"The point is to be contrary for a bit. There’s too much groupthink."by Jonathan Derbyshire / July 24, 2015 / Leave a comment
Reporting for Channel 4 News on the most recent phase of the crisis in Greece, Paul Mason achieved near-ubiquity: Mason talking to Alexis Tsipras and other members of Syriza; Mason in his shirtsleeves doing a piece to camera in front of the Greek central bank; Mason dodging missiles in yet another confrontation between anarchists and the police—these form part of the iconography of the Greek crisis for many of us.
Now, as Greece (and the rest of Europe) catches its breath, Mason has returned to Britain to promote his new book, “PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future“. It’s not a work of reportage, but of wide-ranging historical and economic analysis that is inspired by Marx’s analysis of capitalist social relations, but also goes some way beyond it (in ways, he acknowledges, that might not find favour with some of his friends on the far left). The book is both an analysis of the crisis of what Mason calls “neoliberalism”—his shorthand for the version of highly financialised capitalism that has operated in most of the developed world for the past 30 years—and an attempt to imagine what might replace it.
Capitalism, Mason writes, is a highly adaptive system: “At major turning points, it morphs and mutates in response to danger.” Its most basic survival instinct, he argues, “is to drive technological change.” But he believes that the information technologies that capitalism has developed in the past 20 years or so are not, despite apparently ample evidence to the contrary,”compatible with capitalism—not in its present form and maybe not in any form. Once capitalism can on longer adapt to technological change, postcapitalism becomes necessary.”
Mason is not alone in believing that humanity is on the cusp of a profound technological revolution, of course. We’ve heard a lot from other quarters, for instance, about the “Second Machine Age” and the promise (as well as the threat) of intelligent machines and the “internet of things”. What makes his analysis distinctive, however, is the way he fuses an account of the technological mutations of what used to be called “late capitalism” with an attempt to identify, as Engels put it in the late 19th century, the “midwife of the old society pregnant with a new one.” This won’t be the industrial working class, as Marx and Engels thought, but what Mason calls the “network.” By creating millions of networked people, Mason writes, “info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.”