A critique of the Fully Automated Luxury Communism argument, suggesting that it doesn't go far enough in envisioning a utopian transformation of social relations.
Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) has gained increasing traction amongst the libertarian/anarchist communist currents in recent years. Originally a slogan or meme circulating predominantly London based communists, it has since been further theorised and developed by people and groups such as the Novara host Aaron Bastani1 and the fully automated luxury communism tumblr collective.2
It draws on a notion of technological development found in Marxist writings and on the optimism of the futurist tradition, resonating with desires for a utopian vision of a post-capitalist future that avoids either the veneration of hard work and industrial discipline or the exaltation of frugal living that has been found in past social democratic and communist visions.
However, I will argue that it fails to deal with various very real limitations on automation, increased consumption and the fulfilment of desires. Furthermore, in attempting to think in a utopian manner about possible post-capitalist societies it is necessary to consider questions of changing social relations and relations between humanity and nature that the luxury communism vision avoids.
The starting point of the fully automated luxury communism argument, familiar in the Marxist tradition, is to observe the technological and knowledge innovations under late capitalism that make possible the production of ever greater quantities of goods with less and less human labour. New developments such as the use of robots in production, innovations such as 3D printing, driverless vehicles and the virtually instant transfer of information and entertainment via the internet all reduce the amount of human labour power required to produce the goods we consume. Indeed in some sectors this has already developed to the point where it may reasonably be argued that human labour could be totally unnecessary within a short space of time.
Given the reduced demand for labour, this should imply a reduction in the amount of time people spend working. However the demands of capitalism and the extraction of value means that workers globally have seen a worsening of their working conditions. The neoliberal development of the capitalist system over the last 40 years has led to the intensification of workloads, demands for ever greater ‘flexibility’ (in the form of zero hours contracts, ‘self employed’ status and unpaid overtime) and wages that have stagnated or fallen in the West following their post-war rise.
Simultaneously there has been an increase in the numbers of those unemployed or in insecure employment; demonised and stigmatised, reliant on ever eroding social welfare provisions or incarcerated as part of the rapidly expanding prison population. Thus there is a paradox in our current situation, as technologies that could lead to greater prosperity for all instead lead to greater insecurity and suffering.
Yet why must it be this way? Proponents of fully automated luxury communism argue that a communist reordering of society in which these new technologies are held in common would allow for greater consumption and a much reduced workload for everyone. Luxury goods that are currently withheld from the vast majority of people would be available to all in society. Meanwhile, greater automation and reduced working hours would allow for increased leisure time, the pursuit of individual interests and a much improved quality of life.
As Aaron Bastani describes it, ‘if we embraced work-saving technologies rather than feared them, and organized our society around their potential, it could mean being able to live a good life with a ten-hour working week... Cartier for everyone, MontBlanc for the masses and Chloe for all.’3
The Invisible Committee: ‘Gains in productivity, outsourcing, mechanization, automated and digital production have so progressed that they have almost reduced to zero the quantity of living labor necessary in the manufacture of any product.’4
Fully automated luxury communism thus rests on a highly optimistic vision of the potential of technology to meet our desires with a minimum of human labour. But is this a practical vision? One point that challenges the luxury communist notion is the way in which conceptions of goods as luxurious are often tied up with exclusivity. For example, a Cartier watch isn’t valued for its superior timekeeping abilities as compared to other watches or for its staggering beauty (they are often quite ugly) so much as that they are known for being expensive and thus owning one confers the status of being able to buy something other people cannot afford. ‘Cartier for everyone’ would thus make it meaningless as a status symbol and destroy the very reason it was viewed as a luxury in the first place.
Beyond this, the well established problems of limited natural resources and the damage done to the environment by production raises questions about the possibilities for the growth in production that luxury communism must be predicated upon. Our reliance on maintaining the earth’s environment for our very survival means that sustainability is a key concern to any future vision whilst the new technologies of late capitalism, including technologies such as the internet that rely on vast banks of mainframes consuming large quantities of electricity, have a major impact on the environment, the effects of which we are already seeing. There may well be technological developments that can attenuate or even go some way to reversing these effects, however it would be foolhardy to assume that technology will pull through and avert disaster in the end.
In addition, the limited quantities of materials available for production must inevitably act as a limitation on productive expansion. Thus environmental concerns must limit this promise of ‘luxury for all.’ Older limitations of scarcity may have been overcome, but the problem of environmental scarcity is more pressing than ever before.
Finally, by focusing on work as the production of goods, fully automated luxury communism risks overlooking other forms of labour such as those involved in social reproduction and care. Care work, such as the raising of children, looking after the sick, disabled and the elderly and the everyday tasks required for staying alive remains a large (and proportionately growing) burden of labour time, one for there seems no easy technological fix. Sure, care robots and other forms of automation have been suggested and implemented in part, but these are ill suited to accommodate the complex needs, requirement for human interaction and demands for dignity and agency which must surely be a key part of the provision of care in any future communist society.
As Sylvia Federici argues ‘while production has been restructured through a technological leap in key areas of the world economy, no technological leap has occurred in the sphere of domestic work significantly reducing the labour socially necessary for the reproduction of the workforce.’5
Here we should also take into account the gendered aspect of the conceptions of work that is being used. What is being focused on is the abolition of work in terms of privileged ‘male’ forms of industrial and ‘productive’ work, whilst the female dominated ‘private’ work of care and social reproduction which is harder to eliminate is largely overlooked insofar as it is even acknowledged as work at all. Thus in taking its technological underpinnings directly from the late capitalist present luxury communism seems in danger of also continuing its basis in gender oppression.
The film Robot and Frank portrays one possibility for the automation of care work, but can it really fulfil the complex needs, desire for human interaction and dignity that are part of care?
If production isn’t infinitely expandable and the scope for the technological replacement of labour power is limited then we will need to rethink what we mean by ‘luxury’, and indeed what we mean by ‘communism’. Here it is necessary to think more generally of a transformation of social relations and relations between humanity and nature, looking towards the creation of a ‘public affluence’ rather than the ‘private luxury’ of capitalist desires.
Luxury communism focuses on the fulfilment of privatised, materialistic desires as they exist now through technologically created plenty. This approach has the benefit of clearly resonating with popular demands without telling people what they ‘should’ want, however if this plenty is limited then we need to look more carefully at the transformation of social relations and how desires are constructed.
For example, the promise of a work free society resonates with people’s unhappiness in work; work is something we do to survive and given the choice we would prefer to not do it. However, if it isn’t possible to replace all these tasks with machines what should the alternative be? Aaron Bastani touches on this with the promise of a 10 hour week, and certainly this would be preferable to working 40+ hours. However, this would still mean 10 hours a week in the same miserable, unsatisfying labour.
One alternative is the form of organisation of production suggested by William Morris. Morris considered the history of guild production as well as the technological developments of his time in order to consider how to produce objects that are beautiful as well as useful. His 1884 essay The Factory as it Might Be envisions a society of four hour work days, but in which those short days are made as pleasurable and rewarding as possible.6 Factories are located within landscaped gardens, ornately adorned and produce no pollution. Technology is only used where it is time saving, and the time workers spend tending to machines is limited in order to ensure everyone can develop practical and craft skills to produce well made, beautiful items. Thus Morris imagines a technology, work structure and social relations not based on profit or speed of production per se but satisfaction in work and the creation of beauty.7
Morris’s vision, however, does not touch on the issues of care that we raised earlier. For an alternative vision that engages more clearly with this we can look to Marge Piercy’s novel Woman on the Edge of Time.8 The novel portrays a (possible) communistic future society in which children are raised by three parents (with responsibilities shared by others in the community) and given much greater autonomy than in current society. Indeed, they are able to leave their parents and strike out as early as age 12, this early autonomy balanced by the interdependence of all within the community. Thus childcare relations have been transformed in order to remove the reliance on a single ‘mother’ figure.
Social relations have transformed healthcare as well. For example mental healthcare is treated without stigma, with some taking time for rest and recovery before rejoining the social activities rather than being institutionalised and brutally written off as the novel painfully points out often happens in the present. Finally, there is the character of Sappho, an elder figure in the community who remains active and engaged until shortly before her death surrounded by her friends and loved ones. What is interesting here is the questions that are not asked: could her life have been sustained in some form for years, even decades longer? In the book it would seem having a good life and even a good death are more important than the numerical longevity of life.
Both Morris and Piercy look to address the issue of pollution and our relationship with nature. Both envision societies in which in which pollution is eradicated or limited and production is geared up around producing well rather than production by quantity. Here it is also useful to consider Mike Davis’s notion of ‘public affluence’, by which he means that our current ecological crises need not necessarily demand some reactionary ‘return to nature’ or austere living. Instead an ecologically sustainable life can be pleasant, even luxurious, through access to shared amenities, spaces and objects rather than the fulfilment of materialistic private desires.
As Davis puts it ‘public affluence – represented by great urban parks, free museums, libraries and infinite possibilities for human interaction – represents an alternative route to a rich standard of life based on Earth-friendly sociality.’9
I do not wish to suggest that these arguments provide a complete, unproblematic utopian vision by themselves. Morris’s vision suffers from an overly romanticised notion of craft guilds and doesn’t consider other forms of work, whilst Piercey’s emphasis on community runs the risk of ignoring the ways in which communities can also be oppressive in demanding conformity10 and Davis isn’t completely convincing in arguing that ‘public affluence’ would be sufficient to abate the looming environmental catastrophe. Nonetheless, what I want to show is that utopian thought allows for the consideration of social relations and relations between humanity and nature in a manner far wider than that attempted by fully automated luxury communism.
New York Public Library. Mike Davis: ‘Only a return to explicitly utopian thinking can clarify the minimal conditions for the preservation of human solidarity in the face of convergent planetary crises.’11
It could be argued that I am expecting too much from fully automated luxury communism, that it is a fragment, one way in which the world could be better rather than a full utopian vision in itself. Indeed, like concepts such as universal income, it could be argued that whatever truth there is to the more theoretical arguments against it the fact remains that it would be far preferable to the status quo of benefit sanctions and 40+ hour weeks for low wages.
However, I believe that it is correct to view luxury communism from a utopian perspective, not in the sense of something that is impossible but in the sense of something that attempts to open up the sense of future possibilities as opposed to a mere repetition of present conditions. Partially this is to act as a critique of the present, partially to act as a spur towards an open future. Indeed, the use of the term ‘communism’ implies a radical alternative future vision, one that is subversive of the present and, yes, even utopian.
It is here that I think that fully automated luxury communism, by putting too much faith in capitalist technology overcoming scarcity and the need for labour, fails to imagine a more general transformation of social relations. To avoid this tendency, and to encourage thinking about the overcoming of the paradoxes and miseries of capitalism, we need to seriously engage in utopian experimentation in future possibilities.
My thanks to everyone who provided help and feedback.
- 1Bastani, Aaron, ‘IMO Bastani: Luxury Communism’, Novara Media, 10/11/14,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmQ-BZ3eWxM
- 2Fully Automated Luxury Communism Tumblr, http://luxurycommunism.tumblr.com/
- 3Bastani, Aaron, ‘Britain Doesn’t Need More Austerity, it Needs Luxury Communism’, Vice, 12/6/2015, http://www.vice.com/read/luxury-communism-933
- 4Quoted by the Fully Automated Luxury Communism Tumblr, ‘Here Lies the Present Paradox’, http://luxurycommunism.tumblr.com/post/33892882494/notes-from-below-here-lies-the-present-paradox, Photo from the Fully Automated Luxury Communism
- 5Federici, Sylvia, A Feminist Critique of Marx, http://endofcapitalism.com/2013/05/29/a-feminist-critique-of-marx-by-silvia-federici/
- 6Morris, William, The Factory as it Might Be, http://infed.org/archives/e-texts/william_morris_a_factory_as_it_might_be_1884.htm
- 7Kristin Ross argues that Morris’s vision of the erasure of distinctions between art and work, as well as between work and pleasure is similar to the efforts of the communards during the brief life of the Paris commune to transform the nature of work and education. The name the communards used for this social transformation, coincidently, was communal luxury. (Ross, Kristin, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune)
- 8Piercey, Marge, Woman on the Edge of Time
- 9Davis, Mike ‘Who will Build the Ark’, New Left Review, 61 (January-February 2010), http://irows.ucr.edu/cd/courses/10/reader/New%20Left%20Review%20-%20Mike%20Davis%20%20Who%20Will%20Build%20the%20Ark.htm
- 10Ursulas LeGuin’s The Dispossessed is interesting here in depicting a communistic society in which problems of scarcity lead to the community making conformist demands of its members (LeGuin, Ursula, The Dispossessed).
- 11Davis, Mike, ‘Who Will Build the Ark’
Great blog. Thinking about
Great blog. Thinking about this, Imho FALC works as a slogan but comes unstuck as a program. As a slogan, the apparent paradox of ‘luxury communism’ is a great hook, that confounds both the stereotype of dour Stakhanovism and the implicit or explicit ‘dignified work’ politics of most of the left, and the kind of ascetic green localist visions that often come from ecological quarters. But I think your criticisms here get at some of the weaknesses of taking a slogan for a program (yeah sure, ‘partially automated public affluence and post-patriarchal kinship’ isn’t very catchy).
Take the ‘Cartiers for everyone’ thing. As a slogan, I do think this kinda works. The essence is, ‘nothing’s too good for the working class’ (Aaron Bastani - edit: quoting Big Bill Haywood), if anyone’s entitled to a thing, everyone’s entitled to a thing – omnia sunt communia. Unlike most of the left, this goes with the flow of working class desires – more stuff, less work! – rather than dismissing those desires as workshy consumerist false consciousness or whatever. But you’re right that attempting to put this slogan into practice would be self-negating.
As you say, bourgeois luxury is about positional goods, conspicuous consumption where the use-value *is* the exclusivity, which by definition, cannot be ‘for everyone’. Now, maybe a communist society would maintain an artificial scarcity of such prestige goods, but hold them in common and allocate usufruct rights by whatever mechanism (for special occasions, by lot, whatever). But I think you’re right to point to a critique of bourgeois luxury as private possession of positional goods – a critique which however refuses to label desires for luxury/affluence as illegitimate or false consciousness.
This reminds me of taking a class in marketing a long time ago. They used Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ to explain how to get people to desire commodities. The argument went, peoples’ basic physiological needs are mostly met, and 99 times out of 100 your product usually doesn’t help there, or certainly doesn't differentiate itself from the competition on its basic physical properties (calories, shelter from the elements etc). What you’re selling is sex appeal (Maslow controversially considers sex a basic physiological need like food or shelter), or a sense of belonging, or self-esteem and self-actualisation, etc. Through the wonder of associative learning, a skilful advertiser can associate these needs with whatever commodity, even bypassing conscious rejection of the product (e.g. people who don’t agree with idealised body images can still hate their bodies anyway; people more quickly associate certain attributes with brands whether they consciously endorse the brand or not, etc).
But I think the thing here, contra the usual left ‘anti-consumerist’ argument, is that these desires aren’t false – they’re true and valid desires captured by the commodity form. As the marketing class stressed, the goods don’t really have to give you what they promise e.g. self-esteem or whatever. As long as you sell units, it doesn’t matter if the promise is true or not. It’s a purely instrumental exercise in M-C-M’. It might even be better if any such effects are short-lived, to bring people back to market.1 The last thing you want is eternally satisfied customers (see also; planned obsolescence). I think this line of critique starts to point to a more ecologically sound notion of public affluence/communal luxury.
So recognising desires for sexuality (though not entitlement to others’ bodies), desires for belonging, self-esteem, respect of peers, self-actualisation etc as legitimate, it seems immediately apparent that not only are these not solely realisable as commodities, but that they’re not really that compatible with the commodity form at all. They’re mainly about communal social relations and the opportunity to develop one’s potential, i.e. precisely the things a society based on an immense accumulation of commodities necessarily undermines, at least for the majority (and possibly for the bourgeoisie too, must be lonely suspecting all those smiling people around you are only gravitating to your wealth…).
This also helps address the darker side of full automation – the poisonous extractive processes for the necessary ores and minerals (and currently, fossil fuels, though they’re more easily substituted), not to mention the toxic waste dumps for used computer hardware etc. These processes are currently often sited in Ghana, the DRC, the Andes, native American reservations etc, so there’s a certain coloniality to any notion of FALC which doesn’t address this (Nick Dyer-Witheford’s ‘Cyber-proletariat’ is quite strong on this front, at least in mapping the problem, if not on how communism would overcome it. 'Cradle-to-cradle' principles will presumably occupy communist chemists, engineers, etc).
So some notion of public affluence or communal luxury offers a way out of the negative solidarity2 of positional goods (I may not be happy, but I *worked* for this! – see that American Psycho property ad for the distilled pinnacle of anhedonic aspiration, which cascades down, each tier looking over their shoulder at the ‘underserving’ layer beneath), and the ecocidal treadmill of planned obsolescence and the ‘externalities’ inherent to commodity production. But it’s a way out that pushes forward, with our desires for luxury, in a more utopian direction, insisting these desires cannot be realised in commodity-form, nor without a revolution in our relations with nature, social relations regarding gender, care, kinship, sexuality etc.
Joseph Kay wrote: nothing’s
This actually came from Big Bill Haywood I think. It's the subtitle on the life-long wobbly blog.
I liked this article, by the way.
JK, that's interesting about Maslow's hierarchy of needs - I had no idea it is applied to marketing, having only come across it in the context of capitalist theories of human motivation.
If only I'd made/kept notes.
If only I'd made/kept notes. I was not a diligent student, to put it mildly. Ah, didn't know the source of that quote, just that Aaron used it in his FALC video.
Edit: Googling 'maslow hierarchy of needs marketing' gives lots of hits. This one appears to be illustrated with a phrenology head! http://smallbusiness.chron.com/description-marketers-can-use-maslows-hierarchy-needs-39333.html
Ursula Le Guin is mentioned,
Ursula Le Guin is mentioned, but why not Iain M. Banks? The Culture could be a more appropriate reference and inspiration .
Regarding this fictional form of "fully automated luxury communism", see for example Yannick Rumpala, "Artificial intelligences and political organization: An exploration based on the science fiction work of Iain M. Banks," Technology in Society, Volume 34, Issue 1, February 2012, http://skryba.inib.uj.edu.pl/~krakowska/CATALOGUING/GROUP2/GroupB4.pdf
Got nothing to add, just to
Got nothing to add, just to congratulate - I really like this article; some really clear, well argued points that make me want to read more.
BernardTT: I'm afraid that I
BernardTT: I'm afraid that I didn't mention Iain Banks because I'm not familiar with this novels. Will need to have a look.
Excellent article! The
The gendered notion of labour criticism perhaps misses the point, in that 'masculinised' labour is the more alienated (as it is that labour which can be most easily fetishised through exchange value)* which is also the quality which lends itself more easily to automation. By automating this (more)alienated labour we will have more time to do the rewarding labour, the more human labour, raising children and caring for each other. All of us doing this requires destroying the caste system that keeps feminine labour unvalued. We (or perhaps just I) don't really want to give this labour up to the robots!
*I fear this could be misconstrued to argue that men have a worse lot under capitalism by the marxbros. No, marxbros, no. Alienation is a technical term about whether or not we understand what we are doing with our labour. It is not a value judgement or historical perspective of suffering and injustice.
Some interesting points, but
Some interesting points, but there remains a Malthusian assumption when arguing "environmental concerns must limit this promise of ‘luxury for all'." The error made by those who suggest there are limits to growth is in not recognising the possibility of efficiency gains in production or replacement of one material resource for another. In other words, humans do not use material resources at a steady per capita rate the way that all other species do. Our per capita rate of material resource use is variable, dependent on our technological level and our political organisation (which is itself a technology of a sort). The capitalist pollyanna recognises this distinction and says: "Don't worry your pretty little heads! Technology will save us!" but she is assuming that technology will arrive in time. The Malthusian cassandra is her mirror image, saying: "The sky is falling! Technology can't save us!" but he is assuming that technology will not arrive in time.
The socialist meanwhile rejects both these positions, and recognises (or should recognise) that due to capital's need to self-valorise, there is a possibility that *current* limits (that is, extrapolation of limits given the current store of resources, current technological level and current rate of resource consumption) can be breached unintentionally in advance of technological changes. In non-marxist jargon, we could say that the demand for profit produces a 'Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes' approach (regardless of what size the economy). The problem is not size (and thus 'limits'), but the constant drive by capital to self-valorise.
Eliminate that, and all such talk of limits vanishes. In a planned economy, by definition, such unintended breaches cannot happen. ("Right, so we've got x units of raw widget material left, so we can only produce 7 widgets for now sustainably until some technological change arrives. But if/when that change arrives, we can up production again.") We are upwardly infinite. It is only under capitalism that limits have some reality. And even then, the history of humanity is a history of our leaping over the limits imposed upon us by the rest of nature.
The discussion of limits to growth and emphasis on an appropriately sized economy is a distraction from the real source of the problem (capital), and wrongly asserts that a smaller economy would be free of unintended undermining of ecological services. Small capitalist economies can still be bad (indeed, small-scale localist, organic production is much more land-intensive). And large, interplanetary-sized socialist economies can still hope for even intergalactic expansion while being ecologically rational. There are no external limits. The limit is internal.
Leigh Phillips - are you this
Leigh Phillips - are you this Leigh Phillips?
Yup yup. That's, me,
Yup yup. That's, me, Boomerang.
I didn't read it as a
I didn't read it as a Malthusian assumption, but closer to what you're saying: that technology alone can't create luxury for all, that requires "changing social relations and relations between humanity and nature". Malthus said that poverty for the masses was inescapable cos made up geometry. This piece just seems to be saying that e.g. CO2 still has a positive radiative forcing in communism; automating everything, all other things held equal, still requires poisonous mines and generates toxic waste dumps, and so on. There are possible answers to that - Aaron Bastani hypes off-world mining as overcoming finite terrestrial mineral/ore resources, and you could employ Cradle-to-Cradle style regenerative design to avoid toxic post-consumer waste. But the latter seems to be about changing relations between humanity and nature (so does the former if it replaces terrestrial extraction).
Quote: Socialism means plenty
It's a mistake to assume that
It's a mistake to assume that freeing men from industrial and/or office labor and not automating domestic and care labor is going to end up being gender oppression against women. Men and women with more time to spend with their families will have no excuse to leave all the domestic work to women, so I think an automated communism would make advances towards gender equality.
ajjohnstone: but should that
ajjohnstone: but should that be on the basis of a private fulfilment of desires or (something along the lines of) 'public affluence'? Both are alternatives to want and scarcity.
guille: that's what I was trying to say when I talk about needing to think more about a transformation of social relations. We can't simply count on technological developments and automation solving issues of care, therefore we need to think about how care is socially organised.
Edited to clear up wording.
FALC is pretty much just a
FALC is pretty much just a poor man's version of what Murray Bookchin called post-scarcity anarchism all the way back in the 1960s, but without the focus on decentralism, human-scale, ecological balance, and direct democracy.
This is par for the course with autonomist Marxists like the Novara Media crowd, they arrive at the same conclusions social anarchists arrived at decades before them, thinking their ideas and praxis are totally new and totally emergent from Marxism.
John Holloway is probably the worst offender of the bunch, blissfully unaware that he's just regurgitating the exact same stuff Gustav Landauer said a full century beforehand.
Joseph Kay wrote: There are
On this, NASA reckon there's more hydrocarbons on the surface of Titan than on all of Earth: "Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material - it's a giant factory of organic chemicals." So there's potential for off-world abundance. Problem is you can't burn those hydrocarbons terrestrially without killing off most life on Earth. And you have to get them from Titan (6-12 years round trip, pretty close in the scheme of space travel tbf). Or if you refine and burn them off-world you need abundant oxygen. I like a bit of sci fi as much as the next guy but I wouldn't pin my hopes for communist abundance on this kind of stuff, and if Planetary Resources gets this shit figured out we'll communise them too when the time comes.
taking hydrocarbens from
taking hydrocarbens from titan to use as fuel on earth would be completely impractical
helium mining is more likely earth helium is running out and helium is useful in relatively small quantities
Ah yes but under communism
Ah yes but under communism Newton's bourgeois laws of calculus no longer apply! A derivative is, after all, a limit, and limits are social! (Which is to say, point taken). That said, I understand the high atmospheric density to gravity ratio makes winged flight more viable on Titan, though also with physical problems due to the low temperature. Anyway my point is it seems highly unwise to peg hopes for communist abundance to what is currently sci fi, even if venture capitalists are already investing in some of it. Twitter's struggling to turn a profit, let alone off-world mining.
Marxist influenced versions
Marxist influenced versions of FALC go way back in history and were commonly expressed in their crudest form for instance by the early propagandists of the spgb in the UK and paraphrased in the offer of ''ruling class luxury consumption for all'' in socialism (when the average prole guessed socialism probably meant equal shares for all of very little), and in days when the global spread and intensification of value production was still in it's early stages and ecological concerns were not top of most people list. That of course has changed in Marxist influenced radical politics today (including in the spgb) and not just under the influence of Murray Bookchin's earlier work. That the influence of past and present anarchist political theorists in the predominantly Marxist based political groups is only rarely acknowledged ( though the spgb always recognised the contribution of Kropotkin) is true, but not all the influences, acknowledged or otherwise, are necessarily positive. So for instance I would suggest that Holloway, criticised by Owens above, shares some strengths but many weaknesses with anarchists including the later Bookchin. Apart from that ajj should be able to make a much better contribution to this discussion (than a 1923 quote from our comrade Sylvia) since the spgb's long standing identification with William Morris's work and more recent interest in the Zeitgeist movement, much debated in his organisation provides plenty of relevant material.
Yesterday's Novara discussed
Yesterday's Novara discussed this theme, and this article too:
I billion people in this
I billion people in this world live in slums, millions have no access to safe drinking water, adequate food .... I don't think there would be much left over for producing luxury goods as we would need to prioritise meeting people's basic needs.
Abundance theories usually assume a clean and plentiful renewable energy supply, and currently we don't have that. You can't assume that this technology would be available in time for building the communist society just because it would be really good for us if it did exist in time.
Also, in terms of what the concept of fully automated luxury communism is supposed to do for us in building the class struggle right now, I don't really get that. It bothers me actually. If I really wanted a posh watch, wouldn't my best bet right now be to become a buy-to-let landlord or sell drugs or something? Fighting for communism probably isn't the best way to achieve posh watch ownership, so is that how we should try to get people interested?
Aaron Bastani seems to
Aaron Bastani seems to understand the need to realise those first steps of communism and deliver reparations, but then jumps on very quickly to flourishing as an individual and the example of the London student who wants to work out, play rugby and have sex all day. Sounds great, and FALC seems designed to appeal to immediate desires like that. But does no one else think the first steps of communism will be a huge undertaking, spanning generations, not something we can jump over quickly? Something that appeals to our immediate desires but can only deliver them to much later generations seems flawed.
Woo very good article, I
Woo very good article, I didn't think there were a lot of details like the one you precise here
It might not be obvious from
It might not be obvious from the title but the first part of this text in particular is a useful addition to this discussion and others related to automation in modern capitalism:
WWOOWWW such a amazing post
WWOOWWW such a amazing post thanks for posting this information with us.
Very odd attitude that under
Very odd attitude that under capitalism automation is going to be used as anything but as a means by which manufacturers can reduce production costs while forcing mass unemployment.I simply do not see where any of this 'transformation of society' is going to come from unless its something that the working class fight for.
Automation in manufacturing is a massive threat to employment of working class and given that no country is currently talking about any form of universal basic income 'luxury for all' is simply not going to happen.
it sounds as if proponents of automation are thinking that employers are going to turn round and say 'ah yes only joking, what we really want is for everyone to share in our good fortune created by lower operating costs ,massivly increased profilts and zero wage bills'
The idea of the removal of the fetishisation of work is fine as long as you have something to replace it with, someone used to working 40 hours a week in some low paid job isnt going to take kindly to working 0 hours a week with no pay no matter how badly treated he is at work unless there is someone to say 'unless you fight for it there will be nothing even vaguely approching luxury for you'
the 'fetishisation of work'
the 'fetishisation of work' is more to do with the fetishisation of being able to feed the kids and pay the rent.
I think this is a pretty…
I think this is a pretty good critique of Fully Automated Luxury Communism, but it's missing something very crucial. The re-imagining of social relations described in this article falls short by making it sound like the only reason to reimagine social relations is because of environmental limits. You could easily get the impression that FALC would be a wonderful, fulfilling society, but unfortunately, environmental limits are the obstacle standing in our way. I think that's the wrong way to frame things.
Even if we were able to overcome this obstacle, FALC seems to promise a world of abundance in the form of atomized consumerist social relations very similar to those found in capitalism, just that the power to fulfil these consumer desires are maximized and distributed in an egalitarian way. But these atomized consumerist social relations, despite their ability to provide material comfort and dopamine hits, produce a rather empty, hollow form of satisfaction, and are not well suited to meeting our evolved human psychological needs – particularly those for community, competence, and purpose. In fact, atomized and consumerist social relations are so contrary to fulfilling these needs that they instead tend to produce depression and other forms of mental/emotional unwellness.
The article does discuss transforming the nature of work to something more pleasant, but doesn’t really talk about a broader, deeper societal transformation geared towards meeting psychological needs that are fundamental to human nature.
That is a really great point!
That is a really great point!
Thanks Steven! Nice to "see"…
Thanks Steven! Nice to "see" you, btw... it's been ages.
I posted this article + my…
I posted this article + my comment on facebook and got a reply saying:
Ok, maybe that wasn't the best way to word things, but I mean a society where consumerism takes an inordinately large role in how people attempt to meet their psychological needs. People feel drawn towards this largely because society is so alienated and atomized. Social relations that would enable people to experience fulfilment through community, autonomy, competency, and purpose do not exist, or at least don't exist sufficiently for the vast majority of people. In place we are offered consumerism to fill the void, and although many can't afford to pursue consumerism beyond basic necessities, the draw and allure of it remains.
To a great extent society organizes itself in order to cater to consumerism as a primary method for meeting psychological needs, so social relations are shaped by consumerism in this way.
Consumerism is just the flip side of production for production's sake, the inevitable result of it, so saying consumerist social relations is kind of another way of saying social relations based on production for profit.
Nice to see you too! What…
Nice to see you too! What would you think of uploading the scripts to your YouTube videos here? I think that would be really great, and beneficial both for posterity and for those people who prefer to read rather than watch videos (selfishly this includes me because I can read much faster than the time it takes to watch videos)
Not to detract from your…
Not to detract from your other comments, which are good, but what is "production for production's sake"? I don't think in any society things get made purely for the heck of it. And in capitalist society, things get produced only if there's a profit to be made out of it. "Production for profit" and "production for production's sake" wouldn't be the same thing. Maybe I'm being a pedant for pedantries sake though.
Not to speak for LBC, but in…
Not to speak for LBC, but in terms of my and other's use of the expression, it's mostly in reference to the treadmill-like or end-in-itself nature of capitalist production. Marx for example writes in Capital Vol. I, "The circulation of money as capital is, on the contrary, an end in itself, for the expansion of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The circulation of capital has therefore no limits." In other words, things aren't produced to satisfy people's needs, but for the end-in-itself expansion/valorization of capital. Pointless and antisocial industries, from any rational or needs-based point of view, spring up as a result of this end-in-itself objective (e.g. producing gas-guzzling cars instead of having a mass transportation system). It was also the automobile industry, particularly GM, that pioneered the strategy of style obsolescence in the 1920s with their introduction of the annual model change, which was again a means of ensuring repeated consumption (by making people desire the "latest and greatest" model) and of facilitating the end-in-itself pursuit of profit.
One can also find the expression quite a bit in Marxist-ecological critiques of capitalism, or when people want to emphasize the end-in-itself nature of capitalist production. Here's John Bellamy Foster for instance: "In the alienated, upside-down world of capital, the dominant necessity driving all others was the unquenchable desire for abstract commodity wealth, which was nothing but the limitless desire for more commodity production. This meant that the original conditions of production—land and even human beings—became mere accessories to production. Generalized commodity production disrupted all original human–natural relations, all relations of sustainability and community, in the ceaseless drive for production for production’s sake, wealth for wealth’s sake" (98).
adri wrote:things aren't…
Well yes, that doesn't seem like a disagreement.
The driving purpose is the expansion of capital, not the need (and not the act of production itself).
But saying that need is not the driving purpose doesn't mean that the products themselves do not fulfil needs. A useless thing, something that doesn't satisfy some need or another, would not be a commodity. And; "[t]he nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference". There's no moral dimension to it.
To me, "production for production's sake" just sounds like switching on the factory and making stuff just because you like to see the cogs going round and round. But this isn't what happens in capitalism - if the profit goes away the production stops. Nobody operates a factory purely for the reason of wanting to operate a factory.
I think it's sort of implied…
I think it's sort of implied that production is for profit, and "production for production's sake" is just referring to this pursuit of profit (or economic growth) as an end-in-itself. If there wasn't this accepted premise, then I'd agree that "production for production's sake" would just sound like producing stuff for the heck of it. I also don't believe anyone is disputing that commodities have a use-value or satisfy some need, otherwise capitalists wouldn't produce them (even if these needs, such as in the case of automobiles, are largely the result of manufactured dependency—or having no other alternative—and desires). In any case, Marx (or the translator) also uses the expression "production for production's sake" when characterizing or satirizing modern (in his time) bourgeois production:
"What would the Good Dr. Aikin say if he could rise from his grave and see the Manchester of today?
Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! 'Industry furnishes the material which saving accumulates.' Therefore, save, save, i.e., reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation's sake, production for production's sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth" (Sec. 3).