Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Politics in The Pioneer

A crewman says:

"'Any ship is a natural communist state.'" (Cold Victory, p. 53)

I would say that a large interstellar spaceship with a population of seven thousand is a natural communist society. Here, "communism" means common ownership and control, not a bureaucratic dictatorship falsely claiming to administer common ownership and control. A "communist society" is one that is not, or not yet, divided into economic classes - the earliest such classes being slave-owners and slaves. Thus, hunting and gathering societies are primitive communisms.

A "state" is a body of armed men that becomes necessary to maintain social order when society has divided into classes - the earliest such state being soldiers guarding granaries controlled by priests. It follows that "a communist state" is a contradiction in terms. But the man who uses this phrase means by it what I mean by "a communist society."

Evan Friday considers three ways of organizing the ship:

(i) "...a politicking communism..." (p. 54);
(ii) "...a realm of little, short-sighted tradesmen..." (pp. 54-55);
(iii) "...the rule of the best, the aristos..." (p. 55).

(i) The communist movement within the ship is led by Wilson. Friday thinks that Wilson is a demagogue who would not let workers have much say if he got what he wanted. This is "politicking communism," clearly different from communism as discussed in the opening paragraphs of this post.

(ii) is clear enough.

(iii) "...rule..." implies government through a state apparatus. Thus, rule is unnecessary if there is no need for a state. Leadership by the best, i.e., by those who are best able to lead, is necessary in any society.

Friday elaborates his idea of aristos:

"...a hierarchy restrained by law and tradition and open on a competitive basis to anyone with ability." (p. 55)

A hierarchy competitively open to those with ability ceases to be hereditary whereas I think that a hereditary hierarchy is our idea of an aristocracy? But, in any case, the meaning of "aristos" can evolve. However, if, as is possible, the entire population of the ship were to be involved in discussion and decision-making through meetings and communications systems, then the "most able" would be able to lead that democratic process without needing to be organized into a separate hierarchy.

Friday concludes:

" had to be an unquestioned rule, or you got the sort of anarchy which had prevailed aboard the Pioneer." (p. 55)

"Anarchy" means "no rulers" whereas Friday instead means conflict and chaos. Democratic discussion and decision-making do not automatically generate blackjacks, knuckledusters, private armies or riots. But any attempt to impose unquestioned, thus undemocratic, rule would provoke physical resistance.

This is my condensed response to an extremely condensed and substantial passage in Poul Anderson's "The Troublemakers."

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