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Uncomfortable Necessities

 Back in 2014 I wrote in The Communist Necessity: "The act of making communism a necessity is generally unpleasant––but so is reality. If we have learned anything from the last two earth-shaking revolutions [Russia and China], it is that bringing communism into being is a messy business." Elsewhere in the same text I talked about the necessity of many of us having to be dragged down, losing our privilege, in order to make revolution. In his review of my first book, Gabriel Kuhn focused on this particular aspect of necessity and asked "when it comes to creating a better world, do you want to put your trust into the hands of someone who declares reality to be unpleasant no matter what?" Since that critical question was asked, and because this review was overall positive, I've had friendly relationship with Kuhn where we have discussed these points of critique. Because while, on the one hand I agree that this comment (and others like it in the text) did make the need for revolution seem unpleasant, on the other hand––as I told Kuhn and continue to maintain––I stand by the comment.

I'm thinking of this exchange again now that, over Twitter, there has been a small controversy about the same problem I was addressing in my first book. That is, someone posted that any socialist movement would have to do temporarily do without "bananas" in the imperialist core if there was to be world socialism, due to the fact that food exploitation and the ease of consuming tropical fruit is connected to imperialist extraction. Numerous first world socialists reacted with horror: how can you convince workers to be invested in socialism if you can't promise them these commodities, why can't you imagine a world where these commodities are ethically available?

But the point of that original tweet reinforces precisely what I was saying about the necessity of making communism all these years ago: it is hard work to break from the current nightmare of capitalism, and this hard work will mean that certain privileges can and should be given up by those who have benefited from global capitalism. Considering that easy access to tropical fruit is due to a very vicious imperialist process, until a new economy is established it makes little sense that workers in the global metropoles will receive foods from the global peripheries at the beginning of any socialist process. Why should they? Why should this matter? Yes we can imagine a future where these food are available, but the work it takes to set up non-predatory supply chains is not simple transference because it requires the hard work of setting up new international relations.

Eating particular fruit is the least of our problems. The entire energy and information economy is based on the most brutal mining and refinery labour. Extractivist logic is exterminist. The socialist building of an economy that can generate economism needs to come up with new options that will not allow the exploitation of silicon mining and refining to the current levels it exists. Degrowth is a socialist necessity if we are to survive to approach a communist necessity.

Let's be clear: if communism exists then it will lead to an infinite growth of human potentiality, social relations we can scarcely imagine, and a new historical stage that exists at the edge of utopian imagination. But such a world cannot exist without figuring out how to struggle out of this predatory world. It is magical thinking to presume we can immediately have everything we have under capitalism in a nascent socialist movement. Why would we think we can have that which is accorded to us from the most brutal labour––that exploits human lives and environmental resources––immediately without the hard work of building a non-predatory system? This is not liberatory thinking. Again: it is magical, idealist thinking.

That is, the pipe dream of "Fully Automated Luxury Communism" is exactly that––a pipe dream. Such a dream can and should be pursued as a future possibility, a life world that can and should exist. But to imagine that it should immediately exist in a socialist movement without the hard work to transform social relations from their currently predatory status into something better suited for all forms of life is to deny reality. Because the truth is that we must smash the current structure of predatory relations, and to do so means to lose a standard of consumption that those in imperialist metropoles are used to experiencing at the expense of workers in the global peripheries. There needs to be an evening out, and a way of approaching life that is not based on infinite consumption.

Why do we even imagine that organizing workers should be based on this lie of infinite consumption in the first place? The claim made by those who want us to pursue the magical thinking of immediate "Fully Automated Luxury Communism" is that workers (in the imperialist metropoles) will be turned off by telling them they can't have their bananas (or whatever imperialist derived good they want) as easily as they have it now. Why not organize them on principles that have nothing to do with consumption? Why not organize according to the necessity of shelter and food? And why not recognize the fact that any revolutionary movement worthy of the name "revolution" does not begin by accepting the lowest common denominator but instead seeks to first organize the most conscious elements of the working class? Which means not catering to economism, particularly the assumptions of the consumer logic of the working class.

It's been nearly a decade since The Communist Necessity was published and we're still engaging with the questions of necessity I put forward in that extended essay. Reality is not "unpleasant no matter what," as Kuhn conceptualized my comments about what a communist necessity required of us… But there is an upleasantness, for those used to immediate access to imperialist goods, that will be experienced by the event of a socialist revolution. An evening out of society requires that some are brought low while others are brought up to a standard of living––so be it.

(Thanks to @Insert66438804 for the twitter conversation that led to this post.)