[ Fascism may be resurging, but so is socialism. Yet what would a
genuine post-scarcity, egalitarian, democratic, communist society look
like? The author thinks he knows, offering tantalizing if evanescent
glimpses that tweak the imagination.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 A WORLD TO WIN: A UTOPIAN VISION OF COMMUNISM'S TECHNO-FUTURE  
[https://portside.org/2019-08-15/world-win-utopian-vision-communisms-techno-future]


 

 Sarah Jaffe 
 August 1, 2019
Bookforum
[https://www.bookforum.com/print/2602/fully-automated-luxury-communism-by-aaron-bastani-22004]


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 _ Fascism may be resurging, but so is socialism. Yet what would a
genuine post-scarcity, egalitarian, democratic, communist society look
like? The author thinks he knows, offering tantalizing if evanescent
glimpses that tweak the imagination. _ 

 afreshcoatofpainter.wordpress.com // Bookforum, 

 

Capitalism isn’t working. We know this deep in our bones even if we
live in one of the few cities where life is bustling and busy and we
can pretend that this situation can continue. Yet even in those
cities, the signs are everywhere. They are in the ubiquitous homeless
population sleeping in the door-nooks of closed stores or in tent
cities. In New York, where I live, they are in the crumbling subway
system, its stations jam-packed with frustrated commuters trying to
get to work even as the city begs to give tax breaks to Amazon for the
honor of hosting its new campus. The system is broken. Or, rather, as
Marx once noted, it is continuing its natural tendency to concentrate
wealth at the top and misery at the bottom. For the past few decades
we’ve lived under what the late cultural critic Mark Fisher called
“capitalist realism”—the feeling that it is impossible to
imagine an alternative to the current system. Yet fissures have
appeared in capitalist realism’s facade, and old ideas have begun to
creep into those cracks. Fascism is back, it’s true, but so is
socialism, in the pages of prestige magazines and even on nighttime TV
news and in contests for president or prime minister. The word, it
seems, has lost its ability to shock. And when socialism no longer
shocks, what’s next?

To Marx, socialism wasn’t the end point—he considered it a
transitional stage preceding communism. The proletariat would seize
control of the state and run it for themselves, to produce the
conditions under which communism would be possible. The state would
fade into memory and work would cease to be work. Such a system, of
course, has never been achieved. And the regimes that called
themselves “Communist” in the twentieth century put many of
today’s socialists off the idea. Not so Aaron Bastani, the cofounder
of Novara Media, a platform for left-wing articles, podcasts, and
radio and video programs, whose new book _Fully Automated Luxury
Communism_ attempts to take the word back to Marx’s post-work,
post-scarcity future.

 

Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto
[https://www.versobooks.com/books/2757-fully-automated-luxury-communism]
By Aaron Bastani
Verso Books; 288 pages
Hardcover:  $24.95 (with free Ebook); E-book:  $9.95
June 11, 2019
ISBN: 9781786632623  --  EB ISBN: 9781786632654

Verso Books
The word _communism_ returned, like so many things, as a meme. The
first time I can recall seeing the term _full communism_ in
semi-ironic form was in 2011, on a Google Doc that was being passed
around during Occupy Wall Street; it spread rapidly, additions
proliferated, and then someone deleted the whole thing. Its specter
has haunted the millennial-Left Web ever since. A quick search of
Facebook for “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” turns up a clutch
of pages, groups, and at least one self-declared “political
party,” as well as a lot more memes. Most of the pages spend little
time talking about politics, instead sharing in-jokes blending disgust
for capitalism with gestures toward the possibilities of wild futures.
My favorite is “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism,” a
page with more than 83,000 likes, but you can also find “Fully
Automated Luxury Gay Satanic Communism,” “Transhumanist Fully
Automated Luxury Space Communism,” and more. Organizer Mindy Isser
writes a newsletter called _Towards a Fully Automated Luxury
Communist Future_. The idea is tongue-in-cheek, but there is something
sincere about it too: It betrays a real desire for a different world
that feels both impossibly distant and close at hand. The memes were
the first glimpses of hope after the 2008 crash and the first sign
that a new era was coming.

It makes sense, then, that Bastani, who cut his political teeth in the
student movement and anti-austerity rebellions of the early 2010s in
the UK, would be the one to write a book attempting to put a real
politics to the “joke.” Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC),
Bastani insists, should be taken seriously. In his book, he tries to
establish a horizon beyond that of today’s democratic socialists.
Communism, he argues, is possible now in a way that it simply wasn’t
in Marx’s or even Lenin’s time; because technological change
threatens to make work obsolete, we can create a classless society and
share the fruits of the robots’ labor. We can imagine, finally, “a
society in which work is eliminated, scarcity replaced by abundance
and where labour and leisure blend into one another.” This is, for
him, an opportunity for a world where luxury isn’t hoarded by the
ultra-rich. The pleasures, he argues, are the point. “Communism is
luxurious—or it isn’t communism.”

Bastani writes earnestly and at breakneck speed. His opening treatment
of the current political moment and its various crises is quickly
dispensed with—he doesn’t think he needs to convince readers that
something is wrong with capitalism. Marx makes an appearance, followed
by John Maynard Keynes and (surprisingly) management theorist Peter
Drucker, each of whom imagined that technology could reduce human
toil. Since each of these thinkers made his case, the pace of
transformation has only accelerated. Unlike the 1990s, the peak era of
capitalist realism, the late 2010s have made it clear that things
won’t look the same tomorrow, much less five years from now. But
there remains a tension between the inevitability of change and who
benefits from that change. “The present moment,” Bastani writes,
“defined by challenges such as rising temperatures, technological
unemployment, income inequality and societal ageing—to name just a
few—poses questions which extend beyond mere technical
competence.”

Despite all the Marx, at times Bastani seems to have Keynes’s
faith—or perhaps that of Silicon Valley’s techno-utopians—in the
progress of capitalism. Much of the book is taken up with a litany of
technologies that currently exist or, he assures us, “will” soon
exist to make all of our problems of scarcity—including that pesky
climate crisis—melt into abundance. From solar panels to asteroid
mining to vat-grown meat to DNA editing, it’s a whirlwind of
possibilities that, for sure, _might _happen. But Bastani skims past
most of the potential hellscapes that also might happen as a result of
some of these technologies—like the potential for eugenics if we can
custom-select our DNA, to take just one example.

As I considered all this, I couldn’t help thinking of another
company that promised life-altering, world-changing marvels: Theranos.
It was striking to read Bastani’s ode to technological abundance
while the internet buzzed about the blood-testing tech start-up that
turned out to be, at best, wildly overpromised and at worst (founder
Elizabeth Holmes’s trial is yet to come) a criminal fraud. Holmes,
who conned some of the world’s most powerful people and not a few
supposedly skeptical reporters, is a stark reminder not to trust
capitalists bearing gifts. The promises of profit-seeking executives,
from Holmes to Elon Musk, have repeatedly been found to be greatly
exaggerated, and their advances, even when couched in the language of
altruism, are ultimately designed to line their own pockets. Might
technological development look different under communism—or even
under a social-democratic government led by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn
or Bernie Sanders? Bastani doesn’t answer—or ask—these
questions.

_Fully Automated Luxury Communism_ is at its best when it’s focused
on the horrors of the current world, a world that, he notes, “will
soon have the technology to sequence the genome of every organism on
Earth” yet “also permits thousands to drown in the Mediterranean
every year.” But these reminders, these moments where he brings a
human touch, are too rare, and without them Bastani’s book ends up
seeming a little slick, like promo videos for the tech miracles he
champions. If the struggle against capitalism is lost, there will be
real consequences—it’s not just a matter of whether we will have
robot butlers. The stakes are getting clearer (and the potential
outcomes grimmer) every year.

After fantastic visions of the techno-future, it’s surprising that
Bastani’s vision of transitional politics is, essentially,
Corbynism. When it comes time to make a political case, he seems
trapped in the problem he succinctly diagnoses at the beginning of the
book, where he notes that it is all too easy to feel like the future
is already written. In a sense, _Fully Automated Luxury
Communism_ could not be otherwise—setting big far-off goals means
accepting that one probably won’t be around to reach them. Marx
himself avoided “writing recipes for the cookshops of the future.”

I didn’t expect Bastani to provide directions from Corbynism to
communism or to draw a precise map to FALC; what I did wish for was
more acknowledgment of how fierce the struggle will have to be to get
even to Corbynism (or, here in the US, to Sanders-ism or
Ocasio-Cortez-ism). As I was writing this review, the story broke that
British soldiers were using photos of Corbyn for target practice, and
fears of a potential Corbyn government, economist Grace Blakeley told
me this winter, are estimated to be causing more capital flight than a
potential no-deal Brexit.

Nonetheless, I find Bastani’s optimism refreshing, even if I don’t
share his faith in the wisdom of Elon Musk. A communist horizon that
offers something beyond better-managed capitalism or nostalgia for the
1950s world of factory jobs, picket fences, and nuclear families seems
more necessary than ever, as it is manifestly clear that the politics
of fear have failed to rouse the masses to action. Bastani’s call,
“to create a collective politics that goes beyond scarcity, work and
the narrow forms of selfhood and identity offered by neoliberalism,”
resonates.

The first door has been broken down. Socialists are holding office and
putting forward plans that seemed impossible to imagine when that
first “full communism” meme hit my inbox. We desperately need to
dream bigger than the mild social democracy currently on offer—for
no other reason than getting just to that point the first time around
required actual revolutions. Beyond dreaming, we are going to need to
fight to make it possible.
 

_Book Author AARON BASTANI is co-founder and senior editor
at Novara Media and has a doctorate from the University of London.
His research interests include new media, social movements and
political economy. He has written for Vice, the Guardian, the London
Review of Books and the New York Times and regularly appears as a
commentator on the BBC and Sky News._
 

_[Essayist SARAH JAFFE is a reporting fellow at the Type Media
Institute and the author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in
Revolt (Bold Type Books, 2016), a review of which was posted
on Portside Culture HERE
[https://portside.org/2016-11-17/necessary-trouble-new-protest-movement-emerges].]_

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