by Carlus Hudson
"On closer examination, much of what Bastani discusses and proposes reflects what the Labour Party is already saying."
"This liquid will give the sea a flavour of the kind of lemonade known as aigresel: vote Labour"
- Charles Fourier (probably)
Fully Automated Luxury Communism: a Manifesto is two books. The first of these is a history of the present, an introduction to the third of three Disruptions. The second book elaborates Fully Automated Luxury Communism in terms of concrete and immediate political steps to be taken by an elected Labour government and argued for by a Labour-affiliated social movement. Its author, Aaron Bastani, is a co-founder of alternative media platform Novara Media. He is a PhD graduate from University of London and a supporter of the Labour Party as led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Bastani's historical framework is built around three Disruptions: technological shifts that totally redefined what it meant to be human and to live in human societies. The First Disruption, the Neolithic Revolution, marked the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. The Second Disruption, the Industrial Revolution, saw the widespread mechanisation of production and rise of capitalism as a global and hegemonic system. Many historians and anthropologists would take issue with the uniformity of these changes but few would disagree with their importance. Bastani uses the first two Disruptions to emphasise the scale and pace of changes in human existence that he predicts for the Third Disruption.
At faster-than-light speed and with a precision to match, Bastani characterises the Third Disruption using many clear examples: asteroid mining, automation of labour, artificial intelligence, vertical farming, synthetic meat, renewable energy, genetic engineering and 3-D printing. Reviews by Colin Wilson for rs21, Oli Mould for Open Democracy and Bill Jefferies for Marx & Philosophy Review of Books share the key criticism that Fully Automated Luxury Communism showcases the technology and its plausible near-future developments. They argue that Bastani places too much emphasis on the emancipatory potential of the technology of the Third Disruption, at the expense of the political agency of those living through this period. However, this does not take away the value of Fully Automated Luxury Communism as a history of the present. It is an early attempt to explain the Third Disruption in a way that was done with the benefit of a century's hindsight for the Second - most notably by historians Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and a very holy frat boy who lives in the real world.
Compared to the case made for the Third Disruption, the political steps Bastani advocates in the closing chapters are underwhelming. At best, the politics of Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) are populist, internationalist, electoral and municipalist.
On closer examination, much of what Bastani discusses and proposes reflects what the Labour Party is already saying: an expansion of the welfare state but labelled here as Universal Basic Services, transitioning to renewable sources of energy as rapidly as possible and revamping the provision of services by local authorities along the lines of the Preston Model, and revamping the financial sector in a way not that dissimilar to what Labour are already proposing.
Bastani points out that these are merely first steps towards FALC. But with the exception of what he advocates for renewable energy, the connection between these steps and the imagined future of FALC is far from clear.
Carlus Hudson is a PhD candidate of History at the University of Portsmouth.