Critical analysis of Marxism and the convergence of utopia and the everyday

This assignment will focus on the journal written by Michael Gardiner in 2006, who looked at the notion of utopia and the everyday life. Gardiner focused his writing on the perspective of Marxism and further ideas which were developed by Karl Marx. Gardiner looked at the theories of a variety of writers within the subject area of the everyday life and utopia; focusing mainly on Fredrich Engels, Georg Simmel, Georg Lukacs, Walter Benjamin and Agnes Heller. These sociologists referenced by Gardiner provided the main influence to his journal article and significantly affected ideas discussed by him. This essay will analyse and critique in detail the article compiled by Gardiner, drawing upon the ideas and theories put forward in a thorough and detailed manner to interpret exactly what Gardiner was trying to illustrate.

In order to fully understand the article written by Gardiner and the ideas put forward by him, it is important that the basic terms, modernity and utopia are illustrated. Modernity has been defined as particular attributes of modern societies that on the whole endure a sharp divide between the pre modern and modern societies, Abercrombie (2006:252). Modernity is renowned on a variety of factors, such as economic, political and cultural grounds. For example this can be related to modern societies who typically have industrial, capitalist economies and a social structure founded on a division into social classes. However Gardiner focuses his journal a lot on the notion of the utopia and the everyday life. According to Abercrombie (2006:407), utopia which was formally defined by Karl Mannheim believed that the beliefs of subordinate classes, especially beliefs which emphasized those aspects of a society which pointed to the future collapse of the established order. These concepts within the article set the scene for what Gardiner illustrates within his work, therefore it is important to illustrate this in order to get a basic idea of what will be discussed further.

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It is clear from reading this article put forward by Gardiner that it is not easy to interpret and understand what exactly he was trying to convey. Although Gardiner tried to illustrate the notion the phenomena of the everyday life and utopia, his explanations are rather vague and appears to be quite confusing in places, for example:

. . ” such an expression might not, at first glance, appear to be especially felicitous one, in so far ‘utopia’ and ‘everyday life’ are usually construed as incongruous, even thoroughly incompatible phenomena” (Gardiner 2006:3).

It also appeared that Gardiner had difficulty linking the terms utopia and the everyday life and therefore felt the need to delve further into historical background in order to get a clearer understanding.

First, Gardiner demonstrates the notion of the ‘everyday utopianism’, which to him was illustrating the theoretical position that imagines utopia as the not so ideal society, Gardiner (2006:3). However Marxist ideas discussed a little further on in the article, claimed that the everyday life cannot simply be taken for granted; it should be problematised, in order to understand how it fits in with a wide range of socio-cultural, political and economic factors, whilst making clear its utopian characteristics. Although Gardiner has tried to illustrate the term into his own understanding, it may have benefited Gardiner if he looked further into the notion of utopia in order to gain a better understanding of the term.

In conjunction with the everyday utopianism, Gardiner felt able to relate to a more modern perspective, which he briefly discussed. Joe Moran’s recent article of November in Berlin: the End of the Everyday, demonstrated the post war division of Germany into Eastern and Western sectors, with the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961, resulting in different models of political organisation and economic development, Gardiner (2006:4). The fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989 created utopia and life changing possibilities affecting the everyday. Following the hysteria and carnival like celebrations of the fall of the Berlin wall came a realisation that the utopian possibilities and reality did not meet everyone’s expectations. The German Marxist and theorist of utopia, Ernst Bloch described the novum as the period of realisation and of hope that follows the initial hysteria of the realisation of utopian possibilities.

Gardiner has used the theories of Moran, Friedrick Jameson, Ernst Bloch, Ben Highmore and others to demonstrate that Marxist theories are valuable in attempting to explain the everyday life and utopia. These theories still have relatively unknown qualities and potential which could link utopian possibilities to the everyday life.

It is evident throughout this article that Gardiner used Engels and Marx’s idea qite frequently in order to demonstrate his argument for utopia and the everyday. Although it was not clear what Gardiner was trying to portray on the notion of utopia, he did not seem to use a wide range of sources to back up his claims and what he was trying to demonstrate. However the following quote does give some insight into what Gardiner was trying to say demonstrate what Gardiner was trying to say:

”In any event, the tension of ambivalence regarding Marx and Engel apprehension of everyday utopianism continued throughout the work of various western Marxists of the twentieth century”, Gardiner (2006:9)

To provide a wider range of utopian ideas, Gardiner could have introduced the works of Peter Beiharz who looked at the work of Marx and Bellamy to give a wider view on the notion of utopia. According to Beilharz (2004:1), Bellamy and Marx also had significant theories on the ideas of utopia. Beilharz claimed that Bellamy’s idea of utopia was more reliable than Marx and although his ideas were contrary to common understanding of utopia.

Gardiner pointed out that Marx and Engels work did continue within the work of the western Marxists during the twentieth century, however he noted that Georg Lukacs was the most influential writer on this idea, Gardiner (2006:8). Gardiner decided to draw upon the ideas of Georg Simmel in order to fully understand and explain the work of George Lukacs.

Georg Simmel was a German sociologist who had wide opinions and views across a variety of other academic genres, for example Art and Psychology. Simmel had a major impact on a wide array of other social theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Martin Heidegger and Karl Mannheim and many others. Simmel’s take on the notion of utopia and the everyday life was somewhat quite different, Anderson et al (1992:223). According to Gardiner he believed that Simmel was the crucial link between Marx, Engels and the western Marxists in regards to understanding everyday utopianism.

Gardiner demonstrated through his writings that he believed Simmel had a well balanced view of the everyday life in the modern world along with its utopian possibilities. Gardiner also pointed out that Simmel was not concerned with the pessimism and irrationalist notion of the ideal society. On the basis of this writing, Gardiner looked further afield and came across the theories of Georg Lukacs.

George Lukacs was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic. He is often renowned for being the founder of the western Marxism. Marxism has been defined as the political and economic theories put forward by those of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Giddens (2006:112) Lukacs contributed to many ideas, such as reification and the class consciousness to Marxist philosophy.

In regards to the article put forward by Gardiner, Lukacs was described as a romantic anti capitalist believing that modern capitalism created a mechanical civilisation in the place of an integrated pre-modern community which was widely accepted by others. For various reasons, romantic anti capitalism were linked to Jewish theological sources and played an influential role in the thought of European socialists in the late nineteenth and twentieth century’s, Gardiner (2006:16). This seems to influence the writings of such sociologists such as Tonnies, Troeltsch, Landauer, Lukacs and Walter Benjamin.

Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish Marxist and sociological cultural critic who believed that everyday life in the modern world was not completely without liberating possibilities, Callinicos (1999:249). Benjamin was influenced by Marxist play right Bertolt Brecht influencing his ideas and politics which become more political especially during the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, Highgrove (2002:61) cited in Gardiner (2006:17). His approaches to the theories of modernism bore many similarities with Simmel’s view on the everyday. But he argues with Simmel that exploration of the modern everyday must be seen in terms of material culture and the human psychology and social interactions. Gardiner attempted to compare these thinkers with the work of Agnes Heller to give a more modern day perspective of utopia and the everyday.

Agnes Heller was born in 1929 and was a pupil and research assistant to Georg Lukacs. She published a study on Everyday life in 1968 drawing heavily on the experiences of her political activities. She believed that everyday life cannot be seen in isolation and insisted everyday life be analysed on its own terms, Gardiner (2006:22). Gardiner’s attempt to introduce Heller in his article has been very confusing and introduced too many dimensions to illustrate the point of everyday life and utopia.

Another article which was drawn upon which related well to the notion of the everyday life and utopia, was the journal article ‘The Activating presence – what prospects of utopia in times of uncertainty, written by Michael Hviid Jacobsen.

Jacobsen talked about Zygmunt Bauman who is often renowned for being the representative to the promoter of the postmodernism and a defending thinker to the view of the humanistic variant of the Marxism approach. Jacobsen has also drawn upon the idea that Bauman’s work often reflects the neglected and sometimes open idea of the utopian mentality. Jacobson commented that in order to understand Bauman’s work it needed to be broken down in order to appreciate his view on the utopia in more detail and not just become similar to that of the other social thinkers who looked at utopia being the result of the ideal society or the common good, Jacobsen (2006:1).

Jacobsen noted in his article that Bauman often mentioned the word Dystopia. According to Bauman Dystopia was known for being the modern form of utopia, which often related to the unrealistic, unpleasant imaginary world, Jacobsen (2006:345). An example of this would be the book written by George Orwell ‘Nineteen eighty four’ which demonstrated the notion of a futuristic state under a totalitarian regime in 1984, Foster (2005).

In conclusion, Gardiner attempted to focus his discussion on four main Marxist thinkers, Marx himself, Lukacs, Benjamin and Heller, however he introduced quite a number of other social thinkers which at sometimes blurred and confused the issues. Gardiner appeared to have taken into consideration a variety of theories by social thinkers and tried hard to incorporate their ideas in what he was trying to illustrate throughout his article. However in attempting to make the piece cohesive he seemed to lose the point of what he was trying to demonstrate by introducing too many social theorists to the topic which often confused the reader. At first it was not clear what Gardiner was trying to demonstrate however he did draw upon some good points, for example when describing the work of Marx, Engels and Agnes Heller.

The aim of this journal article was to look further into the notion of the utopia and the everyday life. He drew upon many social thinkers within the sociological schools of thought, drawing upon many different interpretations and opinions on what each thinker thought about the idea put forward. It was not clear however from Gardiners’ article on what he was trying to demonstrate at first however he drew upon some good points which did contribute to the article in discussion. Gardiners’ article, although very well written contained words which sometimes came across as abit too complex for the reader to understand is very well written however, he used words which sometimes may come across as being abit too complex for the reader. Taking into consideration the social thinkers ideas put forward within this article, it is clear that utopia has diverse interpretations within modern society especially as modern society is constantly changing.