ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Towards Socialist Utopia

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The special article “A Manifesto for Socialist Development in the 21st Century” by Benjamin Selwyn (EPW, 8 September 2018) raises important questions about socialist development and transformation. In today’s highly unequal world, it is imperative that we understand closely the manifesto that the author envisions and the societal formations against which it stands. I could only savour the prospects of the future when I read, “Imagine that, in the near future, a labouring class movement, with support from a small farmer/peasant sector, conquers political and economic power in a poor country.”

Yet, there exist problems with the author’s formulation, some of which I would like to highlight here. First, although the author thinks that it is not appropriate that capitalist development understands labour merely as a resource, the same ontological mistake is repeated in the manifesto by taking the labouring class as the basic unit of analysis. The manifesto is, of course, based on socialist philosophy and hence labour is central to it, even if it is understood differently as compared to capitalist canons. But, with socialist ideology having the capacity for self-evaluation, improvement, and restructuring, what is the rationale for foregrounding the labouring class as the fundamental unit of social change? Is the labouring class a homogenised reified category? How will the manifesto address the layered and fractured undercurrents of the labouring class? What will it entail to imagine the multiplicity and stratified identities of the labouring class?

Second, although the manifesto proposes to reconstruct society by using existing resources and refurbishing existing social relations, it is not clear how a socialist society should deal with dissent. The relationship between power and inequality in a capitalist society is deep-rooted and cannot be overhauled instantly. Although decentralised participatory planning and participatory education are given emphasis, it should be kept in mind that, in the existing societal framework, these are very much power-laden processes. How should socialist development construct spaces that enable fair and equal participation? What would dissent mean in such contexts?

And, my final concern is that the idea of human development needs further elaboration. While many points in the manifesto are elaborated with much precision and depth, some points such as gender equality, nationalism and racism are not given the attention they deserve. One reason for this could be that they are not primary concerns of a socialist utopia. Perhaps, I am asking for something that is beyond the scope of this manifesto, in which case, the mistake is mine.

It is as a curious learner that I raise these concerns. I highly appreciate the vast array of the author’s knowledge and, more importantly, the courage to formulate this manifesto in contemporary times of right-wing extremism and global capitalist hegemony.

Vijitha Rajan

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Updated On : 28th Sep, 2018

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