Below is mine and Muhammad Kamil’s entry in the European based Collage Competitions‘ challenge to imagine what urban living might look like in a post-capitalist economy.
Check out the winners and all entries in the “Live” section we entered (other sections were Shop, Work and Move).
Text mainly by me, drawings by Muhammad, concepts by both.
A tale of two cities
In the year 2020 the global downturn in credit-fuelled growth finally hits the Asian economies. Strikes, lock-outs and general lawlessness provoke workplace occupations, gradually becoming widespread in key national export industries. Eventually, the workers’ control movement establishes the first truly post-capitalist city in Jakarta, while the end of cheap labour-intensive commodities from Asia provokes a crisis in the Western capitalist city of Melbourne (Slide 1)
After years of rapid growth, newly industrialised workers throughout Asia are faced with sackings and wage-cuts as capitalists withdraw their investments. At first, the ideology of these workers is conservative. They will restart production to sell commodities on the global market, to keep themselves in employment while capitalists are not willing to run the factories at a loss. Only a handful of anarchists and other radicals call for the development of a new system. Marxists argue for the nationalisation of industry, but after years in ascendance the Asian capitalist class is ideologically unprepared for such a compromise.
More business closures are seen as opportunities by more workers to take control in order to survive. Farmers and agricultural workers seize land and occupy mining and other mega-projects that span the Asia Pacific. As it grows, the politics of the workers’ movement are radicalised.
Worker-controlled industries continue to produce and export commodities, but within those industries a new mode of exchange develops. Various industrial federations meet first for the purpose of exchange, but then amalgamate, and begin to distribute some items according to needs among their members.
The immediate impact of worker control is that monetary profits are shared among the members of each industry. As the process of socialisation spreads across industries profits (or surpluses in terms of goods distributed within the federations) are spread more evenly throughout society. The amount of time they must work to earn a previously unimaginable standard of living is drastically reduced, improving workers’ ratio of labour vs leisure time. There is an immediate reduction in working hours and an increased focus on living rather than work.
All labour therefore becomes relatively scarce and highly valued, with the labour of those previously unemployed in high demand. There is an overall reduction in goods produced for export, so the industrial federations in Asia can demand a much higher price (Slide 2)
The size of the movement across Asia and the Pacific forces Western economies to purchase key commodities, particularly oil, directly from the ever-expanding industrial federations. Asian and Western economies are too integrated to survive in isolation. Trade is limited, but unavoidable.
Two cities are emblematic of the changes going on in the world economy: Jakarta and Melbourne. Nowhere has the development of a post-capitalist system advanced more than in Jakarta, while Melbourne is among the Western capitalist cities worst hit by the end of extreme exploitation in Asia.
Jakarta used to be the capitalist mega-city of Indonesia, which industrialised over the past half-century. The city had a huge divide between rich and poor, and corruption in its city planning led to ecological stress. Slum dwellers lived in informal settlements; a constant supply of cheap labour.
Now Jakarta is the most advanced centre of a new form of social exchange and production: post-capitalism. The buildings constructed during the booming years of capitalism and later abandoned by the financial elite, the skyscrapers, have become emblems of a new libertarian communism. The slum dwellers who moved into these structures are the same people who were originally evicted from their land to construct these buildings (Slide 4)
The skyscrapers are vertical living districts where former precariously employed workers and market venders apply their skills in craft and other industries. They are places of life and production that collapse the distinction between home and work. Gradually inhabitants begin to pool their resources as they realise the benefits of economies of scale (Slide 3). The skyscrapers join the industrial federations, calling for a radical communisation of exchange according to the principle, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.
Meanwhile the standard of living in “the world’s most livable city”, Melbourne, has been fundamentally disturbed by the changes in the world economy.
Australia had responded to Asian industrialisation by selling raw materials and developing service industries (including exports like education) while importing manufactured and other labour-intensive items. Now the price of those items has skyrocketed.
The population’s declining purchasing power is the tipping point for defaults on mortgage repayments. Australia’s debt-fuelled housing market collapses. Credit-creation stalls and aggregate demand falters. Banks repossess thousands of suburban homes, and apartments in the skyscrapers that were built over the past decade to stop urban sprawl.
The newly homeless and unemployed protest in the Central Business District asking the financial elite and the government to solve the economic crisis (Slide 5). Slowly though, as capitalists refuse to run their industries at a loss, the first signs of the worker-control movement are spreading to the West.