Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work
Good Reads, by Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams
A major new manifesto for a high-tech future free from work
Neoliberalism isn’t working. Austerity is forcing millions into poverty and many more into precarious work, while the left remains trapped in stagnant political practices that offer no respite.
Inventing the Future is a bold new manifesto for life after capitalism. Against the confused understanding of our high-tech world by both the right and the left, this book claims that the emancipatory and future-oriented possibilities of our society can be reclaimed. Instead of running from a complex future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams demand a postcapitaist economy capable of advancing standards, liberating humanity from work and developing technologies that expand our freedoms.
Alex Sarll, 17 Oct 2015
When did ‘modernisation’ become a euphemism for life getting worse in the interests of the rich? Why do ‘Conservatives’ now advocate change, while the left is too often reduced to mere resistance or a desire to turn the clock back? What happened to bold visions of a better future for everyone?
This is a brave and necessary book, which makes a powerful case for a serious rethink. Disdaining the current trend for ‘folk politics’, though sympathetic to the urges behind it, they sensibly note that "The reality of complex, globalised capitalism is that small interventions consisting of relatively non-scalable actions are highly unlikely to ever be able to reorganise our socioeconomic system." Examining the birth of neoliberalism, once itself a counter-hegemonic strategy, and its "long-term redefinition of the possible", Srnicek and Williams suggest a similar and opposite strategy is now needed from the left. Even the first goal they suggest – the end of work – seems utopian at present, but they have the chutzpah to see it as but a first step on the road to redefining human civilisation. Something which, as they observe, has been done plenty of times before, often from even worse starting points than ours*. They’re also keenly aware of the range of interests sometimes overlooked by the traditional left, and talk usefully about ways of building common cause with intersecting but historically non-identical struggles from environmentalism to feminism and beyond.
It’s a very smart book, and a visionary one too, but I’m not sure it’ll ever be a bestseller. They’re very good about avoiding jargon for jargon’s sake, and in its ambitious field it’s definitely an easier read than eg Vaneigem, but it’s still unavoidably technical. I think the authors would be the first to agree that what would be brilliant now is for some new Wilde to read this and sublime it into a new ‘Soul of Man under Socialism’. This is a first manifesto, a pointer in the right direction, a theoretical grounding. Whilst knowing that little here is likely to appear in undiluted form any time soon, I certainly hope that a slow filtering-through might begin, not least if people in the Corbyn and Sanders teams get hold of copies.
(I got mine from Netgalley; this may have changed now, but it was up with no gatekeeping, so that anyone who joined the site could download a copy. Lots of publishers do that as a standard promotional tactic, of course, but Verso being Verso, I can’t help wondering if in this particular case there was also an element of deliberate evangelism)
*Though for me one of the book’s flaws is the way they skip over feudalism in suggesting a fairly seamless transition from individual subsistence agriculture to urban labour. Yes, in the developing world now, many people are being driven off the land and into the slums – but in mediaeval Europe, the cities were beacons of freedom for the rural poor, a lure despite shocking death rates and the like. Indeed, for others of the global poor, that’s still the case today.
Angel Pradel, 27 Nov 2015
Universal Basic Income, full automation and the end of work presented as a leftist technological utopia. Interesting the critics of "folk" politics of occupy movements and the narrative of the actual neoliberalism supremacy. Clever approximation to the feasibility of power more in ecosystems of diverse movements than in monolithic parties.
Not complete, perhaps sometimes naive but a good initial sketch of action for a new left.
John Levi Masuli, 3 Feb 2016
Sums up my own thoughts on what they call ‘folk political’ tendencies in the current popularity of anarchist and anarchist-like radical formations like The Invisible COmmitte and Tiqqun, the popularity of locally-produced goods, etc. However, it focused on its limitations while not looking at its potentials for organizing and establishing counter-hegemony
Demand automation? demand more free time? the book’s insistence to go beyond the ‘old’ demands of labor to accommodate new realities is fine, but proposes nothing on how these demands can possibly be fought for in actual political struggle
Refuses to call ‘socialism’ and uses ‘post-work society’ instead, reeks to much of anarchist ‘against work’ shibboleth and overestimates the role of machines in the production of goods
Refuses to call capitalism capitalism, calls neoliberalism as the dominant system
Very vague, too many prescriptions ("we must do this, do that") some of which are spot on while many are obviously just rationalizations of academic disappointments with the ‘left’
William, 10 Jan 2016
An important book, but not without a few glaring issues. Chief among these issues it the lack of any sort of ecological immediacy in the text nor any real explication how exactly the fully automated post-capitalist, post-work society that the authors envision would function in an ecologically sound manner. The authors are also, in my opinion, naively optimistic about the democratization and dissemination of technique and expertise that would be required for the society that they envision to function. This is coupled with a lack of critique of technology in terms of its potential psychological/sociological/cultural effects.
With that said, the chapters on folk politics ("Our Political Common Sense," "Why Aren’t We Winning?"), neoliberalism ("Why Are They Winning?") and counter-hegemony ("A New Common Sense," "Building Power") are excellent must-read material for leftists of every stripe.
Jordan Peacock, 20 Nov 2015
While it’s not perfect by any stretch, it gets more than enough right to be an excellent primer on why we need a politics reconfigured around work. More importantly, it structures its demands to be mutually reinforcing. And their insistence upon developing an organizational ecology (akin to that built by the neoliberals after the 50s) is spot on. It’s an easy read suitable for a general audience, and the assumed familiarity with leftist tropes is kept to a minimum.
See more comments here