The Ministry for the Future

Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future was published in 2020 and is well-reviewed and has no doubt sold very well, so there is no call for a further review, which is fortunate as I do not know how to review books and so do not do so. All I can do, with absolute humility, is tell you how to read it correctly.

In his ‘Why Marx was Right’, and no doubt other places, Terry Eagleton noted that notwithstanding Marx and the declarations of revolutionaries, even within a Marxist framework the establishment of socialism or the victory of the working class is not inevitable – an asteroid may destroy all life on earth; or to allow for human agency, we may destroy ourselves in a nuclear holocaust, or we as a species may not mend our ways before climate change reaches a life extinguishing tipping point. There are probably a few dozen other caveats that could be inserted as well, but we get the drift.

In that sense, ‘The Ministry for the Future’ by Kim Stanley Robinson is a life-affirming, optimistic novel which depicts a staggered, sometimes measured, often lurching, ultimately incomplete socialist revolution. There are (from memory) no banners bearing hammers and/or sickles, no singing of The Internationale, and no communist party, yet it is all about the (socialist? communist?) revolution that is necessary to allow the required scientific intervention to take place. There may be no Party, but there are historical forces at work. There is an Invisible Hand which is however not Adam Smith’s vision of the playing out of human greed manifest as the free market, but an international agency acting both overtly and clandestinely to shape the world. There are capitalists aplenty selling the rope with which to hang all of us, seeking to deny scientific truth so as to make a profit, who also sell the rope with which just to hang them, the latest military technology which does indeed give power to the people. And there is (red) terror, not the sailors of the battleship Potemkin or a bolshevik army, but those working in the shadows to bring down the last airliners and track and assassinate their enemies.

It is not often that a novel which commences with the death of thousands of people in a horrific heatwave in India, which only a westerner can survive due to the privilege of his body size, life time diet, and general health, can be described as life-affirming and optimistic, but it is fair to say that it is not often that a novel commences with the death of thousands of people in a horrific heatwave in India. The horror is real, described in disturbing, continuing detail. It is optimistic as it takes place in a world where we have not yet reached a point where the future is impossible.

So may I suggest that you read The Ministry for the Future as an account of an ongoing, unfinished communist revolution and non-utopian transformation of the world.

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