Book Review: Fully Automated Luxury Communism

By Aaron Bastani

Published by Verso, 2019

The truth is I had been waiting for this book for a long time, as an avid viewer of Novara media this made me, not only intrigued but also sceptical about this book. As anyone that follows Novara media may well know, the pundits are a bit of a mixed bag on political analysis which is a good thing. However, I have often wondered if they ‘toe and agreed line’ when it comes to having an opinion on bigger Labour issues. 

Many on the left were shocked how the Novara crew came out in force, along with Owen Jones, to condemn Chris Williamson over anti-semitism so quickly. The one commentator who is very vocal, but was quiet at this time, is the author of this book Aaron Bastani- also known by many right-wing media pundits as ‘Corbyn’s attack dog’- which I think is a cool title. He later came out with an opinion on Williamson that one would imagine from a left-wing media group, defending his right to a fair hearing. However, that’s what I like about Novara media: they are not afraid to give different opinions.

Aaron Bastani Credit: Verso Books

Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC), published by Verso, is a rather grand achievement and the author’s confidence, as you can see on many BBC and Sky News interviews, is harnessed in this book without him coming across as an intellectual know-at-all. Paul Mason is quoted on the back of this book; he says in that 100 years’ time this book will be mainstream thought and that “kindergarten students will laugh our economic textbooks”. As with many futuristic economic books that are popular now, Bastani’s book has parallels similar to Mason’s Post-Capitalism and also Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. However, the one thing that is different from many other futuristic economic books is the sense of optimism which is also grounded in reality, with clear evidence and explanation to make you believe in what he is talking about. It’s clear that his ideas would need to be implemented in a specific way and people could easily choose a different path. This is one point I like about this book is that he doesn’t shy away from this fact.

Bastani is unapologetically a Marxist in his thought and he applies it in this book. This text appears to be influenced by the unpublished works of Marx, which wasn’t translated until 1972 into English, Grundrisse. Here Marx talks about automation and the history of technology. FALC does this in a time when it is more relevant than ever. The book is built up in such a way that you can follow Bastani’s take on the history, this is based on of the modes of production from a technological perspective. The three disruptions split history into three parts using a dialectical approach: the first disruption is the establishment of agriculture, the second is the steam engine and the third is the emergence of today’s technological revolution of big data, occupational automation and the bit that Bastani has built in well- climate change. 

Using the three disruptions as a base, and explaining what Bastani calls the five crises. He builds an argument for a future economic system based on the basic communist principle of the redistribution of wealth, and the abundance that we have accumulated from today’s capitalist society. 

The Crises of the Future, Today

The five crises are explained in the second part of the book, each having a chapter dedicated to it. The five crises include labour automation, aging populations and climate change. Bastani points out flaws in basic assumptions people have, such as even if we were to switch to renewable energy the resources needed, such as lithium to line the batteries, is also finite which is another of the crises. This is where the most optimistic part of the book comes: space travel and asteroid mining. I won’t say any more as it will ruin the pleasure of reading these chapters. They make for an interesting argument, even though, some may say that Bastani is overly optimistic about technology. Think the world pre-Star Trek.

One thing that I do feel was a little light was the chapter on the health crisis. Whilst Bastani says this is one of our major crises, and the closest, he seems to throw technological advances at this with little discussion about the short term. He is talking about how technology has come along in medicine, however later in the book there is no clear answer to this problem where there are for others. Robots wiping asses in nursing homes is a long way off and whilst this remains a need, and a growing one, then there will always be a work force needed. However, technology is not the answer to everything in this book.

It is still about the Economy, Stupid

In Bastani’s book he makes clear arguments for how technology and the wise management of resources can answer many of the worlds arising problems. He does this whilst also discussing the re-distribution of wealth, lowering carbon emissions, discussing meat without animals and changing the economic model so that it benefits not only more people, but also the planet.

Talking of solutions, the third part of the book is filled with a more polemic argument for change and how to manage the future crises. One section that was interesting and I would like to seen more of is the use of populism for achiving political goals and how communication can be used for this. Later in this section, Bastani has an argument for Universal Basic Services (UBS), the idea that housing, health, education and amenities are free for all. This is instead of Universal Basic Income (UBI), a monthly income for all from the government. Whilst I agree that UBS needs to be implemented, I could not see a coherent counterargument for not implementing UBI. I am very sceptical about how UBI will work. Bastani states that there is not enough evidence to support UBS, but many other books such as Utopia for Realists gives proves that there has been large projects, such as the one in Alaska. These projectst have proven a form of UBI can help people. 

I am more inclined to agree with how the Conservatives have managed the lower tax bracket, by increasing it from 7,000 to 12,000 pounds. So, if you earn less than 12,000 you pay no tax, this is reverse UBI. However, it does not benefit those that do not work, also the removal of benefits and the decimation of the country’s infrastructure and welfare state counteract any good that this policy may have done. Tax cuts can be socialist as long as they’re done for the right reasons. These are the discussions this book can encourage, even if the author isn’t always right on, he’s taking us in the right direction.

A Long Time Coming…

Bastani set out the idea for this book around five years ago when he first released a video explaining what FALC was. Since then the book has been plugged all over the place, and every opportunity has been taken to give substance for things in the book. With his historical theory backing up his opinions, and with Bastani’s observations on the abundance that we have in this world today, this book points out that we can live in luxury if we wanted to: if the people with the power wanted us to. 

The author recently said on a BBC interview that the left have the vision and the ideas that the right is failing to come up with. The ideas on how to address today’s broken society, zombie economy and advancing world. This book is a must for anyone who wants to see what that vision is and how it could be applied in the future. 

Buy it the book here

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