The New York Times may have given up on political cartoons, but it hasn’t lost its sense of humor. On Tuesday morning, the Times ran an extended advertisement for communism. Cockburn wondered at first if this was an attempt to make up for the cartoon deficit by running a political cartoon in verbal form, but no. The Times, the preferred prejudice-flatterer of some of the richest Americans, wants us, the proles, to give the most murderous ideology in history another chance.
This time, our maximum leader is Aaron Bastani. Instead of Marxist-Leninism or Mao Zedong Thought, it’s what Bastani calls ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’.
‘Asteroid mining. Gene editing. Synthetic meat,’ Chairman Bastani writes. ‘We could provide for the needs of everyone, in style. It just takes some imagination.’
Cockburn, unlike the Times, can take a political joke. He often sits down of an evening with a half-bottle of whiskey, a family bag of Doritos and a volume of Karl Marx. Bastani is selling an updated version of Marx’s sales pitch that communism is a better way of managing the technology and output of capitalism. Aaron has asteroids, and Karl had hemorrhoids, but both promise the workers that automation and centralized redistribution will give a life of comfort for all.
Older readers and survivors of re-education camps in the countryside may recall how it went when the communist ‘imagination’ was applied in the 20th century: a moral wasteland of police states, the Gulag Archipelago of prison camps in Russia, the Great Leap Forward that starved millions of Chinese peasants, the industrial failure that made the Soviet Union like ‘Upper Volta with nuclear missiles’, a global environmental catastrophe, and the tens of millions of dead.
Marx spoke about the ‘contradictions of capitalism’. Aaron the apparatchik is already living a few of them. Like Friedrich Engels, who had a finger in the pie of the cotton mills of Manchester, Bastani is a budding capitalist. He’s a founder of Novara Media of London. Launched in 2014 and named after the village in a 1971 Italian film called The Working Class Goes To Heaven, Novara claimed to ‘bring something new to political media in the UK and beyond’. If you’re one of Novara’s employees, Novara certainly brought something new to your job: no money whatsoever.
No, Bastani and the board hadn’t abolished money, the curse that distracts the proletariat from its revolutionary task. They just didn’t pay anyone, staff or freelancers. In 2016, coffers filled by the munificence of the ‘#Novara 10k fundraiser donors’, not all of them in Cuba and North Korea, Novara felt able to ‘offer some remuneration to our writers’ — a lordly £40, or if you prefer to use the currency of the imperial American overlord, a fulsome $56.
According to a gushing New Statesman profile, Novara’s staff were still unpaid in 2017. The working class may go to heaven, or at least a labor camp, if clowns like Bastani get their way, but middle-class malcontents like Bastani can afford to dabble in ‘political’ media, propped up, like Marx by Engels, by other people’s capitalist profits.
And here’s Aaron Bastani’s radical order of priorities: ‘In five years we want a space, we want a bar, we want a three- or four-story building, we want 15 paid employees, we want international bureaus.’
That’s right. The workers of Bastani’s world might get an invite to Novara’s private bar, but they won’t get paid for their work until the commissars have their drinks and their corner offices. Marx promised ‘actually existing socialism’. This is what it will look like for Novara — and how it always looked.
Cockburn suggests that Aaron Bastani and his editor at the New York Times do what the brave proletarians of Paris did in 1871, and take to the barricades. You first, dear comrades. And do tell us what you plan to do with the people who object to your appropriation of their products and property.