Anarchies, States, and Utopias

The science fiction of Ken MacLeod.

(Page 2 of 2)

Q: How likely would it be that a revived anti-capitalist radicalism would take on the old Marxist or Leninist garb, instead of a Green or populist or left-anarchist face?

A: I think that will vary from country to country, depending on how well the various groups that see themselves as Leninist have survived. In Britain, the largest groups to the left of Labor are in fact quite influenced by one form or another of Trotskyism. We even have a Trotskyist member of the Scottish Parliament, Tommy Sheridan, who’s actually quite popular. He is the member of the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish Socialist Party, which is capable of contesting elections at least.

Q: So how sympathetic are you now to socialist ideas in general, and how much to libertarian ideas?

A: I think definitely more libertarian than socialist. I’m not entirely convinced on the question of whether a non-market economy is viable or not, but I haven’t seen new evidence that it is. All the obvious problems of socialism that were raised in the 19th century by everybody from Bakunin to John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and so on–you can read all of these, and they all seem astonishingly prescient.

Where I disagree with a lot of libertarian rhetoric is the assumption that socialism is finished. Whether it’s a good or bad thing, I don’t think it’s finished at all. I also don’t think that the questions that gave rise to the socialist movement in the first place have gone away.

Q: What are the most pressing of those?

A: I suppose the most urgent one is the question of war. You get this glib libertarian argument that war has nothing to do with capitalism because war is the business of the state, blah, blah, blah. I think that’s just nonsense. Even a minimal state is going to make trouble. We can see the outlines of future wars, even world wars, developing.

The other one is the persistence of poverty, and the persistence of economic crises. I think a lot of people who are libertarians now are just libertarians because the stock market is going up, frankly. As long as the market is booming, they’ll be pro-market. If there was another depression or something like that, they’d probably change their tune pretty damn quick.

Q: You’ve said that each of the books in your series undermines the other ones.

A: Absolutely. The Star Fraction almost puts forward a conspiratorial interpretation of events, and in The Stone Canal, that’s dismissed; all the events of The Star Fraction are alluded to in a passing paragraph. Jonathan Wilde, the hero of The Stone Canal, lives his entire life convinced that his socialist parents were wrong, and then comes back to a socialist Solar System in The Cassini Division. And finally, in The Sky Road, that world of The Cassini Division is, from the point of view of the characters, something to be fought against by any means necessary.

Q: The Sky Road seems to suggest that the anarcho-communist federation in The Cassini Division is guided by an artificial intelligence. That puts a different spin on the moral decision made at the end of The Cassini Division: It implies that you’re not choosing between human beings and godlike artificial intelligences. You’re choosing between two AI-directed societies.

A: Not many people have spotted that. The irony of The Cassini Division is that it’s a war of one artificial intelligence against its rivals.

Q: You also seem to view the Greens more positively in The Sky Road than in the earlier books in the series. But they seem to be different Greens, because they don’t ban technology or persecute scientists, let alone empty the cities like Pol Pot. Do you see them as the same group taking a different path, or essentially a different group altogether?

A: They are the descendants of the "barbarians" who appear in the other books, but they’ve been influenced in a more humanist direction, partly by some of the people involved and partly by the necessities of survival. The Star Fraction is full of venom against the "Green slime," partly because I was really, really pissed off at the time at people like animal rights terrorists and these "deep Greens"–in fact, I still am, I don’t withdraw a single word against these people–but there are more humanist-oriented ecologically concerned people, and they become the foundation of the new society in The Sky Road.

Q: What’s your next novel about?

A: My next novel, Cosmonaut Keep, is the beginning of a new series. Its start-off point is a rather different mid-21st century, where instead of Russia collapsing into a social black hole, which is the premise of the other four books, they actually get their act together and become an expansionist power again, under a notionally communist government, and then roll over Western Europe. So by the time the story starts, there’s a European union from Vladivostok to Lisbon, and an America divided between isolationists and imperialists. The hero escapes from Europe with some information relating to a discovery the Russians have announced, a complex form of intelligent life within an asteroid. And the story escalates from there.

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