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Left Wing Science Fiction

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Feb 25, 2010, 6:47am Top

Go on, name some titles... Sf novels which posit left-wing / socialist futures or worlds.

Iain Banks' Culture novels are left-wing. The Dispossessed claims to present a successful left-wing society.

any other suggestions?

Feb 25, 2010, 6:55am Top

Edited: Feb 25, 2010, 7:12am Top

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books (current reread of which is why I brought up socialism in the other thread!)

Feb 25, 2010, 7:16am Top

From what I remember, some of the societies in the Mars books were socialist. But not all. But it's been a few years since I read the books. Must reread them one day...

Feb 25, 2010, 7:20am Top

There are plenty of depictions of future Socialist societies in Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution series.

Feb 25, 2010, 7:37am Top

Thigmoo by Eugene Byrne posits a socialist revolution by somewhat eccentric means. Lots of fun!

Feb 25, 2010, 7:39am Top

Ah yes. Byrne and Kim Newman also wrote a fix-up novel, Back in the USSA, positing a socialist USA.

Feb 25, 2010, 8:41am Top


The Fall Revolution series was very enjoyable, I particularly enjoyed 'Sky Road'

Feb 25, 2010, 10:27am Top

#1 Ian, I suggest that LeGuin intends us to see the society in The Dispossessed as only partially successful. Shevek has to go to Urras because Anarres has become stale. The theme, as I see it, is the necessity for a utopia to continually reinvent itself. (This being UKL, there are many themes, including the reconciliation of opposites, but that's the main theme politically IMO.) It certainly meets your criterion, though.

Feb 25, 2010, 10:33am Top

I think Anarres also has too many authoritarian elements to be classed as a true socialist utopia.

Feb 25, 2010, 11:20am Top

Richard K Morgan's Market Forces describes a dysfunctional capitalist world, but is written with a decidedly left-wing bias.

I have heard reviewers describe the Foundation Trilogy as a socialist utopia.

Feb 25, 2010, 11:26am Top

H.G.Wells' The Sleeper Awakes presents a society in turmoil and the beginning of a revolution. It is not really socialist, but raises many issue with a socialist bent.

Feb 25, 2010, 11:41am Top

Mack Reynolds wrote a lot of such books back in the 70s.

Edited: Feb 25, 2010, 1:15pm Top

Jim’s mention of The Dispossessed in message 9 caused a light to go off in my head. We have been discussing this man’s story in anthropology class. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishi Alfred Kroeber, the anthropologist that worked most closely with Ishi is LeGuin’s father. Suddenly I see a lot of Ishi in Shevek.

edit: I checked, she was not born yet when her father worked with Ishi. Still, what did she hear being talked about growing up?

Edited: Feb 25, 2010, 5:36pm Top

Michael Swanwick is relentlessly, wearisomely, socialist. You’d love him, iansales.

At the end of his short story In Concert, which can be found in the collection Tales of Old Earth, people actually sing "the workers have nothing to lose but their chains" ad infinitum at the end.

Also, L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach. No, just kidding.

Here’s one - and about this I am not kidding - from early Heinlein: Beyond This Horizon. I would call it lefty in that the government plans the macroeconomy according to some sort of "aggregate demand management" notion. One could call it “Keynesian” in a loose sense. Heinlein lectures us on this, approvingly.

Feb 25, 2010, 6:27pm Top

Plenty of post-apocalyptic/distopia/scary-future novels argue for lefty ideas by presenting right-wing ideas gone wrong. Not quite quite science fiction, but incorporating some elements thereof, and I find that some SF lovers like these books too. Parable of the sower and Parable of the talents by Octavia E. Butler; Handmaid's tale (and maybe Oryx and Crake? I don't remember) by Margaret Atwood; Daughters of the north/The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall; The fifth sacred thing by Starhawk.

Feb 25, 2010, 7:17pm Top

Re: Heinlein and the left. I understand that For Us the Living is also on the lefty/utopian side. When I first learned about the young Heinlein's links to Upton Sinclair and the EPIC campaign I felt like someone had whacked me over the head with a large object: say, a tiger shark, or that ginormous globe the scientists steal from some guy's office in Close Encounters. My own early libertarianism came straight from devouring Heinlein's stuff from the age of 12 on. Now that I'm a little older and a lot more moderate (okay, wishy-washy) it's strange to think that the great man was once just a wee bit "pink" himself.

Edited: Feb 25, 2010, 7:25pm Top

Apparently he ran for office as socialist or progressive or something wehen he was really young!

Edit: Whoops, that's what the EPIC campaign refers to in your post. Sorry, I'll try to keep up.

Feb 25, 2010, 7:42pm Top

Carnophile: Completely off-topic now, but when o when will we get the big fat Heinlein biography that the dean of American sf has more than earned? Virginia Heinlein put the kibosh on Dr. Stover's authorized bio. Is the way clear now that she has passed? Or is it still too soon for anything but timid hagiographies? These are rhetorical questions, by the way, not attempts to hijack this thread. Now back to socialism in sf. Seriously.

Feb 25, 2010, 7:58pm Top

Philip Jose Farmer's contribution to Dangerous Visions, "Riders of the Purple Wage" is about (among other things) the welfare state taken to outrageous extremes.

Feb 25, 2010, 8:06pm Top

17: Read For Us, the Living at your peril. It was unpublished in his lifetime. There's a reason for that. It is really not a very good book.

Feb 25, 2010, 9:13pm Top

>19 revelshade: The most interesting aspect of a bio of Heinlein IMHO would be the intellectual journey he completed. He was born in the Bible Belt in 1905 and swallowed it all uncritically at first. And he was politically left of the center when he was young.

He ended up a libertarian agnostic. A good distance travelled, intellectually.

>21 StormRaven: Yeah, I have heard it sucks from lots of sources.

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 1:02am Top

Most anything China Mieville

Feb 26, 2010, 3:02am Top

19: His papers are sealed until 2038.

Feb 26, 2010, 3:36am Top

#15 - I've read a lot of Swanwick. I don't recall him being especially left-wing. Less right-wing than most US sf authors, certainly. But not left-wing, like KSR or McLeod.

#16 - The Handmaid's Tale is science fiction? But yes, there are plenty of anti-right sf novels, no doubt stemming from the first great anti-right novel of them all, 1984.

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 8:19am Top

12# - There is another H G Wells book, Men Like Gods which presents a socialist society in which the principle protagonists find themselves after a car crash results in them slipping into another world. While it is a good read, the presentation of the society in question is so unrealistic, it unfortunately now reads, if one didn't know the author's ideas, more like a parody of such a society. For example, decisions about scientific matters are made by committees of scientists and because their decisions are so obviously rational, everyone apparently accepts them unquestioningly. There is no political oppositon or discussion in the society in question because there is held to be only one right answer to any problem.

#16, 25 - I don't think something that is anti-right is necessarily pro-left. And 1984 is anti all totalitarianisms, whether of right or left.

Feb 26, 2010, 9:12am Top

Orwell categorically said that 1984 was not written as a criticism of socialism.

Feb 26, 2010, 9:44am Top

Bertrand Russell explicitly said that Principia Mathematica excluded self-reference.

Alas, it doesn't work that way.

A sufficiently rich mathematical system can be Goedelized so as to make assertions about itself. Even if the author didn't intend such.

And a dystopia in which the government controls everything - including the economy - is a critique of socialism. Even if the author didn't intend such.

Feb 26, 2010, 9:56am Top

Sigh. In socialism, the workers own the means of production. Not the government. As #26 pointed out, 1984 is a critique of totalitarianism, specifically fascism and Stalinism. As was Animal Farm.

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 10:48am Top

#27 - I didn't say he did intend it as a criticism of socialism. As you say in #29 it was a criticism of Stalinism, or by implication other forms of totalitarian ideology, though the trappings of society in Oceania resemble Stalinism most closely.

#29 - "In socialism, the workers own the means of production". My problem with this is that it hides as much as it explains. Is there any real country currently where the workers actually own in any meaningful sense the means of production?

Feb 26, 2010, 10:45am Top

Nope, there are no socialist countries around that I know of, in the original sense of socialism (and the way Orwell presumably interpreted the term).

Feb 26, 2010, 10:53am Top

>29 iansales:
Sigh. In socialism, the workers own the means of production. Not the government.

Ian, there is a lot wrong with this statement, but I'll be brief:

You're contradicting yourself. You've cited the UK as a socialist nation. But the workers don't own the means of production in the UK. Same for your other examples.

Feb 26, 2010, 11:01am Top

>25 iansales:
I've read a lot of Swanwick. I don't recall him being especially left-wing. Less right-wing than most US sf authors, certainly. But not left-wing...

♪ ♪ ♫ Nothing to lose but their chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains! ♫ ♪
♪ ♫ ♪ Nothing to lose but their chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains! ♫

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 11:19am Top

The UK had a mixed economy, and some nationalised industries. It enacted a number of socialist social policies. While it was not a textbook socialist country - none exist, as has been repeatedly pointed out - British governments at various times described themselves as socialist. This is no longer true, although many elements of the welfare state put in place during those days still exist. Like the NHS.

So yes, the UK has been socialist, and socially is probably closer to socialism than conservative countries like the US.

I'm not contradicting myself. You insist on misreading and misrepresenting everything I've said. But then you've done exactly the same on the same subject on other threads. What is it with you neocons and libertarians? Are you incapable of following a logical argument?

Feb 26, 2010, 11:20am Top

The United States has an education problem. Communism, where everything is owned communally is different from socialism. In socialism some things that would not make sense for the workers to own are government held. Fire departments for instance.

The United States is one country where workers own the means of production. We refer to them as employee owned companies.

Feb 26, 2010, 11:33am Top

Maybe it's a little of topic, but it seems to me that the majority of SF has at least moderate left-leaning tendencies... but that viewpoint may just be a artifact of living in the States.

I'd be harder pressed to name right-wing SF.

Feb 26, 2010, 11:38am Top

I feel for you ian, but it's a tough semantic battle no matter who you are arguing with.

Take for example if you want to criticize Christianity. The same slipperness applies, because you can easily say that the Catholic church (especially prior to, say, 1800) did not really follow the tenants of Christianity and therefore can't be considering Christianity. So you can't use it in any arguments about why Christianity is bad.

I think you just have to recognize that "socialism" has two different meanings. There's the ideal of socialism and then there's governments that have labeled themselves socialist or have been labeled socialist by others. It's unfortunate, but it's how language works.

Feb 26, 2010, 12:28pm Top

I always thought of 1984 as a critique of fascism (never-ending wars, propaganda, secret police, re-education and so on). I don't remember what Orwell said about the marriage of business and government, if anything, but I think of it as a criticism of right-wing social and governmental systems.

I see Animal Farm as a critique of Communism.

For all those who want to define Orwell as theirs, I don't think he cared for any of those centralized governmental systems.

Feb 26, 2010, 12:33pm Top


And a dystopia in which the government controls everything - including the economy - is a critique of socialism. Even if the author didn't intend such.

On that basis the you must regard the fascist governments of Germany, Italy and Spain as socialist. I'm not sure that many would agree with that.

Feb 26, 2010, 12:34pm Top

29; Animal Farm is pretty obviously primarily a critique of Stalinism, but in that work, don't the workers (in that case, the animals) own the means of production (the farm)?

Edited: Mar 16, 2010, 11:31pm Top

>34 iansales:
I'm not contradicting myself... Are you incapable of following a logical argument?
I won’t really know until I actually see one. Care to try?

Fact 1: In post 15 here you cited the UK (among others) as a nation in which socialism has worked very well. (You reiterated that in #34, by the way: “So yes, the UK has been socialist...”)

Fact 2: In post 29 above you said “In socialism, the workers own the means of production.” (You also said it in message 105 here.)

Fact 3: In the UK, the workers have never owned the means of production.

You’re contradicting yourself.


Edited to correct the fact numbering.

Feb 26, 2010, 12:42pm Top

It continues! The short version, from #34:

The UK... was not a textbook socialist country... So yes, the UK has been socialist.

Try screaming “I’m not contradicting myself!” a little louder. That might work.

Feb 26, 2010, 12:42pm Top

“You insist on misreading and misrepresenting everything I've said.”

Actually, what has gotten your panties in a twist is that fact that I’ve been carefully and accurately quoting you. You’d rather people didn’t do that, evidently.

Feb 26, 2010, 12:53pm Top

Is it too late to compare someone to Hitler?

Feb 26, 2010, 1:29pm Top

I remember a scene in Animal Farm where the animals (maybe just the pigs) were looking in the window of the farmhouse at the farmer and his wife. So the book starts with the farm as we would think of a farm with a farmer. After the animals rose up against the farmer did the pigs take over. The animals, as such, never did have the benefit of their labor.

I find this whole business of who benefits from a persons labor very sketchy. The right in this country says everyone is entitled to the fruits of their own labor, but the governmental systems they put in place are all geared toward the most egregious forms of wage slavery. Unless you are self-employed you no more have access to the fruits of your own labor than the man in the moon. It seems hypocritical to me.

Labor unions are what give workers access to the fruits of their own labors. The next time someone drags out this canard, ask them what they think of unions.

The right can't string two ideas together without stepping on their own d*cks.

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 1:44pm Top

45: Yes, the pigs end up in charge. Eventually, and by manipulating the system. But the initial result of the animal uprising was communal ownership of the farm - hence the "all animals are equal" element that comes at the begniing, before the pig have it rewritten (much later) to include "but some animals are more equal than others".

I think the point Orwell was trying to make was that in practice, socialism would end up with a stratified system anyway. Like I said, it is clearly primarily a critique of the Soviet system (many of the events in the book parallel history directly), but in a larger sense it is a critique of the failings of socialism.

Unions have uses, but they also have problems. They were used for many decades as a means to enforce segregation for example. They are easily manipulated by the unscrupulous, and they can (and often do) create a two tier economy divided between those who are "in" and those who are "out" (and therefore screwed). Bascially, unions are a form of protectionism, with all the attendant issues surrounding that sort of economic arrangement. Its a question of picking your poison.

The right may not be able to "string two ideas together", but it sure looks like they are going to win a lot of elections come this fall.

Feb 26, 2010, 3:30pm Top

I figure they have one more period of being in power before even the most illiterate of Americans can see them for what they are: corporate lackeys. This will lead to the demise of Republicans as a force in American politics. They are working as hard as they can to put the lie to the idea of American exceptionalism, unless you consider that they want to foster an exceptionally clueless, immoral, and bankrupt set of ideas. Yes, the right is exceptional, exceptionally dumb.

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 3:45pm Top

47: Given that the Democratic Party generally takes as much, if not more, money from industry, one wonders how they are exempt from being tagged as "corporate lackeys".

The problem with your analysis is that people don't exclusively (or even primarily) vote with an eye towards economic issues. Nor do they make the same assumptions concerning those issues that you do. I think that you will be sorely disappointed at the non-demise of the Republican party over the foreseeable future.

Feb 26, 2010, 5:05pm Top

Labor unions are what give workers access to the fruits of their own labors. The next time someone drags out this canard, ask them what they think of unions.

I seem to always asking "what do you mean by X?". I'll do it again: what do you mean by "unions"? There's nothing wrong with people joining a club. There's something very wrong when they're wielding a club! Does your notion of "unions" come with the right to trespass on and damage other people's property, beat or kill non-members, etc.?

Feb 26, 2010, 5:09pm Top

Someone said there are two parties in US politics: the evil party and the stupid party. (though AFAICT they're both evil and stupid...)

Feb 26, 2010, 5:27pm Top

I'm beginning to regret starting this thread... I'm certainly regretting pandering to the libertarians' need for someone to rant at...

Orwell was not backward in documenting his intentions when it came to his novels, so I fail to understand how anyone could misrepresent their intent. Still, people try...

StormRaven, I disagree with you, but you present arguments worth disagreeing with. Unions politics are syndicailist, not communist (see 1985). Orwell intended Animal Farm as a critique of Stalinism (as you say), but I think labelling it as socialism is a bit much.

Feb 26, 2010, 5:29pm Top

#49, No but it does include the right to strike, and peacefully refuse admission to strike-breakers to the premises. If the owners want to turn employment into a contentious battle over who gets to keep the money generated as a result of the fruits of the work of their employees, then they need to put up with the consequences.

Considering inflation and everything else, most wage earners are seeing their buying power go down, while corporate profits, remember those, the results of efficiencies in production that are supposed to help raise workers pay, "efficiencies" from overtime or with fewer resources than actually needed to get the job done, are either sent overseas to undercut the American labor force altogether, or go into dividends. If you aren't in the top rung of employment, you get nothing for all your extra hours and less than optimal working conditions.

Why do business and labor see their relationship as adversarial, rather than cooperative?

Feb 26, 2010, 5:56pm Top

On reflection... no arguments on what is or is not left wing, or assorted definitions thereof. Just suggest sf books that you think posit a left wing future or are written from a left wing point of view. Easy enough.

Feb 26, 2010, 5:57pm Top

Remember the epigram from Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis'; "The mediator between the head and the hands is the heart".

As a fully paid-up trade union activist and Branch official, it may surprise some to know that I have tried to put the above into action, believing that we achieve more by working together than by acting in opposition. Sadly, even if local management believe this, the top of the organisation seems determined to undermine it. And I have recently defended a member successfully against dismissal to a formal appeal process, where the management were almost completely found wanting (no, I'll restate that - 'flayed alive' is more accurate), and they still persist in looking shocked and giving off an air of "Why? We've done nothing wrong..."

Edited: Feb 26, 2010, 7:46pm Top

52> Of course you have the right to strike. (Though, of course, you don't have the right not to be replaced). Peacefully refuse admission to strike breakers? I have to wonder what you mean by "peacefully" and "refuse": you can't blockade the entrance; maybe you can stand around asking people not to go in, but that isn't "refusing admission" -- to do that, you need to do something non-peaceful.

Feb 26, 2010, 9:22pm Top

David Weber certainly does an interesting job of representing a leftist society in The People's Republic of Haven, regardless of whether you like his storylines in the Honorverse or not.

Bujold contrasts the feudal monarchy heritage of Barrayar with the modern, socialist government of Beta, and does a pretty good job of pointing out the warts on both.

Feb 27, 2010, 12:50am Top

#44(brightcopy): lol, and man did I duck out of this thread just in time.

Feb 27, 2010, 4:33am Top

I'm out on strike.

Feb 27, 2010, 4:44am Top

John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes ? I know nothing of politics and tend to avoid it like the plague,same with any books in which politics feature strongly. I think there might be a bit of it in Poul Anderson's Brain Wave too.
The Hitler reference in post 44 made me think of Dick's The Man in the High Castle which I've not yet read.
(Touchstones don't seem to be working today)

Edited: Feb 27, 2010, 10:28am Top

There were, I think, many more socialist utopias at the turn of the 19th century: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, New Amazonia: A Foretast of the Future, and of course Morris' News from Nowhere.

Feb 27, 2010, 5:42pm Top


You shouldn't take snippets out of posts so that they are out of context. That's rather rude.

In regards to your first "fact", Ian clarified his position two posts after (which you seem to have neglected because it does not suit your argument). There are elements of policies which could be seen as socialist in the UK, among other European countries - free schooling and healthcare, for starters. Do you see such policies representing capitalism or not?

And having two "Fact 1" does not make for a good logical argument.

Feb 27, 2010, 6:59pm Top

Are those the only two options? Either something is "socialist" or it's "capitalist"? Ian defined socialism as "worker ownership of the means of production". "Free" schooling and healthcare doesn't look much like worker ownership of the means of production to me. (It doesn't look free, either!) How is it any more related to socialism than the free shampoo sample I received in the mail last week?

Feb 27, 2010, 7:26pm Top

Many European countries are 'social democratic', i.e. they have a mixed economy with state provision of certain services, private capital, and often some public undertakings ostensibly in private hands but actually with the state - or some emanation of it - holding large tranches of shares. This latter happens in Germany and Austria quite a lot; a 'privatised' company can turn out to have 25% of the shares held by the federal government, 25% of the shares held by the regional government and 25% of the shares held by a regional investment bank, which itself may be 50% or more owned by the government. Funnily enough, the population seem to like it that way..

Dividing political thought into two camps tends to be a product of politically bipartisan nations. Many European countries have coalition governments formed out of socialist, social democrat (UK - Labour), liberal (UK - Lib Dems, US - Democrat) and Christian Democrat (UK - Conservative, US - Republican) parties. Commentators in the UK certainly think that such Governments are Bad Things because they don't get anywhere until a common policy has been worked out at great length through consensus. People in the countries with that sort of system tend to think that their system of government is a Good Thing for exactly the same reason.

The UK bipartisan system has its faults, without doubt. My job is at risk because both major UK parties want to slash jobs and slash redundancy entitlements, but there is no party that represents my views because only Labour claims to speak for working people. The parties further to the left than Labour are very much minority parties, with little chance of election, and many of the trade unions support Labour for historical reasons, even though their members complain about Labour biting the hand that feeds it. (Fortunately, my union isn't affiliated to Labour, so I don't at least have that complaint.) Many leftist voters will vote Labour despite being unhappy that it isn't socialist enough, because the alternative is worse.

Feb 27, 2010, 7:29pm Top

BTW, lest anyone think that I've forgotten the point of this thread as well, many of Ian Watson's works have leftist leanings, and Ian himself was a Labour councillor for a while.

Edited: Feb 27, 2010, 7:39pm Top

>61 rojse:

You got me on the Fact 1 thing. But going after a typo is the best you can do? Seriously? Please, give up.

You shouldn't take snippets out of posts so that they are out of context. That's rather rude.

I indicated a gap in the quote with the ellipses. Either you deliberately elided this in #61 or you don’t know what ellipses indicate in a quote. I suspect it’s the former and what you're really objecting to is that I had the temerity to quote him at all.

Feb 27, 2010, 7:40pm Top

In regards to your first "fact", Ian clarified his position two posts after (which you seem to have neglected because it does not suit your argument).

Apparently you’re referring to iansales posts 15 and 17 in the other thread? Actually, explicitly including both his posts strengthens my point:

Me at 14 in the other thread: “Chiming in to ask iansales to list the countries where socialism has worked very well.”
Iansales at 15: “The UK, the Scandinavian countries, the Low countries... a great deal of Europe, in fact.”
Then iansales at 17: “...textbook socialism doesn't exist...”

Now I realize this may be a bit complex for you, so I’ll break it down using small words: He provided a list of countries in which socialism allegedly worked very well. But socialism cannot have “worked very well” if socialism didn’t exist. Try to wrap your head around this. I realize exposing this self-contradiction makes you unhappy but Suck. It. Up.

I suppose you could try to wriggle out by placing all the weight of your argument on the word “textbook” as a qualifier. Please don’t though; my sympathy embarrassment register is starting to smoke and emit weird noises as it is. Watching the Black Knight in action often does that.

Edited: Feb 27, 2010, 7:58pm Top

Incidentally, I sympathize because coming up with good definitions of concepts like socialism, etc., is indeed a complex undertaking. But there's a clear difference between recognizing the complexities and contradicting oneself.

Feb 27, 2010, 8:44pm Top

Funnily enough, the population seem to like it that way..

People seem to like smoking crack, too...doesn't make it a good idea.

Edited: Feb 28, 2010, 3:58am Top

#68 - Gosh, now there's an intelligent rejoinder...

Carnophile - I'm not going to bother explaining myself any more. I've done it several times and it clearly hasn't sunk in. Others don't seem to have a problem with it. You're not arguing the points I've made, you're commenting on the way I made them. That's not discussion.

Feb 28, 2010, 10:15am Top

You're entitled to your opinion of the way our little exchange has gone. If you want to stop, believe me, that suits me very well too.

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