One of the most important things to a writer of fantasy is to know how to make a magical, impossible world seem real to the reader. This is one of the skills we share with capitalist politicians. There is a conversation many of us have heard over and over, which, distilled to its essence, goes something like this:
“There is actually no way forward for the oppressed unless the working people unite and challenge the two parties of big business.”
“Agreed. But in practice, that’s never going to happen, or at least not for a long, long time. So, in the meantime, wouldn’t you rather vote for someone who is at least going to support <insert favorite liberal hobby-horse>? That’s something that affects real people, you know, and until this magic day (in which I don’t truly believe), we should do the best we can.” This is often found in neat, succinct form in such phrases as, “Who is your viable alternative?”
This is, by the way, closely related to the “lesser evil” theory. One difference between the usual fantasy setting and the Land Of Practical Politics is that, in the latter, the protagonist is recognized as evil, which is something I find potentially interesting in fiction, but rather frightening in reality.
In constructing a fantasy world, one of the key elements is misdirection–“Hey, reader, look over here, at the wonderful meal, or the explosive magic, or the sword fight, or the witty dialogue–nothing to see over there.” Or, “Hey, reader, look over here at the dangers of terrorism, or how jobs are going overseas, or how despicable our enemies are, or our inane dialogue–nothing to see over there.”
At this point, I must tip my hat to Bernie “As Trustworthy as Syriza” Sanders, who has mastered what is, for fantasy novelists, a key technique: injecting just enough reality to be convincing. If I have roses in my novel, and I can manage to describe the sight, smell, and texture well enough that the reader fully identifies this with his or her own experience, the reader will then be that much more likely to believe my wizardry and sorcery and witchcraft. In Sanders’ case, he talks about actual problems that no other bourgeois politician is addressing, which makes the reader think that he’s going to do something about them. Then, when he bows out of the race and throws his support to Hilary Clinton, you won’t notice him smiling and muttering, “gotcha” under his breath. (Of course, if he were somehow elected, it wouldn’t be any different–he remains a capitalist politician).
Point being, for a fantasist, there are things one doesn’t want the reader to think about: Magic isn’t real; in many cases, the economy simply doesn’t make sense; sometimes, for the story to work, the author must introduce basic errors in biology or geology or even metallurgy. If the author is doing things right, the reader will never notice. For a capitalist politician, the big thing the reader’s attention must be directed away from, at all costs, is history, but pretty much every other realm of social science can also break the “willing suspension of disbelief” that leads to electoral victories.
History teaches us that, when reform is possible, it is accomplished not by “kinder, gentler” politicians, but by the ruling class’s fear of the movement of the masses. Just in this country we saw the women’s suffrage movement emerge from the Civil War, and become a powerhouse with the 1909 New York garment workers strike; the mass movements of the ’30s in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution that led to the rise of the CIO and produced the New Deal; the mass movements and riots of the 60s that resulted in Medicaire and Medicaid; and the mass movement against racial inequality that led to the end of Jim Crow segregation. Can someone show me a serious step forward in equality that was not accomplished by mass action on such a scale that the ruling class felt threatened? They don’t give away their power because they want to have less–they give away some of their power when they fear they have no other choice except to lose it all–again, assuming there remains the possibility of reform.
Short version: when reform is possible, it is only the threat of revolution that produces it. When reform is impossible–in my opinion, that is the case today–a reformist party will inevitably betray those who trust it into the hands of the most reactionary, right-wing elements. We saw that in Hungary in 1921, in Italy in 1922, in Germany in 1933, in Spain in 1936, and on and on–until the latest example, Syrzia (not even really a reform party, they just like to sound like one) that has opened the door of Greece to the Golden Dawn.
Of course, the question “is reform possible” never comes up, because in the Land of Practical Politics, reform is always possible–the fascist dictatorships that arose were simply errors made by bad people, having nothing to do with intolerable social crisis.
And in the Land of Practical Politics, capitalism is permanent; it is the economic system that is the final culmination of human wisdom. The fact that no other economic system has been permanent in history, and that it has inevitably required revolution to replace it, is simply not the case in this fantasy world.
In the Land of Practical Politics there is no history–the past is gone.
In the Land of Practical Politics people have opposing viewpoints just because.
In the Land of Practical Politics there is no possibility of understanding economics–things cost what they cost, and we can never understand why.
In the Land of Practical Politics there are no social classes–political parties just represent folks who kind of think alike.
In the Land of Practical Politics racism and sexism are sins in the hearts of individuals, not products of definite economic and social relations.
In the Land of Practical Politics the masses can do nothing for themselves, and it is up to the Enlightened Middle Class to ease their sufferering a bit when their attention can be spared from improving the condition of the Enlightened Middle Class.
In the Land of Practical Politics nothing ever changes in a fundamental way, because things have always been the way they are.
In the Land of Practical Politics we are helpless.
In our world, revolution happens when intolerable conditions produced by an economic system meet the end of that system’s flexibility. Sometimes the revolution is successful, sometimes it is not. One of the factors that determines its success–the key factor–is how ready the revolutionary class is to take and hold power. In modern society, preparing the revolutionary class is the task of the vanguard party. Preventing the revolutionary class from being prepared is the task of the authors and distributors of stories set in the fantasy world called Practical Politics.