Maurice Brinton

The Balkanization of Utopia


Published: in Solidarity, III, 9 (June 1965).
Transcribed: by Jonas Holmgren
Proofed: by George Poulados

"Until he has witnessed an Easter march, the average citizen can have no idea of the number of groups hell-bent on the balkanization of Utopia and the diversity of magazines and badges which they produce. Yesterday Ilford Liberation Group, the Fellowship Party, and the Anarchists were groups for the connoisseur, while the Young Communist League, the district committees of London area Communist parties, and the Young Socialists provided more familiar forms of dissent" (Guardian, April 19, 1965).

The Press, the police, and representatives of the established political parties must share a certain incredulous surprise on occasions like Aldermaston. For there, surfacing into broad daylight, emerging from the anonymity of their daily lives, are literally dozens of different political (or anti-political) groupings, scores of rank-and-file papers, subversive to various degrees of the Established Order, and thousands upon thousands of individuals - with strongly felt opinions of their own - united in their opposition to the Bomb and in their determination to take responsibility for their own actions.

What vision of the future do these people hold? The categories of traditional politics are quite inadequate to define them. These crowds are unlikely to be demonstrating for either Mr. Wilson's or Mr. Gollan's "alternatives" to the established order. This mass of humanity on the road, "hell-bent on the balkanization of Utopia", must be a bureaucrat's nightmare.

The procession - as is well-known - is filmed and photographed from every angle, dissected, enlarged, submitted to the most refined technologies of identification known to the Special Branch. This rabble, this horde of potential troublemakers must be identified, their affiliations established, the files kept accurate and up to date. How much easier it would be to treat them all as "reds" or "pacifists", as "communists" or "anarchists", without having to worry about the finer shades of doctrinal difference, without having to document this massive dissent.

But that wouldn't do in this scientific age! The clerks and computers must be kept busy. Tagged, the rebels must be. Who is "dangerous" and who is "daft"? Who owes allegiance to Moscow and who to Transport House? Who lives in the past and who in the present? Who believes in non-violence and who doesn't? Who believes in Parliament and who does not? Who are the "resolutionaries" and who the "revolutionaries"? And how the hell can we make sure their beliefs remain static, and that they won't split, and shift allegiance, and bugger up the card index? Who are sheep? Who are goats? And in which pigeonhole do we put the hybrids?

The politicians must view it much as the police does. Why don't all these people just stay at home and leave it to us? Why don't they trust their elders and betters? Why aren't they happy just to vote for us every few years? Why do they argue so much - and in the streets too?

And is all this just the tip of the iceberg? How many others, today, think as they do? How many will, tomorrow? Could this scruffy lot be the "don't knows" of the Gallup polls? Are these the solid core of non-voters? How often does their "don't know" mean "won't tell"? And how often does "won't tell" mean "fuck the lot of you"?

Why, oh why, won't all these people accept our "realistic", parliamentary alternatives? Why don't they leave complicated things - like their own life and death - to the professional politicians? If they must have their Utopias, why can't they accept our standard models, prefabricated, provided and priced by official society itself? We may bemoan their apathy, but surely this is better than having them turn up in hundreds at May Day and shout us down, or make awkward comments about "Vietnam" or "MPs' salaries" or "old age pensioners" or other unpleasant subjects.

The press - although aware of the newsworthiness of the esoteric - is less concerned about getting facts straight. They worship at the altar of power. They are the mouthpieces of those who have arrived. And these marchers are getting nowhere. They are all "weird" anyway. Why bore our readers (and tax our own grey matter) by going into their beliefs more fully? Our political vocabulary is limited, our knowledge of sects' anatomy more limited still. We have so consistently got things wrong when venturing to the left of the Communist Party that we had better keep to safe ground. So let's tidy up reality a little. Let's just call them all "beatniks", "anarchists", the "lunatic fringe". After all Gaitskell called them "peanuts".

And what about the demonstrators themselves? The "balkanization" of their respective Utopias is too obvious to deny. Geography and history get muddled. For some Mecca is Moscow, for others Peking. Some live in Petrograd (in 1917) - others in Barcelona (in 1936). Internationals and ideologies interpenetrate. Revolutionary Gods (Marx, Bakunin, Luxemburg, Malatesta, de Leon, Lenin and Trotsky) jostle one another on the narrow summits of a revolutionary Olympus. The truly godless are also clamouring for room to breathe.

For some, this fragmentation has solely negative aspects. These groups echo the views of the powers-that-be: dissent should be centralized, co-ordinated, channeled along the lines of one particular revolutionary development, which they alone, of course, have grasped. Everything else is diversion and irrelevance. They alone are the conscious agents of an Almighty Historical Providence. They alone have understood the "laws" of history. They alone are carried forward by the historical floodtide. Such groups are elitist to the core. They (and they alone) are potential leaderships. Other groups are dangerous competitors in the permanent auction for revolutionary clientele. The masses, by themselves, can do nothing. They are but an amorphous infantry at the disposal of a self-appointed general staff of revolutionary generals. That ordinary people could themselves make history - and could make it in ways unforeseen and unsuspected by the professional revolutionaries - would never occur to the residual legatees of Bolshevism. History is thus turned upside down. Monolithic conceptions of the road to "utopia" foreshadow Utopias in their own image, i.e. monolithic to the core.

For others in the movement "men make their own history" - and in ways much wider and fuller than is usually conceded. There is no one road to utopia, no one organization, or prophet, or Party, destined to lead the masses to the Promised Land. There is no one historically determined objective, no single vision of a different and new society, no solitary economic panacea that will do away with the alienation of man from his fellow men and from the products of his own activity.

For groups holding such views the "balkanization of utopia" need convey no disparaging overtones of incapacity or futility. Established society is being corroded at many points, in many ways, here and now. Hundreds of thousands are contributing to the process, both consciously and otherwise: brick-planting policemen and lying Labour politicians, young people rejecting traditional sexual morality and students questioning the categorical imperatives of death "for Queen and Country", train robbers and "Spies for Peace" evading arrest month after month, and well-paid trade union officials pontificating about the merits of an "incomes policy" for their members. All are playing a worthy part in a vast and essential process of demystification.

So are South Bank clergymen de-godding God and Catholic priests acting as salesmen for Durex. So are Trots still building left-wings in the Labour Party and calling on Labour leaders to legislate for workers' control, while Labour MPs vote themselves a 30 a week wage increase and thunder against those who "rock the boat". So are French Stalinists supporting de Gaulle and Chinese Stalinists supporting the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, Negroes exposing the whole fraudulent nature of the American judicial system and White House politicians showing the world their notion of the "rule of law" in the Dominican Republic. So too, finally, are workers at Paisley using sit-in tactics and having to be carried out by the police, while Labour leaders lambast latent Luddites, confer baronetcies on the Brockways and Sopers of this world and encourage the half-pissed platitudes of "brother" Brown.

For those who hold that mass consciousness rather than a change of leadership is an essential precondition of social change, the events of the last few years can be viewed with reasonable satisfaction. Starting from very different premises, various groups are making fundamental critiques of established society. Some have been through the mill of traditional "left" politics, others not. Some start from their experience in production, others from their experience in the anti-Bomb movement, some from the total crisis of culture and values in the admass society, and others still from the void of their own daily lives. These critiques are slowly converging. They are literally ploughing up every acre of established thinking, including the so-called revolutionary ideologies. They are preparing a resurgence of libertarian thought and action, based on more genuinely socialist objectives than at any previous period of history. The era of closed ideologies (including totalitarian "revolutionary" ideologies) is slowly coming to an end. The cults of efficiency, of hierarchy, of production for production's sake, of consumption for consumption's sake, of organization for organization's sake, of "ever more" (of the same) are slowly being subverted and replaced by genuinely human values.

The "balkanization of utopia" bemoaned by bourgeois and Bolsheviks alike is therefore neither tragedy nor farce. It is the sole guarantee that "utopia", if we ever get near to it, will be worth living in.


Last updated on: 1.6.2012