The theme of this collection of republished essays by a Mariátegui scholar, the Peruvian author of Mariátegui: revolución y utopía (1978), is that the twentieth-century utopia of total human emancipation by a vanguard party has been forced to give way to a spectrum of limited utopias that are only partially realizable and also reversible. In effect, the only hope for human liberation is through a united Left that respects the differences between political parties and social movements committed to different visions of socialism. Its basic premise is said to be the radicalization of democracy, providing a plurality of spaces, a broad consensus, and an emphasis on local community rather than government initiatives.

Not just Stalinism but also Marxism-Leninism is faulted for the economic failures, political exhaustion, and cultural sterility of actually existing socialism in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. From this perspective, the only alternative for socialists is a return to Mariátegui and to Marx along the lines of the New Left dating from the 1960s. Its objective is a self-managed, mixed economy governed by a plurality of political parties, inspired by a multicultural ideal of human self-fulfillment and the ideal of the “complete man.”

The author’s work of rethinking utopias leads him to conclude that the cooperation of several utopias is required for any one of them to succeed even partially. Under the influence of Agnes Heller and the Budapest School, he acknowledges that Marx’s works and the socialist legacy are susceptible to multiple and even contradictory interpretations that cannot be settled and must therefore coexist.

By “utopia” the author means not ideal visions of a new society founded on reason, but rather blueprints suggested by historical realities. So conceived, utopias are concrete instead of abstract, and the Marxist opposition between utopian and scientific socialism is overcome. This results in a “materialistic idealism,” ideals in conformity with a science of society. It follows that “the myth of the social revolution . . . [is a] realistic utopia.” But is this anything more than a game of words, an effort to have the best of both worlds, imagined and real?

The notion of a concrete utopia is self-contradictory because utopia, literally no-place, is not someplace. Nor is the myth of a social revolution an example. Sorel, and Mariátegui following him, went to considerable pains to distinguish a nonrational myth motivating human will and action from a rationally constructed model subject to discussion and criticism. Although there is much to be said in support of the claim that the myth of a final struggle is “the motor of progress,” it is surely contestable that “to progress is to realize utopias.” As for “pessimism concerning reality and optimism concerning ideals and actions,” each precludes the other, as does the author’s alternative to postmodern cynicism: “Let’s be realistic . . . by demanding the impossible!”