibits them.

Creagh associates authoritarian utopianism with an approach to action, which he terms messianism, and a conception of utopia’s unreality. In respect of the first, he borrows Proudhon’s term to label anarchist authoritarians ‘”idéomanes“‘: ‘individuals imprisoned in the bubble of their ideas’ who ‘propound a platform’ and require ’emancipation movements to subordinate themselves to that program’. These ‘obsessive personalities try to convince the world they offer the philosopher’s stone’. They ‘sacrifice their lives, their desires, their aspirations and their families to the Cause’. Instead of helping others ‘to find their own tools for their personal and collective emancipation…they ask them to submit to those ideas’.[19] The critique has a long history and broad appeal. John Henry McKay’s characterisation of nineteenth-century anarchist communism and Bob Black’s description of leftism both fall within this utopian anti-utopian tradition.[20]

Turning to utopia’s unreality, Creagh breaks with the political-literary convention that links utopias with Thomas More’s exemplar and instead situates utopia in resistance politics. His approach assumes a familiarity with late nineteenth and early twentieth-century European debates about utopianism and social transformation. Examining Marxist utopian critiques of capitalism and anti-utopian free market liberalism, he highlights an important shift in the status of utopia, from history to myth. Voices at both poles of the ideology’s opposition, Creagh argues, treated utopia as a counter to reality. Marxists did so in order to challenge claims about the inevitability of the conditions that capitalism constructed and to show how a better reality might be realised. Protagonists for the status quo adopted this re-casting of utopia but in order to highlight the dangers of the revolutionary opposition’s apparent fantasies. Either way, utopia emerged as a condition that does not or should not exist – an antonym for the real world of existence.

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Creagh develops the point by showing how different parties to the debate cast utopia in relation to history. The immediate roots of this debate can be traced to the nineteenth century and the utopianism of revolutionary dreamers, notably William Morris. For Morris, the non-existence of utopia was part of its transformative power and the ability to recover a history of failed struggles, apparently animated by a dream of a better world, lent the past a potentially catalysing, motivational force in the present. The intergenerational power of utopian aspiration was expressed brilliantly in Morris’s conception of the ‘change beyond the change’.[21] Creagh’s account of twentieth-century utopians (Benjamin is his example) suggests an altered relationship. These later utopians, Creagh contends, located utopia in the past to illuminate the contingencies of elite history reveal the nature of present oppression, expose the vulnerabilities of present systems of oppression and, thus, realise utopia in the present. Their concern was not, as Morris argued, to inspire the oppressed to take advantage of capitalism’s ripening, but to counter the crude determinism of scientific socialism which supported a linear conjunction of reality and history.[22] Utopia described a historical past eradicated through the machinations of power yet which re-imagined might explode current class configurations, in the manner of a Sorelian myth. However the desirability of the past that was imagined depended on the critical reason. When this failed, the door was opened to the articulation of ideals that were profoundly dystopian. And when the defeat of these dystopian experiments laid the way for the resurgence of liberal anti-utopianism in European politics, the fragility of this conception of history and utopia was exposed. Utopia was dismissed as ‘inherently vicious because, in fine, it was totalitarian and engendered concentration camps and the return of the catastrophes’. All that remained, Creagh notes, was an idea of reality which, judged by the utopianism of the past, denied all prospects of an alternative future.

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For Creagh, the utopians’ mistake was not to think that the present is awful but to imagine that what exits must therefore describe reality. To correct the error, he reverses the accepted wisdom. The present is only myth: ‘happiness propagated by the advertising industry: well-being through consumption, success stories of the jet set, democracy through the free market and so on’.[23] Having rejected conceptions of utopia as ideas or creations of the human mind, he re-discovers utopia as reality. Returning to Thomas More, Creagh argues that his pun – good place/no place – has routinely encouraged students of utopia to confuse ‘good place’ with ‘ideal society’ and, similarly, wrongly associate ‘nowhere’ with non-existence or nothingness. ‘Good place’, he notes, might also describe a condition or state-of-being. Likewise ‘nowhere’ captures an idea of the void or infinite space. For Creagh it is a metaphor of the universe. Creagh’s view recalls Peter Kropotkin’s conception of anarchy. In Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal, Kropotkin compared anarchist conceptions of politics with astronomical understandings of the universe. In both realms, he argued: ‘The idea of force governing the world, pre-established law, preconceived harmony, disappears to make room for the harmony that Fourier had caught a glimpse of: the one which results from the disorderly and incoherent movements of numberless hosts of matter, each of which goes its own way and all of which hold each in equilibrium’.[24]

Likewise Creagh sees utopia as something inherently anarchic, a world without principles, but not without regularities or ‘points of equilibrium’. It is a world of ‘deterministic chaos’ which ‘includes the conditions for the emergence of unexpected complexities which are more than the sum or their elements’.[25] Creagh takes his lead from Taoism; Kropotkin borrowed from modern physics, excited in particular by the idea of the quanta, to set out a similar vision.[26] However, by painting utopia as actuality rather than an approach to it, Creagh alters its political scope. The issue confronting ‘utopian realism’ is not how to challenge the enervating oppression of reality, as Morris might have argued. Utopia, he argues, ‘should no longer be seen in beautiful descriptions, programs, platforms’. Nor is it ‘simply a landscape of thought’, as Kropotkin’s account of astronomy and atomic physics suggested.[27] Utopian realism is instead a handle to grasp the mythic and transitory nature of existing social and political forms: it provides an escape-route from the condition we perceive, negatively, as reality.

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Creagh resolves the tension between the static, myth-governed existence of neo-liberal capitalism and the dynamic reality of utopian realism by spotlighting ‘the infinite creative possibilities carried by the unexpected’.[28] In social analysis, this directs him to the transformative power of insurrection. Utopia, he argues, ‘is embedded in movements.’ Referring to the concept of the plateau, borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari, Creagh argues that social movements offer a route to the attainment of altered forms of consciousness through the discovery of their collective power and the ‘thrills of activism’. Breaking free from established rituals, movements create ‘new forms of comradeship’, non-hierarchical connections, and puncture the apparent totality of the present, stripping the once clothed king naked.[29] The politics that emerges from this analysis is deeply anti-programmatic.

The passage from one plateau to another is due to the fact that participants are not hindered by a person or an organization who decides in their name to negotiate with the powers that be. As long as participants remain the masters of their exchanges and actions, the movement may emerge to some other height. We can now imagine a new type of activist, the utopian, who will facilitate these exchanges to produce the magic of creativity. And rather than playing the role of a leader, he will endeavour to be nowhere. Like utopia.[30]

Creagh identifies the Zapatista rebellion and the anti-globalization movement as collective agents of utopian realism but his conception might also be applied to other horizontal movements and more recent exhilarating actions: the Indignados, the Arab Spring, Occupy. As manifestations of utopian realism these insurrectional movements reconfigure the relationship between history and reality by grounding reality in the utopian void. Anti-utopian history, once understood as a progression, re-emerges as contingent and uncertain. Thus Creagh dismisses as hubris George Bush’s boast ‘when we act, we create reality'[31] but his idea of utopia finds an echo in the movement claim ‘you make plans, we make history’. History, Creagh argues, is ‘full of gaps that originate in a new series of events … History is anarchy’.[32]

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Like Creagh, Stevphen Shukaitis defends utopian thinking by distancing utopia from blueprint design and the desire to find perfection in fantastic social ideals. The meaning of utopia, he argues, is not exhausted by the project of ‘creating and projecting forth static utopias of imagined futures with no methods for attaining them in the here and now’,[33] and he describes this conception as ‘silly… destructive’ and unhelpful. Against it, he identifies three purposes in utopianism. The first is ethical. Utopian thinking, he argues, ‘is the task of bringing what Durruti called “the new world we carry in our hearts” into existence’.[34] The second, integral to it, is practical. The role of utopia is to give tangible expression to these ethics, ‘even if only in a piecemeal fashion’ by demonstrating the viability of political, social and economic mechanisms that support them. The third is didactic. In the absence of ‘at least a rough idea of how such an alternative social arrangement might work’ it is ‘extremely difficult to convince others that such is desirable or achievable’.[35] A ‘coherent alternative vision of what society not based on capitalism and the state might look like’ will enable activists to explain the match between ‘being against’ and ‘being for’.[36]

From this shared position, Shukaitis diverges significantly from Creagh. Whereas Creagh identifies doctrinaire currents in socialist utopianism and suggests that Marx’s ‘science of history’ absorbed rather than challenged them, Shukaitis endorses the principles of Marx’s anti-utopianism. He interprets Marx’s critique of the utopian socialists as the rejection of blueprints: ‘plans and dreams which were unobtainable, and therefore to a large degree useless in trying to alleviate the totally unnecessary suffering brought about by capital and the state’. As a result, in contrast to Creagh who divorces utopia from programmatic thinking for fear of re-inscribing blueprints, Shukaitis identifies a gap in current resistance politics and turns to utopia to stop it. Shukaitis’s aim is articulation of utopian goals. The struggle for liberation, he argues, is ‘about bringing ideas about cooperation and non-hierarchal organizing into our daily lives’.

The gap that Shukaitis identifies has its roots in tradition, habituated practice and the reification of ideas. All inhibit imagination. He acknowledges, therefore, the force of the theoretical concerns that critics have expressed about the limits of utopia. For Shukaitis the notable objection is Foucault’s and he agrees that existing structures of power and domination are likely to be imported into any imagined alternative, constraining future vision. However, giving into such objections risks political paralysis, and Shukaitis’s judgment is that the dangers of social replication are outweighed by the benefits of thinking about how society might be reconfigured. Here, too, there are limits, but they are practical rather than philosophical and Shukaitis identifies three plains of practice to make the point. At a micro-level individuals, he argues, are able to contemplate different ways of organising or being. At a meso-level, too, a general conception of historical change and appreciation of cultural variations enables most people to picture relatively easily ‘what a different political order might look like, how a different religion might work, and perhaps even how a family might be structured differently’. At a macro-level, however, ‘chances are they will find it difficult to imagine how a different economic arrangement or society not based around the state would work’. And it is at this level that the need to move out of ‘the realm of inconceivable thought and into the realm of possibility’ is felt most readily.

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In common with Creagh, Shukaitis links utopianism to social movements. Here, too, however, the two approaches to utopianism diverge. For Shukaitis the movement of movements does not equate to the visible manifestation of collective power expressed by complex networks of activists, it refers instead to a process of constant change. Precisely, it describes shifts in ‘radical imagination’ stimulated by the intersection of multiple groups. Moreover, instead of conceptualising the reality of utopia as Creagh does, as the creative expression of movement struggles, given voice in moments of exhilarating action Shukaitis argues that revolutionary events might be structured through utopianism. The premises of this argument are that, whatever its complexities, the present is experienced as reality, not myth, and that the consciousness of social movements, which Creagh links to utopianism, is in fact powerfully dystopian — ‘dystopianism fuelled by a utopian desire for escape’.[37] On this account, the sense of utopia’s non-existence serves as a vehicle for transformation, much as Morris argued, yet it is not by itself transformative because utopia is not identified with a particular ideal and the desire for its realisation does not result in the construction of a perfect condition or a perfected, uncorrupted subject waiting to be reborn in a cathartic moment of revolution. Utopia is a future prospect but rather than providing a route to the re-discovery of a past – mythic or otherwise — it is shaped and controlled by activist engagement.

It would be a mistake, Shukaitis argues, to consider that utopia is only relevant at particular historical junctures. Any attempt ‘to periodize and understand this history of transformation and, from that, to understand how to formulate plans of action for today, finds at best that there is no coherent principle to do so in either case, and more likely finds itself based on a narrative of constant victimization and defeat’.[38] And returning to the distinction between utopian thinking and blueprint utopias Shukaitis emphasises that the goal is not ‘to formulate the “one true and correct plan” for radical social change, but to amass the experience and knowledge of existing projects and cooperative forms – to gather a knowledge base that can be drawn from according to the needs and particulars of the situation and setting’.[39] Where does this knowledge come from? As Shukaitis notes, turning to More in ways that Creagh disputes, utopia ‘can’t be studied, because it is nowhere’. Nevertheless it is possible to think about macro-level alternatives.

Shukaitis considers two approaches. One way is to build from abstract principles and to design institutions and practices to bring them into being. Shukaitis points to Parecon as an example.[40] Chaz Bufe’s Design Your Own Utopia, a guide to the articulation of principles and practices follows a similar process.[41] Another way of approaching the problem is to use methods or practices as the basis for utopian thinking. Syndicalism fits this model. John Asimakopoulos’s ‘pragmatic utopian’ proposal for economic democracy and worker control is a more recent example of this approach.[42] Both alternatives, Shukaitis argues, are valuable but flawed. The first easily declines into sectarian dispute and the second fails to encompass those outside the method or practice. His preferred possibility is to examine ‘slices of liberation and non-alienated experience’ to study examples ‘of cooperative structures and non-hierarchal social practices’. The examples abound, from nowtopian experiments in local community gardening, cooperative and worker collectives, neighbourhood assemblies, gift economies, and labour exchanges to larger projects like Mondragon, Kibbutzim, autonomous communities in Chiapas, and experiments in cooperative water management in Bali.

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The interrelationship between theory and practice suggests that the line separating the third approach and the two that Shukaitis rejects is quite thin. Not only is it the case that these experiments might themselves be informed by one or both of the approaches he rejects, it is also possible that micro-level activities themselves supported the development of macro-level alternatives. A friend tells me that the frustration of macro and meso-level policy initiatives has stimulated the Regional Council of the South Aegean to advance macro-level demands for the decentralisation of decision-making power. Local action shines a spotlight on the rules made in Athens, highlights their suitability for mainland Greece and their unfitness for insular entities. Nevertheless, the point that Shukaitis makes about learning from lived experience is clear: instead of asking “how can we run the economy so that it creates solidarity?”; or “how can we manage individual interests and communal interests?” the question becomes looking at different existing forms of practice and drawing from them, rather than trying to impose upon them. The role of vision through this becomes not declaring what should be based upon utopian abstraction, but trying to figure out what could be based upon the experiences contained within existing social relations.[43]

Although there is a considerable distance between Shukaitis’s approach to utopia and Creagh’s, the idea of utopia that emerges from his discussion dovetails remarkably closely with the realist model. Even as he follows the convention of treating utopia as nowhere, Shukaitis evokes an idea of endless space in the divine ‘infinite totality of which we are all parts’. Spinoza and Vaneigem inspire this formulation, in addition to Deleuze and Guattari. Admittedly, where Creagh celebrates utopia’s lack of principle, Shukaitis follows Spinoza to identify ‘desire as the essence of humanity’. Utopia can be described: it is ‘the joyous and happy life, the blessed life of liberation, which is founded upon such an understanding of what is possible for the free individual’.[44] However, Shukaitis agrees with Creagh that utopia’s essence cannot be fixed or given substantive content. Liberation is instead ‘built upon how the everyday connects and relates to, as well as embodies, the totality of social relations and processes’. Fittingly, then, the task of the utopian is to consider how different examples of liberated practice ‘might fit together into a more general social vision or system’ and to act ‘as a diplomat between struggles, sharing wisdom and experiences, connecting and synthesizing ideas created through everyday experience’ without shaping the myriad ways in which movements cut their own paths.[45]

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Anarchism and contemporary utopias

How do these three approaches to utopia fit into the frameworks adopted by political theorists of utopian studies? Although they share what Ruth Levitas identifies as a utopian conviction that life ‘doesn’t have to be like this’ (‘another world is possible’), the questions she believes central to utopia, ‘how then, should we live’ and ‘how can that be’ are not questions that anarchist utopians ask or even consider intelligible.[46] Similarly, although anarchist approaches are malleable to the tripartite distinction between eutopian, dytopian and critical utopian modes of thought, recently discussed by Lucy Sargisson, anarchist utopians fill these concepts in particular ways.

Sargisson treats eutopias and dystopias as descriptors of ‘the intention or normative stance’ of the utopian creator. Eutopias or ‘positive utopias’ are ‘intended to be good places’. Dystopias are ‘bad places’ and they ‘articulate fears and sketch worlds that people fear might arrive’. They ‘offer warnings’.[47] The compromise utopianism of anarchists like Green, Creagh’s realist utopianism and the experiential utopianism that Shukaitis explores all contain a strong eutopian dimension, but the intention varies from a strong ethical commitment that supports well-articulated plans for action in the here and now to an aspiration for an as-yet unformulated or even unimaginable alternative. Liberated utopian practices might fuel these aspirations, but there remains a significant difference between the three models – one which resides in the possibility of acting on desires.

The mediating role that dystopia plays in these forms of anarchist utopianism helps explain the divergence. None of the models of utopianism treat dystopia as the fear of what might be, as Sargisson argues. The bad is already here: dystopia is experienced as reality. Yet in the context of compromise, this reality drives a commitment and supports a confidence to make things better. For Creagh, dystopia appears as the myth of dystopia, the spell that realist utopianism breaks. In Shukaitis’s model, dystopia is understood rhetorically as a loathing of lived existence and it serves as an essential starting point for utopian imagining. There is a practical element here but because the catalyst for action is the desire for escape, experimentation appears as the constructive outcome of a destructive stance rather than a fully positive commitment to realise a different set of values, practices or ideas. Nowtopianism follows this Bakuninist logic. Carlsson roots nowtopia in a specific and negative drive, the ’emancipation from being merely workers…the endless treadmill of consumerism and overwork’.[48] In contrast, the utopianism of activists like Green presumes a strong positive desire to change the world, even in the midst of compromise. The imperfections that spur this activity cannot all be remedied by the group’s activity, but this does not diminish the effort or dent the aspiration. Indeed, acknowledgment of the compromise connected to the activity is central to this kind of utopianism.

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The differences between these models are also apparent in their critical stance. Each describes a form of utopianism which is dependent on the direct actions of their creators and dreamers. And in rejecting blueprints that seek to fix the boundaries of an ideal or define a state of perfection, each is transformative in the manner that Sargisson suggests. However the striking difference between compromise and experiential utopianism, on the one hand, and realist utopianism on the other, is that the latter is defined against utopian traditions. Creagh’s desire to distinguish between utopia as myth and utopia as reality not only rules out blueprint planning but the possibility of looking backward, forward or even sideways: utopian history is about breaking free from dystopian constraint in a moment of liberated practice. His anxieties about the limits of utopia and his conviction that historical philosophy underpins a flawed tradition of utopian theorising not only explains why he is wary of activists who fight for causes but also why he is resistant to utopian ideas of the good. Creagh’s critical utopianism is not easily reconciled with compromise utopianism because of the ethical commitments and the spatial and temporal concerns that these utopians share. His understanding of utopia as a fluid and open-ended creative process rooted in movement activity resembles the idea captured in Shukaitis’s experiential utopianism, but yet even here his approach to history militates against the kind of creative exercises that this form advocates. Shukaitis argues that anarchist utopians refuse to make demands because these only serve to legitimise existing power relations, but he makes provision for the construction of spaces in which alternatives might be elaborated. For Creagh, utopia is in the ether.

What, then, are the distinctive features of compromise utopianism? One is the priority that it attaches to eutopianism over dystopianism as a catalyst for social transformation and the second is the refusal to treat history either as a realm of freedom or as a constraint. What is the value of this approach? Shukaitis argues that utopian experiments help others flesh out the dreams that activists are otherwise unable to articulate. It might be objected that Green’s experiments in chocolate-making strengthen what Creagh depicts as the fictive reality of neo-liberalism by reinforcing our desires for exotic delicacies. It might also be objected that his status as a visitor improving the lives of indigenous people reinforces colonial tropes. Yet the ethics of his engagement and the transparency of the production process captured a radical break with principles of benevolent aid and capitalist models of consumption. Indeed, as well as showing how a non-exploitative system of production might be organised, Green’s utopianism also highlights the real horrors of dystopian capitalism.[49] In Shukaitis’s terms, the effort of the enterprise helps explain macro-level problems. Producing chocolate should not, then, be dismissed as an exercise in pandering to indulgence but a prompt to consider the enormous costs of disposable consumption. Disasters like Rana Plaza are salutary but all too-fleeting reminders of the exploitation and hardship that cheap goods for Western consumers involve. The high price of indulgence, explained by an open process of production and egalitarian principles of fairness, foregrounds the human costs of abundant, everyday commercial extravagance and the consequences that the acculturation to compromise has for radical politics. As a utopian visitor to another world, Green did not reveal a transformed future or a lost past, but a present open to transformation by the collective impact of even the smallest individual actions.

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End notes:

[1] A version of this paper was presented at the workshop Les Lieux du Non-Lieu: Journée d’études sur l’utopie, Université Paris Diderot, Paris 7. 19 September 2013. A shorter French version is published in the Actes de colloque. I’m grateful to the organisers, Etienne Tassin and Anders Fjeld for suggesting the contribution. David Feldman, Vasilis Margaras and Sanjay Perera provided encouraging and helpful feedback, for which I am also very grateful.

[2] David Friedman [aka Mott Green] Mott’s blog at sea, 27 May 2013, http://mottontresshombres.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1 [last access 13.11.13]

[3] Reserve Channel, Making Chocolate in Grenada, EX-PATS ep. 8, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o2UwvVp2iw . See also ‘The Chocolate World of Mott Green’, BBC Radio 4 Food Programme online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02x5j69; Lucy Gilliam, Charlie Boxer and Mike Tinney, ‘Mott Green — A Tribute’, Journal of Wild Culture, June 17, 2013 online at http://www.wildculture.com/article/mott-green-tribute/1197; William Yardley, ‘Mott Green, A Free-Spirited Chocolatier’ New York Times, June 9 2013 online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/business/mott-green-47-dies-founded-grenada-chocolate.html?_r=0. A documentary film by Kum-Kum Bhavnani, ‘Nothing Like Chocolate’ was released by Bullfrog Films, in June 2013 http://nothinglikechocolate.com/.The homepage of the Grenada Chocolate Company is at http://www.grenadachocolate.com/ [last access all sites 13.11.13].

[4] Government of Grenada, ‘About Grenada’  http://www.gov.gd/about_grenada.html  [last access 13.11.13].

[5] Colin Ward, Utopia, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 8.

[6] Production and consumption figures are available from the International Cocoa Organisation ‘The World Cocoa Economy: Past and Present, 26 July 2012’ online at http://www.icco.org/about-us/international-cocoa-agreements/cat_view/30-related-documents/45-statistics-other-statistics.html  [last access 13.11.13].

[7] Lucy Sargisson, Fool’s Gold: Utopianism in the Twenty-first Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012, pp. 22-31).

[8] Malatesta, in Vernon Richards (ed.) Malatesta his life and ideas, (London: Freedom Press, 1993), online at http://www.prole.info/texts/malatesta_endsandmeans.html

[9] Errico Malatesta, Malatesta his life and ideas, Vernon Richards (ed.), (London: Freedom Press, 1993), p.71.

[10] Brian Martin, ‘Reform – when is it worthwhile?’ Anarchist Studies 20 (2), 55-71. Online at http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/anarchiststudies/pdfs/Martin_20.2.pdf .

[11] Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action, (London: Freedom Press, 1982).

[12] Sargisson, Fool’s Gold, p. 11.

[13] Bicycology http://www.bicycology.org.uk/auto_mobility.htm

[14] Chris Carlson Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacan-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! (Oakland CA & Edinburgh, Scotland: AK Press, 2008).

[15] Ronald Creagh ‘Anarchism is Back. We May Now Re(dis)cover Utopia’, Space of Utopia: An Electronic Journal 6, (2007), pp. 61-83. Accessible at http://ler.letras.up.pt  [last access 13.11.13].

[16] Stevphen Shukaitis, ‘An Ethnography of Nowhere: Notes Towards a Re-envisioning of Utopian Thinking’ 4 September 2003. Accessible at A-Infos http://ainfos.ca/sup/ainfos00323.html [last access 13.11.13].

[17] Marie Louise Berneri, Journey Through Utopia, London: Freedom Press, 1982, p. 3.

[18] Ibid., p. 8.

[19] Creagh, ‘Anarchism is Back’, p. 74.

[20] For MacKay see The Anarchists: A Picture of Civilization at the Close of The Nineteenth Century, (Boston, 1891) and Black, ‘Theses on Anarchism After Post-Modernism’ repr. In Defacing the Currency, Selected Writings 1992-2012, (Berkeley, Ca.: LBC books, 2012), p. 57.

[21] The phrase refers to Morris’s reflection: ‘how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name’. The Dream of John Ball in Three Works by William Morris, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1986), p. 53.

[22] Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History/Theses on the Philosophy of History. Accessible at http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/CONCEPT2.html [last access 13.11.13].

[23] Creagh, ‘Anarchism is Back’, p. 68.

[24] Peter Kropotkin, ‘Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal’, in R. Baldwin (ed.) Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, (New York: Dover, 1970), pp. 117-8.

[25] Creagh, ‘Anarchism is Back’, p. 71.

[26] Peter Kropotkin, ‘Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal’, pp. 120-1.  I’m grateful to Sanjay Perera for discussing the connections between quantum science and Eastern philosophy.

[27] Creagh, ‘Anarchism is Back’, pp. 76; 77.

[28] Ibid., p. 72.

[29] Ibid., p. 77.

[30] Ibid., p. 78.

[31] Ibid., p. 62.

[32] Ibid., p. 75.

[33] Stevphen Shukaitis, Imaginal Machines: Autonomy and Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life (London: Minor Compositions, 2009), p. 54.

[34] Shukaitis, ‘An Ethnography of Nowhere’.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Shukaitis, Imaginal Machines, p. 48.

[38] Ibid., p. 41.

[39] Shukaitis, ‘An Ethnography of Nowhere’.

[40] For Parecon see Znet.

[41] Chaz Bufe with Libby Hubbard, Design Your Own Utopia. Accessible at  http://www.seesharppress.com/utopia.html [last access 13.11.13].

[42] John Asimakopoulos, ‘ Bridging Utopia and Pragmatism to Achieve Direct Economic Democracy’, Anarchist Studies, 21, 2013.

[43] Shukaitis, ‘An Ethnography of Nowhere’.

[44] Shukaitis, Imaginal Machines, p. 59.

[45] Shukaitis, ‘An Ethnography of Nowhere’.

[46] Quoted in Sargisson, Fool’s Gold, p. 3.

[47] Sargisson, Fool’s Gold, pp. 8-9.

[48] Carlsson, Nowtopia, p. 5.

[49] For an insight into chocolate production see Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano, The Dark Side of Chocolate, http://www.thedarksideofchocolate.org/ [last access 13.4.14].

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Bibliography

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BBC Radio 4, ‘The Chocolate World of Mott Green’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02x5j69.

Berneri, Marie Louise Journey Through Utopia, (London: Freedom Press, 1982).

Black, Bob, ‘Theses on Anarchism After Post-Modernism’ repr. In Defacing the Currency, Selected Writings 1992-2012, (Berkeley, Ca.: LBC books, 2012).

Bufe, Chaz with Libby Hubbard, Design Your Own Utopia. Online at http://www.seesharppress.com/utopia.html

Carlson, Chris Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacan-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! (Oakland CA & Edinburgh, Scotland: AK Press, 2008).

Creagh, Ronald ‘Anarchism is Back. We May Now Re(dis)cover Utopia’, Space of Utopia: An Electronic Journal 6, (2007), pp. 61-83. Accessible at http://ler.letras.up.pt .

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Malatesta, Errico Malatesta his life and ideas, Vernon Richards (ed.), (London: Freedom Press, 1993).

Martin, Brian ‘Reform – when is it worthwhile?’ Anarchist Studies 20 (2), 55-71. Online at http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/anarchiststudies/pdfs/Martin_20.2.pdf [last access 13.4.14].

Mistrati, Miki and U. Roberto Romano, The Dark Side of Chocolate, http://www.thedarksideofchocolate.org/

Morris, William The Dream of John Ball in Three Works by William Morris, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1986).

Reserve Channel, Making Chocolate in Grenada, EX-PATS ep. 8, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o2UwvVp2iw .

Sargisson, Lucy Fool’s Gold: Utopianism in the Twenty-first Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012).

Shukaitis, Stevphen ‘An Ethnography of Nowhere: Notes Towards a Re-envisioning of Utopian Thinking’ 4 September 2003. Accessible at A-Infos http://ainfos.ca/sup/ainfos00323.html.

Shukaitis, Stevphen Imaginal Machines: Autonomy and Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life (London: Minor Compositions, 2009).

Ward, Colin Utopia, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974).

Ward, Colin, Anarchy in Action, (London: Freedom Press, 1982).

Yardley, William ‘Mott Green, A Free-Spirited Chocolatier’ New York Times, June 9 2013 online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/business/mott-green-47-dies-founded-grenada-chocolate.html?_r=0.

utomott2

[Thank you indeed Ruth for yet another insightful piece.]

The writer teaches political theory at Loughborough University, UK. She is contributor and co-editor (with Alex Prichard, Saku Pinta and David Berry) of Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red (Palgrave, 2012) and editor of The Continuum Companion to Anarchism (2012, paperback forthcoming 2014). She is also the editor of Anarchist Studies.

If publishing or re-posting this article kindly use the entire piece, credit the writer and this website: Philosophers for Change, philosophersforchange.org. Thanks for your support.

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