Paul Mason: 'the end of capitalism has begun'

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 18 2015 08:33
Paul Mason: 'the end of capitalism has begun'

Paul Mason's got a new book out, and there's an extract/summary in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun

Paul Mason wrote:
The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.
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Jul 18 2015 08:35

Seen a lot of praise and a lot of criticism on social media. Here's what I wrote on Facebook:

1. The claim that elements that could form a possible post-capitalist mode of production already exist is more defensible than the stronger claim they those elements are already combining and that the superseding of capitalism is already under way.

2. The marginal cost of 'information' may approach zero, but the infrastructure cost is paid in poisonous assembly, high energy demands, and toxic waste dumped on the racialised poor. Dyer-Witheford's Cyber-proletariat at least acknowledges this, though without necessarily 'solving' its implications for cyber-communism.

3. One solution to the above is 'cradle to cradle' design, and one barrier to that (aside from it not always lowering costs) has been refusal of supply chains to share information on components, processes etc due to commercial confidentiality. This would suggest ecological production is incompatible with competitive private ownership, in line with Mason's argument, but imho without resolving the toxic waste aspect tech-utopia is premised on neocolonialism.

4. As usual with these pieces, there's no mention of care (except a suggestion that trying to stop the privatisation of healthcare is picking the wrong battle?). The post-capitalist purpose of labour saving technology might be to share and degender, deracialise caring, domestic, and reproductive labour but that isn't an automatic consequence and shouldn't be an afterthought.

5. The stark opposition between network and hierarchy doesn't really work (indeed a graph of a classic hierarchy looks like a 'network' because it is a form of one). Networks can certainly be capitalist, and hierarchies can be anti-capitalist (if not communist). Nick Srnicek's 'the command of the plan must be married to the improvised order of the network' seems a more productive way to think about this. We need distributed improvisation and formal collective deliberation at varying scales, though the 'command' of the latter is not necessarily a hierarchy in any conventional sense (e.g. could be direct democratic mandated federalism thrashing out binding greenhouse gas limits or something).

6. The mechanisms of non-informational peer-production need to be elaborated. Not necessarily in the guardian piece but in the book. The von Mises/Hayek arguments against socialist calculation can be countered imho but aren't trivial. Iirc von Mises limited his criticism to 'higher order' goods (raw materials and means of production), conceding consumer goods could be distributed rationally on a non-monetary basis. But unspecified 'algorithms' isn't a satisfactory answer, since part of Hayek's argument is that the necessary information is *created* in market transactions. I'm reading up on this and will write something in future.

7. The insistence that the state will play a role is either trivially true, or wishful thinking, given the very public humiliation of Syriza. If everything comes down to the opposition between the network and the hierarchy, why would we expect the state to side with the network?

8. Also see Harsha Walia's comment here: https://www.facebook.com/harsha.walia/posts/10153532282379337?pnref=story

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Jul 18 2015 16:06

My first grumpy grunts:

'Postcapitalism' is just another variant of capitalism socialised, a phase in the technologically determined evolution of the commodity economy. The transformation is essentially an economic and not a social one. This is old skool economist orthodox marxist theory v2.0 "Hippy Hamster". But economic freedom hardly means freedom from the economy.

The whole story is premised on the old idea of humanity plagued by scarcity, where technology-induced abundance of material goods emerges as the savior.*

Social media may suffice instead of an immediate human community, and let's not even speak of a reconciliation with nature, the extension of community beyond the human.

---
*) "Economics is defined in most textbooks as "the study of the allocation of scarce resources among alternative ends." Humans, it is said, have unlimited wants and limited means to satisfy these wants, so the inevitable result is scarcity. We cannot have everything we want, so we must choose what we would have. Every act of consumption is thus also an act of denial. The more we consume, the more we are deprived. In this dismal state of affairs, our job as economic beings is to allocate our limited incomes so as to get the greatest enjoyment possible from the relatively few things we are able to buy."
https://libcom.org/history/hunter-gatherers-mythology-market-john-gowdy

rooieravotr
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Jul 18 2015 17:13

I see a blog post coming up in Joseph Kay's point-by-point comment... It is certainly worth it.

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Jul 19 2015 11:31

I would like to second the popular request of a Joseph Kay blog post on the topic.. come on, JK! The people have spoken!

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Jul 19 2015 11:36

mcm_cmc's blog already covered similar ground: https://libcom.org/blog/fully-automated-luxury-communism-utopian-critique-14062015

If I do write anything I'll wait until I've read the book at least!

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Jul 20 2015 00:28

What's that you said, JK, you're going to write a book on the topic?

autonomice
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Jul 20 2015 11:19

Isnt the elephant in the room the fact that Mason is a celebrated author and successful journalist. His position in the division of labour lends itself to reform and the state, as if there were no state to protect his privileges then he'd just be a smo like everyone else

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Jul 20 2015 11:39

The liberal wing of the media tends to keep a few pet opponents on its roster just so it can point to them and say "dunno what Chomsky's on about, look at this guy we've hired to talk about Marx and stuff." Mason's basically in that zone.

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Jul 20 2015 18:35

He laid out his thesis a while ago,

https://youtu.be/s5teO3W4LrM

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Jul 21 2015 19:13

There's a critique here: https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/paul-mason-and-postcapitalism-utopian-or-scientific/

Quote:
If Mason is telling us that the development of the productive forces have now created the pre-conditions for a society of abundance and an end of class exploitation, then that is right but it is nothing new. It what Marx said 160 years ago. (...) But Mason also seems to be saying that this new information/knowledge revolution is by-passing the contradictions of capitalism, the law of value and the exploitation of labour by capital. If so, then he is wrong.
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Jul 21 2015 20:31

Hmm it is the critique of an "orthodox" technological determinist criticising an unorthodox technological determinist for heterodoxy though. Without seeing the technological deterrminist continuity that links Mason's previous incarnation as Workers Power journalist to his current Channel 4, etc, gigs. And which comes from the same source as Michael Roberts' view of FROP and objective crisis:

Quote:
The great contradiction of capitalism is that, as the necessary labour time falls due to technical progress, it lowers the value of commodities and thus puts downward pressure on the profitability of production. And under capitalism, it is profit (surplus value) that matters, not more output (use value).

Zusammenbruchstheorie

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Aug 11 2015 19:35

Andrew Flood's take: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/andrewnflood/end-capitalism-paul-masons-guardian

Quote:
What matters is not so much whether capitalist companies can incorporate networks (they clearly can) but whether capitalist companies are the best fit for what is developing. If they are not than over time the pressure builds for the new forms to 'burst through the boundaries' just a capitalism eventually burst out of feudalism.
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Sep 5 2015 22:49

Did this article come out around the last episode of Mr Robot? smile

Interesting article but I don't think access to information and new business models that use the title "sharing economy" is something that will lead to the withering away of the capitalist model.

If anything has the possibility of doing that I would go with technological advancement and immigration. World gets smaller and we realise we are all the same and our ability to reach a post scarcity worldwide situation happens it could lead to a withering away of capitalism.

However I would imagine withering away would be something we would see hundreds and hundreds of years in the future when we are 3d printing all our houses, all our transport runs on solar power and agricultural technology has made food production so advanced.

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Sep 6 2015 11:00

Andrew has orchestrated a reading group on this text here in Dublin. This Wednesday we covered section 1 (i,e, chapters 1-4). My comments on that section:

Quote:
1. Problem of two voices. Voice 1 is an upgraded historical materialism 2.0 voice, based on a notion of geological time where all parts of the earth are always at the same level of development and the boundaries between different periods of development occur simultaneously on a global level like the geological K/T boundary. Voice 2 is a more global economic history one, which accepts, for instance, that for neoliberalism to be successful, it was necessary that parts of the OECD, like Germany and Japan, did not adopt that regime of accumulation, but instead stuck with a productivist Keynesian/Mercantile model. Another example being the characterisation of the 1930s Great Depression as being partially caused/aggravated by the eclipse of British imperial power in conjunction with the US's then lack of willingness to assume it's place.
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2. Not only are voices 1 & 2 not well joined or intersected, but they don't even complement each other, taken to its logical conclusion, the unilinear a-spatial stageism of voice 1 is in contradiction with the world systemic, combined and uneven development narrative of voice 2.
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3. A further problem with voice 1 - as a model or guide to political strategy - is that historical unilinearity implicitly creates a hierarchy between "modern" - i.e. closest to the future - and "backwards" - i.e. further away from the future. Implicitly then, progress towards the universal future must clearly come from those closest to it, not from the relatively "backwards" areas of the Middle East and North Africa or the Lacandon jungles of Southern Mexico. Therefore, arguably some of the most interesting phenomena of political alternatives to neoliberalism of recent times - the Zapatistas and Kurdish Democractic Autonomy - are the reactive struggles of backwards peoples and societies, doomed to irrelevance (or worse) by the relentless wheels of modernist progress.
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Oct 13 2015 21:07

There's an interesting critical review here of both Post-capitalism and Nick Dyer Witheford's Cyberproletariat:
http://review31.co.uk/essay/view/25/postcapitalist-futures

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Oct 13 2015 21:30

Thanks for posting that spacious. It's a slap in the face of Mason for sure.

Spikymike
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Oct 16 2015 11:28

Just finnished reading Paul Mason's book. It's certainly worth a read as it is well written and an easier read than others (see note below) on a similar theme correctly identifying several significant trends in the evolution of modern global capitalism including his particular focus on the interelationship between capitalist competition, class struggle and the increasing role of information technology which is starting to exacerbate other underlying tendencies towards increased social and economic crisis, even if he exagerates that impact in the short to medium term. More particularly I think he exagerates the radical potential of both the established and his more recently identified 'non-market' social and economic relationships, which whatever their value in imagining alternative futures, have continued to be absorbed into and contribute to the reproduction of the value system. I also agree with the main criticism made by Daniel Whittal in the above linked text regarding Mason's dismissal of the working class as the main agent of change to a post-capitalist future whilst acknowledging the changed composition of and divisions within the modern global working class.
It struck me that whilst Mason is keen to dismiss some of the traditional left scenarios of revolutionary change he associates with the forced march of Bolshevik Russia his road map to a post-capitalist future is little more than a rebranding of left social democracy - a kind of Cyber-trotskyism!
Note: There is a usefule review with my brief comment of Franco 'Bifo' Berardi's book 'After the Future' and Life-boat Communism elsewhere on this site.

ajjohnstone
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Oct 16 2015 12:36

The SPGB blog just recently posted an article about Mason by a member which you might think useful.

http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2015/10/paul-mason-and-socialism.html

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Oct 16 2015 14:00
Spikymike wrote:
More particularly I think he exagerates the radical potential of both the established and his more recently identified 'non-market' social and economic relationships, which whatever their value in imagining alternative futures, have continued to be absorbed into and contribute to the reproduction of the value system.

For argument's sake, i'll play Mason here...

The more the value of goods becomes informational - including tangible goods such as cars - the more their marginal cost (the cost of producing an extra unit) tends to fall to zero. As such, commodity relations are reproduced less and less 'spontaneously', and more and more through direct state supported monopolies (i.e. intellectual property rights). So Apple can only commodify mp3s because of IP law, their 'natural' state is to be shared freely.

Insofar as that starts to apply to tangible goods too, maintaining commodity relations requires more and more intervention to maintain monopolies to prop up profits. So while it's true the 'free production' today just provides free inputs to capitalism (e.g. all the corporate servers run on Linux), or even intensifies exploitation (companies employing a few coders and going open source instead of having a whole team coding a proprietary system), it's actually undermining commodity relations in the medium term.

A similar 'zero marginal cost' effect is visible with solar (photovoltaic) energy in Germany. Almost all of the cost is up-front in manufacturing and installing the panels - once they're installed, they produce electricity. And the brighter it is, the more energy you get at no extra cost, unlike e.g. gas or coal plants, where producing more energy requires more fuel. The effect of this has been to push electricity prices negative at peak times, seriously threatening the financial viability of fossil fuel generation. So there's an example of a very physical thing - energy - where the zero marginal cost effect tends to make the commodity form a very 'unnatural' fit for the use value.

The viability of the commodity form comes to depend more and more on the state, and the state then stands between popular pressures of the 'networked individuals' and the possibility of lots of free stuff. Now, I think Mason is being very optimistic here, but I think that's why he's not so worried about co-optation by capital in the same way workers co-ops in a competitive market are forced to act as self-managed capitalists, because he thinks that that integration is double-edged, giving capital a free gift that is a trojan horse for post-capitalist relations.

Spikymike
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Oct 16 2015 14:38

Joseph,
Yes I do understand his argument about this on the back of Marx's 'fragment of the machines' and it is a genuine tendency, but he is more than optimistic here in terms of timescale and counteracting influences and I would see this tendency only one amongst others more imediate, that are moving capitalist contradictions towards historical crisis levels which of course still require an organised and conscious recognition and response by the global working class to move, not just to some ill-defined post-capitalism but to a global communism. Mason's Cyber-trotsyist road is still mired in a reliance on a co-operating nation state (presumably guided by Mason-style think-tanks) which is as likely as any other to contribute to the more inward looking anti-globalisation tendencies of the radical movements he otherwise looks to. By the way solar panels also need replacing at some point.

factvalue
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Oct 16 2015 17:29

Also of relevance in this connection is the possibility that renewable energy cannot sustain a consumer society, and if so, what type of society could it sustain?

Spikymike
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Oct 17 2015 11:21

Just picking up on Rob Ray's earlier comment and some references on the AI thread to the 'Accelerationist Manifesto' I have had this lurking suspician (some might suspect paranoia) about a string of material emanating from leftist academia (also given wider coverage in the liberal media) that has gained respect in the wider anarchist and libertaran communist milieu as just the experimental cutting edge of an ideological accomodation to the latest phase of capitalism in the 'developed' sector of global capitalism, as I tried to suggest in this 'conversation with myself' on the back of this review here:
http://libcom.org/library/capitalist-realism-renewed

Spikymike
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Oct 30 2015 11:48

At the risk of a further bit of derailing.........
I'm not sure about the accuracy of Paul Mason's application in his analysis of Kondratieff's 'long cycles' but an application of some capitalist periodisation beyond a simple pre/post 1914 analysis and the significance of the current period in global capitalism is surely warranted. A different, if still rather deterministically inclined approach, with some overlaps can be found in these two pieces and my comments:
http://libcom.org/library/communism-has-not-yet-begun-claude-bitot and
http://libcom.org/library/investigation-supposedly-victorious-capitalism-claude-bitot

Spikymike
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Feb 21 2016 17:41

So also worth a read is a recent critical article from the CWO titled 'Post-capitalism via the internet (according to Paul Mason) - Dream or Reality?' My link doesn't work directly but available here: www.leftcom.org/en/articles

S. Artesian
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Feb 21 2016 18:09

Is this Paul Mason, the Syriza supporter, or a different person with the same name?

Burgers
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Feb 22 2016 17:21

Post-capitalism via the Internet (According to Paul Mason) – Dream or Reality?

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Apr 1 2016 10:34

This is my take on Mason's Postcapitalism.

The New World in Our Hearts – A Critical Engagement With Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism (Communism versus the Commanding Heights Part 2)

Spikymike
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Apr 1 2016 16:02

Flava O Flav's makes some valid criticism of Mason's approach to the state and some useful ideas about the libertarian communist potential of these new technologies but the CWO article seems to have got a better grip on the weaknesses in Mason's grasp of Marxist economic theory.

wojtek
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Apr 20 2016 22:03

Debating against the SP's Peter Taffe, he asserts that 'most people want an area of self-control within the system/capitalism'.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36084970

It could be an off-the-cuff remark, but does he flesh this out in his book?

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Apr 21 2016 05:54

He argues for the government to support the creation of a 'collaborative commons' sector alongside the public and private sectors (e.g. through a basic income, allowing people to edit wikipedia or write free software or whatever).