Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias, Socialist Register 2000

By McCulloch, Andrew | Capital & Class, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias, Socialist Register 2000


McCulloch, Andrew, Capital & Class


Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds) Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias, Socialist Register 2000 Merlin Press, 1999. pp. 300 ISBN 0-850-36487-6 (pbk) L12.95 ISBN 0-850-36488-4 (hbk) L30.00

Reviewed by Andres McCulloch

The editors of this collection justify their editorial selection in the following way: "The elements of this project are necessary in that the ideas and models that they provide-or something like them-are essential to any new socialist project worth fighting for; some of them may be necessary for the survival of the species. We also wanted to contrast these ideas and models with others that are being canvassed today and which are unnecessary, in the sense that on closer inspection they prove not to be utopias at all, but blind alleys. And reimagining a humane socialist future is all the more required in light of the positively dystopian "brave new worlds" that the organic intellectuals of capitalism are promoting... (pp.vIIVIII) .'

Unfortunately, this combination of aims makes for an oddly disjointed collection. Indeed, two of the best essays collected here-although that is not to imply that there are any real duds in this lot-do not seem to fall into any of the editors' categories. One of these is Judith Adler Hellman's brilliant essay on `Real and virtual chiapas: Magic Realism and the Left.' This subtle, sympathetic piece begins from an acknowledgement that "The revolution in electronic communication and the exceptionally effective communication skills of [Subcommandante] Marcos have fostered an international solidarity that has, in turn, promoted both the survival of the movement and the personal survival of its members' (p. 166). However, she then almost immediately asks, `What are the politically important complexities of the Chiapanecan situation that have been lost or ignored in transmission to outsiders?' Her answers are illuminating and worth the price of this collection alone. Nevertheless, it would do a disservice to the suppleness of her analysis to suggest that she is simply condemning the Chiapas as a `blind alley'. In the same league and in the same vein is Peter Gowan's `Making Sense of Nato's War on Yugoslavia', which is the last essay in this collection. The problem is that if Gowan is right-and he does indeed make sense-then the prospects for anti-capitalist, pro-humankind politics in the near future are small indeed. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the disappearance thereby of the raison d'etre of NATO, the leaders of the us saw a need to reassert the political and military hegemony of the United States of America over the countries of Europe. This meant destroying or deflecting the emergence of an EU under Franco-German leadership. Gowan argues that the means to this end was the war on Yugoslavia. The question of how to disable the barren ruthlessness of us imperialism, which presently securely blocks the path to a better future, is barely addressed by many essays in this collection.

None of these essays confront the issue of dealing with and opposing the use of violence, although some writers are clearly aware of it. Boggs warns in his essay that violent opposition could come from something like the wilder fringes of the us right. In the present context, the result could be that `even if the fate of reactionary populism is long-term political oblivion, the violence it spawns can nonetheless help to perpetuate a political climate which progressive social change is stymied' (p. …

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