Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The ‘super abundance’ myth

Moral arguments aside, the modern-day argument for post-automation communism – luxury or not – does not stand up, argues Adrian McMenamin

In between cheering the ‘death’ of a very much alive Labour woman whose politics they disagree with and telling everybody that Donald Trump will win a second term as president (so much for solidarity), the boys over at Novara Media like to promote what they call ‘fully automated luxury communism’.

Despite the efforts of the brocialists to promote this form of communism as something new, it is at its core a very familiar utopian proposal. Nor is there anything new about claiming it is just around the corner. When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote the Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848 they were not advocates of a transformation into a society where private property and the family would disappear 170 years hence, but of an immediate revolutionary upheaval.

Similarly, Vladimir Lenin’s denunciation of leading German social democratic theoretician Karl Kautsky as a ‘renegade’ in November 1918 was because the Russian thought the German was no longer serious about securing an immediate move towards communism.

By the late 1950s, and with several million Russians and Ukrainians who proved insufficiently committed to the cause in their graves, Lenin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev was hardly any less sanguine: ‘this generation will know communism’ by 1980 was his claim.

Confronted by the repeated postponement of the millennium I imagine that the lads would respond, at least in part, with some version of an argument I last believed in when I was 15-years-old in 1981: ‘real socialism has never been tried’. That’s great if you think Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot went through the long years of prison, exile and guerrilla war all the while being insincere, but I prefer the explanation that it was their vision, not their dedication, that was flawed.

The other claim will be that technology now makes all this possible when it was not before. Let us ignore that this is exactly the same claim made by Marx, Lenin and Khrushchev in their own eras, and examine it now.

At its heart – at least if this communism includes some idea of equality – must be the claim that technology makes ‘super abundance’ possible. Because without super abundance we must ration goods and some people will be, by definition, better off than others.

Does anyone really think that? Top boy Aaron Bastani told the Guardian in 2015: ‘take video and audio content – we’ve reached post-scarcity on that’. Except we very obviously have not. The cost of producing junk video may have collapsed by many orders of magnitude but it is neither free nor, in most cases, good (think of goons howling with delight at the supposed death of a political opponent if you need convincing.)

In the absence of super abundance there needs to be a rationing mechanism. That could be the state or it could be the market or a combination of both.

And we know communists prefer the state: to excess. Once you start to make wide ranges of economic activity a crime because unless they are prohibited they represent a drain on resources on the plan’s objectives, you quickly find you need a bigger prison system because such an approach starts to make choice itself a crime.

No doubt the dudes at Novara claim that the howling at the ‘death’ of Claire Kober was just ‘bants’ and laugh at the idea that they have any connection with the long record of communism’s bloody failures. But they need to have better excuses than ‘it was just a laugh’ and ‘it’s different this time’.

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Adrian McMenamin is a Progress columnist and is the former chief press and broadcasting officer for the Labour party. He tweets at @adrianmcmenamin

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