"Moments in the Fall": Neoliberal Globalism and Utopian Anarcho-Socialist Desire in Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution Quartet and Iain M. Banks's Culture Series

By Winter, Jerome | Extrapolation, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

"Moments in the Fall": Neoliberal Globalism and Utopian Anarcho-Socialist Desire in Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution Quartet and Iain M. Banks's Culture Series


Winter, Jerome, Extrapolation


In the Fall Revolution series, Ken MacLeod imagines that a newfound global federation couched in the spirit of volunteerism could rise from the ashes of the embattled enclaves and distracted mini-states that plague a near-future global crisis of capitalism. In the first book of the series, The Star Fraction (x995)> a combatant rallies for the slow building of an anarcho-socialist utopia,1 a freely willed unity in diversity that eclipses the dystopian collapse: "see, what we always meant by socialism wasn't something forced on people, it was people organizing themselves as they pleased into co-ops, collectives, communes, unions" (314). And so the Fall Revolution depicted in The Star Fraction inspires worldwide protests, strikes, and riots that express a socialist globalism promoted in a famous i96os-era environmentalist slogan prominently cited by MacLeod: "there's some kind of upsurge coming down the line ... we may find a lot of separate campaigns thinking globally and acting locally in the next few days" (248; emphases in original). Far from escapist or vacuous, in these novels MacLeod's political science fiction emanates from a historical context that has both local and global dimensions.

In the Culture series Iain M. Banks is likewise politically engaged and refrains from charting that extrapolative line from the contemporary world-system to his own dazzling anarcho-socialist future; yet, like MacLeod, Banks certainly does not foreclose such science-fictional, utopian desire either. In the titular novella of The State of the Art (1991), the Culture, a far-future anarcho-socialist utopia, discovers Earth, circa 1978, and two incognito Culture agents, Dziet Sma and Linter, study the planet to see if its inhabitants should be welcomed into the galactic utopian fold. Ultimately determined to be too primitive for official first contact, Earth fails to be inducted on several counts and the novella catalogs a blistering critique of "the plotting militaries, the commercial frauds, the smooth corporate and governmental lies" (130) by a deeply disgusted narrator, Dziet Sma, even though her partner, Linter, becomes irrationally infatuated by Earth's suffering-induced joie de vivre and contagious groupthink. Disillusioned by East Berlin, Dziet Sma concludes that Earth's problems are largely politically and economically derived given that the only alternative to unregulated capitalism is deeply impoverished and oppressive as well: "was this farce, this gloomy sideshow trying to mimic the West - and not even doing that very well - the best job the locals could make of socialism?" (Banks 109). To the enlightened, rationalist Dziet Sma's chagrin and horror, Linter converts to Catholicism before finally succumbing to Earth's manifold dystopian dangers in a fatal mugging in New York City. Mourning the loss of her intimate friend, Dziet Sma despairs over the entrenched forces that pre-empt any progressive change to a seemingly congenitally unequal and unjust world-system: "What they could do if they just got their planetary act together but what was the point?" (130).

This commitment to anarcho-socialist utopia is, of course, no mere coincidental eccentricity nurtured by two likeminded friends who happen to be major science-fiction writers. We might easily add MacLeod's oeuvre to David Pattie's contextualizing of Banks's work in the Scottish literary revival and the sea change in Scottish literary culture that occurred as a result of the devastating failure of the Referendum bill in 1979. The failure of this home-rule legislation meant for many Scottish citizens a state of governance tantamount to abject recolonization in that the Tory party now held sway over a predominately working-class country. Prominent cultural figure Tom Nairn echoes this Scottish socialist-nationalist sentiment when he claims that Margaret Thatcher's legendary sound-bite phrase "There Is No Alternative" (TINA) "became the formative slogan of an emergent world order, that of first-stage globalization. …

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