This review originally appeared in the Stansbury Review. The article has been reposted here with consent of the author.
Sunrise after a storm can be breathtakingly beautiful. When looking from the sky to the ground, however, the damage left in the storm’s wake becomes visible – damage that needs to be repaired, rebuilt, reimagined, if something of that beauty above can be brought down to earth. Connecting what is to what could be forms the framework of what the socialist movement is or should be about. Within the nexus between the two the nine short stories comprising Storms of the Revolution are set, providing readers an imagined glimpse of what might be to help light the path that lies ahead.
The timing of this anthology fits the moment as our present is filled with confusion, desperation and fear mixed with hope embodied by action for a renewal of justice. Precarity in working life alongside awareness of the environment’s fragility frame the injustices, the inequalities, that uphold the dominance of capital in today’s world. The dissatisfaction present wherever we look finds expression in these stories through the diverse ways of picturing the future in our individual lives, in our friendships and intimacies, and in the compelling need to overturn existing relationships of power.
All this is reminiscent of the late 19th century when massive industrialization and concentrated wealth dispossessed millions, making a mockery of democratic rights. Those conditions influenced Edward Bellamy who in 1888 wrote Looking Backward picturing a future socialist utopia; the book had enormous influence throughout the United States and beyond, providing a picture of a society of cooperation distinct from dog-eat-dog capitalism in which every step of economic growth was accompanied by brutal exploitation.
Not all socialists, however, felt drawn to Bellamy’s vision of the future, finding it bloodless with the creativity of labor and the autonomy of individuals not sufficiently present. To remedy that gap, the British writer, artist, socialist William Morris wrote News from Nowhere in 1891, giving a dynamic picture of what the future might be. In a less optimistic frame of mind, Jack London wrote the Iron Heel in 1908, placing a socialist commonwealth far into the distant future, imagining for the near future a hellish society, conjuring a vision of a not-yet-born fascism. What lies ahead can take on many guises, just as do our dreams.
Dreaming ahead reflects the conviction that the world is indeed changeable. And changeability is the one constant running throughout Storms of the Revolution giving us stories of moments of decisions and transition. All quite different from one another – a strength of the volume – they speak to the varied experiences and choices each author has made. Yet certain themes do recur.
We get something of the alienation amidst the closing off life’s possibilities in Sudip Bhattacharya, Can’t Let it Fester, a recognizable portrait of Bengalis in New Jersey, living a life of isolation and near desperation in a not-distant future visible on the horizon. It is a world in which those who look different are cramped by being unwanted, isolated by the ever-present threat of violence, lost when becoming what they are not in order to “fit in” amongst those who don’t want them.
And always the question: can a choice to resist be made when too many others are retreating? Isolation is seen on the other side of the class divide in David P. Rogers’ Sparrow. In a system where every relationship is transactional, those at the top may become invisible to people around them, a mirror of their fundamental irrelevance. So too, how someone “looks” tells us how they will be treated – and being treated differently, living differently, can lead to a new way to see the world. All this, in the story, is a byproduct of actions taken by those seeking to change the system, to stop the harm done by a system that never “sees” the human beings impacted by decisions made in the interests of profits.
That is explicit in Aaron Fernando’s The Visible Hand, where those engaged in rebuilding a society that has collapsed face the question: recreate using the industrial methods of the past or re-imagine a more holistic relationship between people and nature. Flowing from that, a further question is posed: remain passive and allow decisions to be made for you and the world you live in, or act on what you observe and come to know? Unstated but implied is that a visible hand acts as part of a wider community standing in contrast to the market’s “invisible hand,” which condemns people to their fate.
Capital’s destructive impact on all living beings has grown alongside the uselessness of “captains of finance” to the world of work which they, in theory, oversee. Bill Mosley’s Old Boys Club provides a perfect picture of that uselessness by depicting a group of former corporate executives, sitting at a bar, bemoaning their fate under the changes in economic policy made since President AOC took office. They complain about the new world of employee ownership, universal basic income, free health care. The now sidelined bosses question why would anyone work if not compelled by necessity, failing to understand that in a just society, work need not be drudgery.
But, of course, not all those who were once on top of the world, would accept being dethroned, some, rather than turn to drink, might resort to violence. Les P. in Remember the Revolution envisions the process transformation might take when forced to confront physical repression. A democratic socialist president is overthrown by force and that force is countered by collective action organized by unions and community groups. Even in struggle, the way resistance and revolution are organized into participatory mass meetings prefigure the society to be. The story is told by a participant in the popular assemblies that now govern society looking back on the revolution that took place.
Nate McIntyre in Democracy 3.0 delves further into how new forms of popular power could develop in a society that still hasn’t overcome social and ecological collapse. Rotating government, a close connection between work and social participation, the realities of difference not bred of antagonism, are all present in the story, reflecting the challenge of addressing social need when resources are limited.
Reframing democracy so it ceases to be an abstraction divorced from the actualities of everyday life, reframing socialism so we come to understand it in our relationships with each other as well as a structural change in property ownership means recognizing that interpersonal trust flowing outward is essential to the mutual trust needed to build society anew. That recognition is at the heart of Gustavo Bondi’s Inherit the Sea. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, defined by loss of pre-existing technology, defined by water scarcity, the question the protagonists face is whether to stay closed or be open, whether to trust in a few or in society as a whole. Set in the future though it may be, this story encapsulates the choice people, communities, movements, have always had to make.
Looked at from a different angle, Shauna Gordon-Mckeon’s Sunlight examines how resistance to the new is present not because of opposition to a cooperative society, but rather stems from prior harsh experience. It is a touching story that breaks down in human terms the difficulty – and possibility – of creating our world anew through relationships that widen circles. The same can be said for Denise S. Robbins’ Regeneration, a truly lovely tale told through the “eyes” of bacterium. Organisms that lie in the soil can either wither and die or renew, give in or act to change. Actions that find bonds of cooperation and, indeed, hope, that would otherwise be invisible. Making this possible is what seems to be social changes in the unseen world of humans and machines above.
In Regeneration, as in many of the stories in this collection, lack of certainty is never sufficient reason for not acting to try and make of our world a better place for all. These writings reflect an understanding of nuance, a recognition of the roadblocks and disappointments attendant upon social change, of the complexity of human relationships and the fragility of nature that earlier utopian writing wasn’t fully able to grasp. Instead, the influence of Ursula Le Guin, who experienced the complexities of earlier graspings for liberation and anticipated some that had not yet been revealed, is palpable and acknowledged.
Le Guin’s 1974 novel, Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia paved the way for envisioning how alternative societies could liberate human possibility while acknowledging the real contradictions that such a journey would have to address beyond what Bellamy or Morris could conceive (though Morris truly tried). Similarly, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, written in 1993, in its description of the emergence of a collective consciousness rooted in difference and an intimate relationship with nature, alongside awareness of the ecological disasters lying in wait if we fail to act, provides a way to understand our times that transcends what London was able to achieve in his era.
Yet to note influences like these and other writers of recent vintage should not be meant to undercut the originality of the stories in this anthology nor the rootedness of these writers in our time of Trump, war, racism, climate disaster and stirring resistance. And that background comes through in one quality all the stories have. In a foreword, Alex Mell-Taylor, one of the volume’s editors, explains that the “goal of this project is to meaningfully shift the conversation in the public square, to scrutinize what should be expected of a just society, what should not be tolerated within one, and to embolden community-building so we can transform those expectations into material reality for everyone.”
Giving content to that sentiment, these stories were not written or initially published in a vacuum. All them first appeared in the online journal, After the Storm, a publication that connects critical writing, especially fiction, to radical politics linking awareness of oppressions of the present to the possibilities of what could be. The initiative is supported by Metro DC DSA, another link on the chain integrating radical political engagement with critical cultural presentations. The relationship between the two comes through in Amanda Liaw, another of Storms of the Revolution’s editors, afterword:
“These words do not depict static worlds meant for static pages. That is not possible when worlds have already ended many a time. We are not here to memorialize or to predict but to begin and keep beginning. So pause, but don’t wait …”
You can order a copy of Storms of the Revolution at the publication’s website: afterthestormmagazine.com
Socialists in the DC area can also purchase a copy at Bol Coop, a worker-owned bookstore operating out of Creative Grounds Coffee shop in DC.