In an excerpt from his new book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Peter Frase discusses how science fiction can help us understand the future.
One way of differentiating social science from science fiction is that the first is about describing the world that is, while the second speculates about a world that might be. But really, both are a mixture of imagination and empirical investigation, put together in different ways. Both attempt to understand empirical facts and lived experience as something that is shaped by abstract—and not directly perceptible—structural forces.
Certain types of speculative fiction are more attuned than others to the particularities of social structure and political economy. In Star Wars, you don’t really care about the details of the galactic political economy. And when the author tries to flesh them out, as George Lucas did in his widely derided Star Wars prequel movies, it only gums up the story. In a world like Star Trek, on the other hand, these details actually matter. Even though Star Wars and Star Trek might superficially look like similar tales of space travel and swashbuckling, they are fundamentally different types of fiction. The former exists only for its characters and its mythic narrative, while the latter wants to root its characters in a richly and logically structured social world.
A British politics reading list
*** THE SALE HAS NOW FINISHED ***
It's been a landmark year for this rainy island. Labour coup attempts, Brexit chaos, rising poverty, thriving right-wing politics, and yet! we've seen more outrage over a potential marmite shortage than the spike in racially motivated attacks.
Beyond that, there's been an accelerated rise of the far-right throughout Europe (and, of course, the horror in the US), a refugee crisis so poorly managed that an even worse humanitarian crisis awaits us in 2017, and a global climate catastrophe that isn't going away but continues to be (largely) ignored. Capitalism is still doing it's bit for the rich, whilst failing everyone else, creating a wealth divide so large that it's hard to see where it will end.
Our British politics reading list includes books that look at these very issues, as well as the historical contexts and political conditions that have allowed them to thrive in the last year. Until Jan 1: all our print books are 50% off (with free shipping worldwide and bundled ebooks), all our ebooks are 90% off.
In this moment of wide-scale rejection of establishment politics and the global rise of a right wing populist movement, we need utopian and radical visions of society more than ever.
This is not escapist wishful thinking but a reimagining of society as one that values people over profits, that rules democratically and collectively, that provides for the needs of all citizens. In this calamitous time, utopian thinking can inform our social movements and our strategies for building a better future.
From the explosion in border walls to the rise of Donald Trump to the books that they've read along the way, Verso authors reflect on one of the most shocking years in recent history in this 2016 review.
With contributions from: Franco Bifo Berardi, Christine Delphy, Keller Easterling, Nick Estes, Liz Fekete, Amber A'Lee Frost, Andrea Gibbons, Owen Hatherley, Eric Hazan, Helen Hester, Karen L. Ishizuka, Reece Jones, Costas Lapavitsas, Andreas Malm, Geoff Mann, Jane McAlevey, Ed Morales, David Roediger Nick Srnicek and Wolfgang Streeck.
Ninety-nine years after the Soviet Revolution the stage is set for precipitation into global civil war. While the financial class exacerbates its agenda fuelling unemployment and social devastation, the dynamics that led to Nazism are deploying worldwide. Nationalists are repeating what Hitler said to the impoverished workers of Germany: rather than as defeated workers, think of yourself as white warriors so you’ll win. They did not win, but they destroyed Europe. They will not win this time neither, but they are poised to destroy the world.
After two centuries of colonial violence, we are now facing the final showdown. As worker’s internationalism has been destroyed by capital globalisation, a planetary bloodbath is getting almost unavoidable.
After centuries of colonial domination and violence, the dominators of the world are now facing a final showdown: the dispossessed of the world are reclaiming a moral and economic reward that the West is unwilling and unable to pay. The concrete historical debt towards those people that we have exploited cannot be paid because we are forced to pay the abstract financial debt.
The year now coming to an end has abounded with bad news on the political front. After a foul and very long debate on how we could ‘strip’ French citizens of their nationality – ultimately reaching the conclusion that this was impossible with regard to both French laws and international conventions – the government abandoned the bill. Immediately after that, a fresh bill was presented to ‘reform’ the labour code, largely getting rid of the majority of the guarantees enjoyed by workers. There was a mass mobilisation against this plan, lasting across the whole spring and part of summer. It opposed demonstrators in all France’s towns and cities to a police which, as the prime minister Manuel Valls put it, ‘had not been given any orders to show restraint’.
The Levellers have recently taken on a sudden political topicality. First, Theresa May accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being a Leveller, and then UKIP's only MP Douglas Carswell attempted to claim the Levellers for the populist right. How can we situate the legacy and contemporary relevance of the Levellers?
In this piece John Rees, author of the recently published The Leveller Revolution, looks at the history of this 400 year old political insult.
The Leveller Revolution is currently 50% off as part of our end-of-year sale, with free shipping.
Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn (centre) with John Rees and Cllr Rania Khan at the unveiling of the plaque to Leveller Thomas Rainsborough in Wapping, 2013.