Anarchist and Libertarian Socialist Societies
Depicted in Utopian Works and Science Fiction:
An Incomplete List in Something Resembling Chronological
by Dan Clore
The utopian literary tradition contains few works describing
anarchist and libertarian socialist societies. Considering
the widespread popularity that anarchism has held at certain
times and places, and its even greater popularity among
writers and artists than among the general population.
Despite this, most anarchist writers have not described
their ideal society in their works. Representative may be
Franz Kafka, who belonged to an anarcho-syndicalist group.
It is doubtful that Kafka wished to live in the world of The
Trial. George Woodcock attempts to explain this state of
affairs in his study Anarchism: A History of Libertarian
Ideas and Movements (1962):
"In fact, the very idea of Utopia repels most anarchists,
because it is a rigid mental construction which,
successfully imposed, would prove as stultifying as any
existing state to the free development of those subjected to
it. Moreover, Utopia is conceived as a perfect society, and
anything perfect has automatically ceased growing; even
Godwin qualified his rash claims for the perfectability of
man by protesting that he did not mean men could be made
perfect, but that they were capable of indefinite
improvement, an idea which, he remarked, 'not only does not
imply the capacity for being brought into perfection, but
stands in express opposition to it.'"
Marie-Louise Berneri's Journey Through Utopia appeared
posthumously in 1950. This work combines a critical study
with excerpts from the books under discussion, some of which
are not otherwise available in English. Berneri was an
anarchist, and many of the statist utopias she includes
receive harsh treatment at her hands.
J.O. Bailey, writing in Pilgrims through Space and Time:
Trends and Patterns in Scientific and Utopian Fiction
(1947), saw fit to say that "The ultimate goal of socialism,
as it is described in scientific fiction, is
self-disciplined anarchism." His survey of such works makes
it clear, however, that few of them actually describe this
goal, as opposed to the socialist state intended as its
precursor. The most important of those who do so is
undoubtedly H.G. Wells in Men Like Gods.
Meanwhile the science-fiction genre became codified and the
utopian genre faded into nothing. SF now became the province
of the pulp magazines, and the atmosphere was not congenial
for positive discussions of anarchism or libertarian
socialism. Hugo Gernsback's magazine Amazing Stories, for
example, gave its official endorsement to technocracy, a
utopian movement which advocates giving total control to
engineers. While some of the ideas of this movement are
attractive - such as reducing the workweek to ten hours - we
have now seen far to many examples of appointed experts
wreaking havoc on the world to trust such a plan.
Nonetheless, such scientific state planning remained a
staple of science fiction; while it has decreased in the
meantime, it is not dead yet.
Some change in this state of affairs began in the 1950s and
burgeoned in the 1960s. Not only had science fiction once
again become important in the book as well as the magazine
market, but the magazines themselves proliferated in number
beyond reason, so there was a ready market for practically
any viewpoint. Leftist ideas now began to appear with some
regularity, fueled by the reaction against McCarthyist
anti-communist paranoia as well as the 1960s' resurgence of
interest in leftism. Despite this, most works of this
ideological bent did not describe anarchist or libertarian
socialist societies, instead concentrating on capitalist
dystopias. Nightmare worlds ruled by corporations now
became a staple cliché of the genre.
Michael Moorcock's essay "Starship Stormtroopers"
), written in 1977, describes his experiences as an
anarchist editing New Worlds, a government-supported
science-fiction magazine that combined SF with avant-garde
writing under his direction. Unfortunately it is basically
just a rant accusing writers such as Heinlein, Lovecraft,
and Tolkien of being fascists, and it is often factually
inaccurate. Very few of the anarchist writers he mentions
wrote works describing anarchist societies.
Increasingly in the 1970s and up to the current day
libertarian capitalism has been a common theme in science
fiction. Typical of this trend is the Libertarian Futurist
Society (http://lfs.org/ ). They give out the annual
Prometheus Award for "best libertarian novel" and a "hall of
fame" award for older libertarian works. Despite their own
ideological orientation they have given several of these
awards to socialist works.
In the 1980s and even more so in the 1990s, anarchist and
libertarian socialist societies began to be published with
fair regularity. Not only have mainstream publishers put out
works by the likes of Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod, but small
press outfits such as III Publishing have also begun to
bring out such works. With the resurgence of public interest
in anarchism this trend will likely continue.
The anarchist side has shown interest in science fiction, as
shown by the journal Anarchist Studies
(http://www.erica.demon.co.uk/AS.html ), which included five
articles on anarchism and science fiction in Volume 7, No.
2. Likewise, Bob Black, in Beneath the Underground (1994),
has described science-fiction fandom as a utopian current:
Since the 1930s, SF fans (fen, in their patois) have been
numerous, participatory and lowbrow, more so, in fact, than
the Punks ever were. In the United States alone, where their
activity is greatest, there are tens of thousands of active
fen who migrate from one science fiction convention to the
next, who share a common literary tradition and vocabulary,
who publish innumerable APAs (amateur press association),
i.e., reader-written periodicals. As an instrumentality of
participatory democracy, the APA puts the Punk rock gig in
SF fandom even has an explicitly utopian spin very different
from what arty types like Home are used to. Fen are often
hackers and computer pirates, always sympathetic to those
who are, technophiles who debate and dream about the High
Frontier, cryonics, robotics, Artificial Intelligence and
nanotechnology. Some are interested in utopian currents Home
might consider dystopian (as I do) if he stooped to
acknowledge their existence, like laissez-faire
libertarianism. But one man's meat has always been another
man's poison. Where the Lettrist/Situationist Ivan
Chtcheglov prophesied that everyone will live in his own
cathedral, a self-styled lunatic-fringe libertarian like
Mike Hoy wants everyone to live on his own asteroid. Neither
is objectively more utopian or more ridiculous than the
other. Each has an allure as we progress toward the point
where everyone will live in his own dumpster.
Black further notes that some members of the marginals
milieu (which is largely anarchist) have invented "joke
religions" largely based on science fiction, including the
Discordians and the Church of the SubGenius, not to mention
the revival of the Moorish Orthodox Church, which for a time
published the Moorish Science Monitor. Science fiction
writers have participated in all three of these "jokes". The
crossover between does not stop there, as cyberpunk writers
Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner put out the marginals zine
Cheap Truth, and both acknowledge the influence of marginals
writers such as Black on their work.
This has taken us rather far from the theme of anarchist and
libertarian socialist societies portrayed in science
fiction, but it seems worth mentioning considering that this
reveals one mode through which individuals add an
anarchistic dimension to their own lives in the here and
I have not read the majority of works in the following list,
and relied primarily on secondary sources for information.
Some items are included that may seem questionable, but were
included anyway as of interest for one reason or another.
There are a couple listed which I have seen called anarchist
utopias, but for which I have not found a more detailed
description. Please send and additions and corrections to
François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel. The noble
members of the Abbey of Thélème live by the motto "Do what
Gabriel de Foigny, A New Discovery of Terra Incognita
Australis; or, The Southern World (1676). The hermaphroditic
inhabitants of Australia have no state, no property, no
religion, and no family.
Diderot, Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville (published
posthumously in 1796). Fictional depiction of the
inhabitants of Tahiti as stateless, naked natives copulating
under the sun.
Captain Charles Mission (pseud: Daniel Defoe), The General
History of the Pirates (1724-28). Includes an account of
Libertatia, a pirate colony in Madagascar run along
libertarian socialist lines, along with a purely anarchist
breakaway colony. This account may or may not be fictional,
though the rest of the book is nonfiction (see Peter Lamborn
Wilson's Pirate Utopias).
Charles Fourier. Usually considered the founder of
libertarian socialism, Fourier deserves mention here because
his writings often contain fantastic elements. Once
Fourier's socialism is established, men will grow to seven
feet tall and live 144 years. The moon will replaced by
five new satellites, each a different color, and some
Saturn-like rings, which will allow it to once again
copulate with other planets, which will all move closer to
the earth to engage in this orgy. The oceans will turn to
lemonade. One idea frequently attributed to Fourier, however
- that men will grow prehensile tails with an eye and a
finger on the end - is apparently really the invention of a
Joseph Déjacques, L'Humanisphère: utopie anarchique (The
Humanisphere: An Anarchistic Utopia) (1858-61). A
walk-through description of the world in the year 2858,
after the abolition of the state, religion, property, and
the family. So far as I can tell this has not been
translated into English and has not even been reprinted
later than 1899.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Coming Race; or, The New Utopia
(1870). The narrator discovers a society living in caverns
deep underground in this satirical novel. This society is
organized along lines that satirize Charles Fourier and
other libertarian socialists; work is assigned according to
personal taste, for example, so that children - who of
course love to smash things - are given the job of
destroying the dangerous giant reptiles that inhabitant wild
parts of the underground world. Work is accomplished through
the use of Vril, a sort of sexual energy force, through
which the Vril-ya (as they are known) can power machinery
and fly. Any one of them could also use it to destroy any
others, or even the entire race, so none of them can take
power over others.
William Morris, News from Nowhere: or, An Epoch of Rest
(1890). A sleeper awakes in a future libertarian socialist
society very similar to the Middle Ages. It is worth noting
that Morris was writing against the primary current in
utopian fiction. The best-known anarchistic utopia.
Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" ().
George Griffith, The Angel of the Revolution (1893). An
anarchist invents the airplane and puts this at the disposal
of Terrorists. They bomb the existing governments out of
existence, and maintain the world's new socialist-anarchist
society by coming out of hiding in, Aëria, their African
stronghold. In the sequel, Olga Romanoff (1894), which takes
place in 2030, a hundred years after the events of the
preceding novel, the descendant of the last Tsar manages to
discover the secret behind advanced technology like
airplanes and submarines. Just as she has nearly attained
world domination, the Aërians receive news from Mars that a
comet is about to strike earth. They go into hiding
underground, and return to rebuild their anarchist society
after the comet wipes out all life on the surface.
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). In the
sequels Oz gradually evolves into a state socialist utopia.
It's worth citing the series here because it reveals how
conceptions have changed, as Oz has an interesting mix of
authoritarian and libertarian features (Baum was influence
both by Bellamy's Looking Backward and by Morris's News from
Nowhere). In the sixth novel, The Emerald City of Oz (1910),
There were no poor people in the Land of Oz, because there
was no such thing as money, and all property belonged to the
Ruler [the Fairy Queen Ozma]. The people were her children,
and she cared for them. Each person was given freely by his
neighbors whatever he required for his use, which is as much
as any one may reasonably desire. Some tilled the lands and
raised great crops of grain, which was divided equally among
the entire population, so that all had enough. There were
many tailors and dressmakers and shoemakers and the like,
who made things that any who desired them might wear.
Likewise, there were jewelers who made ornaments for the
person, which pleased and beautified the people, and these
ornaments also were free to those who asked for them. Each
man and woman, no matter what he or she produced for the
good of the community, was supplied by the neighbors with
food and clothing and a house and furniture and ornaments
and games. If by chance the supply ever ran short, more was
taken from the great storehouses of the Ruler, which were
afterward filled up again when there was more of an article
than the people needed.
Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and
the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play,
because it is good to be occupied and to have something to
do. There were no cruel overseers set to watch them, and no
one to rebuke them or to find fault with them. So each one
was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors,
and was glad when they would accept the things he produced.
You will know, by what I have told you here, the Land of Oz
was a remarkable country. I do not suppose such an
arrangement would be practical with us, but Dorothy assures
me that it works finely with the Oz people.
In Oz, furthermore, there is no police force and the Royal
Army of Oz has but a single soldier.
Oz is contrasted to contemporary America. Uncle
Aunt Em never recover financially from the loss of their
house in the first volume's cyclone, and by the sixth volume
the bank forecloses on their farm. Fortunately Dorothy is
able to convince Ozma to bring them to Oz to live.
H.G. Wells. That this author was a Fabian socialist is well
known; that he believed that state socialism would and
should develop into a stateless society is not. In A Modern
Utopia (1905) Wells attempts to outline a practical plan
that would eventually reach this goal; there he says that
"Were we free to have our untrammelled desire, I suppose we
should follow Morris to his Nowhere, we should change the
nature of man and the nature of things together; we should
make the whole race wise, tolerant, noble, perfect - wave
our hands to a splendid anarchy, every man doing as it
pleases him, and none pleased to do evil, in a world as good
in its essential nature, as ripe and sunny, as the world
before the Fall." Rule in this utopia will be a class
self-chosen from among those ready for anarchism, which
Wells calls the Samurai. In The World Set Free (1914) an
atomic war is followed by the worldwide adoption of
socialism; eventually the World State only meets once a year
to congratulate itself on how well things are going. In Men
Like Gods (1923), some individuals from this earth visit a
parallel universe where humanity is around three thousand
years in advance of us; this society has reached a fully
H.P. Lovecraft, "The Mound" (1929-30). Several of
Lovecraft's works - e.g. At the Mountains of Madness (1933)
and "The Shadow out of Time" (1934-35) - feature
extraterrestrials with state socialist societies, which he
somewhat idiosyncratically refers to as "a sort of fascistic
socialism". These represent Lovecraft's own idea of utopia.
In contrast, the mound-dwellers have a decadent,
"semi-anarchical" society. This story was probably
influenced by Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race, which it
resembles in a number of respects.
Olaf Stapledon. One of the most important figures in the
history of science fiction, Stapledon (like Wells) was a
democratic socialist, who believed (also like Wells) that
state socialism would develop into a stateless society. In
Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937) this
development is briefly portrayed.
Aldous Huxley. This author's Brave New World (1932) stands
with Yevgeny Zamiatin's We and George Orwell's 1984 (1949)
as one of the three greatest dystopian works. In Brave New
World Revisited (1958) he presents libertarian socialism as
an antidote, mentioning anarcho-syndicalism as one possible
A.E. Van Vogt. In The World of Null-A (1945, revised edition
1970) an anarchistic society has been created on Venus. Only
individuals made ready for anarchy through the practice of
General Semantics are allowed to go there. In The
Anarchistic Colossus (1977) the earth has realized anarchism
through a novel method: a network of computers constantly
reads everyone's minds through their Kirlian auras, and zaps
anyone about to do anything naughty with lasers.
Ivan Chtcheglov, "Formulary for a New Urbanism" (1953). A
brief, bizarre vision of a libertarian socialist city in
which everyone will have his own cathedral and "There will
be rooms more conducive to dreams than any drug, and houses
where one cannot help but love". Available in Ken Knabb's
Situationist International Anthology (1981).
Eric Frank Russell, The Great Explosion (1962), expanded
from "And Then There Were None" (1951). Portrays a society
very similar to that advocated by the American
anarcho-individualists of the nineteenth century.
William Burroughs. While his work is primarily dystopian, a
few anarchistic utopian societies show up. In The Wild Boys
(1969), for example, includes an anarchistic society that
consists of roving gangs of dope-smoking, homosexual teenage
boys who wear nothing but jockstraps and rollerskates. The
trilogy that begins with Cities of the Red Night (1981)
includes material about several attempts to found
libertarian societies, including Libertatia and a group of
Rimbaud-reading, dope-smoking, homosexual Zen gunslingers in
the Old West.
Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).
Portrays a society similar to anarcho-capitalism, the origin
of the phrase "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" -
which is very popular with those who pay for their lunches
with the products of other people's labor.
Curt Clark, Anarchaos (1967). Sensationalistic account of a
planet where anarchy is chaos, and everyone is your enemy.
Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974).
An attempt to portray a socialist-anarchist society in full,
with both its good and bad features readily apparent.
Nonetheless, many capitalists consider this an unambiguous
dystopia. See the study guide here:
Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).
Robert Anton Wilson. The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975, in
collaboration with Robert Shea) includes many anarchist
characters a several appendices that discuss theoretical
issues. The Illuminati Papers () includes essays by a number
of characters from the trilogy, some of which discuss
anarchist issues. The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy (1979)
describes a parallel universe in which the Libertarian
Immortalist Party succeeds in putting into effect many of
RAW's ideas. Practically all of RAW's work is relevant to
anarchism. Very popular among the marginals milieu.
Anonymous, "Visit Port Watson!" (1985). The editors (Rudy
Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Robert Anton Wilson) of
the Semiotext(e) SF issue were unable to obtain any works of
"radical utopian vision" from their contributors, so they
reprinted this piece from a magazine called Libertarian
Horizons: A Journal for the Free Traveler. This is a
fictional description of the Pacific island Sonsoral
combining ideas from libertarian socialism, libertarian
capitalism, and the marginals milieu.
P.M., bolo'bolo (1985). A full-length attempt to a design a
libertarian socialist society with enough respect for the
diversity of humanity's desires that a community of
cyberpunks who live online might be placed next to a
community made up of bands of hunter-gatherers. Frequently
whimsical but well thought-out.
Pat Murphy, The City, Not Long After (1989).
Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net (1989). Influenced by Bob
Black's The Abolition of Work.
Lewis Shiner, Slam (1990). Influenced by Bob Blacks The
Abolition of Work.
Iain Banks. Culture series: Consider Phlebas (1987), Player
Of Games (1988), Use Of Weapons (1990), Excession (1996),
Look To Windward (2000). A socialist anarchist society has
been created through the use of nanotechnology to eliminate
scarcity. Very popular right now.
Jane Doe, Anarchist Farm (1995). Sequel to George Orwell's
Graham Purchase, My Journey with Aristotle to the Anarchist
Utopia (1995). Yet another sleeper awakes, to be given a
guided tour of Bear City in the Cat-River bioregion, an
Saab Lofton, A.D. (1996). An inhabitant of a dystopia in
which the Nation of Islam rules becomes a sleeper who wakes
in a libertarian socialist society.
Ken MacLeod, Star Fraction (1996), Stone Canal (1997),
Cassini Division (1999). Portrays a future that includes
both a libertarian socialist society and a libertarian
>This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
>what I've missed, etc.
Thank you very much Dan.
I just think that Bradbury's Farenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell's
1984 and Huxley's Brave New World as the three great dystopian works.
Much appreciated list and comments.
Afaik, Russell's _The Great Explosion_ isn't an expansion of "And Then
There Were None"--it's a collection of stories about an expedition
that's trying to retrieve lost colonies, with "And Then There Were
None" as one of them. .
> >This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
> >what I've missed, etc.
> Afaik, Russell's _The Great Explosion_ isn't an expansion of "And Then
> There Were None"--it's a collection of stories about an expedition
> that's trying to retrieve lost colonies, with "And Then There Were
> None" as one of them. .
I haven't found the book (or story) and I've seen both
claimed. Can anyone verify either way?
Dan Clore <cl...@columbia-center.org> wrote:
>I haven't found the book (or story) and I've seen both
>claimed. Can anyone verify either way?
Nancy is always right, at least in matters of SF. I've got the book,
and I can confirm that it's a collection. If I recall correctly, they
meet with a colony of puritins in one, and a colony of health freaks
in aother - unless they're both in the same story. None of the other
stories are as good as _And Then There Were None -_
Hi! I'm a .signature virus! Copy me into your ~/.signature to help me spread!
Hi!p I'm a .signature spread virus! Copy into your ~/.signature to help me!
Hilp I'm .sgn turepead virus! into your ~/.signature! help me! Copy
Help I'm traped in your ~/.signature help me!
I haven't read the original publication of "And Then There Were
None", but I can assure you that I've never seen a version of it
that was novel-length.
Another socialist anarchist utopia: _The Last Days of Jesus Christ
the Vampire_ by Eccarius (?).
>Nancy Lebovitz wrote:
>> In article <3AA73568...@columbia-center.org>,
>> Dan Clore <cl...@columbia-center.org> wrote:
>> >This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
>> >what I've missed, etc.
>> Afaik, Russell's _The Great Explosion_ isn't an expansion of "And Then
>> There Were None"--it's a collection of stories about an expedition
>> that's trying to retrieve lost colonies, with "And Then There Were
>> None" as one of them. .
>I haven't found the book (or story) and I've seen both
>claimed. Can anyone verify either way?
It's a cross between the two. The stories have been consolidated into a single
"novel" of which "And Then There Were None" takes up the last half. They are
not given individual titles, as they are in, say, "Men Martians and Machines",
but they perfectly well could have been.
Afaik, the stories in the earlier chapters (about planets settled by exiled
criminals and by nudist health-freaks) were written for the book and have never
been published separately. So in that sense TGE _could_ be called an
"expansion" of ATTWN, but imho it isn't what one would normally understand by
Mike Stone - Peterborough England
"The English people are like the English beer.
Froth on top, dregs at the bottom, the middle excellent" - Voltaire
Nancy is wrong now and again (remember _The Sword of Shanara_ by
Marion Zimmer Bradley? ), and quite grateful for the error-correcting
mechanisms of the group mind that is rasfw.
>and I can confirm that it's a collection. If I recall correctly, they
>meet with a colony of puritins in one, and a colony of health freaks
>in aother - unless they're both in the same story. None of the other
>stories are as good as _And Then There Were None -_
There one story about the planet of health obsessives and another
about a society of thieves where the only useful work is done by
slaves. I don't remember any others.
 I'd remembered Bradley's fire-goddess Sharra and her novel _Sword
of Aldones, and then had a brain-fart.
>This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
>what I've missed, etc.
Rudyard Kipling, "As Easy As ABC".
L. Neil Smith's fiction.
Possibly Ayn Rand, _Atlas Shrugged_.
Parts of Olaf Stapledon's _First And Last Men_, particularly near the
Borderline: Robert Graves, _Watch The North Wind Rise_ (aka _Seven
Days in New Crete_).
Perhaps Wells's _In The Days of the Comet_ (?) would also qualify.
Humans become fully sane. I do recall that sexual jealousy and other
restraints fall away.
More accurately, it's a fix-up made up of "And Then There Were None"
and other stories in the series.
>If I recall correctly, they
>meet with a colony of puritins in one, and a colony of health freaks
No Puritans - the other lot are criminals
Technically, it's a fixup, not a collection. It's packaged like a
novel, though it's clear that it probably began life as a set of related
stories, of which "ATTWN" is the last (and best.)
You know, I ate quite a lot of bovril as a kid, and it never
had that effect on me.
Quite correct. The term was also borrowed by the Nazi
occultist group called the Vril Society. They were rather
disappointed to discover that they weren't the coming race
Each of the above titles should be preceded by 'The', BTW :-)
The fourth book in the series, The Sky Road (UK hb, Orbit, 1999; UK pb,
Orbit, 2000; US hb, Tor, 2000; US pb, Tor, August 2001) depicts a
libertarian mutualist/federalist society.
Ken MacLeod "Do you call it freedom when a group of wealthy oligarchs own
our press, when sexual freedom has brought moral collapse and
anyone who likes can come and live in Moscow?"
- Vladimir Semichastny, former head of the KGB, 1998.
Lisa Goldstein, "The Dream Years", interweaves a future anarchist
revolution and pre-war Surrealism.
Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget, "How we will bring about the Revolution".
Class anarcho-syndicalist work.
Cecelia Holland, "Floating Worlds". Depicts an individualist
I also remember a book entitled "The Free", but I can't recollect the
author. The book mainly concerned an anarchist revolution in
Dan Clore wrote:
> This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
> what I've missed, etc.
> Anarchist and Libertarian Socialist Societies
> Depicted in Utopian Works and Science Fiction:
> An Incomplete List in Something Resembling Chronological
> by Dan Clore
> Dan Clore
> Lord We˙rdgliffe:
>In article <3AA73568...@columbia-center.org>, Dan Clore
>>This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
>>what I've missed, etc.
>>Ken MacLeod, Star Fraction (1996), Stone Canal (1997),
>>Cassini Division (1999). Portrays a future that includes
>>both a libertarian socialist society and a libertarian
>Each of the above titles should be preceded by 'The', BTW :-)
>The fourth book in the series, The Sky Road (UK hb, Orbit, 1999; UK pb,
>Orbit, 2000; US hb, Tor, 2000; US pb, Tor, August 2001) depicts a
>libertarian mutualist/federalist society.
I enjoyed The Cassini Division. Maybe I'm missing something, but it
seems to me that sympathetic treatment was given to both socialism and
capitalism in that book, something I don't remember seeing in any
other science fiction novel.
Among the many societies portrayed in science fiction are anarchist
Anarchies have usually been depicted ambiguously, but in some cases
the author is clearly advocating one form of anarchy or another. The
best such advocacy work is is "the ungoverned" in "Across real time".
While anarcho capitalist have no difficulty in presenting an
attractive anarchy and writing a rattling good yarn -- (just recycle
some private eye, wild west or Samurai yarns) anarcho socialists seem
to have great difficulty.
A novel requires a protagonist, who must himself make decisions. In
a society were all important decisions are collectively made, the
protagonist will automatically come in conflict with his society,
making it look bad.
No science fiction novels have been set in a favorably presented
anarcho socialist society. Ursula Le Guinn starts off her story "the
dispossessed" in an anarcho socialist society, whereupon her hero,
attempting to make his own decisions, instantly comes in conflict with
the nomenclatura, so she has to move him off to a capitalist society,
for the longer he hangs around in the anarchist society the less
anarchist it looks. MacLeod's "anarchy" in "the cassini division" is
the Soviet Union as the Trots think it should have been, with a
central plan directed by a self perpetuating endlessly re-elected
nomenclatura (composed of really nice people) who control all news,
technology, and resources. For the ordinary masses in his utopia, no
news is good news. When he depicts a member of the nomenclatura, that
person seems real. When he depicts a member of the masses, that
person seems like a spear carrier. Others portray anarchist utopias
that are abruptly obliterated by foreign invasion, so that the story
can proceed, or utopias commanded by a godlike computer that treats
humans as pets, like the moon in "Steel Beach", or the computes of the
culture. (Steel beach was in some ways a distopia, for when some of
the pets decide to run away the computer objects, and eventually goes
In "the Cassini Division" the narrator regards "the union" as true
anarchy. She is (of course) one of the dozen or so people in charge,
with the power to make war or peace in consultation with a handful of
others, while the public are either unaware of these decisions, or of
no consequence in these decisions.
To write a story in which anarcho socialism was favorably presented,
one would have to imagine lots of concrete details, and show one's
hero making significant decisions himself. If he is one of the
nomenclatura, one's society is going to look like the Soviet Union, as
did "the Cassini Division". If he is just an ordinary member, not one
of the nomenclatura, as in "the dispossessed", this will automatically
put him in conflict with "society", and this conflict will necessarily
manifest in his interaction with the nomnclatura, who will necessarily
look bad. Pretty soon one's anarcho socialist Utopia is going to look
like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and one's hero is going to
develop a resemblance to the revolutionary in "The moon is a harsh
mistress", with a story line of "Man against the System", and the only
way one can prevent the story line from running off in a direction
quite different from that which one intended is to what Ursula did,
and pull him out of the anarcho socialist society and send him off
We have the right to defend ourselves and our property, because
of the kind of animals that we are. True law derives from this
right, not from the arbitrary power of the omnipotent state.
http://www.jim.com/jamesd/ James A. Donald
> >This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
> >what I've missed, etc.
> [massive snip]
> >Ken MacLeod, Star Fraction (1996), Stone Canal (1997),
> >Cassini Division (1999). Portrays a future that includes
> >both a libertarian socialist society and a libertarian
> >capitalist society.
> Thank you.
> Each of the above titles should be preceded by 'The', BTW :-)
> The fourth book in the series, The Sky Road (UK hb, Orbit, 1999; UK pb,
> Orbit, 2000; US hb, Tor, 2000; US pb, Tor, August 2001) depicts a
> libertarian mutualist/federalist society.
Thanks greatly, Ken. I still haven't read any of these yet,
but _The Cassini Division_ is somewhere near the top of the
pile. That's one enormous pile -- maybe I need to drink some
If you'd be interested in my own book, _The Unspeakable and
Others_, when it comes out, I'll give you a copy.
>While anarcho capitalist have no difficulty in presenting an
>attractive anarchy and writing a rattling good yarn -- (just recycle
>some private eye, wild west or Samurai yarns) anarcho socialists seem
>to have great difficulty.
>A novel requires a protagonist, who must himself make decisions. In
>a society were all important decisions are collectively made, the
>protagonist will automatically come in conflict with his society,
>making it look bad.
Isn't this the problem with utopias in general? Basically, if they work, and
really _are_ utopias. then all is well and there isn't much to write about
So you either write about the struggle to _create_ the utopia, and end the
story when the new society starts, or else you ostulate that it _isn't_ really
a utopia - it just looks like one, and at some point the hero will give his
Intourist guide the slip, and see that place round the back where they keep the
A real utopia just isn't something you can write much of a novel about
>The following material summarises stuff often posted in alt.anarchism.
>I am reposting to include rec.arts.sf.written:
An interesting summary, but not very fairminded.
I suggest taking a look at Ayn Rand's _Atlas Shrugged_ -- a new look,
if you've read it before. It ends up with a utopia which approaches
one anarcho-capitalist utopia. As I recall, there will still be a
government; but it will stay out of the way of the elite and their
And there will be a ruling aristocracy. An aristocracy based on
achievement, perhaps -- but everyone who doesn't make it into the
elite would, it seems to me, have fewer rights than citizens of the
late Soviet Union.
>>From: jam...@echeque.com (James A. Donald)
>>While anarcho capitalist have no difficulty in presenting an
>>attractive anarchy and writing a rattling good yarn -- (just recycle
>>some private eye, wild west or Samurai yarns) anarcho socialists seem
>>to have great difficulty.
>>A novel requires a protagonist, who must himself make decisions. In
>>a society were all important decisions are collectively made, the
>>protagonist will automatically come in conflict with his society,
>>making it look bad.
>Isn't this the problem with utopias in general? Basically, if they work, and
>really _are_ utopias. then all is well and there isn't much to write about
>So you either write about the struggle to _create_ the utopia, and end the
>story when the new society starts, or else you [p]ostulate that it _isn't_ really
>a utopia - it just looks like one, and at some point the hero will give his
>Intourist guide the slip, and see that place round the back where they keep the
With some utopias, you _can_ provide interesting stuff. You don't
need conflict if the potential readership is highly interested in the
kind of sex which is allowed and encouraged in your utopia, for
And some people's ideas of the perfect society includes conflict.
Literal battles, for example. Or intellectual battles.
Or you can do what Heinlein did to some extent in _Beyond This
Horizon_: a utopia has been achieved, and it's far better than the
Bad Old Days. But people yearn for something more.
>A real utopia just isn't something you can write much of a novel about
>Mike Stone - Peterborough England
>"The English people are like the English beer.
>Froth on top, dregs at the bottom, the middle excellent" - Voltaire
Although it's common for a novel to revolve around the actions of a
single individual, that's hardly the only choice. You can also have
multiple protagonists, "emsemble" pieces that focus more on group
dynamics than the acts of any one person, and stories in which the
"protagonist" is not a human being at all, but a place or an event
(e.g., Edward Rutherford's "Sarum," Walter M. Miller Jr.'s "Canticle for
And even if the story does focus on a single individual...
> In a society were all important decisions are collectively
> made, the protagonist will automatically come in conflict
> with his society, making it look bad.
I don't see why the conflict is "automatic." What if the protagonist
recognizes the collective's authority and agrees -- perhaps with
occasional misgivings -- to go along with its decisions. One obvious
example of this would be a war story in which a group of soldiers are
assigned a dangerous but important mission by their superiors. The
soldiers may not enjoy risking their necks, they may express some doubts
about the intelligence of the brass, but ultimately they believe in the
war effort and trust authority enough to follow orders. There's still
plenty of room for dramatic conflict here, but it doesn't come from a
necessary opposition between the individuals taking orders and the
collective decision makers.
> No science fiction novels have been set in a favorably
> presented anarcho socialist society.
I'll have to think if I can come up with any specific examples, but I'd
be very surprised if this is true.
> To write a story in which anarcho socialism was favorably
> presented, one would have to imagine lots of concrete details,
> and show one's hero making significant decisions himself.
Why does the novel have to have a "hero"? And why does he have to be a
big self-starter? Wouldn't a "team player" who's good at implementing
the collective's decisions make more sense?
-- M. Ruff
>Ken MacLeod wrote:
>> In article <3AA73568...@columbia-center.org>, Dan Clore
>> <cl...@columbia-center.org> writes
>> >This is what my list looks like so far. Please let me know
>> >what I've missed, etc.
>> [massive snip]
>> >Ken MacLeod, Star Fraction (1996), Stone Canal (1997),
>> >Cassini Division (1999). Portrays a future that includes
>> >both a libertarian socialist society and a libertarian
>> >capitalist society.
>> Thank you.
>> Each of the above titles should be preceded by 'The', BTW :-)
>> The fourth book in the series, The Sky Road (UK hb, Orbit, 1999; UK pb,
>> Orbit, 2000; US hb, Tor, 2000; US pb, Tor, August 2001) depicts a
>> libertarian mutualist/federalist society.
>Thanks greatly, Ken. I still haven't read any of these yet,
>but _The Cassini Division_ is somewhere near the top of the
>pile. That's one enormous pile -- maybe I need to drink some
>If you'd be interested in my own book, _The Unspeakable and
>Others_, when it comes out, I'll give you a copy.
I want a copy, if you don't mind.
Ursula LeGuin solves this problem in _The Dispossessed_ by
making it "an ambiguous utopia" -- the anarchist /
libertarian socialist society she depicts has both good and
bad features. This, however, in practice to make the society
into something other than a utopia. (I have a lot of
misgivings about how accurately _The Dispossessed_ portrays
the way that an anarchist / libertarian socialist society
might work, but that will be the subject of a term paper
I'll write soon. I'll put it online once it's done. And,
since Ursula will come to our class party, I guess I'd
better give her a copy explaining why she's wrong about
Another possibility is to put the anarchist / libertarian
socialist into conflict with outsiders, as in H.G. Wells'
_Men Like Gods_, and I believe most of the more recent works
on the theme (I still have reading to do, you know). This is
probably the most likely solution to the quandary, but it
almost inevitably means that much of the work will not be
given to the description of the anarchist / libertarian
socialist society. The focus of attention will fall
Finally, since the idea that fiction must be driven by
conflict is, in all truth, false, the method of depicting an
anarchist / libertarian socialist society could be analogous
to pastoral or pornography, showing how the characters are
able to fulfill their desires with minimal difficulty. This
is unlikely to work very well, though, because it would rely
on the reader sharing the personal tastes of the
I would welcome anyone else's thoughts.
I added it to the list after it was posted. George Woodcock
apparently praised it as the next thing after _News from
Nowhere_. Could you elaborate on anarchist / libertarian
socialist themes in it? I have it but haven't read it.
Of course. Now if the guys writing the introduction and
afterword would just get them done....
This will lead you to a more in depth appraisal of the work:
A website devoted to the book. It still baffles me, the level off
involvement people exhibit in the most arcane and exotic of literary
I suspect we anarcho capitalists viewed his depiction of "anarcho"
socialism as considerably less sympathetic than he imagined it to be.
I also enjoyed the Cassini division.
James A. Donald
BTW, the 'Culture' novels are published under the name Iain M. Banks
(leastways in the UK and I would assume elsewhere). Same author but he uses
the name Iain Banks for his other fiction output, a lot of which has an
undercurrent of 'anarchist' ideas and references (novels such as
'Complicity') but are not explicitly related to the theme. Worth reading
though, he is an excellent writer.
Great list, more reading to catch up on, where will we find the time to have
a revolution... :-)
/The Journal Entries of Kennet R'yal Shardik, et. al., and Related Tales./
> And some people's ideas of the perfect society includes conflict.
> Literal battles, for example. Or intellectual battles.
Banks' _The Player of Games_, ferex.
Not a _novel_, and it's minarchist rather than strictly anarchist:
Theodore Sturgeon, "The Skills of Xanadu".
>> To write a story in which anarcho socialism was favorably
>> presented, one would have to imagine lots of concrete details,
>> and show one's hero making significant decisions himself.
>Why does the novel have to have a "hero"? And why does he have to be a
>big self-starter? Wouldn't a "team player" who's good at implementing
>the collective's decisions make more sense?
>-- M. Ruff
Well, if we follow JAD's theory on the need for a protagonist to give the
basis for plot, may I suggest that the lack of any 'good'
'anarcho-socialist' SF could be down to the boring fact that, being the
perfect form of society, there is little to get excited or protaganistic
about, so no appropriate plot sufficient to meet JAD's test of what makes a
good book, could be formulated. Unless, of course, the author makes the
society a little less perfect to create the necessary situation to drive a
protagonist forward into an interesting adventure. In which case it ceases
to be an anarcho-socialist society, so JAD can now condemn it for it's
inherent failure. On the other hand, anarcho-capitalism seems, to JAD, to
provide countless plot opportunities, so many protagonists ! But what does
that tell us about his preferred form of society ?
Mark Atwood <m...@pobox.com> writes
: Banks' _The Player of Games_, ferex.
But even there (as in all the Culture books)
most of the story happens outside the Culture.
-- M. Ruff
> Well, if we follow JAD's theory on the need for a protagonist to give the
> basis for plot, may I suggest that the lack of any 'good'
> 'anarcho-socialist' SF could be down to the boring fact that, being the
> perfect form of society, there is little to get excited or protaganistic
> about, so no appropriate plot sufficient to meet JAD's test of what makes a
> good book, could be formulated.
You could suggest it, but it isn't very plausible. Even in the best
possible society, there are still lots of possible problems--foreign
invasion, natural disasters, she doesn't love me, ... .
What sort of conflict do you envision in a successful
anarchist / libertarian socialist society?
>Matt Ruff / Lisa Gold wrote:
>> Dan Clore wrote:
>> > It would be difficult to present an anarchist / libertarian
>> > socialist society in a novel that would be publishable by
>> > normal standards. The problem is that plot derives from
>> > conflict, and a successful anarchist / libertarian socialist
>> > society will necessarily reduce conflict to a minimum...
>What sort of conflict do you envision in a successful
>anarchist / libertarian socialist society?
The same sort of conflicts you get in any society, people still being
people. Love struggles, rivalry and competition between friends or
Conflict doesn't have to mean war or the apocalypse...
"Jeez, do you have to be *that* lazy? You just broke the fourth wall."
"Well, don't expect me toget it repaired anytime soon."
-Absurd Notions: <http://cerulean.st/absurdnotions/page22.html>
The ones which immediately spring to mind are: love, family, friends,
scientific research, art, theatre, getting lost in the woods, choice of
operating system, music, cooking, teachers, clothing, the colour of your
bedroom ... And so on; I could go on, but this will do nicely. In
addition, I would imagine that "vi vs. emacs" will still be going in the
For a conflict specifically for a anarchist-socialist society, one
possibility would be some of the debates and politics involved in the
making of collective decisions. It doesn't have to be a "get this right
or your society goes down the toilet" type of decision; where to put a
road would do. What would be interesting is, since there may be no clear
dividing line between "interested party" and "non-interested party",
working to stop things from turning into an enormous tarball of party
and ideology -- even for whether a statue should be bronze or marble.
This doesn't have to spell the end of the society. People might enjoy
it, and the protagonist might be someone who is particularly good at it.
Looking at the previous paragraph, this looks a lot like party machine
politics. There's a lot of room for non-economic conflict there. Not SF,
but the "Murray Whelan" books give an entertaining view of the whole
process. True, they do tend to involve a murder or two, but the true
meat of the books revolves around the dance of the ALP factions in
Yes, I realize that. (Whether publishers realize it is
another matter.) I guess a romance novel set in an anarchist
/ libertarian socialist utopia might be interesting....
Okay. I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at with some
of these, but that makes the point. I'm just imagining the
novel where the plot is all about someone who doesn't like
the color of his bedroom....
> For a conflict specifically for a anarchist-socialist society, one
> possibility would be some of the debates and politics involved in the
> making of collective decisions. It doesn't have to be a "get this right
> or your society goes down the toilet" type of decision; where to put a
> road would do. What would be interesting is, since there may be no clear
> dividing line between "interested party" and "non-interested party",
> working to stop things from turning into an enormous tarball of party
> and ideology -- even for whether a statue should be bronze or marble.
> This doesn't have to spell the end of the society. People might enjoy
> it, and the protagonist might be someone who is particularly good at it.
Yes, this could certainly be interesting. For the subject at
hand, though, the point is that the more successful the
anarchist / libertarian society, the better the process will
work to reduce conflict.
Indeed, which decribes Iain M Banks 'Culture' series very well, but I was
referring the JAD's implied lack of any 'good' A-S SF, which, given his
views on what makes a successful story, will continue remain an unknown
concept to the world, except, perhaps, as the forgotten scribblings of the
> David Friedman
Mmmm, interesting ! How about a shy, self-concious mild-mannered
schizophrenic with one side of their personality enamoured of those colours
that the other side detests and a lover who wants mirrors on the
I thought it was both anarchist, utopian and favorably presented.
The fact that protagonist comes in conflict with the system doesn't
necessarily mean that either of them is 'bad', it's just that he's
a bit of a misfit.
Again, I thought in _Moon_ the system was predominantly anarchistic and
favorably portrayed, the only problem was that Earth was governing it
from afar, but that was only a problem in global decisions, like whether
to grow food for earth or not. Take for instance the local court of law
example from the book.. IOW, there was no inherent problem with the
>way one can prevent the story line from running off in a direction
>quite different from that which one intended is to what Ursula did,
>and pull him out of the anarcho socialist society and send him off
>We have the right to defend ourselves and our property, because
>of the kind of animals that we are. True law derives from this
>right, not from the arbitrary power of the omnipotent state.
>http://www.jim.com/jamesd/ James A. Donald
I think the problem of writing a pro socialist story is similar to
that of writing a pro slavery story. One can easily write such a
story from the point of view of one of the masters, as MacLeod wrote a
pro socialist story from the point of view of one of the nomenclatura,
but this is considerably less persuasive than MacLeod imagines it to
be, or one could write a story of a slave who reluctantly finds
himself free and misses the big happy family of the plantation, but
again this was considerably less persuasive than the author may have
The history of socialism and socialist advocacy is that it always
attracted intellectuals and never workers, it was always more
attractive to those who would be planning, than it was to those who
would be planned. The fact that socialists have tended to flinch from
depicting socialism in novels from the point of view of the prole
James A. Donald
I think you may be confusing schizophrenia with multiple personality
(aka Dissociative Identity Disorder).
Schizophrenics are no more prone to such personal conflicts than
>enamoured of those colours
>that the other side detests and a lover who wants mirrors on the
Speak for yourself!
I think he has a point.
Oh, shut up.
Utopian novels routinely use foreign invasion as a plot measure. In
the case of pro socialist novels they use an invasion sufficiently
successful to eliminate socialism in the vicinity of the point of view
In contrast, in pro anarcho capitalist novels, featuring foreign
invasion, the invaders conspicuously fail to eliminate anarchy in the
vicinity of the POV characters. The invasion phase of "the
ungoverned" is a good example of this. In the story the invaders are
initially successful because resistance is disorganized, and because
those who should be resisting are each selfishly seeking to have
someone else carry the burden of resistance, but the invaders cannot
find anyone to surrender to them. Their initial victory merely means
that they are now exposed to more attacks, and everything they do
results in more attacks, not in subduing their enemies. The invaders
are never able to exercise authority, unable to turn victory into
power and authority.
James A. Donald
>Indeed, which decribes Iain M Banks 'Culture' series very well,
In "the culture", humans are pets in a universe dominated by beings
alien to us and superior to us.
This is unsuccessful in being pro socialist in the same way, and for
the same reasons, as MacLeod's depiction of the solar union is
unsuccessful in being pro socialist.
James A. Donald
You must be referring to the 'Minds', which are an integral part of the
Culture, as indeed are all sentient lifeforms within it's aegis. You seem to
assume that humanity and aliens are incapable of peaceful co-existance. Mind
you, you seem to feel humans incapable of peaceful co-existance so no
surprise there, then.
> This is unsuccessful in being pro socialist in the same way, and for
> the same reasons, as MacLeod's depiction of the solar union is
> unsuccessful in being pro socialist.
Probably because it is not 'pro-socialist', but is a depiction of an
advanced society based on anarcho-socialist principles. You argument is the
same as condemning dogs for not being feline enough to be called a cat.
A further plot complication, excellent ! One side of his split personality
thinks he is schizophrenic, the other thinks he is a manic-depressive and
yet a third has pretensions to being an interior designer. The fourth is
profoundly disinterested in the whole palver and makes judiciously
slanderous comments on the action in the form of a Greek Chorus. Great !.
One person in the room, and already four characters !. Room for a little
protagonism there then.
It's a bit like the all powerful alien invaders, having destroyed cities and
civilisations, landing on the White House lawn, walking past the crestfallen
Pres and demanding that the rose bush takes them to it's leader.
'All your bushes are us'
She subsequently titled it "an ambiguous utopia", and my claim is she
did not want it to be ambiguous and that she had to have to
protagonist spend much of the time off world in order to prevent the
story from mutating into the "man against the system" theme of "The
moon is a harsh mistress". Whenever the protagonist is on world, the
story tends to head off in that direction despite the author's
vigorous efforts to curb it.
She artificially stacks the deck to make in unambiguously pro
socialist, and yet it still comes off ambiguous.
The politically incorrect events in Anarres are as minimal as
possible, and are impelled on LeGuinn by the dynamics of the
The bad things that happen on Urras are simply conjured up out of the
blue for no discernable reason. The government shoots large numbers
of people merely for Le Guin to make a political point. There is no
plot reason, no political reason, no logical reason for the atrocity..
There is no similarly unnecessary bad stuff on Annar.
It is quite obvious she is trying to make Anarres look and sound good,
and Urras look and sound bad and is having great difficulty in doing
so. There is a visible conflict between writing a story about
believable people, and showing us socialism that looks good.
The book is about Anarres, not about Shevek, not about Urras. The
standard method whereby a writer shows us a society is to show it
through the eyes of an outsider, someone either literally from
outside, or someone who is an outsider by his inborn nature or the
peculiar circumstances of his birth. But Shevek is new socialist man.
He never says or feels "this is mine, you cannot have it" We never
see Annarres through the eyes of someone who would feel and act as we
He is an outsider, but to show us the world effectively, Le Guin
needed someone who was much more of an outsider, someone much more
like us. Her problem was, the more the protagonist is an outsider,
the more oppressive socialism will feel.
> Again, I thought in _Moon_ the system was predominantly anarchistic and
> favorably portrayed,
The system portrayed in "the moon is a harsh mistress" was anarchistic
and capitalistic in so far as it was local, socialist in so far as it
was commanded from far away. "The moon is a harsh mistress" is a pro
anarchist novel and an anti socialist novel. Earth is the both
England ruling the colonies, and also the Soviet Union ruling its
satellite states. The moon is both the American colonies making a
capitalistic revolution, and also a Soviet satellite state making a
James A. Donald
> Again, I thought in _Moon_ the system was predominantly anarchistic and
> favorably portrayed, the only problem was that Earth was governing it
> from afar, but that was only a problem in global decisions, like whether
> to grow food for earth or not. Take for instance the local court of law
> example from the book.. IOW, there was no inherent problem with the
> society itself.
But that's an essentially anarcho-capitalist society (although not a
utopia, and one with an oppressive government superimposed on it), not
an anarcho-socialist one.
> > In "the culture", humans are pets in a universe dominated by beings
> > alien to us and superior to us.
> You must be referring to the 'Minds', which are an integral part of the
> Culture, as indeed are all sentient lifeforms within it's aegis. You seem to
> assume that humanity and aliens are incapable of peaceful co-existance.
I think the problem James is pointing out is that once all the hard
stuff is being done by beings so much superior to humans that we can't
really understand them, the whole question of whether an
anarcho-socialist society can be described in a plausible and self
consistent fashion disappears. How could the reader judge whether or not
the superbeings are behaving in a consistent fashion?