Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, Srnicek & Williams (Verso 2015). Review by Steve Dobbs. Reproduced from Issue 2 of the journal (available to buy here)

Introduction

Srnicek and Williams continue in a similar vein as Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, which I’ve previously reviewed (Marxist World. 2015). In many ways Inventing the Future can be seen as its complimentary counterpart.

Also described as ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’ by the Internet Left (Guardian 2015), the postcapitalism tendency within current socialist thought emphasises the need to embrace new technologies and automation in order to create a “world without work”. Rather than seeing the encroachment of automation purely in terms of creating unemployment, postcapitalism emphasises the positive aspects of what it could mean for workers under a left-wing government, such as a shorter working week and a universal basic income. The main premise of the book is that the Left has failed to articulate such a postcapitalist vision of the future, or indeed any vision of socialism that isn’t some throwback to 1960’s Keynesianism, and so has been unable to win the working class and wider society over to its project. Srnicek and Williams seek to identify where the Left is going wrong and what they need to do to realise postcapitalism.

Folk Politics

The book starts off with an extremely relevant critique of the approach of the modern Left, something which the authors call folk politics:

Folk politics names a constellation of ideas and intuitions within the contemporary left that informs the common-sense ways of organising, acting and thinking politics. It is a set of strategic assumptions that threatens to debilitate the left, rendering it unable to scale up, create lasing change or expand beyond particular interests. Leftist movements under the sway of folk politics are not only unlikely to be successful – they are in fact incapable of transforming capitalism. (Srnicek and Williams 2015, 9-10)

The authors argue that the Left’s common-sense derives from historically constructed conceptions of the world and the implicit assumption that what worked in the past will continue to remain relevant. ‘Petitions, occupations, strikes, vanguard parties, affinity groups, trade unions: all arose out of particular historical conditions.’ (10)

There is much truth in this, and of course serious Marxists recognise that the world is always changing and so our choices of methods and tactics are flexible and have to reflect this. Unfortunately, Srnicek and Williams appear to throw out the baby with the bathwater on this point. Has capitalism and the capitalist state changed so much that we must abandon the conquest of state power? The authors seem to think so: ‘The classic Leninist strategy of building dual power with a revolutionary party and overthrowing the state is obsolete’ (131). In defence of this statement they cite ‘the recent history of revolutions’, including the Arab Spring, which ‘has simply led to some combination of theocratic authoritarianism, military dictatorship and civil war’ (131). Yet many of the Marxist Left would argue it was precisely due to the absence of a revolutionary party, one which could lead the masses to consolidate power into their own hands and smash the repressive appendages of the capitalist state before reaction could set in, that led to the failure of the spontaneous uprisings across the Middle East.

Another important aspect to the definition of folk politics is the preference for the small scale, for emphasising direct action and voluntarism, and building temporary defensive campaigns that imply a ‘return to good Keynesian capitalism’ (11). Folk politics lacks long-term strategy, and so often consists of reactive campaigns that are based on emotional appeal rather than intelligently thought through positions. Folk Politics is the desire to do something, right now, because something has to be done, now!

In a famous example, 1985’s Live Aid raised huge amounts of money for famine relief through a combination of heartstring-tugging imagery and emotionally manipulative celebrity-led events. The sense of emergency demanded urgent action, at the expense of thought. Yet the money raised actually extended the civil war causing the famine, by allowing rebel militias to use the food aid to support themselves. While viewers at home felt comforted they were doing something rather than nothing, a dispassionate analysis revealed that they had in fact contributed to the problem (8).

Unfortunately, many of the organisations on the Left act with such folk-political tendencies. In order to be seen to be doing something (and sell papers, gain new recruits and raise finances in the process – very important if the unaccountable full time apparatus is to be maintained), members are expected to run street stalls and campaign on local issues and elections that the leadership deem important at the time. Of course, no one discounts the need to engage in local campaigns and elections. Rather it is this constant pressure to engage in “activism” that is completely unhealthy and leaves members little time for serious reflection on what they are actually doing and trying to achieve. Some members face ‘activist burn-out’ when they realise that their valiant personal efforts to save the local library have failed to materialise a socialist revolution. It is the failure to materially and conceptually prepare the wider membership in genuine debate over tactics, strategy and socialist vision that has led the leadership of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, for example, to railroad through the act of standing candidates (under the banner of Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, or TUSC) against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the recent May 2016 elections.  This is despite the change in the situation in the Labour Party and the fact that two of the component organisations involved in TUSC, the RMT union and Independent Socialist Network, have either left or are debating whether to continue supporting it! Whilst many of the TUSC candidates are no doubt good class fighters, what they fail to realise is the wider damage their good intentions are causing. Marxist World called for an unconditional vote for Labour in England and Wales, whilst remaining highly critical and having no illusions in Labour’s parliamentary reformism (Marxist World 2016). We critically analyse the electoral ‘success’ of TUSC elsewhere in this journal.

A more recent example of semi-mainstream folk politics is the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. Occupy started as a spontaneous ‘radical’ movement opposed to the obscene inequality in the USA and the perception that Wall Street was responsible for the economic crisis. Many on the Left trumpeted it as an example of ‘people power’, but in reality it failed to achieve anything. As the authors point out, there was no serious strategy to build the movement beyond those who were present during the occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York. It was not possible to scale up the movement to a wider level of society; it remained a ‘localised response to the crisis’ (38).

However, a more in-depth analysis of the Occupy movement reveals what a shower of shit it really was. In his review of Occupy: Scenes From Occupied America, Patrick Hayes highlights actual quotes from those present to demonstrate how the movement was premised on petit-bourgeois individualism and identity politics, devoid of any class conscious politics whatsoever:

The greatest discomfort the Occupy protesters suffered in their middle-class shanty towns was not lecherous drummers, however. It was the fact that they were forced to encounter other, less pleasant members of the 99 per cent: the homeless. Real homeless people who can’t just go back to their parents or their Manhattan apartment if they get too cold, hungry or need to charge their iPad. One contributor to the book recognised the usefulness of homeless people joining the Occupy camps because they ‘bring numbers to the cause’ and prove ‘powerful symbols of the economic system’s brutality’. But they are also a ‘detriment and a risk: diverting energy away from fighting the real issues, exacerbating the problems of cleanliness within the camp, offending the sensibilities of middle-class campers, verbally or physically assaulting passersby and participants, and polluting the image of an orderly protest’ (Spiked 2012).

Hayes correctly highlights the political dangers of trendy leaderless and anarchist movements:

Their much-hyped ‘leaderless’ nature means that they can conveniently disown any statement they don’t like. This leaderlessness also proved to be their Achilles heel. Indeed the most striking passage in Occupy: Scenes from Occupied America is a description of an occurrence at the general assembly. As usual the occupiers were allowing everyone who wanted to speak to do so using the ‘human microphone’, where all attendees repeat what the speaker says, sentence by sentence. A man who participated in the Egyptian uprisings begins to speak, delivering a stern warning to the assembled protesters: ‘Choose your leaders now! Choose one demand now or your movement is lost!’

The response from the Occupy protesters to advice from a man who participated in the uprising almost universally seen to have inspired theirs? They stopped listening and cut him off: ‘The human mic ceased amplification, drowned by audible disapproval’ (ibid).

Occupy was simply not a proletarian movement in any shape or form. The lack of strategy was not the primary issue, since that would assume there were the forces present that could have come up with something resembling a ‘socialist’ strategy. The issue was the lack of any social basis in the working class. Instead, it became a cesspool of ‘safe spaces’ and privilege-checking that failed to advance the cause of the oppressed one iota.

Bar a few notable exceptions, history has shown it is virtually impossible to ‘carve out’ an egalitarian, communal non-capitalist space within a capitalist society. The capitalist state simply does not tolerate such a movement for any length of time. Those that have survived, such as the Zapatista’s autonomous areas in Southern Mexico, are based on control of local agriculture in order to produce the means of subsistence. This is not an option for the proletariat concentrated in urban areas. Even then, engagement with the wider capitalist world is necessary for the Zapatistas in order to obtain goods that are not locally produced.

One positive aspect of the existence of these communes is that they provide ‘actually existing’ evidence that it is possible for communities to organise collectively in a non-capitalist, or at least non-hierarchical, manner, without the need for a state apparatus. However, the primary lesson for all revolutionaries is that if you do not seek to overthrow the capitalist state as a prerequisite for expropriating the capitalist class, you will inevitably accommodate to capitalism or be repressed by state forces.

Neoliberalism

After critiquing the strategic weaknesses of the Left, the authors ask: Why are they winning? The short answer is that the ruling class have turned neoliberal orthodoxy , the idea that unrestricted capitalism produces the best outcomes for everyone in society, into mainstream common sense. They have achieved ‘neoliberal hegemony’. How did they achieve this? The authors proceed to give a relatively detailed account of how a small number of (economically) liberal intellectuals, against the prevailing doctrine of state Keynesian in the 1930s-40s, set up the Mont Perelin Society (MPS) after World War 2 to disseminate a new liberalism:

From its beginnings, the MPS was consciously focused on changing political common sense and sought to develop a liberal utopia. It explicitly understood that this intellectual framework would then be actively filtered down through think tanks, universities and policy documents, in order to institutionalise and eventually monopolise the ideological terrain (55).

It sounds odd to many Marxists today but, ‘[c]ontrary to common assumption, capitalists did not initially see neoliberalism as being in their interests’ (ibid). This is because the experience of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the subsequent Great Depression, the rise of Nazism and Communism (Stalinism) and the destruction of World War Two had demonstrated to the ruling class the dangers of mass immiseration of the working class and the advantages that state intervention brought in stabilising both the economy and the political situation. Indeed, at the same time as the welfare state was being created and certain key sectors nationalised in most Western European countries, the capitalists were experiencing a huge rebound in their rate of profit. From their narrow empirical viewpoint, how was Keynesian economics a bad thing? To paraphrase a certain famous philosopher; material conditions determine consciousness.

Milton Freidman, Friedrich Hayek et al therefore faced an uphill struggle to win the ruling class to neoliberal ideas in the post-war period. They recognised there would a long-term process over decades of gradually and subtly (and indeed covertly) shaping public opinion. The UK’s first neoliberal think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), posing as an apolitical organisation focussing on researching markets, produced a series of short pamphlets aimed at bringing neoliberal ideas to the general public. But rather than dealing with concrete proposals for the economy,

these texts were written in a somewhat utopian fashion, without regard for whether a policy was capable of being implemented at that moment. The goal, as always, was the long-term redefinition of the possible (58-59).

Srnicek and Williams use this to rightly point out the failure of the Left to articulate a positive socialist vision of the future, however seemingly utopian. Today’s mainstream Left has regressed to what Lenin called ‘economism’; the focus on the day-to-day economic struggles of workers at the expense of the wider political programme and vision. Yet both the IEA and Lenin knew the value of political knowledge, despite not being immediately practical:

[T]he intellectuals must talk to us less of what we already know. And tell us more about what we do not yet know and what we can never learn from our factory and “economic” experience, namely, political knowledge…  We [workers] are far more active than you think, and we are quite able to support, by open street fighting, even demands that do not promise any “palpable results” whatever (Lenin 1901).

At the same time, Inventing the Future veers towards an idealist, almost conspiratorial explanation for the turn towards neoliberalism in the late 1970s. By placing the emphasis on shifty think tanks, the infiltration of public institutions and placement of individuals in key government positions, the authors, however inadvertently, play down the material reasons for the failure of Keynesianism and the attraction of neoliberal ideas during this period.

Keynesianism and the Post-War Boom

As I touched on before, the apparent success of post-war Keynesianism was primarily due to the destruction of capital value (both in the monetary and physical sense) that occurred during and after the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the subsequent Great Depression and World War Two (Kliman 2012, 76-77). Following the end of the war, those capitalists that were left intact were able to buy up bankrupted companies and their assets on the cheap. In the UK, the rationing of food and consumer goods that started during the war continued for several years after the defeat of the Nazis, keeping the value of labour-power depressed and thus allowing the rate of exploitation to rise. These conditions created a rebound in the rate of profit, allowing companies to reinvest on the basis of new technology that had been developed during the war period. Srnicek and Williams reject the Marxist explanation of the post-war boom, and tell us instead that the ‘growth in manufacturing jobs was sustained by the rise of mass consumerism and surges in government military spending’ (99). In other words, they posit the Keynesian explanation that rising aggregate demand leads to rising capital investment.

By nationalising the large unprofitable sections of the economy, such as energy and transport, and running them at a loss, the British state was able to accelerate the economic recovery on behalf of capital. Some radical Left-Keynesians wrongly assign the role of the state in this period in raising aggregate demand as the primary reason for the post-war boom. However, it must be stated that even if a neoliberal programme had been adopted at this stage, capitalism would have still recovered on the basis of the high rate of profit that capital was experiencing, although whether it would have been politically possible to adopt such a programme in Britain is another question. The high rates of profit led to similarly high levels of capital investment. However, as Marx explained in Capital Volume I, the accumulation of capital over time leads to a rising organic composition of capital – a rising ratio of the value of constant capital (machines, raw materials) to variable capital (wages). Concretely this means that more commodities are produced in the same amount of time using less labour-power. The result is that the average value of commodities produced declines, along with the surplus value, the source of profit, congealed within them. With each subsequent phase of investment, the purchase of capital goods becomes less profitable, on average, than the previous phase. High profit rates and high rates of investment dialectically lead to falling profit rates and falling rates of investment. This is the basis of long term Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall described in Capital Volume III.

By the late 1960s, the falling average rate of profit in the UK and all the advanced capitalist countries was starting to significantly slow capital investment, leading to a relative stagnation of the economy and rising unemployment. In order to counteract falling rates of profit, the British capitalists began to raise commodity prices. As a consequence, more money was required to circulate in the economy in order to represent the rising prices. The Bank of England turned to increasing the money supply. In response, commercial banks raised interest rates, since more money in circulation meant each pound was worth less, and workers demanded greater pay rises to keep up with rising consumer good prices. Bourgeois economists, denying the link between value and price, confuse the cause and effect of inflation, putting the blame of rising prices on the state’s money creation and/or the rising wages of the workers.

Keynesian economic theory was predicated on the notion that unemployment would be combated by state spending and increasing the money supply, and that inflation (rising prices) would be addressed by reducing the money supply. By the 1970s both unemployment (stagnation) and inflation were rising, a scenario known as “stagflation”. Keynesian theory could not explain this phenomenon, and was unable to drag the UK economy out of recession. The shibboleth of full unemployment had to be discarded in order to justify the creation of mass unemployment. This expansion of the reserve army of labour would discipline workers’ militancy and wage demands and raise the rate of exploitation, increasing the capitalists’ rate of profit. Neoliberalism and monetarism was the justification for such a process. However, if neoliberalism had not existed as an ideology at the time, something similar would have been invented.

Crisis of Work

Despite the Tories and the right-wing media claims of record employment levels (Sky News 2016), we are in the midst of a crisis of work. This apparent contradiction is dissolved when we cite recent ONS statistics which show that two thirds of new jobs created between 2008 and 2014 were self-employed, not jobs employed by businesses (Office for National Statistics 2014). What we have is a crisis of unemployment by capital. It is a damning indictment of capitalism that, despite real median wages falling 10% since the 2008 crisis (LSE 2015), it is still insufficiently profitable for capital to employ the majority of unemployed, and so the surplus population grows (i.e. surplus to the needs of capital). The authors point out the psychological damage and human cost that job insecurity creates:

The slow growth of wages leads precarity to also be expressed in the anxiety over high levels of consumer debt and low levels of personal savings. In the United States, for example, a full 34 per cent of full-time workers live paycheque-to-paycheque, while in the UK, 35 per cent of people not live off their savings for more than a month. And at its most vicious, precarity is indicated by a rise in depression, anxiety and suicides – an ‘excess’ that goes uncounted in traditional economic measures. Indeed, unemployment is associated with a fifth of all global suicides, and this has only worsened in the wake of the financial crisis (Srnicek and Williams 2015, 94).

Unable to rely on purely economic methods to discipline the surplus population, the bourgeois state increasingly intervenes through methods such as forced labour programmes under the guise of workfare and prisoner rehabilitation. The authors also note that the workers most affected by the trend towards automation are those in low skilled, low income work, and that ‘increases in manufacturing unemployment are associated globally with increases in police employment’ (102). As the surplus population grows, the bourgeois state employs more interventionist, disciplinary and ultimately violent methods of defending private property.

So why aren’t businesses creating enough jobs? For the authors, it comes down to low economic growth (100), i.e. low investment. But, as previously pointed out, they believe that low investment is due to low aggregate demand, i.e. low wages, rather than a low average rate of profit. This lays the ground for their solution to the crisis of low growth – give everyone wages through Universal Basic Income.

Non-Reformist Reforms and Universal Basic Income

Srnicek and Williams advocate a series of ‘non-reformist reforms’ (108) in order to push capitalism to its limits and transform it into the era of ‘fully automated luxury communism’. But as the authors admit, ‘[t]he proposals in this chapter will not break us out of capitalism, but they do promise to break us out of neoliberalism’ (ibid). Thus postcapitalism is not really post-capitalist in any sense of the word, but simply a nicer, gentler, non-neoliberal form, where private property and classes remain. How is this cuddly capitalism to be achieved? ‘[T]his is a project that must be carried out over the long term: decades rather than years, cultural shifts rather than electoral cycles’ (ibid). Having declared it a 20-30 year gradual, peaceful process for this not-actually-post-capitalist-postcapitalism to appear, supporters of this flawed theory can only conclude the need to accommodate with reformist social democracy. Hence we have the likes of Paul Mason declaring the need for Corbyn and the Labour Party to support the maintenance of nuclear weapons by the British imperialist state in order to placate the right-wing of the Party (Guardian 2016)! Yet as has been demonstrated many times, whenever Corbyn caves in to the demands of the right-wing, this simply emboldens them to go further.

Marxists on the other hand, believe that, in order to realise ‘fully automated luxury communism’, we need to realise the latter part of the phrase: communism. Once the means of production, distribution and exchange are owned, controlled and subordinated to the interests of the majority of the population, a huge multi-national effort can be made to automate, plan and coordinate as much work as possible. This would dramatically increase the free time of everyone without any decline in living standards, since everyone would be entitled to the means to a decent life. This automation of work and the subsequent mass availability of free time for all would allow individuals to fully realise their potential as human beings, choosing to do whatever they please without the need to specialise within a division of labour:

[I]n communist society, […] nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic (Marx 1845). [my emphasis]

When Marx says that ‘society regulates the general production’ under communism, I believe this must essentially presume a more-or-less fully automated system of production and distribution of the requirements for life, allowing everyone to participate in the activities they desire. The only work in the sense that we understand it would be the monitoring, maintenance and development of those machines and for that which it is not possible to automate or not currently automated. Therefore, the sole requirement for living in such a developed society would be for everyone to have sufficient education and training to perform the work when required and to participate in something like a rota, where people would be expected to perform the work on a very occasional basis, for example one day per month.

According to Inventing the Future, our postcapitalist utopia will be achieved through gradual automation of work, freeing up the population for more fulfilling activity. However, in order to offset the mass unemployment and under-employment this process will create, they advocate an adoption of the Univeral Basic Income (UBI) policy. This is where the state guarantees all of its citizens an unconditional income, and one that allows all citizens to live a reasonable lifestyle free of impoverishment. The authors warn of the right-wing argument for UBI, which ‘would simply replace the welfare state’ instead of supplementing it, and ‘would just become a vector of increased marketisation, transforming social services into private markets’ (119). However, it is for exactly this reason (amongst others) that UBI should be opposed. The history of every social movement of the 20th century, from Civil Rights to Feminism and Gay Liberation, has shown that, without an explicitly revolutionary programme, the movement will become subsumed, sanitised and accommodated within the safe confines of bourgeois society. In practice, this means that calls for a Universal Basic Income will further the destruction of the welfare state and not undermine capitalism at all.

On 5 June, Switzerland held a referendum on whether to hand out an unconditional basic income of 30,000 Swiss Francs (approximate £20,664) a year to every citizen. It was overwhelmingly rejected, in part because of no serious proposals for how such a move would be funded.

The [Swiss] government estimates full implementation of UBI would cost SFr208bn, about three times current annual federal spending of about SFr67bn. Even then, it would not replace all existing social services, such as healthcare for the elderly.

Alain Berset, a Social Democrat member of the Swiss cabinet, has described the UBI initiative as “utopian”, saying it would require significant extra funding of at least SFr25bn (FT.com 2016).

UBI is a method of redistribution, similar to the tax credits system. There are two ways that UBI could be funded: via borrowing or via taxation. If the state were to increase borrowing to fund such a scheme, its ability to repay would be challenged through the state’s credit rating, determined by agencies such as Standard & Poor.

Given that debt has to be repaid at some point (assuming one accepts the logic of capitalism as Srnicek & Williams do), this would lead to further cuts in welfare and/or higher taxes anyway. These taxes would need to be raised on businesses or workers, or both. If businesses are taxed further, their profitability would be cut and so risk relocating to countries with lower taxation and/or cutting the workforce.

The UBI would be factored into the value of labour-power on the market, and so real wages would fall. If UBI also became funded out of taxation on workers, the incentive to work would diminish even further. The result would be a huge unemployed population; Great news for those liberated from the chains of wage-slavery, but not so good for the needs of capital and our society founded on capital accumulation. ‘Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish’ (Marx 1868). The bourgeois state would inevitably be forced to apply coercion and force people to work for the sake of capital accumulation. This is recognised by some advocates of UBI:

One possible design feature is that each 18–25 year- old would be expected to sign a public ‘contribution contract’. This contract is not with the Government but with their local community. Receipt of the income will be dependent on this contract being signed. It will commit the recipient to contribute to the extent they are able through earning, learning, caring or setting up a business. Recipients will have to identify five witnesses, including two non-immediate family members, to support them (RSA 2015).

If we remove the cuddly language of helping the ‘local community’, what we have is a contract of forced labour, much like workfare in the UK where one has to work in return for unemployment benefits (Guardian 2014). This contract would not be enforced by your friends and family, but by the bourgeois state. Once this mechanism is in place, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the state could simply lower the UBI or remove it altogether for those citizens considered non-compliant or threats. With the link between hours worked and wages received broken, UBI would also present another barrier to convincing workers of the Law of Value.

A final point on UBI is that it is a policy implemented by national governments within the capitalist nation state. Thus a potential outcome of implementing UBI in the home country is the intensification of exploitation abroad in order to fund such a policy. That higher living standards in Britain were dependent on exploitation abroad was recognised by founder of the welfare state, Aneurin Bevan, when in a 1946 parliamentary speech he announced,

I am not prepared to sacrifice the British Empire because I know that if the British Empire fell it would mean the standard of life of our own constituents would fall considerably (Hindu Human Rights 2016).

Only on the basis of a multi-national socialist planned economy and genuine international cooperation between workers can one realise the aims of postcapitalism.

Strategy

Of course, like the authors of Inventing the Future, all of this abstracts away the cyclical dynamic of capitalism and the tendency towards crisis. The reality is that, whether based on UBI or not, capitalism will lapse into crisis and depression due to insufficient valorisation of surplus value and profitability. This is not due to bad policy or ‘insufficient aggregate demand’, but is inherent within the nature of capital itself. The only way to overcome these structural problems is therefore to do away with value production, which requires a socialist revolution, the establishment of a workers’ state and the production and distribution of goods on the basis of the needs and wants of the population. Since the authors don’t have a revolutionary perspective, this is impossible on their terms. Instead, they advocate democratic control of state investment banks (147) – via the bourgeois state!  How is this achieved? By building a new ‘hegemonic order’ through a ‘mass popular movement’ (155). Unfortunately this sort of Gramscian guff is popular with academics looking for new saviours following the defeats of the working class in the Thatcher era and the publishing of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks in English in the mid 1970’s. And so the authors speak favourably of the populist Spanish party Podemos, which ‘has aimed to build mechanisms for popular governance while also seeking a way into established institutions’ (169).

This turn to populism (i.e. reformism) is necessary because, say the authors,

[t]he power of the global working class is today severely compromised, and a return to past strength seems unlikely. As it stands today, the classical revolutionary subject therefore no longer exists’ (157).

Yet as long as labour and capital exist, the revolutionary subject of the propertyless masses, the proletariat, exists and the class struggle continues, irrespective of the utopian dreams of a couple of academics. This is the premise from which we as Marxists begin.

We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence (Marx 1845).

References

FT.com. 2016. ‘Universal basic income: Money for nothing’. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7c7ba87e-229f-11e6-9d4d-c11776a5124d.html#axzz49s9XoQj5

Guardian. 2014. ‘Help to Work? Britain’s jobless are being forced into workfare, more like’. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/28/help-to-work-britains-jobless-forced-workfare-unemployed

Guardian. 2015. ‘Fully automated luxury communism’. http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/18/fully-automated-luxury-communism-robots-employment

Guardian. 2016, ‘Paul Mason: the leftwing case for nuclear weapons – video’. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2016/apr/06/trident-jeremy-corbyn-paul-mason-leftwing-case-nuclear-weapons-video

Hindu Human Rights. 2016. ‘”Hinduphobia” The Labour Party’s Other Problem’. http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/hinduphobia-the-labour-partys-other-problem/

Kliman, A. 2012. The Failure of Capitalist Production. Pluto Press

Lenin, VI. 1901. ‘What is To Be Done?’, Chapter iii. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iii.htm

LSE. 2015. ‘Real wages and living standards: the latest UK evidence’. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/real-wages-and-living-standards-the-latest-uk-evidence/

Marx. 1845. ‘The German Ideology’. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm

Marx. 1868. ‘Marx Letter to Kugelmman In Hanover’. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1868/letters/68_07_11-abs.htm

Marxist World. 2015. ‘Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism” – A Critical Review’. http://marxistworld.net/2015/09/paul-masons-postcapitalism-a-critical-review/

Marxist World. 2016. ‘England & Wales: Vote Labour without illusions on 5th May’. http://marxistworld.net/2016/05/england-wales-vote-labour-without-illusions-on-5th-may/

Office for National Statistics. 2014. ‘Self-employed workers in the UK – 2014’. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/self-employed-workers-in-the-uk/2014/rep-self-employed-workers-in-the-uk-2014.html

RSA. 2015. ‘Creative citizen, creative state: The principled and pragmatic case for a Universal Basic Income’. https://medium.com/@thersa/creative-citizen-creative-state-a3cef3f25775#.1ityfdb4j

Sky News. 2016. ‘UK Unemployment Rate Remains At Decade Low’. http://news.sky.com/story/1643442/uk-unemployment-rate-remains-at-decade-low

Spiked. 2011. ‘Occupy: The farce of protest without politics. ‘http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/12151#.V0ywOPkrKmw

Srnicek and Williams. 2015. ‘Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work’. Verso

 

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2 Comments

    • forwardmarx

      Interesting analysis. But a fairly nihilistic conclusion,

      reply
    • TheFreeFlow

      Wow, you really took my in depth analysis and predictions I have been preaching since 2-3years. Only problem is that you lack the in depth analysis, reasoning and proper implementation and solution based approach to this.

      Thing is I am not leader nor a preacher and I know that, I am an INTJ not an ENTJ. Thus I don´t really care if you take my ideas and even if you market them as your own I don´t care.

      But I should have known it that I cannot let some neanderthals pick up my ideas without totally distorting them and turning it into some revisionist nonsense! Goddamn is it really so hard to find people with brains out there these days? Well obviously the sad answer is yes and it obviously is yet again back to me to correct these flaws.

      First of all you need to understand the mechanism behind it all and why it will no matter what inevitably happen and be the future, UBI will also be the inevitable future as well and it will be only a matter of time until we see that. But why?

      As pointed out and so far correct, yes, automization sooner or later will replace 99,9% of all jobs and create mass unemployment(1 to 1 my argumentation here and even the way I argue and word it as well, clearly 1 to 1 taken from me here).

      Capitalism will be utterly powerless to do anything about that either. Imperialism, wars and exploitation for once will not help the bourgiosie here, as it won´t prevent the problem of automization and mass unemployment. So that option falls away already.

      Another option would be a mass genocide of these 99,9% who cannot find employment in such a mechanized world. Problem with that is though: First of all it has become hard in the modern times to justify a war, let alone a mass genocide like this. Secondly and more importantly: They cannot sustain an economy that way, with 99,9% of the people gone, who is going to buy all the products that machines produce? Exactly, no one. The economy will inevitably collapse. Another problem is that even IF the economy wouldn´t collapse through this, it would destroy the bourgiosie, as a bourgiosie can only exist with a lower class, just like hot cannot exist without cold, for someone to be upperclass and flaunting in wealth, you need a lowerclass as well. However that lowerclass would be completely eleminated here.

      So this option clearly is a no go as well.

      The last remaining option for the bourgiosie would be to try to stop the mechanization of labour. But that is also a no go and won´t happen either, exactly BECAUSE we are living under capitalism. Why? Pretty simple(well to me at least) if you think economically and logically:

      First problem that arises here is the fact capitalist competition(which is phony competition but nevermind that and that is an entirely different topic) makes that impossible. Let us imagine some big monopolistic corporations would stop mechanizing and relying more on human labour instead. First of all they will hardly be able to produce the same flawless automobiles, since machines if programmed properly and maintaned operate flawless and precise and allow no rooms for any errors. Even the most talented human can make mistakes and is no match for a machine here.

      Secondly going right over to the next problem that their production will be lowered, this will drive them out of competition and will ultimately let them lose their monopoles.

      As if that is not enough another problem arises automatically: Even if some big players with monopoles choose to rely more on human labour as to extend capitalism and prevent it from collapsing, OTHER COMPANIES WON´T! They will think: “Why should I do that? Let the other idiots use human labour whilst I install machines to do a flawless mass production, and soon enough I will have driven them out of competition and then I will hold the monopole!” Exactly this type of thinking and acting will make such a plan in capitalism utterly impossible.

      And last but not least even if it wouldn´t fail because of these 3 points already, lastly it would fail because of humans, yes the common average citizen. Why? Again exactly BECAUSE of capitalism, and because it has conditioned us to be rabid consumers, to the point where we cannot live without our consumer items anymore. The problem is that manuel production will fail to ensure:

      1: The quality of the consumer products that consumers demand.

      2: Most importantly the quantity.

      3: The prices will rise as well, not to the amusement of consumers either.

      People cannot live without their iphones, nikes, geeforces or god knows what else. However a manuel production will fail to properly supply these consumer items. What do you think will happen then?

      People will be OUTRAGED and up in arms protesting for their consumer goods! And through that ultimately they will also be demanding a full mechanization to satisfy their greed and need for the consumer items they crave.

      And with that capitalism has extended all its possible options, none will work out and none are possible.

      The only option left for the bourgiosie here is a compromise: UBI. However that would mean allowing first socialist reforms and moving to a more mixed economic model.

      With UBI they can sustain the economy and sustain the purchasing power, their machines can keep producing and the people thanks to UBI can keep buying. Sure, they will have a few ferraris or mercedes benz less in their garages, but ultimately they can still exploit and live a far more oppulent lifestyle then your average citizen. And to them they will think: “It is better to loose a mercedes or two then to lose everything and be put into the same lifestyle as the “lazy lowerclass rabble”. Though I do not like it I have no other choice here.”

      And that is also exactly why they will go for UBI here, and whilst gnawing their teeth and with a bleeding heart accept first socialist reforms like UBI.

      This is the entire mechanism behind it why this is inevitable. And Marx indeed wisely foresaw that capitalism would somehow sooner or later dig its own grave. We now live in a time and age where we can precisely predict how that grave will come to be.

      Now back to the point. Is this ideal? Of course not, since we end up here with not communism but a mixed economy. Compared to capitalism still clearly the lesser of 2 evils, surely not that what a true revolutionary has in mind though.

      However as mechanization and abundance also will increase, and in the future technologies like transmutation or maybe even manipulation of particles and anti-particles will be able to create all elements we need to produce all kinds of products we want and need, without us needing to worry that we run out of ressources, as we will keep re-cycling and also transmutating all elements we need out of useless other elements we got overabundances of.

      This will at some point also kind of destroy the entire profit motive. The question again is only: When will this exactly happen?

      Well it is either that or we will have created and inhospitable planet and the destruction of mankind before we even reach that future. Well theorethically it would still be possible to install a mixed economy on UBI based model here, however given an ever growing and larger abundance thanks to ever increasing technological advancement, this makes little to no sense, and that too would sooner or later collapse in itself again. Nevermind that capitalism even without technology is ultimately always prone to crashes and collapses either way.

      This kind of “luxury communism”(I wouldn´t call it that way, actually rather progressive, neo or futuristic communism) is indeed no utopia but an inevitable fact, and we should all better get used to thoughts like that someday a machine is going to replace a barber and do your haircuts and stuff like that, we better also get used to the idea of UBI.

      However, now how to properly execute the step to the future:

      First of all Marxists need to get rid of the hegelian dogma of state planned economy, as it simply is not feasible and leads to corruptiona and ultimately a setback to capitalism as we saw again, and again, and again, and yet again. Also nevermind that as the article pointed out correctly: State and communism are oxymorons, so is a state-planned economy in that an oxymoron too. And it is not for nothing that Marx and Engels criticized the flaws of Hegel, especially concerning the state and planned economy.

      The only way a planned economy can really work out would be in fact when we let intelligent machines do it. Humans are prone to bias, greed or simple incompetence. A properly programmed machine isn´t. Yet a planned economy is only something for a socialist transitional phase, and also was never meant to last forever.

      If anything planned economy is usefull for a SHORT transition phase, to raise a new generation of people who live by socialist principes and inherited them. Then one most move to more communist and stateless economic models.

      I invented one for that already, which I call “Peoples Economy”, which is supposed to come soon after a period of state-planned economy. It is a system that aims at full workers controll and works with councils, allowing the proletariat to step in and controll the economy or veto a reform via direct democracy if needed. The system itself works via council democracy, again a legacy invention by early socialists just like direct democracy.

      The economy bans private business entirely, but limits state owned institutions only to public services, i.e. things like police, schools/education, military, librariers, courts etc. The rest and all kind of jobs that produce some kind of(non public) service of community, are ran by cooperatives, again an invention by early socialists. And economic constiution ensures proper standard, work protection etc. and things like proper minimum wages and so on.

      Going through this system you will realize not only that workers themselves have full autonomy and controll here, but they also literally own the means of production.

      Whilst this system has of course not abolished money, classes or borders yet, it is the closest you can get to actual socialism. And is ideal for the last transition phase to communism where money, borders and classes can once and for all be abolished and Peoples Economy can cease to exist as well.

      Nor should, another huge past mistake, NEP be applied to boost production and economy. No, as cooperatives provide an ideal ground for true and yet fair competition, you will find nothing better to boost an economy, and you do not need to lose yourself in the slippery slope of capitalism and turn full revisionist.

      Speaking of revisionism: Part of this article sounds very revisionist to me.

      I have no idea what your problem with UBI is and why you would see welfare as the better option, but this is highly revisionist no matter how you twist and turn it, and a ton of your arguments here are false too. I also get the feeling you are doing that to discredit Srnicek and god knows who this other guy was called again. Nice and good as they talk nonsense, to bad that you lose yourself in revisionism to do that and on that topic end up talking likewise just as much revisionist nonsense.

      ‘Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish’ (Marx 1868).

      You speak of flaws of Marxists and lack to progress and leave old dogmas behind, yet on this topic you yourself lose yourself in EXACTLY these old dogmas in this example, and also totally fail to see that when Marx wrote that times where totally different and a mechanization of that scale was simply unthinkable, however if you add modern times and technology to it this is 1 of the few arguments by Marx that lost all merit and meaning. First of all.

      Next: “If we remove the cuddly language of helping the ‘local community’, what we have is a contract of forced labour, much like workfare in the UK where one has to work in return for unemployment benefits (Guardian 2014). ”

      False and utter nonsense. As that would be WELFARE, however UNCONDITIONAL basic income means exactly that: Unconditional. What you are talking about here in fact can only be found in welfare, and if UBI had elements like that in them it wouldn´t be UBI anymore but welfare plain and simple. Logic is totally flushed down the tiolette here.

      “The UBI would be factored into the value of labour-power on the market, and so real wages would fall.”

      Utterly false too. First of all praxis tests done only in single town or small regions that implemented UBI, showed astonishing results, from greatly reduced crimerates, over to a boost to the economy and an actual RISE OF WAGES and average income. In these few cases it was tried in small areas it was a huge success.

      Which also led me to become an advocate for UBI ultimately, that and also doing a math: First world countries like Germany, Switzerland and Especially america would have no problems paying for UBI at all, indeed this may present a problem in less developed countries, true, but definitely not in higher advanced countries.

      Even IF hypothetically speaking, EVERY single of the 81,5 million people in Germany would receive a generous UBI of 1.500€ per month, it would still only be around 30% of Germanies total GDP and doable. Nevermind that this would be impossible anyway to have EVERY single person on UBI, even IF everyone was unemployed, you also got parents with kids and what not else.

      Yes you still have costs for things like healthcare too, but those would be tremendously reduced, especially costs for law enforcement and prisons as crimerates would drop rapidly. Money for basic education wouldn´t be needed either, only for expensive university study. That is another factor you totally overlook. A further boost to purchasing power and hence the economy also easily brings in the losses you pay for UBI.

      However for UBI to make sense a PROPER MINIMUM WAGE is a MUST! It is also a must to get rid of capitalism globally and install socialism instead. Then again praxis tests have shown that one hasn´t have to do that to produce an economic boost. And yes companies may would not like paying more taxes, but extra purchasing power and profits they make from that easily remedy that.

      As of such an UBI leads to an INCREASED wage rather then a lowered wage. Anyway that all, and then later also realizing that capitalism is doomed to fail due to mechanization anyway, makes it clear that UBI is a MUST in future concepts and inevitable wether you or I like it or not.

      And as said these statements about welfare and UBI are highly revisionist, as you support a welfare system that is exactly made to exploit via state, instead of UBI that makes this kind of exploitation via jobcenters etc. impossible since as the name implies, it is unconditional, and if it is not unconditional then it is not UBI anymore but just another form of classic welfare plain and simple.

      How you can say that nonsense and support such a revisionist stance on supporting welfare which is fraud and exploitation is beyond me. As said my guess is that you wanted to bash the authors of that nonsensical book with it.

      Next time: Do so without resorting to cheap revisionism and utterly false statements okay? Not only is it dangerous revisionism, anyone reading that article latest by now will not take you serious anymore, and would eventually actually even go for the authors of that book and choose to believe them instead, thus you achieve the exact opposite of what you intended by these kind of actions.

      Conclusion:

      We need global revolution and an overthrow of capitalism.

      UBI will be inevitable and allow for first socialist reforms.

      From these first socialist reforms if we haven´t successfully done so by then, it will be easier to argue and do a revolution here, as the failure of capitalism will be in everyones face at that point, and people will also rightfully question the usefullness and purpose of a mixed economy, allowing less brainwash and for us a better and more broad basis to argue against the bourgiosie and capitalism. It will also make it easier to rally people.

      We must learn from the past mistakes and not repeat them, hence state planned economy should be overthought and heavily reduced to a minimum and instead replaced with other concepts, such as Peoples Economy. NEP should be abolished completely, as said NEP is a complete failure either way and puts us back to capitalism and revisionism and square one.

      Technological advancement and mechanization despite more temporary unemployment, in the long run are good and will speed up the inevitable collapse of capitalism and the day when capitalists loose any argument to sustain their flawed system any longer. It will bring us closer to actual communism and abundance too.

      And further conclusion:

      The authors of the book are absolute revisionist nutcases. However this article also has a few flaws, and at some points goes into revisionism and the same nonsense as well. And fact remains you stole my analysis(well not that I patented or anything, nor did I ever intend too) and turned them into some flawed morass full of bullshit…. And I am also heavily dissapointed and overestimated the newer generation of marxists.

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