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Friday, December 2, 2022

Luxury communism

By: Keith Miles

I had heard often the phrase ‘champagne socialists’ and this referred to wealthy people who promoted socialism as the cure for all political problems. But ordinary folk said that these people believed in champagne for themselves and socialism for the rest of the population.

I  recently heard a variation on this called ‘Luxury Communism’. This seems to have come from a book by Aaron Bastani called Fully Automated Luxury Communism although the context within which I heard the phrase was somewhat different. I heard the phrase in the context of former communists from former communist states becoming very wealthy from sales of state assets, living luxury lifestyles and still proposing socialism as the ideal society.

The Bastani book  was published in 2019 and clearly had no account taken of the mess the world economy has got into as  a result of both the pandemic and the continuing printing of money through quantitative easing and extensive and unsustainable bond purchasing by the European Central Bank.

The Bastani book imagined a high tech world where through automation there would be a surfeit of supply of energy, labour, resources and information that would push down the prices of basic goods. The result would be that the capitalist system would be so under strain that it would break down and be replaced by communism that is successful because of technology. The book seems to follow some of the ideas of the socialist Paul Mason in his book Postcapitalism. Neither of them realise that capitalism is as more an accounting system and economic method than a philosophy that helps to allocate resources better in a free market society. They seem to think this is irrelevant if there is an excess supply of everything enabled by technology.

To me that Bastani and Mason seem to be making the same ridiculous mistake that Marx made when in the The German Ideology he predicted

In communist society, where 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.

Bastani seems to rely on the futurist ideas of such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, but if we destroy the basis of these capitalist entrepreneurs with so-called luxury communism how will any one have an incentive to develop. This was always the problem of communism and socialism. The hard-working never like supporting the indolent. The taxpayer never liked paying for top lifestyles of communist leaders. His idea of luxury communism with abundance for all is at best naive.

I recall noticing when I first visited Slovenia, then part of Yugoslavia, in the late 1970s that the only Mercedes car in the village was owned by the local party secretary. Of course as I got to know Yugoslavia better I realised that the best state flats and houses were allocated to party people, and the country and seaside villas also were for party people – not holiday camps for them. Not forgetting the overseas trips with lots of time to go shopping in the decadent West. Of course even more absurd was the number of cars and palaces of the communist dictator Tito. Not forgetting his private zoo. Luxury communism was only for the party leaders not the people.

The man and woman in the street do not want leaders who enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

All history shows than when an elite becomes self serving whether that is an aristocracy or totalitarian party or ever more powerful bureaucracy, eventually the people revolt against these inefficient systems that benefit the few even if they did throw some crumbs to the masses.

The quote from the Roman satirist Juvenal comes to mind – ‘Panis et Circenses’  (Bread and circuses – free wheat to Roman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power).

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