Monday, August 15, 2016

Paul Mason and PostCapitalism

There are just a few people whose public personas I have rather taken against.

Number one on my current list is Owen Smith. He, you may recall with difficulty, is the insincere and glib little weasel who resembles a mini-me version of François Hollande and who is attempting, for reasons of petty ambition, a doomed campaign to displace Jeremy Corbyn.


We move on. Whenever I saw Paul Mason on BBC's Newsnight or Channel 4 news, I observed my twitching hand reach unconsciously for the channel-flip, impelled by some combination of his northern lad with a chip on his shoulder schtick, his self-righteous anger at every policy trying to fix the economy combined with a fanboy gullibility as regards the modish antics of Occupy and every other middle-class angst-fest.

It was Kevin the Teenager reprised at fifty-something.

I understand the type only too well: too smart, idealistic and empathic to fit in with his working class contemporaries; too working class to be accepted into the well-born elite. His perpetual estrangement from power and influence fueling an inchoate rage channelled into left wing rebellion.

Paul Mason was a trotskyist in one of the more cerebral outfits, Workers Power, which has now dissolved/entered into the Corbynista mass to rebuild under the motif of Red Flag.

But Paul Mason noticed that none of the trotskyist predictions of proletarian revolution ever came good. Being of independent mind, he conceptualised an alternative road to communism; at least one reviewer bathetically called him 'the new Marx'.

Amazon link

His book is uneven: historical discussions of subsequent misinterpretations of Marx echo those of Michael Heinrich (blogged about here) who discussed 'worldview Marxism' as a coarsening of Marxist theory. Mason believes, I think correctly, that Lenin and Trotsky fundamentally misunderstood what really happened in Russia in 1917, documenting the reasons for that failure in convincing detail.

It's when he starts to advance his own ideas for post-capitalist transition that wishful thinking and blind hostility come to the fore. Owen Hatherley's review nails it.
"The organised factory proletariat in the US, Europe and Japan never carved out a path to post-capitalism – or socialism as it was then known – but Occupy, Maidan, Tahrir Square, and even the protests against the Workers’ Party government in Brazil, ‘are evidence that a new historical subject exists. It is not just the working class in a different guise; it is networked humanity.

"The ‘new gravedigger’ produced by capitalism consists of ‘the networked individuals who have camped in the city squares, blockaded the fracking sites, performed punk rock on the roofs of Russian cathedrals, raised defiant cans of beer in the face of Islamism on the grass of Gezi Park’ etc. This is kitsch, but more significant is Mason’s failure to analyse the political content of the movements of the young.

"Not a lot of people in any of them considered ‘capitalism’ their main enemy, probably less so than the average striker in the 1930s or 1970s. They are a disparate bunch, from all manner of class backgrounds, advocating various positions across the political spectrum, but all united apparently by their use of Twitter and their distrust of ‘old elites’ and hierarchies.

"Since they carry no baggage, it isn’t worth investigating why, say, the protests in Brazil so easily passed over into racism, why some in Tahrir Square preferred a new general to an elected Islamist, why both sides in Ukraine’s unrest had a crucial far-right element, or why the descendants of Occupy in London and New York now find themselves campaigning for ageing, old-school leftist social democrats.

"Mason sweeps all this away on a tide of goofy utopianism."
Taking Wikipedia as your model for post-capitalist relations of production is to completely miss the intrinsically parasitic, hobbyist and career-furthering (let alone corporate) nature of so much open-source activity. It's never going to shake its shoulders and sweep aside all those mundane commoditised relations of production which coordinate activities to keep us fed, sheltered, defended, powered-up and online.


Mason would have been more acute had he observed that, while Marx gave a very good conceptual account of capitalism in terms of systematised and recurrent patterns of human economic and political activity (process rather than structural models, if you will), he had considerably less to say about why capitalism was either inherently bad news for humanity or precisely why it would necessarily create the conditions for its own supersession.

Due to the inadequate development of the productive forces it inherited, capitalism was truly awful for its human participants (disproportionately for the working class, of course) in Marx's time and as recently as the second world war - but since then it has, by historical standards, not been so bad. Ask the Chinese or the Vietnamese.

And don't blame capitalism for Africa or the Middle-East.

Capitalism still seems pretty efficient at developing the forces of production as Mason, a fan of automation, is happy to concede. So what's going to light the fires of mass revolutionary zeal? Apparently nothing - so we're left with incremental socialism-creep within the interstices of capitalism,

Good luck with that.

Good try, Paul, but we need look elsewhere for possible paths to humanity's future.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Keep it polite and no gratuitous links to your business website - we're not a billboard here.