Revolution in Our Lifetime A Review of “Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune 2052-2072” [Spectre Journal]
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.
From this common set of adaptations and responses to famine and overlapping crises emerged the ideologies that guided and animated the participants. This process, described in the introduction as ‘communization’ and detailed in the personal interviews that comprise the main text of the book, connects the individual’s stories to the social dynamics they participate in, in a historically plausible manner. In fact, the book’s detailed depiction of social revolution against collapse and the commune which sustains revolutionary gains is, in some ways, both the “corrective” provided by a distinctively Twenty-First century communism, as well as what may prove the most controversial feature of the narrative, at least for many leftists today.
Centering the commune and social reproduction
In Everything for Everyone, the central revolutionary achievement that most prominently captures the attention of the author-interviewers as well as the participants they question is not any sort of communist party, revolutionary trade union, people’s army, or coterie of exalted central leadership. It’s not even a global, class-conscious workers’ movement (although workers’ struggles and international connections are discussed and certainly active in the forging of the new world). Instead, the central institution of the new social reality is the commune: a group of people, usually numbering more than a hundred while less than a thousand, who live, work, eat, care, teach, play, and live together in an urban neighborhood or other small-scale community.
These numerous communes, spread all across New York City and beyond (including rural farms, isolated islands, even up in orbit) seem to have their size determined mainly by the question of participatory democracy: how large can a single decision-making polity be in practice so that every member has a real voice in all its collective decisions? This practical concern led neighbors, communities and local subcultures to be woven together in ways to best serve the necessary division-of-labor so that all basic daily social reproduction could be collectively coordinated and smoothly provided to all, by all.
The “commune” as a revolutionary institution is itself another main character in the narrative, providing late-Twenty-First-century humans with tangible focus for their lives. The commune serves as a final conclusion for struggle, an identity, a home, a family (of a radically new sort), and a life-purpose.
Each commune feeds and houses all its members, offers medical and psychological care, and educates, nurtures, entertains, supports and develops all its members. Each person is expected to provide voluntary labor for their “three hour” which is the closest post-capitalist analogue to a job or career, often occurring elsewhere in the city, while the various tasks of local social reproduction are accomplished by each member also performing the labor of their “two hour.” Every person’s three-hour and two-hour is generally expected three or four times a week, resulting in a work week of approximately fifteen to twenty hours of labor. Many commune residents choose to provide further labor, since it is not alienated, degrading, or particularly onerous. In fact, most of the human labor performed by commune members appears to be enormously gratifying, creative, and fulfilling to both its participants as well as its recipients.
Although the numerous iterations of the commune together comprise the central achievement of this new society, other important institutions also receive extensive discussion. Workers’ councils, usually called production councils, handle large-scale economic, industrial, extractive, distributional, and consumption questions, while the elaborate tasks of complex regional coordination of all economic matters are handled by A.I.-assisted “hubs” for the democratic discussions that are simply too large and geographically far-flung to be handled by local assemblies.
These assemblies are almost as important as the communes, and function as a kind of steering wheel so the residents can collectively direct and manage all the workings of their local commune. As the term implies, these are simply meetings—in person or online—that feature discussions for the purpose of collectively deciding how to proceed in any and all social activities that impact others. It’s these assemblies that are prominent, not the hubs or production councils, as the main decision-making bodies serving the social coordination needs of the communes and the larger society that they support.
The question of collapse and social agency
The broad narrative in this book will challenge prevailing Marxist conceptions of how a global social revolution might be won. The authors accomplish this, surprisingly convincingly, by situating genuine struggles not within national crises, which have traditionally provided the political setting for revolutionary challenges to capitalist rule, but within a context of widespread international economic and ecological collapse.
In the approximately twenty to twenty-five revolutionary upheavals throughout recent centuries, when workers’ movements really threatened to overthrow the rule of capitalism, the overall pattern that Marxists have pointed out repeats itself, with idiosyncratic variations, again and again: A great national crisis, whether economic or war-related or some mixture of both, triggers a massive, months-long wave of struggle that culminates in gigantic mass strikes, street insurrections and the rising power of the organized and politicized working class and its many allies throughout society. Thanks to the confluence of material scarcity, foreign imperial intervention, isolation, and insufficient political organization, these working-class led revolutionary efforts have, so far, nearly always ended in some sort of partial or total defeat, and the future communist society—free of class distinctions, money, and state coercion—has, for those reasons, nowhere yet been successfully initiated.
While these revolutions of the recent past sought to resolve primarily national contradictions and immediate crises, the upheaval’s setting in Everything for Everyone is explicitly global and pointedly characterized by all-encompassing capitalist economic collapse, ecological devastation, material scarcity, industrial abandonment, fragmented and ineffective states the world over, and diminishing spoils with which the ruling classes can bribe guard labor and other armed protectors of property and class power.
This means that foreign capitalist states can no longer intervene to prop up more fragile client states. Imperialist powers have their hands full trying to maintain the means of private accumulation within their own borders. Police become pimps and dealers to survive as resources and arms are directed elsewhere. Street gangs and criminalized people find their activities transformed as market imperatives retreat from daily life and eventually there’s no longer any functioning market, black or otherwise. Ultimately, all attention is reduced to the dire question of food and the looming threat of mass starvation.
Famine, deadly pandemics, fascist enclaves, refugee crises, and collapsing imperial wars replete with rebellious soldiers and veterans, all create cascading failures of the old social order and fuel initial local efforts toward communization, which start as nothing more than the efforts toward securing food for all and the fair distribution of the means of survival. These embryonic communes of the 2040s can be viewed as a typical and oft-repeated response to disasters, along the lines described by Rebecca Solnit in her popular book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster (Penguin 2010). These early adaptations took on numerous creative forms, but often ended abruptly under the boot heel of state repression. A collectivized city hospital, for example, treating hundreds of city residents for free, is suddenly reduced to ash and rubble by the US military for the crime of inspiring free, voluntary care.
A turning point comes in the early 2050s when the fraying US military can no longer maintain its occupation of New York and the various movements unite to form a coordinated resistance to the remnants of the NYPD and (except for a reactionary cult on Staten Island) its dwindling fascist sympathizers. After a citywide victory, the people’s efforts to provide straightforward collective food, housing and care blossom into a profoundly satisfying new social paradigm based on the communes and run by the assemblies.
Without much in the way of organized production or exploited wage labor, workers don’t have any significant arena in which to play a prominent role in seizing and collectivizing workplaces or the economy. These forms of struggle get mentioned, but take place elsewhere, off-screen, so to speak. The struggles at the point of consumption, not production, takes center stage, and armed resistance comes in a close second.
The adherents of a classical Marxist approach might understandably balk not just at the extended exercise in imagination, but at this minimizing of industrial action, of struggles between employees and their bosses, and the limited mentions of organizations, leaders and class consciousness as traditionally understood. Yet this common flowchart of social revolution was modeled after the great 20th century upheavals, most centrally Russia in 1917, but also events in Spain in 1936, Hungary 1956, Chile and Portugal in the early 1970s. These working-class revolutions did not succeed in the formation of a socialist—let alone communist—society, all having fallen victim to the consequences of international market pressures and global imperialist interventions in one form or another.
And here we reveal the particular distinction of Everything for Everyone: The traditional socialist/communist model of revolution no longer appears to apply in a context characterized by catastrophic global ecological and social collapse, pervasive energy scarcity, the disappearance of wage-paying jobs, the irrelevance of currency and the international cascading dissolution of all pillars of capitalist rule, wealth, and social control.
This is why the old “class-conscious proletariat organized as the new state power” model doesn’t really fit the circumstances of total collapse that characterize the mid-21st century, at least as depicted by Abdelhadi and O’Brien. The working class can’t fight for control of workplaces that barely exist, can’t redirect the uses of industry when industry is no longer a reliable means of private surplus accumulation or even of producing goods and services, and can’t seize the means of production when bourgeois investment, needed supply chains and market outlets have shriveled away.
In the book’s introduction, the authors mention this discrepancy and assure readers that workers’ agency has not been overlooked, even if it’s been demoted to one of many realms of intertwined struggles instead of the central conflict. The authors face classical Marxists directly and address this glaring distinction in how they model social revolution:
As the insurrections continued, they merged with mass workplace occupations and the formation of what came to be known as the production councils. A key turning point was first recognized in Lima in 2043, as workers occupying a pharmaceutical plant chose to restart production. They sought to directly supply medicines to the urban occupations. Soon occupiers at hundreds of farms and factories across the Andes began production to feed, clothe, and equip the protest movements. The phrase communization was used to understand this mode of struggle. The leap to communist relations was a direct insurrectionary act; it occurred without a mediating “transition period” (p. 13).
Instead of centering the active takeover of workplaces by workers employed in jobs, the working class is here presented as crucial, but just one of many necessary agents of social transformation and resistance to the flailing, dying tentacles of capitalist rule. Guerrilla warfare plays as much or an even bigger role, yet, and here there is the greatest risk of potential disagreement. Revolution is most often presented at the point of consumption: the revolutionary provision of food, water, housing, medical care, education, and sociality without money, property, markets or state mediation.
It’s not necessarily bad if more conventional models of “workers taking over” are dethroned in favor of the recent social movements’ emphasis on mutual aid, abolition, gender, social reproduction and retaking and collectivizing urban public space. It’s well known that science fiction set in the future is, in fact, dealing with ideas relevant to the time of writing, not the time of the book’s setting, and we see that here. Activists responding at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic spawned a particular interest in organizing mutual aid, and the politics of this emerging movement fertilized and conditioned participants’ ideas during the intense street confrontations during the summer of 2020 when millions rose up specifically against the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and for Black lives more broadly. So right before our eyes we’ve recently witnessed the potential of mutual aid organizing, as well as the struggle to control the streets—these are known to the movements and are somewhat familiar dynamics.
But what is not as familiar in recent years are real world examples of workers intervening directly in the global dance of production and distribution. The classical Marxist conception of revolution doesn’t rely so much on shootouts with the cops, military or fascists precisely because it’s the power of workers at the point of production that can truly deny the reactionaries their bullets, vehicles, electronics, and the other industrial necessities of military control over urban spaces. In Everything for Everyone, the capitalists and their agents can’t keep up the physical repression needed to wage counterrevolution because of ecological and economic collapse, not because the working class has actively and materially interfered with its provision.
The reigning ideas of the 2020 social upheaval can be seen flowering into a whole new society in Everything for Everyone, such that the book could be viewed as articulating the global and permanent realization of the best of the political impulses of that summer upheaval.
Since the next few decades will undoubtedly threaten the usual workings of global capitalism with escalating ecological, climate and biodiversity crises never previously imaginable, the premise of struggle as presented in the book feels at least as plausible as the models from which it implicitly departs. It’s a tremendous virtue of the authors’ utopian imagination that the progression of events remains connected to tendencies we have glimpsed in the present. For that reason the varying personal narratives appear realistic and enthralling.
Open-minded politics, open future possibilities
Our old models have helped us understand, analyze, orient ourselves, even predict some of the ways capitalism has evolved. But the old ways of looking at politics have not yet led to socialism or to a communist society, despite so many heroic struggles.
Beyond the historical and contemporary difficulties revolutionaries have faced, this book invites its readers to behold tantalizing possibilities, thereby invigorating creative revolutionary impulses. Even, or perhaps, precisely because its narratives depart from some more standard accounts of revolution, those on the left should read this book so as to encourage the writing of others like it.
In its politics as well as its form as jointly produced and inherently interpersonal, it demands being read, discussed, and critiqued together. We can ask our questions and raise our issues while we still revel in this intense and absolutely lovely presentation of humanity’s future on our planet and beyond. Another world is indeed possible. This short book (239 very fast-turning pages) vividly and believably shows us what it is we can win.
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