Posts Tagged ‘Robert A. Heinlein’

The Black Prof Who Proposed a Trans-Time Radio

May 31, 2022

Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video yesterday asking if Black people wrote about anything other than race. He contrasted a book, Don’t Touch My Hair, written by a young Black woman studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies, with pop-science books written by Richard Feynman and Michio Kaku. He argued that there were other ethnic groups who had suffered just as much as Blacks, but these nevertheless wrote about something other than race and racism. It’s a good question, as Black Conservatives like Thomas Sowell have argued that Black people have taken the wrong road to improving themselves. He states that rather than being intent on taking political power, they should instead of have concentrated on raising their economic status through building business, education and so on, as the Jews, Chinese and other ethnicities have done. In the case of the Jews, there’s clearly a large amount of Jewish literature about anti-Semitism, but also about other subjects. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, for example, is about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell.

I’m no expert at all on Black literature, but there are a couple of Black SF writers: Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler, and looking through Waterstone’s the other year a found Dark Matters, an anthology of Black SF. I don’t know how much SF written by Black authors concerns racial issues. I got the impression that it was a significant theme in Butler’s work, though this also includes alien contact and genetic engineering. Delaney’s bisexual, and his novels also cover gay issues, though at least one is about an immortal wandering a devastated Earth.

At the moment there are very few Black scientists, which the discipline is trying to change. However, I do remember that way back in the 1990s, at about the same time the remake of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine came out, a Black American lecturer at a Community College was in the scientific news for his proposal for a type of time machine. This used a supercooled gas to create an Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen condensate. This is a weird type of plasma in which the ions in the gas all behave as single one. The ideo was to start the ionised gas whirling in one direction, and then send an electron into it travelling in the opposite. Stars and Black Holes are so massive that they drag space-time around after them when they revolve. This is why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its predictions about the way gravity distorts the fabric of space-time has been useful in predicting the orbit of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. One of the suggestions for achieving real time travel is that a spacecraft could travel in the wrong direction against the rotation of a Black Hole and thus against the direction of the bits of space-time it’s pulling with it, and so travel into the past that way. The scientist suggested that if you suddenly saw two electrons in the condensate, it would mean that the electron had travelled from the future back into the past, where it joined itself. The experiment and its proposer were featured in New Scientist and there was even a programme on Channel 4 about it and the Time Machine film, looking forward to a future in which we in the present could communicate across time with the future. The experiment was due to be taken into space for testing aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think the shuttle that carried it was one of those that disastrously blew up, thus leading to a cancellation of the programme.

I’m not sure that a cross-time telephone would be a good idea. It raises awkward questions of predestination. If history cannot be changed, how would humanity cope with the news from the future about crimes, wars and disasters yet to happen, but which we would be unable to avert? And if history could be changed, this could lead to chaos with messages coming back to us from the future, which would affect the present and thus their past. One solution to this is that if we attempt to change the past, it leads to the creation of an alternative universe following the consequences of the change while the first universe continues with its set progression to an immutable future. Gregory Benford used this in his book, Timescape, about a physicist receiving messages from the future through one of his experiments, warning him and the rest of humanity of an ecological disaster that would destroy Civilisation As We Know It. The messages have been sent by his future self, and in that future civilisation is indeed collapsing and leads to the hero, his friends and family taking refuge in a farmhouse as society prepares to collapse. In the other, alternative time path, he is able to convince the world that the messages are genuine and persuade the world to use the techniques sent back to him and his colleagues to destroy the algae blooms devastating Earth and humanity is saved. I read in a book on the SF pulp magazine, Astounding, and its editor John W. Campbell, and most prominent writers Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard, that Benford had indeed been researching the possibility of time travelling radiation, dubbed Tau radiation in the novel, so I think the book may have been based on his own research. Since the shuttle explosion, nothing’s been heard of the real, cross-time communication experiment. If it had gone ahead and worked, the prof who invented it would have got a Nobel prize, no problem, and the world would have been very different.

But the point here is, beyond the issues raised by time travel, that a Black academic certainly was actively pursuing something that didn’t have anything to do with race. And while I dare say that race and racism is an issue that informs much Black SF, it isn’t the only issue. I also recall a video I found on YouTube contrasting the situation today, where the arts are being increasingly defined and compartmentalised by race, with that in the 1960 when Black writer James Baldwin published one of his novels. The characters in the book were mostly White, and the book was praised by the critics as a great piece of modern literature. Baldwin was praised as a great novelist in his own, individual right, and not as a great Black novelist. He was praised for his literary skills, rather than simply because of his race. This is one of the reasons Sowell and other Black Conservatives don’t like books by Black authors being promoted and included in the canon of great works simply because of their race. They want talented Black writers and artists to be respected because of their individual merits, and are afraid that they will have their deserved reputations tarnished because of more mediocre literature promoted simply because of the authors’ race.

You may also remember that a little while ago, BBC 4 showed a 4-part series, the Lost Civilisations of Africa, fronted by a Black academic. I think he was an art historian, rather than archaeologist, but he sported the Indiana Jones-style hat. Going through my local branch of Blackwells, when it still existed, I found the book that accompanied the series. Now I realise that it could be argued that this was about race, as the presenter was discussing Black civilisations, just as another Black presented did in another programme about the African city of Timbuktu and its wealth of medieval philosophical and scientific literature. But these programmes are no more about race than a White presenter talking about the general history of Britain and Europe, or a Chinese presenter talking about the history of his country.

It seems clear to me that Black people are capable, and certainly have written about other matters quite apart from race. It simply appears that way at the moment because of the way anti-Black racism has become one of the dominant contemporary issues following Black Lives Matter and the rise to prominence of Critical Race Theory.

Incidentally, BBC 4 is one of the BBC channels about to be culled due to cost-cutting measures. I’m not surprised, as it’s devoted to highbrow subjects like history, archaeology, literature and the arts. I can’t say I’ve watched much of it, but I do remember that it has broadcast programmes like The Lost Civilisations of Africa, as well as a number of other programmes about the Lost Civilisations of South and Central America. There was also one fascinating programme on historic maps and what they told you about the attitudes and politics of the time they were made and who made them. I’m afraid the cancellation of this channels represents another attack on high culture and serious arts programming, in order to appease the Beeb’s right-wing critics who want it privatised anyway. It’s an assault on genuine Reithian values by people who would like to keep this country uneducated and uniformed in the name of making TV another conduit for Thatcherite propaganda, delivered by Rupert Murdoch.

90s Space War SF Programme’s Christmas Message of Peace

January 1, 2022

One of the things I’ve been doing over the Christmas season is watching videos of the old Science Fiction series Space: Above and Beyond on Guy With Beer’s channel on YouTube. Created by X-Files’ writers Glenn Morgan and James Wong, the show followed the adventures of a flight of American space marines fighting a future war between humanity and race of aliens known as the Chigs. Humanity was moving out into the Galaxy and was unaware of intelligent alien life, until the Chigs launched an unprovoked attack on two human colonies. The series heroes were the Wild Cards, whose members included an Asian-American, Paul Wang, a Black female engineer, Damphousse, whose father was the chief engineer in a nuclear power plant; Nathan West, an aspiring colonist for one of the attacked planets. West had been due to go there as a member of a colonising party with his girlfriend, but had lost his place due to an affirmative action programme that gave it instead to a group of in-vitros. These were artificially gestated humans developed to serve as slave labour and an unfree police force. Although now free, they were subject to massive prejudice and widespread discrimination. One of the other members of the Wild Cards, Cooper Hawkes, was one. He had escaped from the In Vitro facility after being told he was due to be killed because his natural born officers regarded him as a failure. He had been arrested by the cops simply for depending himself after a group of natural born humans tried to lynch him simply for getting a job on their building site. The judge at his trial sentenced him to join the marines. Leading the squadron was another woman, ‘Queen’ Vansen. The squadron was based on the space naval vessel, the Saratoga, commanded by Commodore Ross, a Black man, while their immediate commander, Colonel McQueen, was another in vitro. This followed the general pattern of Science Fiction of the time. Like Star Trek, it looked forward to men and women of different races working together in harmony and equality, where they were simply accepted without comment. The issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination was dealt with through the In-Vitros. Behind the scenes was the Aerotech Corporation, the space conglomerate leading the colonisation missions, which may have known far more about the Chigs than they let on. As does a blind American politico aspiring to be chief of the UN. She’s leading a peace initiative to the Chigs and their allies, the AIs, androids created as a police force, who rebelled after someone typed a virus into the computer system governing them with the message, ‘Take a chance’. When she is about to award West with a medal for protecting her against an assassination attempt, he asks if her if the rumours are true and that they knew the Chigs were out there. She says nothing more, but drops the medal on the floor and turns away from him.

The Chigs, a nickname because in their space armour they resemble Chiggers, burrowing tropical flees, remain a mystery until the very end of the series. They remain constantly hidden in their armour. Any attempt to remove it results in them dissolving into a green goo. There are hints of what they look like – the odd clawed, three fingered hand and arm is seen, but their faces are not revealed until the last two programmes when their envoy finally comes aboard the Saratoga to discuss peace terms and finally removes his mask to reveal his true alien features. They’re methane breathers, who come to a moon of their world to incubate their eggs in a special brood chamber. Allied to them are the AIs, who found sanctuary with them after escaping Earth following their defeat by the humans. These run the prisoner of war and forced labour camps, torturing their prisoners and attacking and stealing fuel and vital minerals from mining worldlets in the Oort Cloud. Both the Chigs and the AIs are utterly ruthless, killing without mercy, including the wounded.

The series only lasted for one season of 23 episodes, which seemed to be the lot of the vast majority of SF shows that weren’t Star Trek, although Farscape managed to go for four, plus the three part miniseries, The Peacekeeper Wars, and Babylon Five lasted five seasons. At the time I wondered if it was inspired by the success of the film Starship Troopers directed by Paul Verhoeven. Based on the book by Robert Heinlein, this was about a future war between a militarised humanity and the Bugs, a race of intelligent alien insects. In this future society, only those who had done their military service had the right to vote and enter politics, a view which Heinlein himself held. Verhoeven subverted this by satirically portraying them as Nazis, based on his experience of growing up in the occupied Netherlands. Heinlein also really did believe that war was ennobling experience. But I also wonder if it was partly inspired by Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, about a thousand-year war between humanity and another alien race, the Taureans, which sees one of the recruits, who hasn’t aged thanks to relativistic time dilation, returning to a vastly changed society in which he has no place. It was SF’s treatment of the alienation and maltreatment by the armed forces many squaddies experienced in Vietnam. Space: Above and Beyond, by contrast had no explicit message about war either pro or contra. Rather it was about about a people doing their best to defend their country and planet against a ruthless, genocidal enemy. During this they see their friends die. Paul Wang, initially very religious, loses his faith due to what he has seen and done. There is the constant danger of hospitalisation and permanent trauma from PTSD. And Wang is tortured into making a propaganda video by the AIs, a tactic used by America’s enemies.

The series’ Christmas show had a rather more positive storyline in keeping with the season. It was clearly inspired by the Christmas truce between Brits and Germans at the start of the First World War, as it showed in contemporary footage in a historical flashback. The Wild Cards are sent out on sortie in one of the space Armoured Personnel Carriers. They are discovered and attacked by a Chig squadron, which abandons them for dead. Their ship is disabled and left drifting in space. The radio is damaged so that they can hear the Saratoga looking for them, but not respond. And to cap it all there’s a comet headed right at them.

They are saved when messages in garbled English started coming in for them in Morse code. These messages tell them how to repair their spacecraft enough so that they can put themselves in orbit around the comet instead of getting smashed by it. They’ve been drifting further into Chig territory, but the comet will take them away from it and back to the human lines. It looks like the person sending these messages was not human, Which means he was a Chig.

The programme ended with a written message from the cast and crew of Space: Above and Beyond wishing everyone peace during the holiday season. I thought the series had a lot of potential and was disappointed when it ended. At the time it had the same figures the X-Files had when it started, and there were rumours that it was cancelled so the X-Files could get Morgan and Wong back, but this was denied. My favourite episode was ‘Who Monitors the Birds?’, telling the story of how Hawkes escaped from the in-vitro facility. He had been marked as a failure because he observed birds flying, and had asked the commanding officer training them to be killers, ‘Who monitors the birds?’ When the officer replies, ‘I( do’, he asks, ‘But who monitors you?’ Hawkes is sent on a highly secret mission to assassinate a senior chig general. This goes wrong and his partner is killed. he therefore has to roam the planet fighting to get to the extraction point. During his journey he runs into a Chig trooper, and is about to shoot him when he sees him watching a flying, bird or bat-like creature. Hawkes pauses long enough for the Chig squaddie to move on. He later runs into the same alien again running away from a Chig patrol. They’re about to shoot each other, but put down their guns momentarily to swap dog tags and go their separate ways. Hawkes nevertheless has to shoot him during their next encounter, which naturally upsets him. Punctuating his adventures is a strange woman, appearing as a corpse with grey skin and the marks of decay. She has designs on his body and tries to thrust her attentions on him. At other times she grabs his head to show him the Chig patrols coming for him. And after he pushes her away, she vanishes into thin air. She’s silent or inaudible throughout, except at her final appearance when she says ‘Till next time then’. She is never explained, and you’re left wondering if she’s an hallucination, another alien or what. At the end of the story, Hawkes rips up the contract he was offered, in which he would gain his freedom on killing the alien general. I think it works as a stand-alone story, and is in its way a classic of SF TV, like many episodes of Dr. Who and Star Trek.

Although it was made well over 20 years ago, the series’ seasonal message still remains relevant at this Christmas season. We need peace now as much as ever, with Iran and Israel seemingly gearing up to attack each others’ nuclear facilities, tensions rising with China and with Russia over Ukraine.

May we look forward to peace this year and an easing of tensions, as programmes like Space: Above and Beyond have wished at this season.

Windrush and EU Nationals – Tories Moving to Nazi Ideas of Citizenship

December 31, 2018

In my last post I discussed the virtual identity of some of the Libertarians’ ideas of citizenship and those of Hitler and the Nazis. Some of those on the Libertarian right, including Republicans in the US and Kippers over here, admire the ideas about suffrage and the right to vote of the SF writer Robert A. Heinlein in his book, Starship Troopers.

This is set in a future where Earth has been united into a global, highly militarized state in which the right to vote is confined only to those, who have served in the armed forces. You hear the same ideas echoed by some of the Libertarians, who openly talk about their admiration for the book. Hitler also believed in the same principles. In Mein Kampf he stated that in the Nazi ‘national state’ only those, who had done their national service and were certified healthy, meaning eugenically sound, would become citizens. Women would acquire citizenship only through marriage or becoming involved in business.

What is also shocking about Hitler’s ideas of citizenship is how close the Tory party is also approaching them with their actions in the deportation of Windrush migrants and now the compulsory registration of EU citizens and their children. The registry states that the government has the right to share their details with other public and private organisations, but will not say who. Mike has already posted up two pieces about it, commenting that it looks very much like the Tories are preparing them to be another minority they can persecute. People are understandably extremely worried about this. One Jewish man in response to the Tories’ latest plans posted up the tattoo of his identity number foisted on him for the Nazi camps.

In the chapter ‘Citizens and Subjects of the State’ in Mein Kampf, Hitler rails against how foreigners could become German citizens simply by living there, even if they were children of Blacks, and praises America for legislation banning the immigration of certain races and individuals on eugenics grounds. Hitler wrote

The institution which to-day is wrongly named “the State” only knows of two kinds of individual: State citizens and foreigners. State citizens are all those who, either by birth or naturalization, enjoy the rights of State citizenship; foreigners are those who enjoy similar rights under other States.

Nowadays these rights are acquired, in the first place, by the fact of being born within the frontiers of a State. Race and nationality play no part in it. The child of a negro who once lived in a German protectorate and now is domiciled in Germany is automatically a citizen of the German State.

The whole procedure of acquiring State citizenship is not very different from that of becoming a member of an automobile club for instance.

I know that that this is unwelcome hearing; but anything crazier and less thought out than our present laws of State citizenship is hardly possible to conceive. But there is at least one State in which feeble attempts to achieve a better arrangement are apparent. I, of course, don’t mean our pattern German Republic, but the United States of America, where they are trying, partially, at any rate, to include commonsense in their councils. They refuse to allow immigration of elements which are bad from the health point of view, and absolutely forbid naturalization of certain defined races, and thus are making a modest start in the direction of a view which is not unlike the conception of the national state.

Adolf Hitler, My Struggle (London: Paternoster Row 1933) p. 174.

The Windrush migrants Tweezer and her collaborators tried to deport illegal were Black Britons, who were born in our colonies. Often they had lived over here since they were children. They thus parallel the Black Germans against whose citizenship Hitler rants in the above passage. And now it seems the Tories are keen to begin a new process of victimization against EU migrants.

Hitler also made it clear that he believed that members of certain European races – the Slavs – could not become Germans for the same reason he excluded non-Whites from German citizenship. On pages 153-4 he wrote

It was truly distressful to see how, during the last hundred years, people holding these opinions – in all good faith, most of them – played with the word “Germanize”. I remember how in my own youth this term led to amazingly false conceptions. In Pan-German circles one heard it suggested that with help from the Government, Germanization of the Austrian Slav population might be successfully carried out.

It is hardly imaginable that any one should think that German could be made out of, say, a negro or a Chinaman, because he has learned German and is ready to talk it for the rest of his life, and to vote for some German political party.

The process would mean a beginning of bastardization of our race, and in our case not Germanization but destruction of the German element.

Since nationality, or rather race, is not a matter of language but of blood, it would only be possible to talk about Germanization if the process could alter the nature of the blood of the person subjected to it. That, however, is impossible. It would have to take place, then, by mixing the blood, and that would mean lowering the level of the superior race.

A few years ago I found a book on race and immigration in the Central Library here in Bristol. It was a collection of articles from the Tory and right-wing press, including the Spectator and Salisbury Review arguing essentially the same point: that most British people, in contrast to contemporary official attitudes, regard race as the defining feature of nationality. This is certainly how Tweezer and the Tories see it.

The Tory party is very keen to present a modern, anti-racist face, even since David Cameron took over, cutting links with the Monday Club and expelling those with connections to the BNP and racist Right. But no matter how many BAME members of the cabinet there are, there is still a very nasty racist attitude underneath. This says that Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities can never truly be British. They should always be considered foreigners without the same rights as traditional White Brits, and can be arbitrarily deported or discriminated against.

I am not saying that the Tories want to round them up into concentration camps, or sterilize or exterminate them. But they do have ideas on citizenship that are increasingly similar to those Hitler laid out in Mein Kampf. Ideas that have to be resisted.

Nazism, Libertarianism and National Service

December 31, 2018

Okay, I’ve been trying to avoid blogging about the Nazis over the Christmas period. The season of peace and goodwill seems to me to be too precious to be spoiled with discussion of Hitler and his band of thugs. But I found a very interesting passage in Hitler’s Mein Kampf last night, which is very similar to the ideas some Libertarians and members of the Republican party over the other side of the Pond and various people on the British extreme right have on citizenship and military service.

I’ve discussed before how many of them follow the ideas of the late SF author, Robert Heinlein, in his book Starship Troopers, that only those, who have served in the armed forces should be granted citizenship and the right to vote. Starship Troopers was filmed by Paul Verhoeven, the director of Robocop and the Arnie version of Total Recall, amongst other movies, in the 1990s. He intended the film to be a satire, but some of those who saw the movie appear to have missed the point. I put up a piece from YouTube a little while, which pulled the book apart and showed the Fascistic worldview underneath, as well as the way the book contradicts itself on certain points.

Hitler made it clear in several passages in Mein Kampf that only those, who had served in the army through National Service should qualify as citizens. The passage here comes from the 1933 English abridged translation, published by Paternoster Row in London as My Struggle. On page 163 Hitler wrote

The Army also is not there merely to teach a man how to march and stand at attention, but it has to act as the final and highest school of national instruction. The young recruit must, of course, learn the use of his weapon, but at the same time he must continue his training for his future life. In that school the boy shall be transformed into a man; he shall not merely learn to obey, but shall be trained with a view to commanding at some future time. He shall learn to be silent, not only when he is justly blamed, but to bear injustice in silence, if necessary.

Fortified by the confidence in his own strength, filled with the esprit de corps which he feels in common with the rest, the boy shall attain to the conviction that his nation is unconquerable.

When his military service is over he must be able to show two documents: his legal papers as citizen of the State, which allow him to take part in public affairs, and his certificate of health, stating that, as regards health, he is fit to marry.

In the next paragraph he states that girls should be educated to be mothers.

In the case of female education, the main stress should be laid on bodily training; and after that, on development of character; and, last of all, of the intellect. But the one absolute aim of female education must be with a view to the future mother.

He returns to the theme later in the chapter ‘Citizens and Subjects of the State’, where he rejects the traditional Weimar categories of citizenship, where people were either state citizens or foreigners. He attacked that because

Race and nationality play no part in it. The child of a negro who once lived in a German protectorate and now is domiciled in Germany is automatically a citizen of the German State.

The whole procedure of acquiring State citizenship is not very different from that of becoming a member of an automobile club for instance. (p. 174).

He demanded instead that ‘the national State’ should divide ‘its inhabitants into three classes: State citizens, State subjects and foreigners’ and went on

In principle, birth only gives the status of a subject. This does not carry with it the right to serve yet as State official nor to take active part in politics, in the sense of voting at elections. In the case of every “State subject” race and nationality have to be proved. The “subject” is free at any time to cease being a subject and become a citizen in the country corresponding with his nationality. The “foreigner’ is only different from the “subject” in that he is a subject in a foreign State.

The young “subject” German nationality is bound to undergo the school education which is laid down for every German. Later on he must consent to undergo the bodily exercises as laid down by the State, and finally he enters the Army. Military training is universal. After his military service is over, the healthy young man with a blameless record will be solemnly invested with the rights of State citizenship. This is the most important document for his whole life on earth.

It must be held in greater honour to be a citizen of this Reich, even if only a crossing-sweeper, than to be a king in a foreign State.

The German girl is a “State subject”, but marriage makes her a citizen. But a German woman engaged in business may be granted rights of citizenship. (p. 175).

This is very close to Heinlein’s and the Libertarian’s ideas, with the exception that I don’t think Heinlein argued that women should only become citizens by marrying or becoming business entrepreneurs. It’s also very close to the attitudes of the Republican right and Fox News. A little while the Conservative propaganda broadcaster aired a piece saluting an American college that had made military style training a mandatory part of the curriculum for its freshers.

As for women, the extreme Right in both Britain and America is worried about the low birthrates in the West compared with Islam and the Developing World. They also have extremely traditional views about gender roles, so Libertarians like Vox Day and other antifeminists demand that women should stay at home to raise children rather than go out to work. Hitler’s recommendation that women should qualify for citizenship if they marry or have a business career looks positively progressive by comparison.

Heinlein’s ideas have also been taken over by part of UKIP. One of the leading Kippers a while ago said he thought it was a good idea. It’s questionable whether he really believed it or was simply try to appeal to the Rightists that did.

The belief that only those who have done their national service should be citizens on its own does not make someone a Fascist or a Nazi. But it is an undemocratic, Nazi idea. It should be rejected not just for itself, but also because it is part of the wider complex of Nazi ideology, which could all too easily follow its adoption.

An Argument for a Mixed Economy Supporting Welfare Services from Martian SF

November 6, 2018

Yesterday I blogged about a passage in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars, in which one of the future colonists of the Red Planet at a constitutional congress advocates the transformation of businesses into worker owned co-operatives against a supporter of free enterprise capitalism. The Martians have also been supplementing standard capitalist economics with a gift economy similar to that used by some indigenous cultures today. One of the other delegates at the congress objects to part of the character’s proposals on the grounds that they would be moving away from this part of their economy as well. Vlad Taneev, the character advocating the co-operatives, responds thus.

Vlad shook his head impatiently. ‘I believe in the underground economy, I assure you, but it has always been a mixed economy. Pure gift exchange co-existed with a monetary exchange, in which neoclassical market rationality, that is to say the profit mechanism, was bracketed and contained by society to direct it to serve higher values, such as justice and freedom. Economic rationality is simply not the highest value. It is a tool to calculate costs and benefits, only one part of large equation concerning human welfare. The larger equation is called a mixed economy, and that is what we are constructing here. We are proposing a complex system, with public and private spheres of economic activity. It may be that we ask people to give, throughout their lives, about a year of their work to the public good, as in Switzerland’s national service. That labour pool, plus taxes on private co-ops for use of the land and its resources, will enable us to guarantee the so-called social rights we have been discussing – housing, health care, food, education – things that should not be at the mercy of market rationality. Because la salute no si paga, as the Italian workers used to say. Health is not for sale!’ (p. 149).

To the objection that this will leave nothing to the market, Vlad replies

‘No no no,’ Vlad said, waving at Antar more irritably than ever. ‘The market will always exist. It is the mechanism by which things and services are exchanged. Competition to provide the best product at the best price, this is inevitable and healthy. But on Mars it will be directed by society in a more active way. There will be not-for-profit status to vital life support matters, and then the freest part of the market will be directed away from the basics of existence towards non-essentials, where venture enterprises can be undertaken by worker-owned co-ops, who will be free to try what they like. When the basics are secured and when the workers own their own businesses, why not? It is the process of creation we are talking about.’ (pp. 149-50).

A few paragraphs later the character also urges the creation of strong environmental courts, perhaps as part of the constitutional court, which would estimate the costs to the environment of economic activities, and help to co-ordinate plans impacting the environment. This is based on a clause in the Dorsa Brevia document, the initial constitutional agreement on which the Martians draw in their attempts to formulate a full constitution. This clause states that the land, air and water of Mars belong to no-one, and they are merely its stewards for later generations. (p. 150).

As I said in my previous piece about the fictional economics of this future Mars, it’s refreshing to see an SF writer proposing a form of socialist economics, when so many other SF writers advocated those of libertarian capitalism, like Robert A. Heinlein.

Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t promised complete industrial democracy, but he does intend to give a measure of it to workers in firms with over a certain number of employees, as well as restoring union and other workers’ rights.

As for combining competition with socialism, the 19th century socialist, Louis Blanc, who believed that the state should combat unemployment by setting up state-funded worker’s co-ops, which would then use their profits to buy up the rest of industry, said that it was like combining eunuchs with hermaphrodites. But as it is set out here, it could work.

And we definitely need for housing and health care to be taken out of free market economics. The sale of council houses to private landlords and management corporations, and the Tories’ ban on any more being built, has contributed immensely to the homelessness crisis now afflicting Britain. For all that the building companies are supposed to build a certain number of ‘affordable housing’, in very many cases the majority of homes built are for the top end of the market with only the minimum number of homes for people on modest incomes being built.

And the privatization of the health service has created a massive crisis in healthcare in this country. And it is done with the deliberate, but very carefully unstated intention of forcing people to take out private healthcare insurance as part of the process towards full privatization.

It’s time this was halted, utterly and forever. And only Corbyn can be trusted to do this, as New Labour were as keen on the idea as the Tories.

And the Italian workers’ slogan is excellent: La salute non si paga – ‘Health is not for sale’. This should be our slogan too, printed on leaflets, on placards and T-Shirts and made very clear, every time we protest against the Tories and their privatization of modern Britain’s greatest achievement.

An Argument for Industrial Democracy from the Mars of SF

November 5, 2018

I’m currently reading Blue Mars, the last of a trilogy of books about the future colonization of the Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson. Written in the 1990s, this book and the other two in the series, Red Mars and Green Mars, chronicle the history of humans on Mars from the landing of the First 100 c. 2020, through full-scale colonization and the development of Martian society to the new Martians’ struggle for independence from Earth. In this future, Earth is run by the metanats, a contraction of ‘metanational’. These are the ultimate development of multinational corporations, firms so powerful that they dominate and control whole nations, and are the real power behind the United Nations, which in theory rules Mars.

As the Martians fight off Terran rule, they also fight among themselves. The two main factions are the Reds and the Greens. The Reds are those, who wish to preserve Mars in as close to its pristine, un-terraformed condition as possible. The Greens are those on the other side, who wish to terraform and bring life to the planet. The Martians are also faced with the question about what type of society and economy they wish to create themselves. This question is a part of the other books in the series. One of the characters, Arkady Bogdanov, a Russian radical, is named after a real Russian revolutionary. As it develops, the economy of the free Martians is partly based on gift exchange, rather like the economies of some indigenous societies on Earth. And at a meeting held in the underground chamber of one of the Martian societies – there are a variety of different cultures and societies, reflecting the culture of various ethnic immigrant to Mars and the political orientation of different factions – the free Martians in the second book draw up their tentative plans for the new society they want to create. This includes the socialization of industry.

Near the beginning of Blue Mars, the Martians have chased the Terran forces off the planet, but they remain in control of the asteroid Clarke, the terminus for the space elevator allowing easier space transport between Earth and Mars. The Martians themselves are dangerously divided, and so to begin the unification of their forces against possible invasion, they hold a constitutional congress. In one of the numerous discussions and meetings, the issue of the socialization of industry is revisited. One member, Antar, is firmly against government interference in the economy. He is opposed by Vlad Taneev, a biologist and economist, who argues not just for socialization but for worker’s control.

‘Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?’
‘Yes!’ Antar repeated, looking more and more annoyed.
‘Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their work place? In politics we fight like tigers for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. And then we wake up in the morning and go to work, and all those rights disappear. We no longer insist on them. And so for most of the day we return to feudalism. That is what capitalism is – a version of feudalism in which capital replaces land, and business leaders replace kings. But the hierarchy remains. And so we still hand over our lives’ labour, under duress, to fee rulers who do no real work.’
‘Business leaders work,’ Antar said sharply. ‘And they take the financial risks-‘
‘The so-called risk of the capitalist is merely one of the
privileges of capital.’
‘Management -‘
‘Yes, yes. Don’t interrupt me. Management is a real thing, a technical matter. But it can be controlled by labour just as well by capital. Capital itself is simply the useful residue of the work of past labourers, and it could belong to everyone as well as to a few. There is no reason why a tiny nobility should own the capital, and everyone else therefore be in service to them. There is no reason they should give us a living wage and take all the rest that we produce. No! The system called capitalist democracy was not really democratic at all. That’s why it was able to turn so quickly into the metanational system, in which democracy grew ever weaker and capitalism every stronger. In which one per cent of the population owned half of the wealth, and five per cent of the population owned ninety-five per cent of the wealth. History has shown which values were real in that system. And the sad thing is that the injustice and suffering caused by it were not at all necessary, in that the technical means have existed since the eighteenth century to provide the basics of life to all.
‘So. We must change. It is time. If self-rule is a fundamental value. If simple justice is a value, then they are values everywhere, including in the work place where we spend so much of our lives. That was what was said in point four of the Dorsa Brevia agreement. It says everyone’s work is their own, and the worth of it cannot be taken away. It says that the various modes of production belong to those who created them, and to the common good of the future generations. It says that the world is something we steward together. That is what it says. And in our years on Mars, we have developed an economic system that can keep all those promises. That has been our work these last fifty years. In the system we have developed, all economic enterprises are to be small co-operatives, owned by their workers and by no one else. They hire their management, or manage themselves. Industry guilds and co-op associations will form the larger structures necessary to regulate trade and the market, share capital, and create credit.’
Antar said scornfully, ‘These are nothing but ideas. It is utopianism and nothing more.’
‘Not at all.’ Again Vlad waved him away. ‘The system is based on models from Terran history, and its various parts have all been tested on both worlds, and have succeeded very well. You don’t know about this partly because you are ignorant, and partly because metanationalism itself steadfastly ignored and denied all alternatives to it. But most of our micro-economy has been in successful operation for centuries in the Mondragon region of Spain. the different parts of the macro-economy have been used in the pseudo-metanat Praxis, in Switzerland, in India’s state of Kerala, in Bhutan, in Bologna, Italy, and in many other places, including the Martian underground itself. These organization were the precursors to our economy, which will be democratic in a way capitalism never even tried to be.
(pp. 146-8).

It’s refreshing to see a Science Fiction character advocate a left-wing economics. Many SF writers, like Robert A. Heinlein, were right-wing. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, about a rebellion on the Moon, contains several discussion in which Heinlein talks about TANSTAAFL – his acronym for There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.

Praxis is the fictional metanational corporation, which supplies aid to the colonists against the rest of the terrestrial super-corporations. I don’t know about the references to Switzerland, Kerala, Bhutan or Bologna, but the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain certainly exist, and are a significant part of the country’s economy. They were set up by a Spanish priest during Franco’s dictatorship, but managed to escape being closed down as he didn’t recognize such enterprises as socialist.

I don’t know how practical it would be to make all businesses co-operatives, as there are problems of scale. Roughly, the bigger an enterprise is, the more difficult proper industrial democracy becomes. But co-operatives can take over and transform ailing firms, as was shown in Argentina during the last depression there a few years ago, when many factories that were about to be closed were handed over to their workers instead. They managed to turn many of them around so that they started making a profit once again. Since then, most of them have been handed back to their management, however.

But the arguments the Vlad character makes about democracy being a fundamental value that needs to be incorporated into industry is one of that the advocates of industrial democracy and workers’ control, like the Guild Socialists, made. And we do need to give workers far more power in the work place. Jeremy Corbyn has promised this with his pledge to restore workers’ and union rights, and make a third of the directors on corporate boards over a certain size elected by the workers.

If Corbyn’s plans for industrial democracy in Britain become a reality, perhaps Britain really will have a proper economic system for the 21st century, rather than the Tories and Libertarians trying to drag us back to the unfettered capitalism of the 19th.