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Postcapitalism? July 31, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

It’s been raised by others during the last week, but this article by Paul Mason in the Guardian on post capitalism is an interesting read.

It’s fascinating stuff. An argument that the new processes of the digital led economy are posing a fundamental challenge to capitalism as we have known it. That this was envisaged to some degree by Marx and that it can essentially be regarded as us all entering a post capitalist period.

His basic contention is that the current phase of capitalism is shuddering to an end pushed by new connected information technologies.

And he posits that another crisis is on the way, a crisis that will – paradoxically for capitalism – be exacerbated by the lack of social and political power on the part of the working class and suppressed wages. None of this is particularly novel, and I think most of us would tend to the view that the current economic systems while in some respects looser and less binding than before are – oddly – losing flexibility. He certainly makes a good point in relation to how so much of business is oriented away from genuinely cutting edge technologies towards the services sector (entertainingly a recent Analysis podcast on the BBC argued that there should be an even greater focus on that sector). I’ve long noted here that there are growing calls across the political-economy spectrum for consideration of basic income due to rising levels of automation that are reaching deep into our economies to remove or weaken previous forms of work carried out by workers.

Mason isn’t completely optimistic. But he’s pretty damned optimistic:

But a different path has opened up. Collaborative production, using network technology to produce goods and services that only work when they are free, or shared, defines the route beyond the market system. It will need the state to create the framework – just as it created the framework for factory labour, sound currencies and free trade in the early 19th century. The postcapitalist sector is likely to coexist with the market sector for decades, but major change is happening.

And he argues for a ‘reconfiguration’ of the left.

The transition will involve the state, the market and collaborative production beyond the market. But to make it happen, the entire project of the left, from protest groups to the mainstream social democratic and liberal parties, will have to be reconfigured. In fact, once people understand the logic of the postcapitalist transition, such ideas will no longer be the property of the left – but of a much wider movement, for which we will need new labels.

It’s all a bit vague though. He can’t, and he’s quite honest about it, really describe the future of this process.

Capitalism was structured by something purely economic: the market. We can predict, from this, that postcapitalism – whose precondition is abundance – will not simply be a modified form of a complex market society. But we can only begin to grasp at a positive vision of what it will be like.
I don’t mean this as a way to avoid the question: the general economic parameters of a postcapitalist society by, for example, the year 2075, can be outlined. But if such a society is structured around human liberation, not economics, unpredictable things will begin to shape it.

But what would the society look like, what sort of democratic controls would exist, what sort of social structures? How can we have any sense of what a better society would be if it’s all so infuriatingly vague. He continues:

If I am right, the logical focus for supporters of postcapitalism is to build alternatives within the system; to use governmental power in a radical and disruptive way; and to direct all actions towards the transition – not the defence of random elements of the old system. We have to learn what’s urgent, and what’s important, and that sometimes they do not coincide.

Perhaps so. Indeed absolutely so. But how does one link the present-day concerns of workers with this somewhat indefinable future? How does one shape actions towards this end goal?

I tend to the view that a lot of what he is saying is absolutely correct – that there are massive structural changes taking place in capitalism. That the present system is simply not going to prevail. My concern would be that there’s no inevitability about progressive outcomes – that we could see soft or hard authoritarian socio-political and economic structures imposed where democracy, socialism and even dissent are rendered impotent where they are not sidelined entirely. It is true that the left has to engage with the changes that are taking place, that it must rework itself to function successfully in new forms. But to do so doesn’t that require that we continue to place solidarity, …

Perhaps it is unfair to engage with this in isolation, it is but one article taken from a longer work. I’m very interested in what others have to say on this.


1. Gavin Mendel-Gleason - July 31, 2015
2. CL - July 31, 2015

This post-capitalism is certainly good news. Now i won’t have to go to work on Monday to sell my labour power in order to survive. Where do I go to receive the free goods that will replace the wage system?


3. CL - July 31, 2015

“Paul Mason has a breathless piece in The Guardian making grand New Economy claims that sound like recycled propaganda from the late-1990s—though he gives them a left spin: postmateriality is already liberating us. I wrote a book that was in large part about all that ideological froth, published in 2003…”- Doug Henwood


4. Gewerkschaftler - July 31, 2015

I have a big problems with Mason’s technological idealism – anyone who has traced the co-option of open source software by big tech, for instance, will be sceptical about the effect the ‘sharing economy’ has on the fundamentals of capitalist relations.

The worst case of this are the tech-airheads who go around proclaiming a revolution in the political economy of manufacturing because you can build/buy a machine to print out 3d shapes in soft plastic. I will name no names to protect the guilty.

That said, the growth of an ideologically valued intellectual commons movement is an important ingredient of contemporary resistance to totalitarian capitalism.


5. CL - July 31, 2015

“Perhaps Paul Mason ought to do a little experiment on himself: stay in a room with unlimited information. When he gets hungry, he can eat it.

He asserts that in today’s economy there is a reduced need for work. This statement is a tremendous insult to the workers in Bangladesh who sewed his shirt, the workers in China who assembled his phone, the workers in Mexico who picked the strawberries for his breakfast, the millions of workers all over the world who produce everything else he so thoughtlessly uses.

This is what happens when the petite bourgeoisie, rather than the working class, tries to take charge of the future. Most don’t know what productive work is, and often don’t want to do any”

Liked by 1 person

6. An Cathaoirleach - July 31, 2015
WorldbyStorm - July 31, 2015

It’s funny though, the consensus here on the CLR is that Mason is premature (at best), isn’t it?


7. Phil F - August 2, 2015

Michael Roberts on Paul Mason’s ‘postcapitalism’:


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