Iain Banks’ The Culture: Automation and Digital Networks under Communism

consider phlebas

I first came across Iain Banks’ The Culture series while reading Nick Dyer-Witheford’s superb albeit uneven Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex last December.

The series was mentioned by Dyer-Witheford as a work of fiction that best demonstrates how accelerated technological advancements, artificial intelligence, and wired networks can function in a communist setting.

The series practically anticipates the use of “automation to create free time for individual and social development, and the use of digital networks for sophisticated and democratic planning, especially to address major crises such as chaotic climate change.”

Being a science fiction fan myself, I immediately set off to read the first book in the series, Consider Phlebas, when I luckily found a copy in a used book shop just this January.

Describing the book briefly, Consider Phlebas follows a shape-shifting mercenary named Horza who is hired by the theocratic Idiran society in a galactic war against the Culture. It’s from this guy, an avowed opponent of the Culture, that we get beautiful description of a future technologically sophisticated communistic society.IMG_1591




All in all, I like the way the book speculates on what possible social contradictions might exist in a futuristic society that has transcended the limits of class and class exploitation might look like.

The graphic imagining of a social formation that makes social relations a matter of offering what one is capable and getting what one needs with the free intellectual and social development of the human individual and society as the end in itself is just fascinating.



  1. Whilst this is way off-topic, it’s a compliment …

    The very simple method that you’ve used here for integrating the use of an actual book with the way internet-based reasoning works is fantastic, and a model I will be following. Despite the simplicity (and obviousness, to anyone who’s worked on a building site since the phone camera became commonplace) of the idea, I’ve never seen anyone else simply use a pencil, book and a camera to make their points.

    It’s quicker, clearer and prettier than links, and it doesn’t divert attention by forcing someone onto another page. Even better, by very clearly focussing on only the sections relevant to the point being made, it is clearly educational only, and cannot therefore risk breaching copyright laws in most places.

    As I said, I’ll be adopting this idea myself if and when I’m blogging with reference to works on paper.

    Nice one!

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