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<nettime> Digital_bahaus_2016 review
Max Dovey on Mon, 13 Jun 2016 18:44:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Digital_bahaus_2016 review

   Fully Automated Luxury Communism

   or Full Employment for the Creative Class?

   A diverse selection of artists, designers and entrepreneurs spent two
   days in Weimar last week imagining how to use design, software and
   networks can permeate or alter existing political and social
   structures. For anyone unsure of the meaning of �xury communism�it
   is a vague concept introduced by a few sensationalist articles
   published in [1]Vice last year. The provocative �lly Automated Luxury
   Communism�unctions as a stylish placeholder for a new school of
   thought that concatenates socialist fantasies such as a post-work
   society and universal basic income (UBI) within a landscape of
   technological accelerationism and hyper-capitalism. Fully automated
   luxury communism enables the left to vocalize a vision for the future
   that utilizes aspects of technological acceleration to bring about
   socialist values and anti-capitalist politics. A distinct reference for
   this movement is Alex Williams and Nick Srnieck�book [2]Inventing the
   Future (2015) in which the authors lay out a framework for the
   political left to create a socialist utopia that involves fully
   automated labor and universal basic income. The picturesque town of
   Weimar and the cultural history of Walter Gropius�Bauhaus provided
   the perfect backdrop to discuss the prospect of a socialist
   technological revolution imagined and initiated through the arts and

   Much of the first day of the Summit was spent discussing existing
   technological products and services, and presenting working
   alternatives. [3]Trebor Scholz from The New School in New York
   highlighted some workers�ooperative movements that are countering
   share economy companies with initiatives such as [4]Peerby � platform
   that facilitates borrowing and sharing of community resources or[5]
   La�oz �he driver owned car share business. Within these initiatives
   there is a focus towards improving workers�ights within the on-demand
   economy, as tech companies now manage an increasingly large portion of
   the labor market (1/3 of American workforce is an independent
   freelancer) the the need for legal rights and unionization becomes
   increasingly pertinent. Rather than wait for Governments to pass laws
   to protect independent contractors working in the share economy, many
   within the Platform Cooperativism movement are working to build
   services with added social awareness, with collective equity and
   workers�ights built into the software design of the platform. This
   type of activism draws upon the managerial coordination of trade
   unionists, but pulls in the on-demand platform consumer as an honorable
   and equitable member. Although it is seems like familiar tactics for
   the left to unionize and protect workers�ights in the face of
   expansive and exploitative capitalism, we have yet to see how models
   for trade unions can flourish alongside silicon valley enterprises.
   Will it be necessary for platform co-ops to scale, or collaborate with
   traditional unions, will they be able to compete in the on-demand
   market whilst still ensuring workers with stable and secure

   Another concept that is fearlessly escalating into European-wide policy
   is Universal Basic Income (UBI). [6]Johannes Ponader from Mein
   Grundeinkommen (My Basic Income) spoke of the rapid popularity of his
   self initiated basic income lottery, a collective crowdsourced UBI
   scheme that annually allocates �2,000 to one of its members. While
   these DIY schemes are directly implementing UBI, the national
   government of Switzerland just held their first public referendum on
   the matter, which showed just 23% of voters to be in favor of such a
   system. Like many within the Basic Income movement, Ponader appears
   unconcerned with achieving immediate mass appeal with UBI, rather he
   presents the prospect of UBI as the inevitable solution to mass
   automation of the labor market. Many within the Basic Income movement
   believe that the 23% in favor of UBI in Switzerland will increase over
   time and since the initial poll 69% of all the Swiss voters believe
   that there will be more referendums on the idea.

   Throughout the two days the word �centralized�as regularly used to
   refer to more fair or equally distributed systems. However, as we have
   repeatedly seen with Bitcoin and more recently in consensus based
   systems such as [7]ConsenSys, decentralized does not inherently mean
   more democratic. Although both platform co-ops and venture communist
   style approaches try to put human co-ownership at the center of their
   design, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and other
   de-centralized alternatives have regularly been exposed as biased,
   unequal and centralized concentrations of power and wealth. The
   cypto-currency bitcoin for example was been revealed to have over 70%
   of the wealth owned by 1% of the [8]bitcoin community and more recently
   the democratic fairness of DAOs was challenged in an article on
   [9]Hacking Distributed. With buzz-words such as de-centralized It is
   important not to automatically denote that this implies more democratic
   because there is lots of evidence to suggest that this is not the case.

   Bruce Sterling took the stage on the second day to provide an extensive
   list of existing contexts and scenarios where some of the luxury
   communist values ideals are already put in practice. These ranged from
   pensioners (post-work society), cruise liners (machine designed for
   luxury) and the Amish community (no capitalism, collective workforce,
   no WiFi) and Christiania, the outlawed area of Copenhagen collectively
   governed by its artist and bohemian residents. Sterling ran through
   these existing social structures highlighting the qualities that they
   share with a luxury communist future, repeatedly asking himself (and
   the audience) if they sincerely wanted to live in one of these
   communities. It brought the make believe contradictory notion of luxury
   and communism firmly to ground. As Sterling presented his personal
   Pinterest account, in which he highlights his favorite interior designs
   within sqauts and communes, the values of counter culture movements
   such as squatting become little more than superficial style indicators,
   devoid of meaning or political value.� Sterling did an excellent job
   at revealing this oversight, intentionally highlighting refugee camps
   as pertinent examples of post-work commune living outside of state or
   market governance.� When some of the political values within the
   luxury communism vision are connected to places of extreme poverty such
   as refugee camps and homeless shelters, the demands for luxury
   communism appear short sighted and problematically naïve.

   To put a stop to any further dreaming of post-work utopias [10]Evgeny
   Morozov delivered a meticulous diagnosis of the political economy that
   left little space for designers to imagine alternative political or
   social orders. Morozov views �lly Automated Luxury Communism�s an
   euphemism for �ll employment for the creative class�nsisting that
   the audience don�have the luxury to talk about communism�Morozov
   propels the effects of neo-liberalism as the paralysis of �at is left
   of the political left�nd candidly presents an ideology so far
   ingrained into Western culture that any alternative is simply indulgent
   fantasy. Admittedly, his forecast for Luxury Communism is probably the
   most likely, he presents the intrusion of Silicon Valley into
   state-based welfare and highlights the interest of tech giants into
   schemes such as UBI. Silicon Valley�research into UBI and Google�   recent acquisition of Metamind (used to diagnose patients in the UK�   National Health Service) all indicate a dwarfing of state run services
   to outsourced tech services that, in Morozov�view, will give way to a
   Silicon Valley entrepreneurial welfare state. According to Morozov,
   digital tech companies are attempting to substitute state welfare in
   order to protect themselves from the instability of their current
   economic model that relies on the speculative advertising market and
   provide the freedom to manage citizens without the interventions of
   governments or as Silicon Valley often nicknames �e Paper Belt�   Morovoz claims that as Google and Facebook move towards neo-feudalism
   and cities become orientated around smart technology and openness, open
   data style hack labs are futile attempts to frantically prototype
   alternatives before the eventually engulfing of entrepreneurial
   welfare. For Morozov, the inevitable narrative for post-capitalism is
   entrepreneurial welfare, based on a feudalist monopoly that uses
   citizen data to produce commercial identities and post-border
   nationalities. This sobering diagnosis punctured much of the excitement
   towards socialist technological accelerationism and Morozov clearly
   sees any significant global change originating from within politics,
   not design. When asked directly for an example of transformative
   politics he half heartedly indicates support for the 5 Star Movement in
   Italy. This direct democratic movement is a bottom-up initiative to
   reform politics from the socialist left. However, as they gain
   increasing power and reach an electorate majority I wonder how Morozov
   will sustain his reductive separation between the bureaucrats and tech
   elites, when if his prediction of entrepreneurial welfare is correct,
   the two will no longer be distinguishable. His support for 15m movement
   as the only distinct movement from the left that can grasp the full
   scale of neo-liberalism is condescending and far from convincing. He
   seemingly neglects the work done by organisations such as [11]D-cent
   who have developed digital tools for direct democratic parties
   (including 15M movement) across Europe. When Morovoz claims that the
   political right have been the only ones capable of harnessing networked
   technology to fuel their political ambition, he is referring to a
   historic trajectory rather than acknowledging recent technological
   activism. I would argue that there is an increasing movement showcased
   not only within this conference but in design communities throughout
   Europe that are attempting to challenge Morozov�diagnosis with p2p
   collective organization, open source technology and political power.

   In response, [12]Vinay Gupta presented a pragmatic design-based
   schematic to solve the humanitarian crisis with open source and
   de-centralized technology. Gupta�diagram presented 6 basic human
   needs that could be solved with relatively cheap p2p technology.
   Injury, illness, thirst, hunger, coldness, heat. Gupta ran through a
   bunch of technological solutions to most of these problems while
   insisting that these basic needs have to be met before we can begin
   discussing or designing post-work utopias for ourselves. Gupta presents
   all of this in a feasible way, incidentally avoiding political issues
   with logic, applied science & networked computing. By deploying an
   infrastructure suggested by Gupta, we would practically begin fighting
   battles we can actually win, such as micro water filters to prevent
   disease or 3D-printed homes that could provide shelter less than �00.
   He argues that part of the reasons this is not happening is that
   activists are still using an outdated paradigm to frame their approach;
   in his opinion �oting Karl Marx wont cure some of the oppressive
   qualities of global capitalism�ut designing some innovative solutions
   with new technologies might.

   It remains to be seen whether Luxury Communism will become more a vogue
   topic to discuss over dinner and indulge in the undeniably attractive
   potential for post-work lifestyles and basic incomes. Morozov can
   deflate this indulgence by arguing that global change will only
   originate from within politics. In doing so he overlooks the tremendous
   impact that design and technology have already had in the world, in so
   far that powerful tech companies are apparently now attempting to
   absorb and replace national services. Restoring socialist organizations
   such as co-ops and trade unions will provide shelter for a politically
   or socially aware elite whilst the tech giants get their teeth stuck
   into Governance 2.0. If Morozov�prediction is accurate than Silicon
   Valley business ventures will attempt to turn state welfare into a
   on-demand service economy for everything. I think it�quite
   conceivable that in 30 years we could be living in a post-work society
   and It is intriguing to see a political vision hoping to restore core
   social values, such as welfare states and labour unions, in the face of
   networked platform capitalism. Perhaps by envisioning this now we can
   begin to work out how the political left can strategically counter this
   imminent possibility, without retreating to local politics and small
   scale activism. Therefore spending a few days indulging in the
   potential implications of Fully automated Luxury Communism, as
   frivolous as it may sound, was a productive necessity, not just to
   identify a cohort of fellow ambitious futurists but also to get a sense
   of how the left will have to create something far more inclusive than
   basic luxury communism.



   1. https://www.vice.com/read/luxury-communism-933
   2. https://www.versobooks.com/books/1989-inventing-the-future
   3. http://www.newschool.edu/facultyexperts/faculty.aspx?id=93094
   4. https://www.peerby.com/
   5. http://www.lazooz.net/
   6. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Ponader
   7. https://consensys.net/
   8. https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/who-owns-all-the-bitcoins-an-infographic-of-wealth-distribution/2015/01/24
   9. http://hackingdistributed.com/2016/05/27/dao-call-for-moratorium
  10. http://www.evgenymorozov.com/
  11. http://dcentproject.eu/
  12. https://twitter.com/leashless
  13. http://networkcultures.org/moneylab/2016/06/10/fully-automated-luxury-communism/

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