When I’ve had a beer or two and start spouting off about the ills of the faux-democratic, globalized, corporate capitalist world order, I’m regularly asked (often in somewhat exasperated or disbelieving tones) what sort of alternative I envision to the capitalist societies we (or at least me and most of you likely to be reading this) live in, and if I really believe revolution is possible. As the saying goes, those are the $64,000 questions.
As far as the possibility of revolution goes, I have good days and bad. I think, though, that when the revolution does come, it will not be in the ways it has often been imagined. The most likely scenario seems to be a gradual supplanting of the existing order with “liberated zones” – both actual physical spaces and also more metaphoric ones. On a small scale, every worker-owned collective business – and there are quite a few around here – can be considered one of these liberated spaces, the same with every squat. When enough of our daily life – of how we live, work, play and meet our needs (for food, for love) – occurs within such liberated zones, then the rump of the old world can just be pushed where it belongs, into “the dustbin of history.”
At least, that seems the more likely scenario in places like the USA, where it will probably be partial and local, with bits of the country seceding while others stick to the old order. Ernest Callenbach depicts something like that in his very heartening novel, Ecotopia. It sometimes seems possible that something more akin to the traditional notion of revolution – with a mass uprising of workers and the disaffected taking to the streets and battling the forces of authority – might still be possible elsewhere, in France, say, or the Czech Republic, or perhaps South Korea.
Some time back, an unauthorized, radical alternative Tintin story, The Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free, was published, depicting a revolutionary upheaval somewhere between the two, with a rapidly accelerating mass revolutionary movement being fueled and supported by “liberated zones” – squats, collectives and the like – and also rapidly creating new liberated zones as the movement gained speed.
You can read more about Breaking Free on Wikipedia, and read the actual book online here or download it for offline reading here or using BitTorrent from here. Or you could buy it online from Powell’s Books.
Novels like Ecotopia, Breaking Free, Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, and, more recently, Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars Trilogy” (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) are important tools in the struggle for radical social change. They help us to see that, indeed, another world is possible by depicting such new worlds, giving them concrete form, and also showing some of the paths that lead to those worlds and the problems that beset them. For some reason, no matter how long I argue and explain over those beers, I am never able to be as convincing as these novels. They really can work as recruiting tools, or at least as a response to those big questions to which you can refer your debating partners and drinking buddies.
Breaking Free depicts the development of the revolutionary struggle (albeit in cartoon form), showing the importance of building coalitions, and of resisting the divisive tactics used by the power structures, such as racism and homophobia. Ecotopia depicts the new world just after the revolution, through the eyes of Will Weston, a reporter who is the first representative of the old order to investigate the breakaway society that has taken over the Pacific Northwest. Through him, the book is able to explore the values of the new society and discuss how it came about. And we get some vivid and memorable examples of how a society that has broken with capitalism might handle things like breakfast at a diner or fancy clothes. The Dispossessed, by contrast, shows a revolutionary society well after the revolution, when values have rigidified and the society has, to a certain extent, lost its way. [For an extended summary, see Wikipedia.]
In those three books, then, we get a sort of before, during and after view of revolutionary societies (all of roughly anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist orientation). Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars Trilogy” gives us all three, more or less, with the struggle leading to revolution, and the reasons and values of that struggle, comprising the first volume, Red Mars [which you can read online]. The “Mars Trilogy” is particularly valuable for helping us to imagine the struggle to reshape society because it spends so much time with those engaged in that struggle, as they argue about tactics and values, and then about the drafting of a charter or constitution to govern their new world – a new world both figurative, in that they remake the social order, and literal, in that it all takes place on another planet, Mars.
Perhaps the best thing books like this have to offer us is hope.