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Everything For Everyone coverMy noncommunist friends all want to believe in communism. Capitalism certainly seems to be having a normal one. Every Sunday John Oliver swoops down on his snowy owl to deliver our weekly shipment of slow-motion catastrophes, which I watch on YouTube, clip after clip, in a sort of dissociative haze. It helps about as much as you’d guess.

Good stories about what it might look like to go beyond capitalism can be hard to find. M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s debut novel, Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072, puts forward a vision of how things might change for the better that is more believable, more human, and more heartbreaking than any other similar attempt I’ve seen. 

It’s not exactly that, having read it, I now believe revolution is more likely than apocalypse. [1] But science fiction’s job is not to say what future is most probable; it is to make imaginable what is possible, to work out the logical consequences of a given development or set of developments in a coherent, vivid way. The scholar Seo-Young Chu has suggested that science fiction might be at its core a way of representing "cognitively estranging referents"—complicated, unfamiliar things that are hard to get your head around. Often these are new; sometimes they are old but rarely named. Things like cyberspace, AI sentience—but also raw charisma or post-memory grief. Climate change. Maybe even communism. 

And revolution is surely automatically more "cognitively estranging" than apocalypse: an enormous asteroid hitting Earth could vaporize history, sociology, psychology, biology, even most chemistry in seconds, leaving only physics to wrap our brains around. But even the simplest revolution demands the painstaking picking apart and putting back together of the whole warp and weft of human civilization. It’s a lot more work, and there are a lot more ways for it to go wrong. [2]

Published by the small leftist press Common Notions, Everything for Everyone is one of a very small handful of science fiction books I’ve found in English that describes an effective revolution in detail. [3] It is a future history of our own world in the mid-twenty-first century told as a series of twelve fictional oral history interviews conducted with a variety of New Yorkers in the late 2060s and 70s. Authors Abdelhadi and O’Brien appear as characters (their much older selves), with chapters alternating between them as interviewers. This serves to make the story feel very much like an outgrowth of our own time. Together, these chapters describe a successful world communist revolution as seen from New York City—still a great metropolis, but no longer the center of the world, and radically altered by sea level rise. 

Many, but not all, of the interviewees in the book played pivotal roles in the decades of insurrections that led to the fall of capitalism. Some fought in and around NYC, but some of the interviewees were also involved in struggles in Palestine, in China, and for indigenous sovereignty and against fascism in the rural parts of what was formerly the United States. Among the twelve interviewees are (present or past) sex workers, ecologists, teenagers, schizophrenics, silent rave organizers, rocket scientists, trans women, indigenous warriors, brothers, immigrants multiple times over, Palestinian liberation fighters, debt slaves, forum administrators, minimum wage workers, corporate saboteurs, photographers, gestators (child-bearers), Buddhists, logistics coordinators, cult survivors, and kudzu sauerkraut enthusiasts.

Without reading the book, which of those descriptors do you suppose refer to the same person, and which to different people? Is the Buddhist also the sauerkraut lover? Is the sex worker also the rocket scientist? In this world, people aren’t perfectly happy or whole. But no one is "poor," no one is trapped by racism or transphobia or ableism. Everything for Everyone presents a world in which everyone can become someone else, catch their breath, and then do it again. [4]


In May of this year, soon after I got my review copy of this book, I was parked with my partner in their old sedan in the parking lot of Nour Cafe. Nour is a halal restaurant inside a Shell gas station in Revere, north of Boston. My partner had recently quit their job, which had been paying them starvation wages and forcing them to be on their feet most of the day in an illegally unheated office building. That wasn’t actually the biggest reason they’d quit. They worked at a for-profit social services provider, and their new boss had essentially forbidden them from helping the people they were, in theory, originally hired to help. We had spent the day cleaning out their old place before heading home to their friend’s futon. It was around midnight. As we sat in the car, they talked about the dread that they might never find a gig that paid enough to live on without worsening their disabilities. And even if they found such a gig, they feared, their intolerance for bullshit might make it impossible to stick with it. What were they worth if they couldn’t support themself? 

I said, "Well, one reason I think you’re worth so much is that I think you’d be a great apocalypse buddy. Or a great comrade in a revolution."

They stared at me. "I can barely climb two flights of stairs. I don’t know anything about weapons or computers. What use would I be?"

"Well," I said, "you know how to cook for a crowd. You know how to take care of children. You’re as happy talking to the guys from the trap house and the guys from the genetics lab. You can glance at someone you’ve never met and read them like a book; you know what makes people tick. You’ve spent the last six months doing the work of an experienced trauma counselor despite being paid like a receptionist. And back in the day, you did a lot of shoplifting." I paused. "Don’t you think those things are at least as useful in a revolution as knowing how to shoot?”

Core to the insurrections that Abdelhadi and O’Brien depict in their book is that "social reproduction" turns out to be a more important terrain of struggle than production itself. Social reproduction is the phrase that Marxists use to talk about all the (unpaid) things we have to do to make sure that the capitalists have workers to employ. [5] So it’s things you do every day, like sleeping, shopping, cooking, brushing your teeth, taking your meds. It’s also things you do sometimes, like getting your car fixed or going to the doctor. And it’s the long-term work of bearing and raising the next generation of workers, which, with the way our society is currently set up, is only really feasible to do within family units—ideally nuclear family units, which can be repressive to queer and trans people and which can be isolating or abusive when they are the only available refuge or source of material support. [6] Social reproduction is how we re-produce society, day-to-day and generation-to-generation. Production is what happens at the factory or the warehouse, where most of us probably imagine "worker’s struggles" to take place. You have to do social reproduction daily, weekly, monthly, etc., to survive. And most of us can’t do it without selling our labor; if you don’t work, you don’t eat. 

By the time the fighting pops off in New York City, its citizens don’t eat whether they work or not. The opening interview of the book is with Miss Kelly, a trans woman who has come up in the ball scene and at the time of the insurrection is doing sex work in the Bronx. Food has become more and more scarce throughout the 2040s, with those few left in the middle class relying on private security and the NYPD just an unusually cruel and well-armed gang. (In fact, the book at one point has members of the Latin Kings joining and becoming indispensable in the revolutionary assembly.) The turning point of the fighting comes in May of 2052, when the uprising captures the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center in the Bronx—the world’s largest such facility, at least in 2022—Ms. Kelly among them. Soon, she finds her niche, seeing what people need and making sure they get it, coordinating food and care for people all over the city. The revolutionaries establish communication with farms in the region and begin to haltingly work out arrangements to receive produce, as global shipping has collapsed. The joy of having and sharing food again does a lot to compensate for the terror and exhaustion of civil war. 

Of course, when you disregard the patently absurd idea that hungry people don’t have a right to food, and act accordingly, the cops and (if you’re persistent enough) the military come down on you hard. Motivating as the joy of getting to say "take as much food as you like" is, it’s not much of a weapon against the remarkably well-organized and sophisticated US military. With the US as the center of world power, and many allies arrayed around it with a vested interest in ensuring it does not fall, it is hard to believe that a revolution could ever start here.

But by the 2040s, multiple pandemics have ravaged the climate-scarred and economically depressed world. In an effort to jumpstart the war economy once again, the US has engaged in a disastrous and demoralizing war against Iran which has left its powers seriously depleted. And indeed the revolution does not start in the US—it starts in the Andes, and in Palestine, with one character taking part in the struggle to disband settlements once the Israeli state is no longer propped up. (Abdelhadi has long been involved in the Palestinian liberation movement.) Once the lesser powers that might have propped up the US are no longer able to send aid, the US government is forced to make a choice between where to allocate limited resources, and this means that the NYPD are outnumbered and out-planned at Hunts Point. The center of a dying empire, the US is one of the last strongholds of capital to fall, but it does.

The book doesn’t shy away from dealing with the fact that New Yorkers are unlikely to get the worst brunt of the military blowback, especially compared to the periphery of the US’s internal empire. Possibly the most difficult-to-read chapter in the book is the fragmentary, halting interview with a Northern Arapaho and Zapotec man who spent years fighting fascists in former Wyoming and Colorado for his people’s sovereignty. The book is committed to the idea that the land has to be given back, and it sees the potential for this to work along with the settler communes. But rather than a tidy solution, pain and anger at the destruction is felt more than anything else, and the reader does not get a clear, straightforward narration. That wound is far from healed. 

I won’t go through all the novel’s worldbuilding, as though that could be what makes or breaks this book as a work of art. But I think Abdelhadi and O’Brien have put together a number of ideas here that really work. The fact that a revolution, like an army, marches on its stomach; the fact that the people who matter are the ones who know how to get people talking to one another, the ones who know how to take care of people and how to cook for a crowd; the fact that the joy of figuring things out together might be partial compensation for the lack of stability—and the more sobering fact there are moments and places in world history where a revolution is possible, and ones when it is not.


Reading Everything for Everyone is a profoundly moving, maybe even worldview-changing, experience, but it is not particularly like reading a novel. Contemporary utopian and revolutionary novels share the problem that if they are too rosy in their depictions, no one will believe them; revolutionary fiction has the additional problem that it has to depict a vast historical change accomplished by millions of people using a form developed for telling the story of an individual character’s personal decision-making and growth. [7] Like much other quasi-utopian SF (The Dispossessed [1974], Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom [2003], the Terra Ignota sequence [2016-2021]), Everything for Everyone solves the first problem with aplomb. The scars of the world that has passed, and those caused by its passing, remain to be seen everywhere; the saving grace of the new society is that there is world enough and time to heal them. And by the end of the novel, there are hints of new developments, maybe even new problems, on the horizon. The book sidesteps the second problem by, quite simply, not really being a novel; the individual characters do not, in Cat Valente or David Mitchell fashion, cross paths. [8] Rather than being carried along by the familiar rhythms of the hero’s journey or narrative arc, the book functions more like a very long Borges story—a work of fictional scholarship, though one that mostly avoids academic jargon, being in the form of oral history and set decades after the end of academia as a distinct sector. [9] 

Because the book doesn’t really have an arc, the reader is drawn on more than anything by their growing curiosity about and emotional investment in—or rather, recognition of—how bad things were and how they have been fixed. This doesn’t always work perfectly. For the most part, the interviews read more or less like ordinary language from 2022, which is a reasonable choice; the rhythm of the conversations feels convincing. But, for some reason, where the authors do attempt futuristic language, they mostly do so in places that have no relation to the massive social changes that have taken place in the world of the novel. So "sure" becomes "cert," for "certainly"; "shit" becomes "fec.” For a book with the memorable line, "I have always said the most important thing about a person is what makes them come," it’s odd to avoid a common word for poop. There are a few beautiful neologisms: take the word "skincraft," the post-revolutionary form of decommodified sex work; "skinners" use a combination of therapy, fucking, and teaching to help their clients. Without the transactional component, sex work can blur the line between giving people what they need and helping them learn what they want. 

The overall unambitious use of language can be frustrating, because it undercuts the immersive feeling of having found a document from another world. Maybe, in a way, this novel wants the principles and emotions the reader takes from it to feel real, but the world to feel more like a sketch than a reality. After all, leftist utopias like The Dispossessed or even other revolution novels like Walkaway (2017) or Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (2012) may feel like real worlds, but they are also separated by an unbridgeable gap from ours—in Doctorow by technological leaps, in Robinson by technological leaps and centuries, and in Le Guin by literal alienness. Everything for Everyone is mostly separated from our world by a few totally plausible geopolitical and bio-environmental events and a couple decades. It’s good, maybe, to remind readers that it isn’t a blueprint or a set of answers, that it can only suggest better questions—a sense of how things change, not of what they must become. [10] This is good for keeping our eyes on the prize, but seasoned SF readers may miss the brain-on-fire feeling of lift-off that sometimes comes with reading science fiction.

But if the language does not glitter in the dark like c-beams off the shoulder of Orion, it certainly hits heavy and hard: I think I cried maybe five times when I read it, and my partner cried almost every chapter. The chapter about the space elevator in particular is burned into my brain. Nor were there many dry eyes at a reading we went to. It’s not so much the beauty of what could be, but how you start to think about the loss of good people, to death and destruction and grinding-down, that we are living with constantly, right now. Most of the characters in the book lived with that too. They have slain the beast, but they bear the marks of its talons.  

At about 240 pages including the in-universe introduction, Everything for Everyone is a quick read, slowed down mainly by all the weeping. It’s easy to read in chunks, too, and at moments indulgently nerdy (with solarpunk asides about AI sentience, eco-regeneration, slow travel on barges, a space elevator at Quito, and recreational psychedelics). The twelve-interview structure also means that it’s easily excerpted—you can actually read an early version of one of my favorites, the Kayla Puan interview, published here in the ill-fated commie mag Homintern before the book as a whole was even conceived. I think if you worry about any of the issues, political, economic, social, or personal, that I’ve mentioned here, you should read this book. It’s brilliantly thought-through, practical, and heartfelt. You might learn something you can someday put to use. 


[1] Climate change will create geopolitical conflicts over resources and migration that will make nuclear war hard to avoid, while within a decade or two any determined private citizen or nonstate actor will likely be able to download a pathogen from the internet, synthesize it, and unleash a devastating plague. Omar El Akkad’s American War (2017) imagines such a scenario, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" does too. [return]

[2] Mike Duncan’s “Revolutions” podcast has done a lot to convince contemporary leftists of the dangers of trying to make things pop off, as has, in a different way, Robert Evans’s podcast “It Could Happen Here,” which imagines scenarios for a second American Civil War. [return]

[3] I mean rather than as a fait accompli or a brief fragment of time, as in The Dispossessed or many lesser utopias, or as a coopted failure or chaotic mess, as in Mockingjay or Robert Evans’s recent After the Revolution (2022). Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway (2017) is another example that springs to mind. [return]

[4] I love this essay on the “roles” we play socially by Wallace Shawn—yes, the one who played Grand Nagus Zek, and Vizzini from The Princess Bride (1987). [return]

[5] The knowingly quixotic demand that this free labor be fairly compensated was the focal point of the famous Marxist Feminist "Wages for Housework" campaign of the seventies. An alumna of this movement, Silvia Federici, has become widely read recently for her work on social reproduction theory, the Marxist concept of “primitive accumulation,” and the history of colonization and witchcraft. [return]

[6] This has helped make the (very old) idea of “family abolition” a hot topic in contemporary social reproduction theory. Two almost identically titled books on the topic are either just out or out next year: Abolish the Family (2022) by Philadelphia writer Sophie Lewis, who received some national notoriety for her book Full Surrogacy Now (2019) on “gestational labor,” and the other a first nonfiction book by M. E. O’Brien, Family Abolition (2023). [return]

[7] I might say that apocalypse can be written in the elegiac or the ecstatic mode, but revolution, if it is not fundamentally messianic, must be written in the didactic and the erotic. I think apocalypse’s tendency towards elegy and ecstasy is part of why “climate fiction” has sometimes been grouped apart from “science fiction,” though Parable of the Sower (1993) arguably bucks this trend. [return]

[8] Catherynne M. Valente, In the Night Garden (2006), and David Mitchell, Ghostwritten (1999) or The Bone Clocks (2014). All of which, incidentally, are books much more concerned with the idea of storytelling than this one is, even though it foregrounds the fact that the stories are mediated through the context of an oral history interview. [return]

[9] For other examples of the genre I mean, think Borges’s “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” (1939) or arguably “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1961); Ted Chiang’s “Liking What You See: A Documentary” (2002); or Ursula Le Guin’s “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” (1974). [return]

[10] It would be an interesting exercise to categorize novels not by their genre but by their “theory of change,” a term popular among contemporary socialists to refer to how someone thinks power operates and change can be accomplished. In such an imaginary essay, Parable of the Sower, which serves as a lynchpin between “climate fiction” and “science fiction,” might also serve as a watershed or index to this multiplicity of theories, since in some sense it is a book about having and committing to a theory of change at all. [return]

Editors: Reviews Department

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Kit Eginton is an essayist, poet, and sometimes a translator. Her family is from Iowa; she was born in ‘94 at St. Vincent‘s in New York, lives in Holyoke, MA, and spent 2019 to late 2020 in St. Petersburg, Russia. She helps run Hypocrite Reader, a leftist magazine of useful, unexpected writing. Talk to her on Twitter @kitschified, Mastodon
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