Getting lost on the road to communist utopia

September 3, 2019

A response to Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto by Aaron Bastani (Verso Books, 2019)

Communist utopias are the stuff of life. They have given hope, widened horizons and fired imaginations, from Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done (1863) and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) through to Woman On the Edge of Time (1985) by Marge Piercy.

So when my copy of Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto arrived, I had high hopes. They were not all realised.

There were things in Bastani’s book I really liked: his optimism, and his conviction that any communist society – that is, any society free of exploitation and hierarchy – will be based

From the front cover of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (Gollancz edition)

on material abundance. But his ideas about how this might be achieved were unconvincing.

Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC), he writes in the concluding chapter, is

a map by which we escape the labyrinth of scarcity and a society built on jobs; the platform from which we can begin to answer the most difficult question of all, of what it means, as [the economist John Maynard] Keynes once put it, to live ‘wisely and agreeably and well’ (p. 243).

Bastani writes that FALC, unlike the world of actually existing neoliberalism,

will not demand constant sacrifices on the altar of profit and growth. Whether it’s ‘paying down the debt for future generations’, as our politicians are so keen to repeat, or growth and rising wages always coming ‘next year’ it’s becoming ever clearer that the good times aren’t coming back. What remains absent, however, is a language able to articulate that which is both accessible and emotionally resonant.

Bastani aspires to provide that language – by identifying political principles for a movement beyond capitalism; by returning abundance to a central place in socialist Read the rest of this entry »


Zealots and ditherers

August 15, 2019

The UK government seems hell-bent on crashing out of the European Union without a deal on 31 October. This leap into the unknown carries the threat of economic hardship and disruption, constitutional crisis and the reconfiguration, or even break-up, of the UK.

The political uncertainty since the 2016 Brexit vote, on top of a decade of austerity,

“FcK Boris” demonstration, 24 July 2019. Photo by Steve Eason

is causing most Brits anything from stress to nervous exhaustion. And the next ten weeks are unlikely to be any less worrying.

Can the manic “no deal” crusade be stopped? The short answer seems to be: it’s difficult, but may be possible, provided parliament gets its act together. Suggestions about how that might happen are being made daily by “left” and not-so-left writers who know more about parliamentary procedure than I do.

This article focuses, instead, on what this frenzy tells us about the crisis of the Tory party and the property-owning class it represents. Because, to develop radical politics in the face of this insanity, we need to understand more clearly what generated it.

Our enemies are divided

It’s not the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is driving the “no deal” process, as far as I can see. Rather, he is the enabler of zealots: Dominic Cummings, chief of Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s remember victims of British tyranny. You said it, Akala

November 5, 2018

The vindictive, cowardly racism that black Britons face on the streets is rooted in empire, the hip-hop artist and writer Akala insists in his book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.

The argument that racism is shaped by imperial oppression, and by class relations – that it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere in people’s heads – runs through the book. And so

Akala. Photo: Alexis Chabala / Two Roads books

does the theme that struggles against empire are a key part of the path to a better world.

“As much as a tendency to dominate, divide and brutalise has been a seeming constant for the past few millennia at least, so too has the tendency of sharing and co-operation, of rebellion against dominant powers and attempts to create a more just order”, Akala writes (p. 148).

“The degree to which humans have secured a more just world has been born out of the struggles against empires as much as anything else.”

Akala recounts the British empire’s crimes – from slavery, through colonialism in Africa to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for the genocidal onslaught in Yemen right now – and Read the rest of this entry »


The climate fire raging under the international political system

October 8, 2018

Review of Climate Leviathan: a political theory of our planetary future, by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright (London: Verso, 2018)

What are the real political prospects, as the world hurtles towards global warming? Not our hopes or desires, but really possible changes – good, bad and horrible – starting from where we are now?

Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, researchers of political theory who have been actively

Photo: Mikael Miettinen, creative commons

engaged in the “climate justice” movement for many years, address these questions in this thought-provoking book.

There are two fundamental ways to divide the options, they argue (pp. 28-29). First, whether the future economic order will be capitalist or not. Second, “whether a coherent planetary sovereign will emerge, that is, whether sovereignty will be reconstituted for the purposes of planetary management.” By “planetary sovereign” they Read the rest of this entry »


Starting to understand the Syrian tragedy

August 14, 2018

Review of The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy by Yassin al-Haj Saleh (London: Hurst and co., 2017)

We all need an understanding of the fate of the Syrian revolution: what it was up against, how and why was it drowned in blood, what its future holds. To this end, the publication of Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s book in English is very welcome.

The Syrian tragedy is a turning-point for movements of social liberation internationally. A mass popular uprising of exceptional scope and scale was defeated with an exceptional torrent of violence. In the rich, horrific history of repressive governments, few have waged such savage, relentless war on their citizens, or so cynically chosen to destroy the fabric of society by civil war rather than lose control of it.

Not only did the world’s governments allow the regime a free hand to torture and murder Syrians, but much of the so-called “left” stayed silent, or even supported the torturers and murderers. Reckoning with this disaster, and the reasons for it, is a precondition for any meaningful radical politics in future.

Syrian fascism

Saleh’s book comprises a series of articles written between the 2011 uprising and 2015, in which he returns again and again to analyse the Syrian regime, the “new bourgeoisie” with which it is most closely associated, and the social forces that support it.

In “The Roots of Syrian Fascism”, written in April 2012 – when the uprising was just over a year old – Saleh calls for a discussion of the roots of the fascist violence by Bashar al- Read the rest of this entry »


Heathrow: “jobs vs climate action” is a false choice. Reject it

June 28, 2018

Parliament’s vote for a third runway at Heathrow airport shows how far the Labour party is from putting together economic policies combining social justice and action to curb global warming.

More than 115 Labour MPs – well over half the parliamentary party – voted for Heathrow expansion on Monday, ignoring a warning in the debate by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, that it posed “a threat to the planet”.

McDonnell, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow expansion, said that, if a legal challenge by local councils and Greenpeace failed, an “iconic, totemic” battle would be unleashed to stop the project. The Vote No Heathrow group is already gearing up for such a battle.

Before the vote, Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union – a big financial donor to Labour and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn in internal political battles – wrote to MPs urging them to support Heathrow expansion.

It is the false choice that McCluskey hinted at in his letter – that if the workers’ movement participates Read the rest of this entry »


Social justice and ecological disaster: Red Green Study Group comments

June 28, 2018

Integrated strategies to face the crisis in relations between society and nature – “essentially, the dynamics of capitalist economic relations” – have been proposed to Labour by the Red Green Study Group in the UK.

In a response to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum consultation, Environment, Energy and Culture: A Greener Britain, the group says a “combined approach” to tackling poverty, inequality and environmental degradation is vital.

The whole response is attached as a PDF here. Or you can read it on line on the Red Green Labour blog here. Or download it from the Labour party site here.

The group’s summary says:

This response is the result of prolonged discussion among members of the RED-GREEN STUDY GROUP, which has been working since 1992 on bringing together green, socialist and feminist thinking.

Contributors include trade unionists, members of the Labour Party, members of the Green Party and unaffiliated socialists. Our commitment to producing this response arose from the renewal of hope given by the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the new leadership of the Party.

Our response covers a wide range of topics, across transport, industrial production, farming and food, fishing, biodiversity, planning, energy production and conservation, climate change, health, education Read the rest of this entry »


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