By Alicia Wikner
In his book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Peter Frase, an editor at the Jacobin magazine, uses speculative fiction in order to imagine a future that takes place after the increasing automation of industry, the hierarchy of class struggle, and the inevitable scarcity of resources. After capitalism, Frase believes the global economies will diverge into one of four viable options: socialism, exterminism, rentism, or communism.
The lecture began with a brief introduction by Matthew Irvin, Associate Professor of English, Chair of Medieval Studies, and the faculty advisor for the Sewanee Young Democratic Socialists (YDS). “[Frase’s] work does not traffic in easy solutions…But it does remind us that this moment is not the only possible way of being, and that socialism extends beyond just more egalitarian reforms of welfare state,” he said.
Irvin continued, “It grounds itself in the possibility of communism — a word that I think a lot of socialists avoid saying — and embraces, in the face of authoritarian and technocratic regimes…the unpredictable quality of freedom.”
Frase defines his own writing as social science-fiction, a writing hybrid of social science and science fiction. “I’m trying to go back to the question of what science fiction and speculative fiction is. When people think of sci-fi, they think of The Martian, physics and science,” he says, “[But] there’s hard sci-fi, which is science, and soft sci-fi, which is [fairy-esque].”
One of the questions that Frase contemplates in his book is how speculative fiction can fit into political discussions, in order to “think beyond” what Frase called “the concrete, immediate past.”
By relying only on empirical research, individuals can create self-imposed limitations on their understanding and hopes for the future; speculative fiction provides a creative, out-of-the-box tool for identifying possible problems that could arise in the future, as well as what the outcomes of and possible solutions to those problems could be.
Frase hopes that the international community can move beyond the idea that a person’s time is spent working for wages, and that instead the measure of wealth should be dictated by the autonomous free time available to pursue personal interests and not money.
Returning to the topic of the four futures, socialism, communism, exterminism, and rentism, Frase based his speculations on “scarcity to abundance of ecology” and “hierarchy to equality of class struggle,” which he specified as “the way that property relations and power relations are structured and are going to influence where we go, even if we have the technical ability to free ourselves from undesired labor.”
Communism, staying true to the old Marxism sense, is defined as “in each according to their ability, in each according to their need.” It is possible when, according to Frase’s terms, there is a material abundance, meaning enough resources available, and an equality between the classes.
Frase classified socialism as egalitarian, insisting, “we have class struggle to some extent.” It is defined by a lack of resources, but with an equality of the socio-economic classes.
In speaking of rentism, Frase said, “[He] was thinking of Star Trek and Karl Marx, both things I like.” Anti-StarTrek is a society based on rent, with “a stream of revenue for controlling access to something, like patent and copyrights.”
There are already traces of rentism present in the economy, such as farmers being sold the right to use tractors for farming but not the tractor itself. Rentism on the four-futures graph arises when there is an abundance of resources but a hierarchy between the socio-economic classes.
Last, and as specified by its name, the most extreme future, is exterminism. Frase borrowed the term from M.T. Thompson, and repurposed it to describe a future where, he explains, “most labour has been automated away, and resources are scarce. It breaks down mutual interdependence between capital and labor. If automation renders workers superfluous, I often conclude that [with] these huge masses of superfluous people, who are dangerous because they exist in [such] huge masses… the solution is to exterminate them.”
To better understand how the fall of capitalism could affect the global community, read Frase’s book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, which is available at the University Bookstore.