Paul Mason: “The end of capitalism has begun”

July 20, 2015 at 6:53 pm (capitalism, capitalist crisis, economics, fantasy, Guardian, intellectuals, Jim D, reformism)

This has been causing some excitement in liberal-left circles, as it apparently means would-be lefties can just wait for “post-capitalism” to happen, while working in retail management or small business:

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

…read the whole article here

A comrade comments:
“It’s complete nonsense; not only utopian in the worst sense of the word but also depressingly gradualist and reformist (its central claim is that ‘post-capitalism’ will just sort of emerge as the result of a proliferation of… well, I don’t know what exactly: file sharing?).

“The ‘would-be lefties’ drawing the conclusion that they can ‘wait for post-capitalism to happen’ – i.e., without having to think, or organise, or act, or struggle in any meaningful way at all – seems to me an entirely faithful reading of the article.

“It’s like the worst bits of Owen and Proudhon repackaged for the digital age and dressed up as some amazingly innovative, novel theory. But at least those people (even Proudhon, who was basically a reactionary) had a bit of fighting spirit about them, wanted to build a movement (of sorts), and wanted people to fight the system (in however distorted or misguided a way). What does Mason want us to do? Surf the web?

“It’s actually quite sad from a guy who probably ought to know better, and who only a few years ago was writing books about how the key aspect of contemporary capitalism was the globalisation of the working class. He seems now to have decided that this isn’t really that important after all.”

9 Comments

  1. shrey14072000 said,

    This was a fantastic article regarding the end of capitalism, one that I really enjoyed. I especially liked the concise way in which it conveyed all the information required succinctly. I’m a 15 year old with a blog on finance and economics at shreysfinanceblog.com. It would be very much appreciated if you could read and reblog one of my articles! Thanks again for this great article.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Just had a look at your blog, shrey: very interesting and well-written. Thanks for the invite to re-blog: we may well take you up on it.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      shrey. The general idea of socialism is that the means of production should be shared equally. So does a University graduate produce anything that can be shared amongst the masses. Verbal diahorea does not produce anything. And do you think that the socialist elites will give up their power and reduce their standard of living just to share with the plebs. You should read history and moreso the classic story of the socialists! in East Germany called the Stasi.

  2. damon said,

    He’s good Paul Mason.
    He made complex things about the Greece crisis quite understandable.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      There is nothing complex about Greece. A right wing government borrowed money and it was fleeced away. A left wing government wanted to borrow more money and may succeed. However the money has to be paid back. And it is rather disgusting to see the Greeks portraying Merkel as some kind of Nazi.. The Greeks voluntarily joined the EU and the euro. It is entirerly their own responsibility for fucking up their economy.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    Does this mean we now don’t need to vote for Corbyn?

  4. Mike Killingworth said,

    Socialists don’t object to capitalism so much as to capitalist exploitation. Mason provides no evidence that post-capitalism will be less exploitatve. Mind you, the best part of 200 years of working-class organisation hasn’t produced much, either.

  5. Steven Johnston said,

    End of history…beginning of nonsense. So said Thatcher about the essay of the same title by Francis Fukuyama. I guess Paul Mason, like Fukuyama will have his 15 mins of fame and sell a lot of books and then end up forgotten.

  6. Dave Draycott said,

    I like Paul Mason. However the last piece I read by him was before the GE. The prediction then? A period of permanent coalition government. An idea we had to get used to. Ho, hum.

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