Postcapitalism

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It is not often a TV news reporter writes a book espousing Marxist economics, explaining the labour theory of value and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and suggesting the transition from feudalism to capitalism points the way to the end of capitalism. So there is good reason to look kindly on Postcapitalism.

But author Paul Mason does not foresee a socialist transformation of society. This is the first of many problems with a book that is in some ways fine but in others exasperating.

Mason is pretty good on the 2007-09 crisis and since. But after enthusiastically endorsing Marx and explaining some of his ideas, Mason asserts, “Marx was wrong about the working class.” Neoliberalism has “massively transformed” the working class, he argues, and by doing so represents something new in the history of capitalism.

Developments in technology mean, “Work is losing its centrality to exploitation and resistance… For many workers, their primary physical and ideological relationship to capital is their consumption and borrowing rather than work.” Having praised Marx, Paul has come to bury him.

As a consequence of new technology and neoliberalism, “The left’s project has collapsed.” But never mind — thanks to information technology, social networks and the sharing economy, “A new historical subject exists: it is networked humanity.”

The “networked individual” displays “all the qualities of mercuriality, spontaneous networking, multiple selves, weak ties, detachment, apparent subservience concealing violent resentment” — I am not making this up — required to forge a new postcapitalist world.

Mason does not suggest a spontaneous transformation to this postcapitalism by networked humanity: “It will need the state to create the framework.” Not just the capitalist state, but major companies have a role to play in “driving change”.

He misses utterly the question of control — of technology, of the state, of corporations — and of what force has the power to contest control with the established order.

At one point Mason notes, “In 2014, 30,000 shoeworkers at the Yue Yen factory in Shanzhou staged the first big strike to use group messaging and microblogging as organisational tools.” He seems more impressed with the messaging than with the strike by 30,000.

Mason writes fluently about Marxism, but his understanding is flawed. For example, he asserts, “Marx argued that it was the extreme negativity of the workers’ lives that gave them their historic destiny.”

His book becomes more absurd the further you read, veering into flights of fancy in the final pages under headings such as “Let market forces disappear”. Well, yes, let them. Close your eyes and let them go. But if when you reopen your eyes, those forces are still there, read something else. I suggest Chris Harman’s Zombie Capitalism.

As Chris noted in his book, “Anyone who believes we have said farewell to the working class is not living in the real world.”