Voices from nowhere : utopianism in British political culture 1929-1945
This thesis employs an analytical concept of 'utopianism' to examine British political culture between the economic crisis of 1929-31 and the 1945 election. In contrast to the commonplace meanings of 'utopia', utopianism is understood in a positive sense and conceptualised as composed of three dialectically interrelated parts. In summary, the starting point of any utopia is an appreciation of life as it is, based on a critical gaze on society specific to the life-world of the onlooker. This gaze is parent to the second part of this concept, the object of desire, the utopia itself. The third aspect of utopianism is the 'praxis of desire', the strategies and tactics by which the good life is sought. This concept is employed to focus on the rhetorical formations and discursive content of the public utterances of the Labour Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the British Union of Fascists, the Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals and the Common Wealth party, known collectively as the 'New Utopians'. The critiques of existing society, ideals of the 'New Man' and blueprints for, and visions of, the 'New Britain' of these parties are drawn out and discussed. As an alternative analytical framework to 'class' models of politics, the concept of utopianism de-familiarises the material, allowing the commonality and promiscuity of political ideas to emerge. Through the notion of the 'praxis of desire', how utopia was sought in a national tradition of democracy, continuity and non-violence is examined, and the dichotomy between 'utopian' and 'practical' politics interrogated. Finally, an alternative narrative of the 'Road to 1945' is constructed. By viewing the aspirations of ordinary people in terms of 'demotic utopianism', the political subject is posited as an active, reflective agent rather than an individual whose 'interests' are prefigured by their 'class'. In this way the diversity and subjectivity of desire is reinserted into the historical narrative.