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  • Erin Aziz

How Teen Angst Has Shattered The Dreams of Socialist Utopias

The phrase “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” has perhaps never been more relevant than in the last few years with racial injustice, climate change and everything in between causing mass outrage and sparking a revolutionary fire within our generation. Historically, periods of such uncertainty birthed schools of thought at opposite ends of the spectrum, with the conditions of the 1800s giving us Thomas Malthus’ bleak predictions of famine and deprivation alongside Robert Owen’s Villages of Cooperation. Now, however, we must compare the outrage of Owen’s day to that of our own. In doing this, it can be observed that the rage felt by our generation has eradicated any chance of growth for the optimistic, cooperative ideology of utopian socialism which aims to peacefully oversee the return of the means of production to the people.

Let us begin by looking at the work of Robert Owen, latterly known as “Benevolent Mr. Owen of New Lanark”. I choose this man, whose story would read more like a fairytale than a biography because within his journey, we can find the truest example of utopian socialism in practice. I am, of course, referring to the incredible case of New Lanark, a real utopia established against the bleak backdrop the 1820s. The uncertainty alongside which New Lanark shone was a result of public concern and widespread panic about issues such as factory conditions, overpopulation, scarcity of resources and a fear among the upper classes that the insurrection of the lower class was imminent. While this early age of factory labour was one of horrendous working conditions and an oppressed workforce, a system had been established in a Scottish town which promised to be different. This community was established by none other than Robert Owen and went by the name of New Lanark. New Lanark boasted working conditions of a quality which had not been seen in the rest of the nation, working under a system of collective responsibility and cooperation whilst remaining incredibly profitable. Here, Owen had created a utopia in which the fears gripping the rest of the nation were not felt so intensely and the rage of those who felt cheated had nothing on which to feed. In the 1820’s, utopian socialism became more prevalent as a reaction to the harsh reality of the day. Those who saw the injustice were outraged and those who experienced it sought a way out. Owen’s was just one reaction to the conditions, but it is one which we are less likely to experience today.

It is undeniable that the anger we feel today is not a new phenomenon, nor is it one that could or should ever be eradicated completely. In my view, outrage is the driving force of politics and plays a key role in keeping our democratic system afloat. Higher turnout at elections as well as greater participation in politics outside the ballot box in the form of pressure groups are just two examples of the stimulation which anger affords our political system. Why is it, then, that there seems to be no attempt to resurrect the sentiments held by the great utopian socialists of the past? It seems that our generation has, for the most part, abandoned any dreams of utopia, favouring instead a revolutionary spirit which bears more resemblance to the French revolutionaries than the residents of New Lanark.

This abandonment of utopia is in part due to the enhanced awareness of global politics that innovations in media have allowed us. In a sense, the world has become a lot smaller since Owen’s day. It is no longer an option to simply be enraged by domestic issues, as the global media shows us that there is a new crisis every day. While Owen simply had to worry about conditions in the United Kingdom, we find ourselves reading about the abhorrent treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in China, concerning ourselves with the intricacies of U.S elections and raising funds for those displaced by wildfires and floods across the globe all while attempting to keep our own government in check whilst we helplessly witness their mishandling of crisis after crisis. This constant supply of ‘unprecedented’ events and the sheer volume of injustice that we witness has left our generation with very little optimism. Within our somewhat cynical worldview, the realisation has been reached that we simply do not have enough time to humour the utopian fantasies harboured by men such as Owen. With the climate emergency painting a pessimistic vision for our future, it is clear that the planet cannot wait for gradual the change which can be achieved through peaceful cooperation and that radical, immediate change is needed. While the concept of utopian socialism is an appealing one, the only purpose it can serve presently is to remind us of a time where such utopias were conceivable. As the grip that anger holds on the world of politics is not going anywhere any time soon, it seems that we can wave goodbye to any prospects of welcoming a socialist utopia in the near future.


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