No Minister

Fully Automated Luxury Communism

This is a phrase apparently invented by a British Communist named Ash Sarkar and it has proved so popular that one of her comrades has written a book that uses it as the title.

The comrade is a guy named Aaron Barstani.

Bastani paints a picture of artificial intelligence and automation liberating us all from work. Commodities, he predicts, will become so cheap as to be practically free; renewable energy will render fossil fuels redundant and solve the climate crisis; and genetic editing and synthetic biology will eliminate disease and the need for farmed meat, while also extending quality and length of life.

So far, so utopian. But Bastani does try to put some meat on these Star Trekian bones by going a little Alvin Toffler, talking about a “Third Disruption” based on IT – the first being agriculture and the second being industrialisation – and what this will mean for communism:

“I think communism in the 20th century was impossible. And it’s impossible today, but it’s something we’ll be able to think of if the technologies we’re now seeing emerge are as disruptive as the industrial revolution in the late 18th century.”

Also quoted is another one of this crowd, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (“the Left’s favourite sex symbol” – 🤮), who says similar things about 3-D printing your own BMW, but pushes a little way into the social and political sphere where the Revolution is not storming the Winter Palace or the Bastille:

At that point you’re going to have a situation where the current social arrangements we have that generate all kinds of power structures and so on will simply become obsolete. And then you’re going to have a revolution and I don’t mean people holding flags and going out.”

Has he met Counselor Troi? (@ 2m14s)


“It unites humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible when they realize they’re not alone in the universe. Poverty, disease, war. They’ll all be gone within the next fifty years.”

For all the gloss of 21st century “cool” they apply, this all sounds no different to Marx’s original vision, with informisation substituting for mechanisation, right down to some vague concept about how all the bad stuff – private property, competition, conflict and corporations – will just… wither away? Well maybe, but in the world of IT we seem to be off to no better a start than all those Industrial Revolution workers looking up at the Dark, Satanic Mills, as The Pandemic Road to Serfdom pointed out:

… as the promise of becoming business owners and homeowners has faded—particularly for the young—many increasingly fall into the insecure “precariat” of gig and part-time workers. These modern-day serfs are suffering the most from the pandemic. Millions of low-wage workers in hospitality, retail, and restaurants have lost their jobs and possess only meager prospects of getting them back in the near- or even medium-term future.

But as jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record.

And voila…

In the face of this, the best these modern communists can do is blather about the rise of a populist movement (“Greetings President Trump”) while others talk of a UBI (Universal Basic Income). In the latter there is backing from none other than the High Tech world, but the “Serfdom” article points out what may really be driving that:

Ultimately such disorder threatens the power of both the oligarchs and the clerisy. Their likely response may be embracing what I call “oligarchal socialism,” where the very notion of work disappears in favor of a regime of cash allotments. This notion of providing what Marx called “proletarian alms,” widely supported in Silicon Valley, could prove a lasting legacy of the pandemic. 

This is how Rome, as slaves replaced the middle orders, kept its citizenry in line, and how the Medieval order in times of economic stress relied on the charitable efforts of the Church.

That seems a more likely future than the ones described by Ms Sarka and friends.

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Written by Tom Hunter

June 24, 2020 at 6:00 pm

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