- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Verso Books (13 Oct. 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1784780960
- ISBN-13: 978-1784780968
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work Paperback – 13 Oct 2015
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“A conceptual launch pad for a new socialist imagination.”
—Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums
“Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ project dares to propose a different way of thinking and acting. Given the fizzling of the Occupy moment, a radical rethinking of the anarchic approach is badly needed but just not happening. This book could do a lot of work in getting that rethink going.”
—Doug Henwood, author of Wall Street
“A powerful book: it not only shows us how the postcapitalist world of rapidly improving technology could make us free, but it also shows us how we can organise to get there. This is a must-read.”
—Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future
“Srnicek and Williams demonstrate how a sustainable economic future is less a question of means than of imagination. The postcapitalist world they envision is utterly attainable, if we can remember that we have been inventing the economy all along.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
“Neoliberalism and austerity seem to reign supreme—the idea of a society not run for profit seems impossible. Or does it? The fascinating Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams argues for a radical transformation of society.”
—Owen Jones, New Statesman books of the year 2015
“A future free from work might seem unrealistic, but it is actually the elephant in the room that [David] Cameron et al. would rather you ignored. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ fabulous study opened my eyes to the role technology might play in making society possible again.”
—Peter Fleming, author of the Mythology of Work, from the Times Higher Education Supplement
“Inventing the Future is exactly what we need right now. With immense patience and care, it sets out a clear and compelling vision of a postcapitalist society. Equally importantly, it lays out a plausible programme which can take us from 24/7 capitalist immiseration to a world free of work.”
—Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
“Most important book of 2015.″
—Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media
"A fascinating book about an alternative to austerity: can't wait to read it." - Owen Jones
“Inventing the Future is unapologetically a manifesto, and a much-overdue clarion call to a seriously disorganized metropolitan left to get its shit together, to start thinking — and arguing — seriously about what is to be done…It is hard to deny the persuasiveness with which the book puts forward the positive contents of a new and vigorous populism; in demanding full automation and universal basic income from the world system, they also demand the return of utopian thinking and serious organization from the left.” – Ian Lowrie, The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, offers an ambitious, thoughtfully creative and meticulously researched blueprint for a new strategy toward building a mass global movement to counter the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism…Srnicek and Williams offer a profoundly thoughtful, meticulously analyzed contribution to this body of work. Most importantly, they offer a glimmer of hope that the future is something that might still be invented by us, not imposed from above.” – PopMatters
“Inventing the Future is both accessible and original” – Nicholas Korody, Archinect
“I love the way [Srnicek and Williams] talk about a basic income as something really transformative” – Caroline Lucas MP
“As well as books such as Guy Standing’s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (2011) and Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism (2015), one recent text is talked about more than most among people interested in UBI. Inventing the Future was published last year and has already created significant buzz in leftwing circles” – John Harris, Guardian
“This is a book I’ve been waiting for...The purpose of neo-liberalism is to cancel the future, where tomorrow looks exactly like today only with more stuff and more debt. To hell with that! Our lives are too short and too precious to exist in this Matrix. Please read the book, tell others to read it and let’s invent our future.” – Neal Lawson, Compass
“In Inventing the Future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams take on the two key questions of the left, if I can characterise them broadly: why are we so bad at saying stuff, and do we have anything to say? Their diagnoses of the shortcomings of what they call ‘folk politics,’ are perceptive, clear, brutal, but respectful. Their prescription for the future can seem vertiginously sudden—you’ll need to either get on board with a basic citizen’s income, or form a better refutation than ‘it sounds expensive,’ and fast. But critically, they identify our urgent task: to own modernity.” – Zoe Williams, Guardian
About the Author
Nick Srnicek is a Teaching Fellow in Geopolitics and Globalisation at University College London, a PhD graduate in International Relations from LSE, and a co-editor of The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Alex Williams is a PhD student at the University of East London working on a thesis entitled Complexity & Hegemony.
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I’m also OK with intellectual name-dropping, if it’s done in a way that’s sympathetic to a non-specialist reader. I think Paul Mason is really good at that, so that the non-specialist reader ends up feeling like they’ve been introduced to something new and interesting, rather than feeling stupid for never previously having heard of the person cited. Unfortunately, there was more of the latter than the former here. This is particularly unfortunate because it is in part a call for ‘organic intellectuals’ a la Gramsci, and also because it elsewhere condemns impenetrable academic language. For the most part I can’t see how the wealth of academic citations enhances the authors’ argument, though I do see how demonstrating familiarity with this burnishes their academic credentials.
This is particularly annoying because there is so much about this book that is great. I was thrilled to read the demolition of what the authors call ‘folk-politics’, by which they mean the unquestioned conventional wisdom and practices of the left. There is a really well thought through critique of the way the left prioritises direct action (stunts and marches), localism and the absence of leadership and power. It makes a lot of useful distinctions between vanguards and representation, acknowledges that transparency and clandestinity both have their places, and recognises the differences between all sorts of activities as useful tactics and elevating them to a principle. It recognises, too, the need for a division of labour, between movement and party and campaign groups and think tanks. It’s not an organisational manual, but it’s not a bad place from which to start writing one.
I also liked the emphasis on the need to confront the future of work, and the impending destruction of those ‘jobs’ that have survived globalisation and flexible labour markets by automation. I rather suspect the authors under-estimate the challenge that is involved here – I can’t help thinking about the way that attempts to introduce a shorter working week and longer holidays have not gone well in, say, France. But the argument for doing this, and the way that they raise it, is very strong. There is a strong account of why we can’t just go back to the days of good old social democracy with male breadwinners and family wages, and an argument in favour universal basic income/citizen’s income that is closely intertwined with this.
It’s positive and future-centric too, arguing that the left needs to reclaim the optimism and association with modernity that it once had, and which it has largely ceded to the ‘modernising’ right. It calls for more utopias, and more learning from utopian communal living experiments about alternative ways to organise everyday life, even though it’s not very excited about local initiatives and temporary autonomous zones – seeing them as a part of the problem of the left’s inability to countenance the need to develop power strong enough to combat that of capital. In this it must surely be right – it’s hard to avoid the way that it’s much easier to write and sell dystopian visions on the left. If we can’t even dare to dream, how can we dare to win?
The third theme – about embracing technology and its ability to re-shape what it means to be human – left me somewhat colder. Firstly, because it was the section of the book most shrouded in difficult language (synthetic freedom is something we ought to aspire to, apparently), but also because there’s just something uncomfortable about the prospect of using technology to simply escape the human condition. I know that this is confused, confusing and difficult ground. I know that there is a strand of ‘conservative’ thinking on the left, and particularly in the greener stretches of it, that privileges the ‘natural’, sometimes in a way that is a bit unthinking. But equally, I’m aware that most of the remaking of the self that has taken place to date has been under the influence of capital, and I think a certain wariness about that kind of remaking is warranted. There is quotation from Trotsky somewhere (which I admit I am unable to find) about how when we've solved the material problems of human existence we’ll be able to confront the essentially tragic dimensions of the human condition. I'm in sympathy with this; I think that a left-wing version of ‘transhumanism’ that seeks to overcome ageing and death, or do away with the process of childbirth in favour of something cleaner and less troublesome, would make us something different to humans. This isn't part of my personal political objectives, and I don’t see any reason why it should form part of the objectives of a renewed, vigorous, successful, left.
There’s lots more to say about this book. It mentions lots of ideas and concepts that deserve further exploration, and it does act as a gateway to important discussions and material elsewhere. There are some great references to the ‘cybernetic engine’ deployed in the Allende government’s planned economy, and to the participatory economy. Not many leftist texts will have a reference to the Blockchain, not even now. It ignores some work that I think it shouldn't – Polanyi’s stuff about the way that capitalism not only created ‘economic man’ in theory but also in reality is important, as is his discussion about motivation in pre-capitalist societies.
But this is definitely a worthwhile read. I just wish – hope, perhaps – that the authors will write it again in a way that makes it accessible to those to whom it ought to be addressed; the new generation of activists who may not find a place in Sociology Departments or Critical Studies courses, but will nevertheless be engaging with capitalism at the sharp end. They certainly need a new, thoughtful perspective on what they are trying to do and how they might do it better and more effectively.
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