I received this book as a gift from my friend Heather Kelley for my birthday, but I just got around to reading it. Her note on the gift said, For my own birthday this year, I am giving friends copies of this book which I loved, and I hope it inspires you. I sent her a Facebook message when I had started: I am on page 8 of Everything for Everyone and I already it.
The book’s subtitle is An Oral History of the New York Commune 2052-2072. It’s science fiction, but in an incredible package: a series of interviews of participants in a future international anarcho-communist revolution. The introduction is perfect; it outlines the project and introduces the two interviewers, and apologises for its own academic tone, which belies their age and academic background. Apparently, no one writes books this way in the future.
The stories are ones of societal collapse. In a pattern repeated across places and times — from China to the Bronx to Palestine — the existing nation-states come under attack from fascist militias and strongmen. While these forces battle each other to a standstill, the refugees, workers and other civilians organise themselves out of necessity and provide food, comfort, defense and shelter for each other through mutual aid. Eventually, the armed wings of these communes join forces to defeat the remaining government and militia groups.
It’s not always smooth or simple; there are a lot of rough edges left, which gives some verisimilitude to the story. But the characters are lovely, like the family of trans sex workers who take over a food distribution centre in Hunters Point and become the logistics hub for all of New York. Or the dance party organisers who connect gangs and communes across the city to form a free council of liberated organisations.
There are a lot of warm themes among the stories: therapy and counseling; chosen and blood family; travel; ecological restoration; shared dreams of space and computing. The characters are sweet, and there is a lot of empathy in the way the fictional interviewers (eponymous stand-ins for the book’s real authors) comfort the speakers and give them a chance to choose their own path.
There were parts I found difficult to read and digest and didn’t agree or sympathize with. The chapter on Palestine is surprising; Israel like all other nation-states is dissolved and most Israelis flee, mostly voluntarily, to Europe and the Americas. It’s not clear if any Israelis are left in the region at the end of the chapter. It was hard to compare to the way settlers in other parts of the world, like North America, are treated in the authors’ imaginations — negotiating sovereignty and shared responsibility with Native Americans. Why was that option afforded to Americans and not Israelis? It’s not clear, and might just be another example of the imperfect world of the book.
In general, Everything for Everyone made me want to work on the communitarian, shared aspects of my own life. Our project at CoSocial to create a social media coop in Canada feels like a good step in the right direction, but I wonder if other platform coops can also be of help. (Coops are explicitly deprecated in the book since they still rely on exchange of money for goods and services, but I think they’re an OK place for me to put my time.)
I’d recommend this book as a potential hopeful story for anyone thinking about how this century could possibly turn out. Even if the communist-anarchist vision doesn’t resonate with you, an idea of a world where people choose how to live and work and build feels like a useful framework for comparison against any other ideas you come up with.
UPDATE: I realise the irony of getting upset about a fictional account of the dissolution of Israel when the new Netanyahu government is planning to annex the West Bank. It still feels like an important thing to have a story for.