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Letter from a Translator-Activist


On the self-published Russian translation of Practical Utopia and an invitation to join in expanding translations of vision and strategy.

I participated in publishing a Russian translation of Practical Utopia by Michael Albert to GitHub at this link: https://parecon.github.io/practical-utopia/ru. Anyone who gets authorised to the source will be able to add any other language, so any willing translators can send an email to [email protected] or open an issue at https://github.com/parecon/practical-utopia/issues. The translated volume has the following translator’s preface:

We’ve found ourselves in the age of ghosts and horrors.

Some of us can ignore them, evade them, buy out of them or otherwise escape from them. We can try to pull ourselves out of the den of disempowerment and violence that eats us one by one, so as not to sacrifice ourselves and those with whom we are close to the many-faced ambitions of power. However, even we who chose this path, we are not always successful.

When we face these ghosts and horrors, which can be very painful, we might ask ourselves: What’s the point of it all? Why is this happening and in whose interests? Can it be done in some other way? And how to attain better?

Practical Utopia was written for activists, but I believe the ideas it presents can be related to ordinary people who know simple human things: what it means to work, to relate to one’s neighbours, to care about one’s family and home, to receive spiritual fulfilment from culture and celebrations, to make purchases, to encounter bureaucratic institutions.

That’s why before I lent my voice to the author I can address you, my dear reader.

Maybe only recently, all the disastrous and vile things that permeate this world have become starkly visible to you. Unending abominations done in pursuit of power and economic domination. Systematic cruelties and stupidities that are imposed on millions of people and that follow us from birth till death. How little powers-that-be value lives of ordinary people. Maybe you even saw the worst of it with your own eyes, and in your very bones you feel the hatred to the social order that lets those things continue. To you, just as to so many people, there is no question that such an order has long become obsolete (or, rather, was never needed in the first place) and must be replaced. “With what?” and “How to do this?” are questions you seek answers to, and I hope this very search would support you in further reading.

Or maybe your deepest aversion to the status quo has already subsided and what is left is only cynicism and ironic denial, verging on inertia and apathy.

Let this book help you to overcome hopelessness and defeatism. Let it help you re-channel your righteous anger into reasonable and effective action.

It may also be you’re someone who has gotten to talk to those who enthusiastically notice the injustices of the surrounding world. All they do is criticize and talk about how bad things are, so you thought. Do they have anything to offer beyond platitudes? Can these relentless critics imagine a realistic and attainable society which abolishes flaws of modern social institutions and the roles they specify?

I agree: constant criticism without offering alternatives does nothing positive. It is more akin to nagging. May this book help you to imagine the desirable arrangement of society to which you can aspire: on your own and together, at home and at workplace, in your neighbourhood and with large groups of people.

Finally, maybe you’re someone younger, who only recently got interested in politics. Hope and the vision for a future is what others deprive young people of. They pretend that “to grow up” means to say goodbye to your honest hopes and cherished dreams — even during peaceful times (let alone wartime).

Do not let anyone convince you that this boring dystopia is the best humanity has to offer, and your only role is to fit in. May the torch of your youth shine brightly and guide you in your worthy struggle to live a life of loyalty to your own true self.

At the very least, I am sure that this book will introduce you to social theory in a much more effective way than school textbooks do. You will see that explanations of functioning of economics and politics can be intelligible and not at all as complicated and boring as the textbooks’ authors want to make them.

More than once or twice during the translation process, I thought that maybe it would be more important to have direct conversations with people: at workplaces, at public places near apartment blocks, at guest visits, on the subway. However, if you take the time to read this book and it gives you strength and hope, and lets you imagine a desirable image of the future, my efforts will not have been in vain.

News sources report almost exclusively about cruelties and repression, and though being cautious in a context of repressive institutions is always relevant, it is important to remember that in circumstances such as these that we now endure — honest communication, real hopes and fears, as well as understanding and support for alternatives, rarely visit the news feed.

News won’t report about minds changed, about in how many people the seeds of doubt of the present are ready to sprout and bloom with conviction and hope for our common better future.

Maybe I have written all of this to convey the single idea, one that powers-that-be do their best not to reveal: that the order of things in society is created and maintained by people, and so by people can also be abolished and remade, when enough numbers of people would discover the answers to those two short questions: “replace with what?” and “how to do it”?

If I’m allowed to dedicate my efforts, I dedicate them to my comrades and friends, proximate and distant. In the darkest times we are doomed to hope together.

Let us together imagine a vision of the future, and do everything to attain it.