Real Utopia: Foundation for a Participatory Society

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“Social action must be animated by a vision of a future society, and by explicit judgements of value concerning the character of this future society.”

(Noam Chomsky: Language and Freedom)


We are writing to let you know about a new initiative called Real Utopia: Foundation for a Participatory Society. As the name suggests, this initiative focuses on the body of work and political program generally referred to as Participatory Society. We believe that Participatory Society is by far the most important formulation for radical-progressive social transformation around today, for reasons we will explain below. We also believe that if we are to have a future worth talking about then organising around participatory theory, vision and strategy – which must always include the further development and refinement of these ideas – is our best way forward. This is what Real Utopia sets out to do. In this call to action we provide a brief overview of the theory, vision and strategy of Participatory Society as well as present an introduction to Real Utopia as an activist project.

What is Participatory Society?

Developed by radical thinkers such as Michael Albert, Lydia Sargent, Robin Hahnel, Cynthia Peters and Stephen Shalom and situated in the Left-libertarian tradition, Participatory Society can be thought of as a means of reorganizing society. It contains a vision of a truly inclusive society – free from racism, sexism, classism, authoritarianism, etc. It is also a society made up of systems designed to perpetuate international peace and environmental sustainability. Participatory Society differs from other radical thought in several important ways, but we would like to highlight three critical differences. First,

Participatory Society is established on a theory that addresses the divides between movements and lays the groundwork for radical intersectionalism. Second, the vision underpinning Participatory Society not only addresses the question of what a better society might look like, but it also does not require extreme assumptions about human nature or for everyone in society to be perfect. A good example of this can be found in participatory economics (parecon). Third, the strategic approach that feeds into Participatory Society is empowering, prefigurative, and pragmatic.

Why Real Utopia?

The name Real Utopia is taken from an important collection of essays on Participatory Society published in 2008. Edited by Chris Spannos, Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century argues that while utopian thinking can have downsides if it makes pie-in-the-sky assertions or tending towards authoritarianism, not all projects that incorporate a vision of the future have to be impractical or dictatorial. On the other hand, not having vision has its own debilitating effects on organising. Without vision we have no real understanding of what we are trying to build and therefore we are unable to lay a solid foundation today for a desirable future tomorrow. The promise of Participatory Society is that it is rooted in a realistic approach to radical transformation while avoiding a blueprint that inextricably binds the future with our current conceptions. It is in this same sense that we use the term Real Utopia.

In addition to crippling efforts at serious organising, neglecting vision tends to generate a problem-focused culture, which also has serious implications for organising. Most of what the Left discusses constitutes analysis of what is wrong in the world. Being essentially negative, this focus tends to foster a psychology of cynicism and even hopelessness. Understanding problems is important but solutions are vital to any serious movement. We argue that developing and utilising good vision has the potential to generate a solution-focused culture that fosters a psychology of optimism and empowerment. For these reasons, it is our conviction that the Participatory theory, vision

and strategy that underpins Real Utopia can help resolve many of the internal problems now facing the Left.

What do we mean by a Foundation?

As laid out in our mission statement, Real Utopia is a foundation in two senses of the term; it provides structural support for building a participatory society and it is an organization that seeks to contribute to the world through its collective resources.

Real Utopia exists to help facilitate the establishment of an international network of activists who are interested in and motivated by Participatory theory, vision and strategy. This international network constitutes the real foundation for a participatory society that we seek to build. The foundation is supported by the Real Utopia Team whose remit is to manage the site and help facilitate local, national and transnational networks to achieve their own self-managed aims and objectives that fit the framework of the foundation.

This is by no means a top-down organization. This foundation needs active engagement from you and you can get involved in different ways. Firstly, you can get involved in organizing and activism along participatory lines by joining the self-managed Real Utopia Network which you can sign up to here. Second, if you’re interested in helping to manage the site you can apply to join the self-managed Real Utopia Team. Finally, you can donate to Real Utopia to help maintain and manage the organization, which is run on a purely voluntary basis. Or you can do all three! How much or how little is up to you. The Network also means you’ll be in contact with like-minded people who you can connect with. In addition, you’ll have access to resources and materials you will enjoy.



The “4 Cs”

Real Utopia will follow the 4 Cs of organizing. To build a participatory society we must first start with consciousness raising (C1) and from there build commitment (C2) to the Real Utopia project. Once there’s a critical mass of support we can move into the phase of contestation (C3) where we challenge elite power through the formation of participatory power. Alongside contestation we can construct (C4) the world we want to see through the creation of new, participatory, liberatory, and prefigurative institutions.

These form the 4 Cs that guide our organising efforts. It is for this reason that the initial focus and priority within Real Utopia are C1 (consciousness raising) and C2 (commitment building) activities. However, we very much look forward to being in the situation where we can engage in C3 (contestation) and C4 (construction) activities at a greater level.


C1. Consciousness raising

Educating ourselves and others on participatory theory, vision and strategy.

C2. Commitment building

Prioritising our time to C1 and actively recruiting new people to the Network.

C3. Contestation

Forming a power block that can challenge the established order.

C4. Construction

Forcing radical reforms alongside the creation of new institutions.

Please feel free to share this, our first promotional piece, with your contacts. You can visit the site at: We look forward to organising together with you as part of this new initiative!

The Real Utopia Team

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