The Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dispossessed Cover

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia


The Dispossessed, is a masterpiece of both science fiction and political writing. Le Guin describes an anarcho-syndicalist utopia on the barren moon Anarres, won by the anarchists in exchange for giving up their revolution and leaving the lush home planet of Urras to the ravages of one capitalist superpower and one authoritarian state-capitalist one - obvious stand-ins for the Cold War.

The Dispossessed traces through two timelines the life of theoretical physicists Shevek as he navigates austere, difficult, and socially- or even moralistically-bureaucratic life on Anarres and his travel to capitalist Urras in order to complete his theoretical work. A key conflict in the novel is Shevek's difficulty pursuing his physics under social system in place in Anarres, which led to The Dispossessed being labeled "an ambiguous utopia", and some readers questioning Le Guin's belief in the better society she depicts. Those questions are entirely unwarranted; at the time of writing Le Guin considered herself a Kropotkin-inspired anarchist. As Jasper Bernes writes in Commune, that Anarres is an ambiguous utopia, rather than undermining its vision, affirms that an better social system is not only possible, but realistic: it may have warts, but that's humanity. Le Guin once wrote that "capitalism's power seems inescapable. So too did the divine right of kings." We can imagine a better world and fight for it, but the better world we create won't ever be perfect; we must always fight for it.