Fully automated luxury communism (FALC) aims to embrace automation to its fullest extent. “There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labor, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media. “In recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.”
This is an opportunity to realise a post-work society, where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people. “The demand would be a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and so on,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media “There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal.” Bastani explains “Take Uber. Huge company. Its idea is that by 2030 it will have this huge global network of driverless cars. That doesn’t need to be performed by a private company. Why would you have that? In London, we have Boris bikes. Why couldn’t we have something like Uber with driverless cars provided at a municipal level without a profit motive?” Bastani says his conception of FALC is based on a modern reading of Marx’s Capital and Grundrisse.
Recent research indicates that 35% of jobs in the UK are “at risk” of being automated. The automatons of this new age offer a number of advantages beyond automation that promise to make drudgery redundant, including 3D-printing and algorithms smart enough almost to pass for human. An age of machine-abetted plenty appears to loom around the corner. “I’m not saying we’re there yet, though in certain areas we clearly are,” Bastani says. “Take video and audio content – we’ve reached post-scarcity with that. A Spotify or an iTunes or a Wikipedia-style model doesn’t feed people, obviously. But the claim could be that this is the leading edge of a set of trends for software, but also, soon, for hardware. Because that’s attendant with the rise of solid freeform fabrication, 3D-printing, synthetic biology.”
The left-wing group Plan C deploy the slogan “Luxury for all” in their agitations. “It seemed to us that this demand neatly summed up the aims of a modern communist movement,” say Plan C members. They believe its tenets were initially inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy, wherein a socialist utopia is established on the Red Planet. A Pattern Language, a 1970s utopian tract written by three architects, was also an inspiration.
MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson doesn’t find the idea of machine-generated populist luxury outlandish. On the contrary. “A world of increasing abundance, even luxury, is not only possible, but likely,” he says. “Many of things we consider necessities today – phone service, automobiles, Saturdays off – were luxuries in the past…. doesn’t find the idea of machine-generated populist luxury outlandish. On the contrary. “A world of increasing abundance, even luxury, is not only possible, but likely,” he says. “Many of things we consider necessities today – phone service, automobiles, Saturdays off – were luxuries in the past.”
Luxury communism finds a current cultural analogue in sci-fi visions such as Star Trek, with its replicators and egalitarian politics, or the late Iain Banks’ high-tech post-scarcity Culture universe. Eventually, Bastani sees FALC achieving something closer to that — a society with collective control over its own high-tech, work-reducing gadgets. He believes what little work will be necessary in the future, such as optimising 3D-printers and agricultural robots, will be organised much the way editors currently manage Wikipedia — in a decentralised, non-hierarchical fashion. But before then, and in order to get there, he hopes to use the luxury communist label to win converts to the cause. Ultimately, this is about politics. Consider the Atlanta rapper Migos’ hit song, Versace, he says. “You get these music videos the kids love, where it’s completely outlandish, luxury everywhere. The story of capitalism is that if you work hard and play by the rules you can get this, which is obviously bullshit.
“But if you say, well look, if you want this, what you need to do is seize the means of production. We need to get automation and make it subordinate to human needs, not the profit motive. It’s about seizing the bakery rather than stealing the bread.” With robots presumably kneading the dough.