Unless you’re rich, it’s fairly hard living your life in today’s world. It’s hard to go out and live your life knowing that the only way to get food and shelter is through the cruelties of the market, through work, waged labor, making someone else richer. It’s hard living with violent police and unjust courts and dehumanizing state institutions at every level. Our so-called democracy seems quite ready to surveil, kidnap, torture, and even kill, while extremely reluctant to educate, feed or house us. It’s hard accepting rampant consumerism, debt, fees, advertising, and the all-pervasive corporate contamination of all life, fun, discovery, social discourse, art, music, and culture, seeping into every little nook and cranny of our daily lives.
But what would happen if we were able to get a clear look at the alternative? Not merely a glimpse like we get during a brief labor strike, an inspiring moment of resistance during a street riot, a proud political movement when the poor rise and get a chance to speak for once, but a really fleshed-out, detailed and personal look into a realistic vision of a future that shows us a truly desirable society?
Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, by Eman Abdelhadi and M.E. O’Brien (Common Notions, 2022), provides us with a wonderfully inspiring depiction of the most incredible, audacious, and yet plausible future any of us could hope for. This amazing book not only depicts the mid-Twenty-First century worldwide social revolution that ends capitalism, but goes further to richly describe life in the new communist society.
In addition to providing an impressive, surprisingly plausible set of narratives depicting a global social revolution and the establishment of a post-capitalist, post-money, post-state, post-violence, post-oppression society over most of the Earth (and beyond), this book is also a deep and engrossing examination of scarcity, war, trauma, racism, settler-colonialism, gender, sexuality, child rearing, restorative justice, ecological restoration, Indigenous liberation, and more, told via several poignant personal journeys through the cauldron of global social transformation.
Every socialist needs to read this book. Every abolitionist, every Marxist, every anarchist, every revolutionary needs to read this book. Every person who has ever wondered how the world will function after the final retirement of the market, the commodity form, money, wages, rent, coercive gender roles, prisons, police, class, nation states, borders, profit, and in general the dominating power of any humans over any others.
It’s a book that will engage seasoned organizers, well-read academics, and street-level agitators. It also could serve quite well as a dazzling introduction for newly politicizing folks who would benefit from a clear end-goal and would want to know what could be accomplished by the movements for human liberation.
The book is a work of fiction, of course, although it’s presented as a document of recent future history, told from the point of view of people in New York City in the form of personal interviews recorded from 2067 to 2072. These years, a century after a major radicalization in the US and much of the world, are depicted as a relatively quiet and stable time of consolidating, building and healing, when the insurrections’ participants can reflect and recall the tumultuous years of struggle, repression, war, famine, pandemic, resistance and revolution that characterized the global human experience from the 2040s through the early 2060s.
Everything for Everyone starts out with a brief introductory chapter, laying out the basic ideas and historical timeline to help orient readers, followed by a dozen chapters, each providing a friendly and casual interview with one of a variety of participants. Among the perspectives we get to hear are mostly folks swept up in the urgent struggle for basic survival and how those experiences led them to participate in radical confrontation with the remnants of the old capitalist order. Among the characters we meet are PTSD-recovering veterans, trans midwives and sex workers, agroecologists, network coordinators, Indigenous leaders, DJs, hackers, and young people still uncertain about their emerging contributions to this promising society.
Most of them do not dedicate themselves to a single “job” but rather split their labor between the immediate needs of the community as well as developing their own potential, now tantalizingly unleashed by the radical freedom of this new society. Their recollections are peppered with themes of gender, its transformation and liberation, new options around childbirth and collective parenting, but also abuse, trauma and collectively-determined restorative justice, brutal confrontations with fascists, the atrophying state, and religious authoritarians. Dance music, augmented-reality implants, lunar and orbital habitats, algae-based AI supercomputers, and the fallout from the use of at least one nuclear weapon weave in and out of the disparate testimonials while recounting the past 20 years of collapse, struggle, and social rebirth.
The evolving importance of the utopian imagination
Revolutionaries of various traditions have often struggled to provide a clear and inspiring vision of what, ideally, we would like to see result from a global struggle to end the capitalist social and political order. The Marxist tradition, in particular, has frequently dismissed attempts at describing a revolutionary post-capitalist society.
In the mid-Nineteenth century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels differentiated their new conception of socialist theory and practice mainly through its sharp contrast with the prevailing notions of socialism at the time, one version of which they referred to as “utopian socialism.” The utopian view of socialism, unlike their own ideas of “scientific socialism” or simply “communism,” as it later came to be widely known, was described as merely wishful thinking at best and a version of snake-oil at worst.
So from very early in the revolutionary Marxist tradition of communism, we can observe a conscious hostility against the shortcomings of “utopianism” in its various iterations. One of the consequences of this early polemical distinction was that the communist movement has shied away from proposing—and frequently disparaged—elaborate visions of a desirable future society.
Communists have often declared that it should fall to those who themselves win the actual revolution to transform society, rather than armchair theoreticians speculating during the lulls in struggle, to shape the post-capitalist social and economic reality. In keeping with this declaration, revolutionary leaders and theorists have frequently dismissed creative and detailed depictions of a communist world, in the words of Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin, as attempts to imagine “…recipes for the cookshops of the future.”
But perhaps this reluctance to describe a future revolution and its resulting socialist society has, in some respects, gone a bit too far among today’s expanding ranks of radicals and abolitionists. This reluctance has left the growing number of radicals who increasingly reject capitalism without a clear political orientation about what could plausibly replace capitalism as well as a clear path that could lead there.
For that reason alone, this book is a stunningly effective antidote to the recalcitrance that revolutionaries have shown when asked to describe the future we seek to construct. Not only does the book go into juicy details, such as organizing teenage creches so young people can safely experience living away from adult supervision, or the struggles of Indigenous peoples for sovereignty over their lives and land. The details themselves and the personal narratives that contain them are impressively believable, inspiring, and, unlike some more abstract efforts at examining a post-capitalist social order, grounded in the agency of the participants and the processes that brought about this new world.
Abdelhadi and O’Brien’s imagined revolutionary timeline includes a cascading set of emergencies and real-world contingencies which hampered both the power of existing states as well as the emergence of monolithic, all-encompassing political movements, organizations and ideologies. Without relying on failing states and by simply responding to immediate human needs, common, propertyless people (not exactly the traditional working class, since for most people reliable waged labor had become widely unavailable by the 2040s), who were merely trying to feed and care for one another, came to see how all their mutual-aid efforts were very similar and congruent with one another.