Rudi Supek 1971

Utopia and Reality

Written: 1971;
Source: Open Society Archive;
Translated: Slobodan Stanković
Transcribed: Zdravko Saveski.

Transcriber's note: This is Supek's opening speech on 1971 Korčula Summer School, organized by the Zagreb philosophical bimonthly "Praxis". Supek's opening speech and a number of reports were published in the No. 1-2 issue of Praxis (January-April 1972).

“Utopia And Reality” – two notions which can leave one completely indifferent if Utopia is imagined as a vision of a very distant future or as a dream which transcends reality, if we take Utopia as a subject of the imagination and speculation without any connection with reality or even without any possibility of being involved in reality. [The notions also leave one indifferent] if we take reality as something firm and permanent, something which follows a certain inertia, deprived of all possibilities and efforts designed to make the impossible possible, and then to turn the possible into reality.

As soon as a creative act is involved, there is the human tendency toward change and transformation [and] these two notions begin their mutual relationship, to condition and check each other. Their relationship could grow to a passionate interdependence and dramatic activity especially if a revolutionary action is involved. In that moment we begin to measure reality by [ideas of] utopia, while utopia begins to merge with reality: things which seemed to us incomprehensible attain the highest sense of existence.

By passing through the hours of the revolutionary transformation of society and by sharing the longing for radical changes in reality, we become conscious of a number of contradictions provoked by revolutionary actions in the fields of history, social organization and human relationships. These are the contradictions which have been especially provoked by the confrontation of reality and Utopia, by a confrontation between a present still under the command of the past and inertia, and the future which is strolling between the possible" and the impossible.

So long as the revolutionary action is in full swing, Utopia comes closer to reality, and impossible things appear within reach of the possible. However, when the revolutionary swing begins to weaken, Utopia gradually separates itself from reality and disappears from the horizon. We are then confronted with a road which we believed we already passed. When the revolutionary action is in full swing, then a man is the closest to another man, inhuman things are abandoned as inimical ones, "I" begins to merge with "We," and personal desires with collective strivings. To a certain extent the mediation between the freedom of an individual and the freedom of another individual by means of "just," "democratic," "legal" institutions seems superficial. The spontaneity is at its peak. However, when the revolutionary swing begins to decline, men begin to drift apart, group interests come again to the surface, definite social structures become visible: things which were dynamic and explosive retreat before static and petrified things. The relationships among people turn into relationships of power while the revolutionary vanguards become ruling oligarchies. How [can we] preserve the spontaneity of the movement, freedom of social identification, the nearness of ideals, and other things?

At this point we meet the contradiction between political pragmatism, which claims to possess a sense of reality, to take into account "historical conditions," to adapt the political action to the demands of concrete and "objective situations" on the one hand, and on the other the revolutionary humanism which derives virtue and strength from Utopia, [which is] in harmony with revolutionary means and revolutionary aims, which believes that the construction of social consciousness is more important than the construction of the social basis, which places human relationships before various institutions and constitutions. This contradiction might become a permanent and fruitful dialogue between the real and the Utopian. What is bad in this contradiction is the moment when political pragmatism wishes to integrate Utopia into its own daily and temporary practice, when it tends to become the sole judge designed to appraise the nature of all ideals and Utopian strivings, and when it begins to identify the existing reality with a picture of the future or its individual actions with the true movement of history. In this way it not only monopolizes political actions or [monopolizes] a stage of the revolutionary movement, but it also designates the sense and interpretation of the realization of socialist society. That is, [it monopolizes] things which belong to all people and society, in other words – free engagement and association. In such a case the transformation of a society and people, of their relationships, is implemented by means of decrees, coercion and illusions, rather than by means of their consciousness and free volition. The realization of the liberation of people is attempted only by political means: the "political soul" begins to devour, as Marx warned, the "social soul", of the socialist revolution. In such a case we can talk about a mystification of the social consciousness and about an enslaved Utopia.

True, dogmatism has attempted to bureaucratize utopia: by means of decrees it has established which stage of socialism has been realized and even claimed that socialism was "constructed" and that it is now on its way "from socialism to communism." In so doing dogmatism did not even need to ask for advice from the people or from specialists. A group of power-holders has proclaimed all this from "above" in the same way as Moses gave commandments to his people. We wonder whether the "utopian consciousness" does not go hand in hand with such acts of proclamation as displayed in the Old Testament or with the decisions made by the prophets? We are rather inclined to believe that in question here is a kind of "enlightened absolutism" which cannot act without the pressure of the state apparatus. This is how we touch well-known problems which have thus far been very much discussed, namely the "wise leaders" of the revolutionary movement and socialist democracy. It is necessary to warn that the bureaucratization of Utopia conditions a special kind of "charismatic authority" in socialism, which appears as a form of decadency in the socialist revolution. [Charismatic authority] is perhaps even an inevitable consequence of a revolutionary stir and can be only partially prevented through a condemnation of the "personality cult." This is why we think that the Utopian elements in the revolutionary movement must remain deeply connected with its spontaneity and democracy, as well as resistant to all attempts by the authorities to make of it its own servant.

The bureaucratization of Utopia has brought about the identification of socialism with the limits of the power of the ruling political class and because of that only that socialism is proclaimed "true" and "correct" which exists within the limits of its power. In the areas in which its power ends, for instance in other socialist countries which also develop socialism, it is considered that socialism there is not "correct," and is even condemned as "revisionistic" or as a "betrayal of socialism." We wonder again whether this intolerant and quasi-religious mentality of the ruling socialist bureaucrats, this production of solely "true believers" or heretical movements and their anathematization, whether all this represents an element of the Utopian consciousness or not? Is it riot a natural consequence of the already mentioned fact that the monopolization of the socialist revolution has based its legitimacy on the Utopian section of its consciousness? [And because of such a claim to legitimacy] the ruling group makes efforts to legalize its actions in the name "of a socialist revolution" which is "historically and objectively" represented only by that group.

In any case this situation has become unmentionable. Even the contradiction itself, which has been the subject of so many speculations concerning the identity between the "subjectivity" of the revolutionary movement (i.e., of its vanguard) and the "objectivity" of its historical realization, begins to decay precisely because of certain necessities which stem from the very historical development of the socialist society. First of all, we should recall that the socialist, or more concretely the communist, movement started from a generally recognized principle: every national movement has the right to its own road to socialism, i.e., pluralism in the realization of socialism [was a] consistently defended [principle] which is obviously in strong contradiction to the already mentioned attempts designed to retain a monopoly over "the only correct road to socialism." Today it is difficult to deny that a Soviet type of socialism exists, that a Chinese socialism, a Cuban or a Yugoslav socialism exists. (The word "socialism" is not used here as a term for a socialism already realized, but rather as a denotation that these countries have passed through a socialist revolution!) It is therefore impossible not to make comparisons between individual socialist countries, regardless of the fact that these countries exclude each other by means of "political dialectics." By making comparisons, however, we are compelled to employ an objective criterion, to create a position from which political voluntarism and subjectivism would be excluded; in this way the very act of comparison would enable us to free the captured vision of the future, that bureaucratized ideal, that degraded Utopia, [the Utopia] which is as necessary as bread if one really wants to achieve socialism. The claims made by the ruling bureaucracies that their practices represent "the objective laws of historical development" would in this way receive their real meaning, i.e., they would appear as a naive mystification of a difficult historical birth, with the cradle of the newly-born child turning into the bedstead of Procreates.

The recognition of the plurality of the roads leading to socialism, along with the creation of an objective criterion concerning socialist development, would again permit that critical and rational spirit to affirm itself, that spirit which is alone capable of linking the possible with the necessary, and utopia with reality. This spirit is only capable of introducing within the Marxist way of thinking that sharpness and vision which – under the conditions of an ever-increasing complexity of social development – could turn a definite vision of the future into the strongest weapon of revolutionary action. Such action has been completely paralyzed by dogmatic obscurantism and left to the mercy of the "wise leadership."

This means that Marxism must be returned to its real origins, must be put within everyone's reach. There can be neither a socialist revolution nor any socialist achievements, no true transformation of society, without free engagement, without a free connection between reality and Utopia. To place Utopia at everyone's reach means to create a mass movement, to give it the form of a real collective will of the spontaneous transformation of human relationships.

While discussing all this I would like to warn that frequently we meet a type of [politically] engaged individual who makes efforts to prevent any approximation of Utopia and reality. [We meet] individuals who have been trying to present socialist reality as a distant and indefinite future. For such people Utopia is a form of intellectual escape from reality. Therefore they take that form of socialism which is the least suitable for any critical analysis or direct participation in a concrete society. Recently a prominent philosopher was asked where, in his opinion, one can find real socialism, and he answered "in China." The next question was what he knew of socialism in China, and he answered: "Very little!" Does not this attitude reveal a wish to escape from our own reality, the European reality'; Certainly [the European reality] is for us an object of direct action regardless of the question of to what extent and according to which existing socialist model we are obliged to look for the possibilities and dilemmas of the transformation of this socialist reality. Do we have the right permanently to maintain undefined, indefinite, distant and abstract relationships between the "socialist reality" and "socialist Utopia?" Do we not live within an historical reality, with experience of long-standing, not only in connection with the capitalist society but also with the socialist one, which obliges us to resolve contradictions in our own historical area? Here the contradictions and the prospects of a possible evolution are the most visible and [are most] suitable for confirmation in a clear way. Things which form the Utopian section of socialist theory and practice must become the subject of our thoughts and knowledge. It is not permissible to neglect the socialist experience in Europe.

Regardless of how contradictory all this sounds, it is precisely our links with, and inspiration by the Utopian form of the radical will which obliges us to make critical, analytical, and scholarly research of the socialist reality. We should here recall Marx' angry abandonment of Weitling's Utopian prophecies. [Marx said] that "ignorance is of no use to anybody" in relation to the capitalist reality. Dogmatism and bureaucratism have today burdened the socialist way of thinking by a huge inertia, by a pseudo-knowledge and quasi-reality. We cannot remove this inertia if we do not develop a critical way of thinking, both in connection with the knowledge which we can acquire by comparative studies of the existing achievements in socialist countries and by confrontation of these "achievements" with the worked out vision of the goal, of the future which these societies would like to achieve.

While speaking about this necessity, I cannot but remember two thinkers whose messages as Marxist philosophers and engaged people lead us to critical research of the essential problems concerning our hope in socialism. These two philosophers are, Gyorgy Lukacs and Lucien Goldmann. They are both examples of thinkers completely devoted to the cause of socialism, but inspired by critical thought. For them [critical thought] meant a permanent confrontation between the real and the possible, between the necessity and the Utopian; for them this meant a passionate dialogue between man and his history. Gyorgy Lukacs in his theoretical deliberations placed the accent on a "possible consciousness" while Lucien Goldmann, who considered himself a pupil of Lukacs and his continuer, followed him in the vision of a humanistic socialism. Lukacs was more directly engaged in the communist movement and was following the stages, often under pressure, of the socialist revolution after October [1917] until the present days. Goldmann was freer, less tied to the discipline of the movement, but they had both equally striven to give the best parts of their life to the realization of the socialist vision. I would not dare to judge their contribution at this time. However, I would like to say that through their death we lost two most significant persons in contemporary Marxist philosophy and in the socialist movement. We have lost two men with whom we were very closely tied: Gyorgy Lukacs and Lucien Goldmann were members of the Praxis Editorial Council. Lucien Goldmann, in addition, was one of the most dynamic animators and most precious participants in our Korcula School. Their death has shocked us deeply because their disappearance is a great loss for the world which we would like to create. Please let us give them the honor of one moment of silence as an honor to our comrades and friends Gyorgy Lukacs and Lucien Goldmann. Glory to them!