Paul Mason gave a stimulating talk based on his new book “Postcapitalism – A Guide To Our Future”. The delivery was fast and non-linear, so I might have misunderstood some key aspects. With that caution here is my reaction.
Paul covered a lot of ground, but his central thesis seemed to be that the information revolution has meant a de-coupling of the economy from material usage (as when software is manufactured, commodified and consumed), with a parallel accelerating reduction in the cost of information infrastructure (storage, processors, etc. etc.). The weakening of labour power, under the dual onslaught of neoliberalism and changes in the organisation of production, means that the site of exploitation, and of struggle, is no longer the factory, but (as the Italian autonomists of the 1970s prematurely diagnosed) society in general. The growth of peer to peer economic relations and the contradictions of both neoliberalism (no more than 50 years old) and capitalism (500 years old) means a potential exit from the latter. Moving from is to ought, he sees the State taking responsibility for residual or legacy operations of economy-society while markets deal with other aspects. Was he suggesting peer-to-peer as a third domain? Somewhat confusingly, for me, he also said that neoliberalism has made labour so cheap that the threat of automation for many products has at least been delayed.
There is no denying many of the phenomena reviewed by Paul Mason, but somehow his notion of a non-Jacobin (i.e. non Statist-socialist) escape from capitalism did not convince me. For one thing he never defined capitalism, and I think he only mentioned its core process, accumulation, once. When challenged on the global nature of capitalist production and exploitation, and on the energy dimension of that system, he didn’t give a clear response. There was the law of value but not the worldwide law of value (as Samir Amin has put it in his critique of the globalised accumulation regime). And while Mason began his talk on with a list of challenges to capitalism, at the top of which was climate change, he did not return to it.
I would say that, sadly, there is still much life in the beast yet – it has proved endlessly inventive and energetic in overcoming its periodic contradictions. But it is the external contradictions, which include climate change, that are likely to destroy it, taking us with it. Meanwhile the idea of the emergence of a new mode of production to replace capitalism seems as remote as the idea of open-source software heralding the transition to a solidarity economy.
Mark H Burton, Steady State Manchester