Friday, 10 August 2018

A Spanish Anarchist View on The Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed found an appreciative reader in the Spanish anarchist Victor García (the pseudonym of Germinal Gracia). Here, we reproduce the brief summary of the novel he included in his untranslated 1977 work on utopias and anarchism. Gracia was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and the post-war clandestine anarchist movement in Spain who had subsequently spent decades exiled in Venezuela and France. A voracious reader, traveller and linguist, Gracia was concerned that the classic works of anarchism that had shaped his ideological development and that of his comrades were no longer appropriate for disseminating anarchist ideas. In Le Guin, Gracia perceived an imagination capable of translating their shared ideals for a contemporary audience.

Taken from: Victor García, Utopías y Anarquismo. Laguna de Mayrán: Editores Mexicanos Unidos, 1977, pp. 101-3 (my translation):

Because it doesn’t have established pre-requisites, science fiction offers its readership all kinds of fantastical situations.

Such is the case of Anarres, the utopian planet created by Ursula K. Le Guin, nine light years from Earth, where the Odonians – anarchists who wanted to found a regime without authority or government, with solidarity as the basic norm of behaviour – chose to live in voluntary exile.

The Dispossessed is the work of a writer with a deep understanding of and open sympathy for libertarian ideals. It is the first work of science fiction in which anarchism is brought into objective focus without avoiding, which is to be applauded, the recurrence of human problems that no social regime could ever eliminate.

Three space days’ travel from Anarres we find Urras, the planet the Odonians left one hundred and sixty years ago. Shevek, a great mathematical physicist, is working on an equation as transcendental as those of Einstein and Planck, and as such is the first inhabitant of Anarres to visit Urras, where he is feted by the great and good and universities fight for his services.

Urras conforms to a system of state regimes more or less like our own, where the powerful live in unimaginable luxury while those in poverty would envy the conditions endured by the poor in our society. Shevek discovers this gradually:

The conversation went on. It was difficult for Shevek to follow, both in language and in substance. He was being told about things he had no experience of at all. He had never seen a rat, or an army barracks, or an insane asylum, or a poorhouse, or a pawnshop, or an execution, or a thief, or a tenement, or a rent collector, or a man who wanted to work and could not find work to do, or a dead baby in a ditch.

When Shevek, evading the surveillance of the powerful, manages to visit the poor neighbourhoods where a general strike is being planned, the people let him know that they are aware of the existence of Anarres and long to emulate its system. The greatest wish they express for one another is ‘May you get reborn on Anarres!’ ‘To know that it exists, to know that there is a society without government, without police, without economic exploitation…’ ‘I wonder’, the worker Maedda says to Shevek, ‘if you fully understand why they [the powerful] have kept you so well hidden… because you are an idea. A dangerous one. The idea of anarchism, made flesh. Walking amongst us.’

Shevek returns to Anarres disillusioned. He has not revealed his theory because the powers that be in Urras only wanted to understand it to make themselves still more powerful and to subjugate the nine planets of their universe, which includes Earth: ‘A planet spoiled by the human species’, as Keng, ambassador of earth on Urras, explains:

We multiplied and gobbled and fought until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first. There are no forests left on my Earth. The air is grey, the sky is grey, it is always hot. It is still habitable, but not as this world is.

The work of Ursula K. Le Guin could successfully replace, for modern minds, venerable tomes like At the Café and Between Peasants by Malatesta, Sembrando flores by Federico Urales, and Jean Grave’s The Adventures of Nono. While it suffers the impact of environmental pessimism, it holds fast to a glimmer of salvation: Anarres, refuge of the anarchists.