Popular new books by leading figures in the new left media landscape shine a revealing light on the potential - and limits - of the case for socialism in the twenty-first century
Aaron Bastani, Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto, Verso 2019 Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality, Verso 2019
What is the precise shape of the more just society the left ought to fight for? Should it accept the inequalities intrinsic to capitalist production or pursue a more radically egalitarian settlement that goes beyond social democracy? And what actions ought to be taken in order to move towards such a future? Does extra-parliamentary organising represent a distraction from the real work of electoral politics, or is it a necessary supplement to it? Over the last few years, a number of what commentators have dubbed 'millennial socialists' - young left-wing activists who support the policies championed by septuagenarian socialist politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders - have been at the forefront of the debates raging around these questions. Through newspaper columns and television appearances, they have attacked the centrist Third Way consensus that dominated progressive politics prior to 2008, and which still exercises considerable influence. Do millennial socialists possess solutions to the left's current malaise? The publication of manifestos from two of the most prominent voices among their ranks - Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media, and Bhaskar Sunkara, founder and editor of Jacobin - offers an opportunity to assess this prospect.
Bastani's Fully Automated Luxury Communism aims to update the traditional Marxist vision of a post-capitalist future - where one can hunt in the morning and fish in the afternoon, without ever becoming hunter or fisherman - by aligning it more closely with the technological capabilities of the twenty-first century. The bulk of the book is taken up with describing a number of soon-to-be realised technological innovations made possible by the information revolution, by means of which an increasingly abundant supply of data is transforming our productive capacities. Bastani argues that gene editing technology will soon revolutionise medicine, making it possible to optimise one's genetic programming to remove the risk of contracting various diseases; the growing ability to harness solar and wind power will transform energy production, making it possible to increase the planet's energy use without relying on fossil fuels; and automation will radically change the production of goods and services, meaning humans are no longer required to perform many logistical, retail and even medical and legal roles. Similarly, asteroid mining will alter the currently dwindling prospects for mineral extraction on earth, allowing humanity to access practically...