The internet revolution

Submitted by Matthew on 27 June, 2013 - 11:39

Cyberpunk as a genre is usually pretty pessimistic about the possibilities of overthrowing the rule of capital. Grim apocalyptic scenarios abound of rampant capitalism, weak states, and power struggles between groups of reactionary organised criminals — huge corporations and gangsters. Heroic individuals fight for something they believe in and meet varying degrees of local success.

Daniel Suarez had produced something different. His states are still weak, and privatising everything, including “national security”. Sound familiar? However, large masses of people are set into motion against the power of the corporations and states. The significant individual actors are both heroes and anti-heroes on both sides of the struggle.

Suarez blends a gamer’s view of strategy with an intense hostility to the power of the world’s huge corporations, and an up-to-date appreciation of technological developments utilising the internet, such as Google glasses, financial data aggregation, automated remote-controlled vehicles and mini-helicopters, and sophisticated distributed attacks on corporate and government data bases and systems, which utilise automated hacking programs — bots and daemons.

A “daemon” is an IT technical term for a “computer program that runs as a background process, rather than being under the direct control of an interactive user”, but it has connotations of a demonic entity that changes the world despite the best efforts of humans to stop it.

Suarez’s daemon is an independent program created by a dying gaming genius billionaire. It interacts with the world through monitoring news and internet reports, having remote controlled cars and other devices, and recruiting people to its cause.

In Daemon, this program emerges as a brutal, terroristic force, killing many police and civilian bystanders. The police and the state seem to be the good guys. However, as the story develops in Freedom, the daemon becomes an agent that allows farmers and other to self-organise communities against the control of agribusiness and other corporations — especially a thinly disguised Monsanto. It also organises to electronically and physically attack the finances and personnel of large corporations and organised crime.
But the vision of revolution in Freedom is one that has little prominence for the working class as workers. It makes me think of 21st century, internet-savvy versions of the narodniks (19th century peasant-socialist bomb-throwing Russian revolutionaries), under the benign guidance of the internet ghost of a dead capitalist. There is no attempt to replace capitalism just to cut off its head by destroying the largest corporations.
There is a vision of almost independent, small scale, cooperative high tech rural communities, growing food from heirloom seeds, relying on renewable energy, etc.

There is a lot to like in these books, especially if speculative fiction is one of your preferred genres. Suarez knows capital and he knows the internet — he works as a “software consultant to Fortune 500 companies”. The technologies involved are not science fiction; they all exist, but have not been brought together in such an overarching system.

Despite the resort to a benign dead capitalist as the inspiration, it is refreshing to read fiction that is optimistic about possibilities for social change involving broad masses of workers and farmers in the 21st century, rather than full of gloomy apocalyptic futures.

If you are talking or working with gamers, these books would be a good place to start a discussion about socialism and revolution.

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