Monday, January 28, 2008

Heinlen's Wet Dream, Your Worst Nightmare.

This will be the first of a series of posts (i.e. meandering ramblings) on Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I loved the book, thought it was faaaaaar better than anything in the Time Machine. However, I have got some issues with this libertarian paradise. No I’m not a big government type; in fact, I have a fraternal feeling towards all those who virulently detest government. But I’ve got some problems when that liberty coalesces into anarcho capitalism, and that’s basically what Heinlein wants. He makes it sound like his anarchic world is all hunky dory, but what Heinlein, as all anarcho capitalists, fail to realize is that power does not only come bureaucrats and soldiers but from accumulations of capital.

The society that Heinlein produces on the moon is essentially that of the yeoman farmer in colonial America. Through familial cooperation, good manners and a fighting spirit Luna operates all well and good. But Heinlein never takes into account the danger of large corporations. The bank of Hong Kong is perfectly fine under Authority supervision. It can’t tinker with the economy because such would invite h-bombs. But without government authority to regulate Hong Kong bank you have essentially given over the economy to one banking guild. The real danger here is that you get a new state based upon material accumulation, a sort of corporate feudalism, that we see the inklings of today. And it shouldn’t surprise us; the agrarian paradise envisioned by Jefferson was snuffed out in a generation by the corporate mercantilism of Alexander Hamilton. Eventually the railroads owned more farms than the bloody farmers.

The obvious answer is that these corporations need regulation, and thus you need a government. I hate obvious answers so let’s go with something else. Why not construct a truly libertarian society, one in which the individual is not ruled by political coercion or by threat of starvation. A self managed society based on the principles of a free Luna, just augmented a bit more towards solidarity and cooperation and away from summary elimination and the all too dangerous “not with my money” libertarianism. There’s nothing worse than that, because the people giving the lecture about responsibility are always privileged dips anyway. Why not a Luna of freely federated farms, workers cooperatives, and collectives? Why must we ossify human society under Lockean natural law? Luna need not become a backwater of increasingly complex customs. Luna could be some much more than what comes “naturally.”

That’s where I think Heinlein goes most wrong. He views revolution in an improper lens. He sees it as seizing a moment in history with enough force to carry the day. That’s not a revolution, that’s a palace coup with a protest banner. Real revolutions involve a sort of displacement of how you view the world and how you act within that world. But this one doesn’t seek that. Real revolutions are things that fundamentally change the way we act and behave. For example, after Lenin came to power in Russia what happened? Well Lenin became a new czar, and after a little complaining and gulags for the complainers, all was well, for the czars. You see, the people of Russia had not built up for the revolution. They had lived their lives and then suddenly overthrew a government. But they were not prepared for a new government, for a new way of doing things. They were inculcated from birth to be good little followers, and sooner or later that training kicked in, but under a red flag. Genuine revolutions requires decades of organizing and has to permeate every nock and cranny of the underclass. People have to begin to take their destiny into their own hands in little steps and then great bounds. They do this by organizing in their community, and in their workplace. Only through popular democratically organized struggle do people begin to see things differently. They “carry a new world in their hearts” and start thinking of new ways to go about living. Only then do you have a revolution, otherwise its just so much silliness.

For another, example I turn to Barcelona 1936, where the workers of Cataluña responded to the Falangist uprising with readiness, accuracy and ferocity. They seized factories and reorganized an advanced industrial region into an anarcho syndicalist society. Women and men fought together in worker’s militias, farms were collectivized and factories run by the workers who worked them. Schools became places of cooperation and respect, rather than sites for state propaganda. The revolution succeeded because the people of Spain had been striking, organizing, fighting, and educating themselves for 70 years. They had become the society they wished to see. Sadly, they made the error of trusting the communists and were soon betrayed, fighting a two front war between the fascists and the Stalinists. Though their example still remains an inspiring example, and from now on I’ll make sure to that no one ever trusts the Stalinists.

Now when applied to Heinlein’s wet dream we see a problem, namely that his revolution is a cabal affair. It is a top down conspiracy organized to solely bring about lunar independence. They may create an “educational program” to help the Loonies catch up, but it’s all moot. Throughout the novel Prof talks about manipulating masses like any Machiavellian figure would. This is a major problem. You can’t have a revolution to free humanity if the revolution is run by a secretive guerilla army. That doesn’t change how people interact and how people work together. It only reinforces the behavior to follow and obey. Plus it is a clear violation of Prof’s views, that all individuals are sovereign. His desire for no government is clearly at odds with his creation of a de facto oligarchy. You only have to look at the Ad Hoc congress to see my point. Manuel explains the Ad Hoc Congress was nothing but a bunch of yammering fools trying to ban this or that. Only after the election has been fixed with the party clandestinely in control can they properly wrangle the society to their needs. Nothing has changed. The new boss is same as the old boss, but by 2076 Pete Townsend’s dead so you can’t sing a song about it. So Surprise! Your liberators are now your vote riggers. Come to the next "Sons of Liberty" Meeting. Free Luna and have a nice day!

This concludes part one. Stayed tuned for more word vomit!

3 comments:

Lindsay said...

I have to agree with one of the points made in this blog about the fact that, while Heinlein thinks he is writing about a revolution, he really is not. I agree with the sentiment that a revolution is not simply a protest to overthrow a government, I like the analogy of the palace coup, but that it takes planning, dedication, and organization that would take years, not days as in this book. This was one of the issues I had while reading Moon is a Harsh Mistress, for all its fervor about revolution and overthrowing the government and other anarchist tendencies, it fell a little flat in the end.

Juggle Monkey said...

From your post, you give the impression that timing is irrelevant to revolutions. While I agree that it is not the only ingredient for a revolution, seizing the right can make or break the movement.

With your Russia example, would you say that it wasn't a revolution because it didn't fundamentally change the way they behaved? That they were always trained to act under an authoritarian leader? I must disagree with your claim that the Russian people were not building up for a revolution. The revolutionary movement began in the 1890s well before Lenin assumed power. The 1905 Revolution is enough proof that the people wanted a revolution.

A revolution is a process and I agree that it fundamentally changes how people act and behave. But I feel like Heinlein didn't show us the whole process to see how Luna might have changed.

Andrew D said...

Yes and no. Some of the Russians were quite revolutionary. Anarchists took over most of Ukraine before the Communists betrayed them and attacked them during a typhoid epidemic. However many of the revolutionary groups in Russia were top down organizations. Whatever opening occurred they quickly wiped out with amazing efficiency. Read the pamphlet "The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control" You can find it online at a number of sites. The author documents how the Leninists obliterated worker self management in a matter of months after taking power.