How are Marxism and Science Fiction related?
March 4, 2018 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Cory Doctorow, Michael Swanwick, Kim Stanley Robinson, Marge Piercy, Ken Macleod, Mark Bould, and Natalia Theodoridou start from here:
The central conceit of this issue of Big Echo is that Capital is a science fictional text. If you have any immediate thoughts on that (good idea, bad idea, obvious idea, stupid idea) we’d love to know them.

The links are in part 2 of #7. Part 1 contains the fiction.

Searching for Big Echo on MetaFilter turned up 2 previous links.
posted by kingless (23 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
It starts off as a gothic novel (“a terrible hobgoblin spectre is haunting Europe”)
posted by acb at 6:04 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


It starts off as a gothic novel
No, that's the Communist Manifesto.
posted by neroli at 6:17 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


еролчзтеяёсаъ!
posted by lalochezia at 6:54 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


Pretty clear in the context what Capital means.

Does seem a bit subversive, Bruce Sterling in one post: "I’ve hung out with people who were revolutionaries."

But for a commie blog it really need much bigger walls of text.
posted by sammyo at 7:13 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I admit that my immediate thought on that is that it's a stupid idea. :|
posted by kenko at 8:58 PM on March 4


This is interesting, as I watched the Ridley Scott Blade Runner commentary today. A powerful force behind modern science fiction world buillding to be sure, and he discusses Communism several times.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:23 AM on March 5


The neat thing about Capital is how it’s such a direct line from Smith, Ricardo, & Malthus. It’s not some crazy out of left field text. If you buy the labor theory of value (and most everybody did until the Marginalists came in) one very reasonable logical endpoint is Marx. Throw in a little Hegel and you get the inevitable progress of history through dialectic vibe.

One of the most frustrating things about dumb Conservatives making Marxism and Socialism a boogeyman is that they’re so fucking under-read that they don’t even do an effective job of their argument.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:17 AM on March 5 [13 favorites]


The Worldly Philosophers is a great read, btw.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:18 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


"Is Capital a science fiction text" is an opportunity to think some things through about Capital and about science fiction, not precisely a historical assertion about the text. Just like in Franco Moretti's essay "The Dialectics of Fear", where he asserts that the American vampire hunter is actually a rival vampire, a symbolic representation of American capital taking over from Europe, he's not really saying "I am confident that when Stoker sat down to write this text, he intentionally created this character as a Sekrit Vampire".

For me as a sadly lazy reader, it's often really helpful to be like, "rather than just flailing away at Capital, which is dense and difficult read, let's read it in a thematic way". Honestly, I've been part of two failed Capital reading groups and have declined to join any more - the only people I know who actually got through Capital were either reading it for a seminar or else graduate students or others with a lot of spare time and spare brain power.

(Science fiction doesn't come out of left field, though - it's a mistake to think that, eg, Mary Shelley sat down and was like "what is the wildest, most ridiculous story I can come up with, totally divorced from contemporary concerns" just because she wrote a kind of science fiction.)
posted by Frowner at 4:44 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]


One of the most frustrating things about dumb Conservatives making Marxism and Socialism a boogeyman is that they’re so fucking under-read that they don’t even do an effective job of their argument.

Yeah, but they're making the argument to a constituency that is even more under-read, so it continues to work for them.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:03 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


SLU, The Standard Labor-value Unit, the monetary unit of the Gaean Reach, defined as the value of an hour of unskilled labor under standard conditions. The unit supersedes all other monetary bases in that it derives from the single invariable commodity of the human universe: toil.

Jack Vance
The Dogtown Tourist Agency

posted by y2karl at 6:04 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]


didn't China Mieville get his doctorate writing an entire dissertation from a Marxist lens? his ideas on genre and Das Kapital seem like they would be particularly insightful
posted by runt at 6:55 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Borges had a bit about the scholars of Tlön considering metaphysics to be a branch of fantastic literature, and it's not that much of a stretch to read Hegel like that, so, considering the fantastic part to be the dialectic and the weird notion of necessity, not the idealism, why the hell not?
posted by thelonius at 7:37 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Runt, Miéville co-edited an essay collection on the relationship between sci-if and Marxism “Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction”
posted by tomp at 9:33 AM on March 5


That would be, unfortunately, the same China Mieville who is plausibly accused of emotionally abusing and intentionally, significantly misleading his partners and who sic'd his lawyers on the woman of color activist and writer who called him out.

He used to be my favorite SF author, but if you google around and read the experiences of the woman involved, it will change how you feel about his work. He is someone who has a history of claiming to be a big feminist but is plausibly accused of treating actual women in his actual life very poorly.

He ruined his books. It's sad, but he did it himself. A lot of people will/do minimize all this because he's charismatic and handsome and famous and has laudable sentiments and is, after all, a taking writer, but I really loved his books (and at least some of his criticism) and I can't. You needn't be a saint to be a plausible marxist, but there is a limit.

Two blogs I've enjoyed, one explicitly marxist and one just sorta lefty-grad-studently: Achilles, Powder and Lead and Marooned Off Vesta. Neither are currently updating, but basically I just read all the posts.

Samuel Delany has written quite a lot of science fiction criticism that foregrounds class and economics. No one really likes his Neveryon books except me, but I think they're just excellent in terms of how to write adventures about economics.

The Dialectic of Fear by Franco Moretti just completely blew my mind when I read it years ago. It is still one of my all-time favorite essays.

Science fiction does such a lot of things at sort of oblique angles - teaching history, for instance, or teaching people how to size up a society. And there's so much embedded in SF, too; the future orientation is also a basically colonialist orientation, for instance.
posted by Frowner at 10:23 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


No one really likes his Neveryon books except me
(raises hand) Another fan here.
posted by doctornemo at 10:31 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


No one really likes his Neveryon books except me

Make it at least 3. :)
posted by kingless at 10:34 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Strange interview constellation.

Natalia Theodoridou was the best entry for me, actually exploring the questions, riffing on many scholars.

Kudos to Ken Macleod for summoning up my favorite Marx text, the Grundrisse.

Good pushback from Robinson.

Cory Doctorow's answers - man, what a mess.

Strange question about technofetishism.
posted by doctornemo at 10:37 AM on March 5


The Marooned Off Vesta link mentioned above points to Achilles, Powder, and Lead. Maybe this is the right place.
posted by kingless at 11:03 AM on March 5


That would be, unfortunately, the same China Mieville who is plausibly accused of emotionally abusing and intentionally, significantly misleading his partners and who sic'd his lawyers on the woman of color activist and writer who called him out.

Unfortunately, one of the parallels between Marxism and SF is that despite protestations of universality, traditionally both have been of, by and for white men. Attempts to open up both fields have had a lot of organized and individual pushback.

In SF, you have the various Puppies groups and the claim that NK Jemison won her Hugo out of "affirmative action". In Marxism, I've lost track of the Marxists who've told me "Feminism is a distraction from the Revolution". Which is a handy position to have, if one wants to keep using and abusing people.

Marxism uses "We are all equal in the class struggle" to avoid issues of privilege and abuse; SF uses "We are imaginauts together" to do the same. Granted, the SF field seems to be making more progress recently, but there's a lot to be done in both areas.
posted by happyroach at 11:46 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Capital is a thought exercise, so it makes sense to compare it to SF.

OK but I'll read the articles now.
posted by subdee at 6:15 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


BTW for those looking for an entrypoint into Capital, I recommend Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason by David Harvey. It's an excellent primer that explains without oversimplifying and also carries the analytical framework forward into the present day.
posted by subdee at 6:21 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


> "Feminism is a distraction from the Revolution". Which is a handy position to have, if one wants to keep using and abusing people

It can be, but so is "Well ... dismantling the economic and political system known as the patriarchy is a fine idea but it isn't practical. Just sign this petition and join this march to try and beg some concessions from the rich white people who will always be in charge. Be realistic."

The only use of that complaint I've heard in person from marxists is "White awareness-raising feminism is a distraction from actually dismantling the racist patriarchy", but I'm not on Twitter much and I have no doubt there are plenty of people using it as you describe.
posted by Infracanophile at 4:22 PM on March 8


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