The idea of isolated utopianism, reformism or revolution is an afterthought, which does not correspond to what we can learn from successful hegemonic projects.
There is a common misconception that these three corners are not compatible with each other. On the contrary, they very much need each other in order to succeed. A crude understanding of left-wing strategy would put revolutionary communism in the top corner, anarchism in the bottom left and reform oriented social democracy to the right. In reality that is never really the case. Although these different movements might express their views according to this, they have never fully succeeded without utilising at least two poles of the triangle. The “prefigurative politics” associated with anarchists might be sneered at by people inclined to political parties and strategies for taking power. But when was the taking of hegemonic power in a modern society not proceeded by the experimentation with new modes of production or decision making?
Taking power through exodus
The Russian revolution was the direct effect of the prefigurative politics of the Soviets, local democratic assemblies of workers and soldiers, which created a situation of dual power, and eventually constituted a more legitimate and stable power than the ruling regime.
The Paris Commune was preceded by various economic experiments and countless underground communist cafés, where socialists practised utopian thinking and decision making by debating visionary ideas (discussions of concrete political proposals like shorter hours or higher pay were banned, so the lectures and talks had to be about the creation of utopian socialism).
Although dogmatic socialists have often scorned these kind of initiatives, they are crucial at building the power base required to take the nexts steps towards the contest of power. Marx whines about the utopian tendency of the proletarians of Paris, without realising that what the workers are effectively doing is laying the foundation for the taking of power through the Commune twenty years later.
[The Parisian proletariat] partly throws itself upon doctrinaire experiments, “co-operative banking” and “labor exchange” schemes; in other words, movements, in which … it gives up the task of revolutionizing the old world with its own large collective weapons and on the contrary, seek to bring about its emancipation, behind the back of society, in private ways, within the narrow bounds of its own class conditions, and, consequently, inevitably fails.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx 1852
Likewise, the taking of power by Social Democracy in Sweden was not only preceded (and succeeded) by the transformation of existing institutions of power, but by vast initiatives of exodus from the dominating culture, economy, education and political practices of capitalism: “Peoples Parks” as alternative spaces for working class culture; the cooperative movement for creating a parallell economy of grocery stores, housing, insurance and so on; the Folk high schools and study groups for working class education; the Peoples Houses as arenas for popular political debating.
If we’re looking at the few examples of anarchist or explicitly utopian groups taking power, it was made possible by the long term institutionalising of radical ideas. The anarchists of Barcelona were organised in a dominant trade union. In recent times, the Zapatistas took years to establish themselves within the traditional existing structures of rural Chiapas before launching their attack on the state powers.
Likewise, the Kurds of Rojava, build their strength not only on utopian democratic experiments, but a combination of traditional structures and direct confrontations with the dominant powers in order to maintain their local autonomy.
…the most vital and creative revolutionary movements at the dawn of this new millennium – the Zapatistas of Chiapas, and Kurds of Rojava being only the most obvious examples – are those that simultaneously root themselves in a deep traditional past. Instead of imagining some primordial utopia, they can draw on a more mixed and complicated narrative.
How to change the course of human history, David Graeber and David Wengrow
The losing of hegemony comes from insular tactics of a narrow minded focus on either exodus, reform or the taking of (or administration of) power.
The Soviet Union quickly got rid of their utopian side, by stripping to local assemblies of power and outlawing opposing political forces until it became a tragic mirroring of the Tzar regime.
For Swedish Social democracy the decline of hegemony happened gradually over a long time, by centralising the command of the movement and moving power from the many branches of exodus to the heart of the political party. To the point were the party stands isolated, and is merely able to administer a continuously diminishing position of power.
The paradox is that the more ties are cut to the exodus part of the movement, the more hegemony is lost. The ruling power becomes isolated and limited in it’s manoeuvring space until it is merely able to copy the actions of the previous powers under a new flag.
A strong hegemonic power needs to transcend to both bottom corners of the pyramid, by on the one hand facilitating the transformation of the dominant institutions of culture, jurisdiction and economy, and on the other hand nurture projects of the common, by handing more autonomy to the utopian side. In effect, this means strengthening your power by giving it away. This is what socialists back in the days would call the “withering away of the state”. We shouldn’t be surprised that this does not come easy. For it to happen, the two way interaction and reciprocity needs to be held intact by extensive pressure from below.