A Review of Utopia (TV series)

[Trigger warning: sexism, pregnancy, sterility, violence, child abuse]

So, Utopia is a comic-book inspired, refreshing series of 6 episodes. There would be much to say about it, for example about the style of it, with endless static shots and extremely edited colours (it’s like a comic book, get it?) which could be seen as… a bit pedantic, to be honest, but it’s really only just annoying in the first couple of episodes, the later ones are much less over-stylized, thank fuck.

However, I wanted to consider only the representation of women in it. At first sight, we should be delighted: so many female characters! Utopia is really symptomatic of the numerical view of fair representation. But when you see a bit more about who these characters are… Well, maybe 6 episodes is just not enough to really develop that many characters.

One woman, is pregnant. Her sole role in the series is being pregnant. Then it turns out she was a liar and gets killed.

One woman is sterile. Her sole role is to be sterile, and (obviously) reallly really to want a kid. At any cost.

One woman is diseased. Genetically. All her actions are imputable to the fact she is diseased: her interest in the conspiracy, her betrayal, her not wanting to date the male hero. She is that bisexual girl from House, basically.

One woman is Leeloo from the Fifth Element. This dawned on me mid-series (unhuman-likeness, improbable haircut) but you’re supposed only to realize it at the end, when she learns that what they were looking all along (it’s not called the Fifth Element, so let’s say the genetic disease thingummy which will change life on Earth forever) was IN HER. The actual words she is told is something incredibly tasteless and disturbing, like “You were looking for answers, for proof of your father’s love, he loved you so much he put it inside you”.

So, we have: the pregnant, the sterile with a will to mother, the diseased and the miraculous walking pharmaceutical. The four main female characters are therefore pure expressions of their biology. The only one that seems like a real character in the end is one we never get to know anything about, as she is a spy whose alllegiancies or real story are uncertain til the very end. But she is a powerful strong-willed woman who seems not to have everything about her dictated by her biology, so yay.

All this to say, fair representation is not about numbers, and forcing a higher number of women can mean just using more set female stereotypes, which Utopia chose to do.

The monstrosity of class-struggle anarchism

The monstrosity of class-struggle anarchism

As the title may suggest, this article is going to discuss the concept of “class-struggle anarchism”, as put forward by the UK Anarchist Federation in their self-definition as “an organisation of revolutionary class struggle anarchists.” Discussing such an issue will no doubt be seen by some as an attack. We have little time for political infighting and allegiances. We are writing for those of our comrades who can understand, reply and not be sectarian: anarchism’s future lies in truth. We have the utmost respect for many comrades who use this label, but we wish, first, to study the reasons for this facade of “class-struggle”, then, its actual effect as it circumvents discussions on the function of class-struggle, and we will conclude that instead of filling this void in our theory with half-digested Marxism and reassuring mantras, we might want to look towards anti-authoritarian readings of Marx.

A tautology and many bogeymen

What is arresting about this phrase is how obvious it seems. Anarchism is a revolutionary movement born from the class-struggle. In anarchism, workers theorized their practices and aspirations against class society.

So why the precision? The conscious explanation is a list of bogeymen, the most “out there” types of anarchism, whether these are actually antithetical to class-struggle or not. It was written because people did not want to spend time arguing against anarcho-capitalism, lifestylism, utopianism, individualism… and this seems natural.

However, using a positive, if vague, term instead of refuting once and for all these deviations poses a few problems. The less serious one is probably that it acknowledges that there would be the possibility of anarchism which would somehow be “outside” of the class struggle. The most serious ones are that, far from encouraging it, in practice it stifles debates and ideas about class-struggle, its emancipatory possibilities and its limits.

The underpants gnome path to revolution

This silencing leads to a very awkward position in which some people may think they know what the Anarchist Federation is doing, but, from what we have seen, the most accurate and complete plan for action on which there is a consensus is:

1. Class struggle

2. ???

3. Anarchist communism

This is obviously insufficient, but the only way to develop it would be to discuss the limits of class-struggle, and think a classless society, neither of which is allowed by the Aims and Principles.

Members then try to fill this blank space in their theory in different ways. In the best case, they turn to anarcho-syndicalism’s conception of the expropriating general strike, and add their concerns at work alienation as a vague concomitant “community mass movement”. In the worst case, they turn to a form of Marxism they try to make more “libertarian”, or “democratic”.

With Marx against Marxism

In both cases, however, they fail at communism. They replace it instead by the dictatorship of the proletariat, the access to political and economic power of the proletariat. Although they might pay lip service to the critique of capitalist categories such as work and value, they rely on the capitalist mechanisms to overthrow it. However necessary to our survival it might be, class-struggle remains indeed a mechanism of (re)production of capitalism.

In truth, what many anarchists oppose in the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dirty word of “dictatorship”. However, when they realize what it actually means, their critique of it seems to dwindle to almost nothing. That is because, increasingly over the years, anarchists have imported Trotskyist and Marxist ideas without much debate or realization under the banner of their interest for “class-struggle”, and out of fear of these bogeymen which Marxists like to accuse us to be (anarcho-capitalists, lifestylists, utopianists, individualists).

It is high time we read Marx and analyze capitalism from an anarchist perspective, which means developing a project of emancipation that goes beyond what Wayne Price calls “democratic libertarian communism”: anarchism. We have no time for the producers versus parasite rhetorics of regressive anti-capitalism, as we have enough examples in our history and arguments in our classics to show their inadequacy many times over. We must truly make ours the critique of labour defended by the Wertkritik and communisation currents, among others.

Class-struggle is the origin of anarchism, it is its “natural habitat”, but it is not its end. Anarchism’s end is a classless, stateless society free of oppression. This is not obtained by a victory over the bourgeoisie, but the abolition of capitalism, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. These ideas have been circulating in anarchist circles for a while, in a sense, they are the basic principles of “real” anarchism. However, the stress on the label “class-struggle anarchism” created a climate of confusion and duplicity which made many comrades lose these bearings.

A response to the AWL on SWP and “no-platform”

So, the AWL recently published an article about why, although the SWP did indeed do something bad, no-platforming them is out-of-order. Here is my response, which you can find in the Mayday issue of their magazine.

The people who are effectively “no-platformed” now are people who cannot be around the SWP. The no-platform policy is not a magic wand we can wave, even at fascists. Organisations and individuals must be held accountable, by everyone, everywhere, for everything. There is no difference between “politically confronting” someone and what people are doing when they shout them down (as on the Glasgow bedroom tax demonstration).

This is different from wanting to no-platform the SWP for chanting “we are all Hezbollah” (even though such chants already make people like me feel essentially excluded from demonstrations in solidarity with people in Palestinian territories). There is a mass movement within the SWP and the wider left contesting them around the issue of women’s rights, but not around the Hezbollah chants. All companies exploit their workers, but we only target specific ones when there is a live struggle against them.

Also, you can ignore the Palestinian issue when marching alongside the SWP about something else, but when you’re a woman you can’t ignore the issue of women when you see them around – be it on a bedroom tax demo or on a May Day march. It’s just another slap in the face from the patriarchy, and either you fight back, end up beaten up (I’ve never won a fight in my entire life) or in jail, or you submit, go away, and drown your humiliation in alcohol and other distractions.

It is obvious that the acts of protest taken up by many different individuals and semi-formal groups, be it the attempts by part of the SWP to challenge its constitution, or people challenging them when they see them in public spaces, must be supported, but also open to criticism, like any other acts, on the basis of whether they are politically sound and as efficient as they can be. The anger at the current SWP’s policy of ignoring that there is an issue at all is not going to go away. Making the organisation acknowledge there is something wrong with its behaviour is a clear first step, and a difficult one at that. We do not have to use the term “no platform” (which it is not, by the way. We would argue the tactic used by Glasgow comrades takes root in the gay liberation direct action practice known as zap, and makes much more sense in its proper context), as it has strong connotations, but if we are to have any effect at all on an organisation that has managed to be so dismissive and rigid up to now, shock-and-awe tactics making it impossible for them to function are in order, as long as they refuse to acknowledge any problem.

We might have different views on the issue of organisation, different ends and methods as well, some might be against all hierarchies and centralism, some might think this case is just the matter of a bad apple. But none of us want, anywhere in the social movement, a structure which allows and condones the structural oppression of anyone. Despite all the horror, disgust and self-doubt this case caused, it is a chance to build real unity, between people as disparate as the original SWP dissenters, queer and feminist activists, Marxists who are boycotting the Sidney Historical Materialism which allows Solidarity, a local group who supports whole-heartedly their sister organization, the SWP, to give talks, and of course, the ever-ready anarchists. These events were hard on us all, they made us question what we stand for and what we might be allowing to happen around us, we now need to think about healing, and take collective responsibility in a feminist and revolutionary way.

A review of The Value of radical theory, by Wayne Price

This is an interesting presentation of Marx’s analysis of capitalism.

However it falls short of the mark on a few accounts, on small things, like when he links revolutionary movements linked to non-class forms of oppression to the Chartists and therefore to movement to gain rights of representation (a bit grating); but also on big things, mainly when he loses focus on capitalism as a commodity-producing society to slolely talk of capitalism as a society based on exploitation: exploitation is based and is how, as workers we first experience why capitalism is bad, but that said, when Price writes about his “libertarian-democratic communism” (ouch!) something like:

The automatic laws of the market (the law of value) will only be overcome through workers’ democracy, which means making conscious choices. This requires an understanding of how capitalism works (which Marx’s economic theory mostly provides) but also requires a vision of an alternate society of freely associated, self-managed producers.

O dear. “producers” of use-values, or of commodities? The libertarian-democratic communism which Price presents here seems to be nothing else than more libertarian, more democratic capitalism. As much as we love freely-associated, self-managed producers, such as AK Press, their generalization does not lead to communism.

This is very sad, as the main point to read Marx, imho, is to develop a critique of the commodity, of labour and of the category of capitalism that is work (and the worker). This introduction does not provide this, which I think risk leaving anarchists quite unphased by the whole thing.