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Sat Dec 5, 2015, 01:04 PM

PostCapitalism by Paul Mason review – a worthy successor to Marx?


Like many opponents of capitalism, Mason appears unable to decide whether the system will have to get even worse so it can finally change or will have to change so as not to get even worse. At one point, he suggests that the Republican party in the US, with its ideological commitment to doubling down on neoliberal capitalism, could take the system past the point of no return if given a free hand. But a Republican administration would also undermine any progress on climate change, without which, Mason insists, none of us has a long-term future. The digital revolution has put extraordinary new powers in the hands of the workers but it has empowered bankers as well, not least by giving them the ability to create money almost out of thin air. New technology generates as many fresh illusions as it punctures old ones. We still need politics to sort out the resulting mess.

The unifying idea with which Mason attempts to tie together his various schemes is “networks v hierarchies”. He rightly thinks that earlier theories of class struggle and revolutionary politics are too narrow to encompass the range of political possibilities now available (especially as he thinks that the move towards gender equality is the fundamental social shift of the modern age). But “networks v hierarchies” is too broad as a slogan to explain anything. Mason never tells us how or why networks can be expected to overcome hierarchies. After all, hierarchies still have the advantage that they are hierarchical, which means they are much easier to control. Mason himself is not averse to embracing some aspects of hierarchical politics when the occasion demands. His own solution to the challenge of climate change is to push for action that is “centralised, strategic and fast … it will require more state ownership than anybody expects or wants”. Adaptable states will have to make use of networks – including “smart grids” for regulating energy supply – but it is impossible to believe that these states will themselves be nothing more than networks. The central challenge of contemporary politics is to discover new ways to reconcile networks with hierarchies through the institutions of representative democracy. You won’t find the answers in this book.

However, a short review can barely do justice to the range of sources Mason enlists in his search for a solution. We get Shakespeare as well as Marx, Rudolf Hilferding along with Richard Hoggart. On top of everything else, he overlays his account with Kondratiev’s long-wave theory, which says that capitalism goes through generational cycles of stagnation and innovation. Mason believes the current wave is different from the ones that have gone before, because we are now essentially stuck. New technology has given capitalists the ability to adapt without innovating, by providing them with the tools to seek out new forms of value. At the same time, it has given the rest of us the ability to innovate without adapting, by allowing us to explore new lifestyles without having to think about the political implications. Something has got to give. Mason builds a wholly plausible case that the present situation is unsustainable. But what will give, and how, is not something he can tell us.

In this respect, he has bitten off more than he can chew. But that is a big part of the appeal of this deeply engaging book. Mason doesn’t have the answers – he is not even close –, but he is asking the most interesting questions, unafraid of where they might lead......SNIP


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Reply PostCapitalism by Paul Mason review – a worthy successor to Marx? (Original post)
Ichingcarpenter Dec 2015 OP
snot Dec 2015 #1
rhett o rick Jun 2016 #2

Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Mon Dec 7, 2015, 03:15 AM

1. Um,

it wasn't the "digital revolution" that enabled bankers to create money out of thin air; they'd acquired that ability long before.

I can't really get interested in reading beyond that kind of blunder.

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Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Thu Jun 23, 2016, 10:35 AM

2. I am reading his book now. While many agree that unregulated capitalism


will eat itself and the poor along the way, no one that I've found has a workable alternative. I think it's in our genes to be competitive and a utopia with everyone equal is impossible. I am not even sure that life would be worth living in that utopia. Having said that, capitalism and "growth" rely on exploiting natural resources and human labor. So what the frack are we going to do?

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