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Utopian Literature

Poem: The People

 (Written in 1600)

    "The people is a beast of muddy brain,
    That knows not its own strength and therefore stands
    Loaded with wood and iron. The powerless hands
    Of a mere child guide it with bit and rein;
    One kick would be enough to break the chain.
    But the beast fears, and what the child demands
    It does, nor its own terror understands
    Confused and stupefied by bugbears vain.
    Most wonderful! With its own hands
    It ties the gags itself, gives itself life and war,
    For pence doled out by kings from its own store.
    Its own are all things between earth and heaven;
    But this it knows not, and if one arise
    To tell this truth, it kills him unforgiven.”

Book review: Utopia Now


I Was Robot (Utopia Now Possible). By Ernest Mann. (Little Free Press, Rt 1. Box 102 Cushing, MN 56443, USA. $7.95.)

 We have always argued that many workers would arrive at conclusions similar to those of Socialists on their own, without encountering Socialist speakers or publications. This is just what happened to Ernest Mann: twenty years ago, at the age of 42, he decided that he had had enough of wage slavery and "dropped out”. Since then, he has been propagating his ideas in his own newsletter, issued from Minnesota. Many of these newsletters are now collected together in this volume. Unfortunately, this format means the book is very repetitive, and there is little sense of an argument being developed. Nevertheless, the result is lively and well worth reading.

Pathfinders: Vision Impossible

It probably escaped most people's notice that it's 500 years since the publication of Thomas More's seminal work Utopia, the first systematic attempt since Plato to set out the definition of an ideal society, though regrettably this includes (in More's case) royal princes, priests, the subjection of women, and slaves.

Not everybody missed the occasion though, as a recent 'Utopia' art exhibition in London's Somerset House bore witness.  And with an eye for a good cover story, New Scientist recently went with 'Utopia – the quest for the perfect society, and the lost civilisation that found it' (17 September).

Cooking the Books: Dreaming of Ending Poverty

‘Ending poverty need not be a utopian dream’, was the headline of an article by Philip Collins in the Times (2 September), subheaded ‘Thomas More’s vision of a perfect society may be outlandish but it reminds us that Britain can change for the better.’

This year is the 500th anniversary of the publication of More’s Utopia in Latin. An English translation appeared  in 1551. More did imagine a regimented society with for instance, as Collins pointed out, everyone having to dress the same. But it is not this aspect that has interested socialists. It’s his imaging a society without private property where there is planned production to meet needs and whose members have free access to what they need ‘without money, without exchaunge, without any gage, pawne, or pledge.’

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