Book Club: "Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work"


#1

Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work
Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams

Just finished reading this book, and I thought I’d post my thoughts!

Top line review, I found it a really great read! From the cover and description, you’d think it was mostly about how a postcapitalist (full automation & basic income) would work, but that’s actually only one chapter, and there’s so much more.

Instead, it starts with a brilliant dissection of the failure of the old left to fight against neoliberalism, about how the techniques that have been used by things like Occupy are just nowhere near up to the task, and it all really hit home with me. They make the point that localism and refusing to come up with solid demands as Occupy did are nowhere near enough, that neoliberalism is a complete worldview and needs opposing worldviews that people can buy into.

They talk about the need for visions of the future, for optimism, and for giving people something solid to work towards. It’s very in line with what we want to do here, which surprised me.

It’s dense in political theory and terminology, but that was useful for me as well, as my technical knowledge in that area is pretty low.

Anyway, the book presents the case for why we have to build a new optimistic progressive vision, and makes the case that that should be around building a post-work society of full automation. It makes a lot of sense to me, as it’s the sort of future I’ve written about here before, but the way it’s couched in all the rest of the theory backs it up really nicely and once again convinces me that we’re on the right side of history.

One minor annoyance was that the authors keep talking about the “left” needing to do this, but that’s just a personal thing; I think that this future is beyond left and right, and we have to drop those labels as part of our obsolete political history. But, the authors obviously think otherwise, which is fine.

Anyway, I’d highly recommend it, and if anyone else has read it, drop in your thoughts here :slight_smile:

I’ll round off with some choice quotes, on what we need to do:

a modern left can neither continue with the current system nor return to an idealised past, but must instead face up to the task of building a new future.

on the scale we need to think at:

Our problems are increasingly systemic and global, and they require an equally systemic response.

on freedom:

Freedom is a synthetic enterprise [i.e. one we create ourselves], not a natural gift.

on the fact that we have to build a better humanity, not rediscover one:

There is no authentic human essence to be realised, no harmonious unity to be returned to, no unalienated humanity obscured by falsed mediations, no organic wholeness to be achieved.

and on the demands:

the political project for the twenty-first-century left must be to build an economy in which people are no longer dependent upon wage labour for survival.

demands again:

achieving this will require the realisation of four minimal demands:

  1. full automation
  2. The reduction of the working week
  3. The provision of a basic income
  1. The diminishment of the work ethic

and on utopias:

They demand that the future be realised, they form an impossible but necessary object of desire, and they give us a language of hope and aspiration for a better world.

I’ll finish with an Arthur C Clarke quote, which leads one of the chapters, and which is a direct challenge to parts of our manifesto (which I will be proposing changes to based on this):

The goal of the future is full unemployment.


#2

A couple of those quotes make me recoil a little, but I also understand that’s probably because I know where I stand when the status quo :wink:

The world view bit is interesting. I’ve thought in the last week about how the current Labour kerfuffle comes down to a clash between an old-style political party and a new politics movement. What Momentum has created is a progressive movement that has incredibly managed to infiltrate a party entrenched in the status quo. I think it shows what’s possible when you build a movement that speaks to people. Very exciting!

Separate note: can we start an actual book club please? I’m fucking terrible at reading and need an incentive :wink:


#3

It’s definitely provocative, so therefore well worth a read :slight_smile:

As for book club, I figured this might be a way to do it asynchronously! I’ve got another to post as well, and it might be nice to revisit some of the references in the original openpolitics reading list too (like “rebooting democracy” and “future perfect”).


#4

Which quotes in particular were the ones that made you twitch? I can try to provide more context - those are just the short bits I highlighted on my kindle!


#5

Those two particularly. I get it, and understand it, but I can see how people might be scared of that prospect.


#6

OK, yes. It’s a very different world, for sure, and work is so ingrained in us that it seems impossible and scary.

I’ve got Paul Mason’s postcapitalism book lined up next, so that might be a more human-readable exploration of the ideas, with more of a narrative justification of it all.


#7

Nice. Do you fancy doing a proper book club thing? I.e., choose a book, commit to reading it in x amount of time then have a thread to share our thoughts.


#8

Why not - want to propose the first one as a new topic?


#9

This looks interesting. I’ll look into it and might get a copy. I’ve got a few books on the pile at the moment, but just thinking about books that may be useful for Something New, The Global Minotaur by Yanis Varoufakis comes to mind.


#10

I’ve done a book club thread: Something New Book Club

We’ll have a thread for each book too. E.g.: Book Club: “PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future” by Paul Mason


#11

I’m half-way through this book but really enjoying it - especially the position of left-wing politics at present which seems divided between nostalgia and cow tailing the centre ground (largely towards neo-liberalism).

Anyway, only half-way through but have enjoyed so far and really stimulated a lot of stuff in my mind about where I stand on things.

Cole