Adventures in PostCapitalism

socialist sunday school song bookI can’t give a higher accolade to a book than to say it deserves reading three or four times – and that after that you should have it on hand for keyword reference, via whatever devices you possess.

Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism (buy here) connects our contemporary challenges – technological, socio-economic and planetary – to a very persuasive history, whose waves of change are explained by a powerful collection of theories. I expect that we’ll be coming back to drink from this river again and again on the Scottish indy-left.

Yet the reader would do well to pay close attention to the subtlety of Paul’s arguments about what might come after capitalism. He says explicitly that he is a “revolutionary reformist”, and delights that this self-description annoys both the boss-class and the Occupy protestor alike.

One of his most useful moves is to urge radical leftists to abandon the idea that capitalism can only be “overthrown” from the “outside” with an “entirely new plan” – and that instead, a postcapitalism can be “incubated” from within it. There’s a number of reasons Mason gives for this. One of which is that Marx and Engels, for all their analytic power, got the collective mentality and experience of the worker (as a “proletariat”) under capitalism quite wrong.

Marx pronounced that the proles were entirely alienated in their consciousness, brutalised cogs in the factory system – and thus would be desperate for enlightened vanguards to lead them to liberation.

However, over successive waves of capitalist development, the working-class found a way to “live alongside capitalism”, as Mason puts it, by generating their own positive culture of liberation. They didn’t just grimly press for better working conditions (which, by restoring demand to economies and improving workers’ capabilities, enabled capitalism to renew itself).

They also created clubs, recreations, libraries, self-educations, entertainments – often themselves infused with utopian, humanistic visions, reaching way beyond the achievement of decent working conditions. (I once bought a “Socialist Sunday School Song Book” from a shop in Glasgow’s Trongate: all those sentiments are in there, hymn by hymn).

The point Mason wants to make is that, historically, there has always been a zone of what you could call “complex liberty” in working-class lives. People have always had intense, lively reasons for wanting to push back the frontiers (and the hours) of societally-required labour, one way or another.

This was desired in order that rich and meaningful choices could be freely and consciously made – about the direction of one’s life, or the relations with one’s relatives, friends and neighbours, or one’s attitude towards knowledge or skill.

In short, left politics should not always be just about defending the right to “labour”, “jobs”, “employment”. It should also be about creating conditions where the maximum possible number of citizens can exert the greatest possible degree of autonomy and self-determination.

In short, left politics should not always be just about defending the right to “labour”, “jobs”, “employment”. It should also be about creating conditions where the maximum possible number of citizens can exert the greatest possible degree of autonomy and self-determination.

In pushing for as much free time as possible, as a benefit from increased productivity through technology, a modern left honours some of the best traditions of working-class life. The Multitude itself has always contained multitudes.

So when Paul comes to tell us that digitalisation, enabled by computers and communication networks, opens up a realm of free products and services that threaten the very property rights and social arrangements of capitalism itself, he wants to be seen as drenched in workers’ history, not some Wired-magazine neophile. (Though to be fair, the “New Digital Socialism” essay that founding Wired editor Kevin Kelly wrote in 2009 is fascinating to compare with Mason’s work).

Friendly and mutual societies were the precursors of the achievements of the welfare state, public housing and mass education – all those wrested from the furious upheavals of capitalist development by the organised working-class.

In the same manner, suggests Mason, contemporary radicals and progressives should be even more ambitious for what current practices like open source software, digital sharing practices and computer simulations could become, at the level of an entire society. What would be the postcapitalist equivalents of those great collective achievements?

My sense is that Mason wants these ambitions to be guided by this irrepressible historical desire – that is, to seek the resources to shape your life according to your sensibilities, in cooperation with others who have a similar openness and ambition.

Paul doesn’t go exactly where I went in The Play Ethic in 2004, in trying to locate the source of this desire. I found it in the biological and evolved necessity of play and creativity to the development of the human animal.

The lives of most humans in history have been conducted under conditions of economic scarcity. Digitality and networks brought the spirit and practice of abundance into the socio-economic mainstream. For me, the digital revolution has felt like the platform that the creative principle in human beings has been long awaiting, over many millennia.

Ever since the first artwork on a cave wall, or the first consciously-formed social group, adult humans – themselves always forged through early childhood play – have sought to express their creative urges. Human imagination irrepressibly bubbles up through the cracks of brute survival. The current tumult of digital culture only hints at the kind of world we could forge if those exigencies of survival were radically reduced.

I know it’s fun to tear strips off the “hipsters” and the “creatives” – and it’s right to do so when they are just expressing their accumulated cultural capital, as a class privilege. But what is so valuable about Mason’s PostCapitalism is that he makes us realise how propitious the general conditions are, in which we can make very significant redefinitions of the priorities of our lives.

Paul asks us to build the confidence that we can answer our complex needs with free, open and information-driven systems and practices – and to experiment like crazy in doing so. If we can do this, we might well be able to displace “work” from the centre of our societies, and replace it with “meaning” or “culture” or “purpose” or “creativity” or “care”. Or any permutation of those.

Of course, who exactly the “we” is in those last few paragraphs – how big, how self-conscious, how clearly motivated to progress change – is the crucial question. In my Guardian Live discussion with Paul and others a fortnight ago, and in my recent column in The National, I flagged up a few potential problems.

Paul’s chosen agent of change is the “universal educated person” that’s coming to consciousness throughout the capitalist world system. These types are not just to be found in the developed world, but are also reacting to illiberalisms in China, the Middle-East, South America, the major African cities. All of them are empowered to dream bigger, and build or promote alternatives, by means of their networked devices.

Back in 2004, using an admittedly awkward neologism, I called them the “soulitariat” (the proletariat sold their physical power to the authorities; the soulitariat sell their mental and emotional power – but can never sell it entirely).

Back then, like Paul, I too hoped then that these digitally-empowered “players” would become a majority class. And not just (to use the old Marxist language) a class “in” themselves, but a class “for” themselves – acutely aware of their own interests and agenda. They’ve also been called “hackers”, and then “makers” and “creatives”, over these last ten or fifteen years.

But however many times we’ve described them, I’m not sure they’ve fully turned up yet – ready and willing to build the new society that their communication-driven lifestyles imply.

There may be deeper reasons why they haven’t arrived. Paul and I both have quite a faith in the intrinsic, evolutionarily-rooted capacity for human creativity. He talks of an “adaptive left”, ready to bring about “new kinds of human beings”, whose eventual character traits cannot be predicted. “How will humans have to change in order for postcapitalism to emerge?”

But I wonder how strong the counter-tendency is: a desire for less change, for the conservation of things, for stability and security first?

…I wonder how strong the counter-tendency is: a desire for less change, for the conservation of things, for stability and security first?

We’ve no shortage of science-fiction in popular culture, imagining “new kinds of human beings” every week. The problem is, when it does, it usually reveals deep and enduring fears, rather than thrilling new possibilities.

I’m thinking about Channel Four’s Humans, or Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. The first is about humanoid robots, the second about bio-modification, both becoming an accepted fact of our coming lives. But both are predominantly cautionary – telling stories to prevent a future happening, rather than showing a pathway to it.

“What [we postcapitalists] are trying to build”, says Mason, “should be even more complex, more autonomous and more unstable” than the flexible organism (or “adaptive system”) that is capitalism. A capitalism whose ability to shift and mutate to changing conditions proved ultimately superior to the most meticulous Soviet planning.

But are there limits to how much “complexity, autonomy and instability” humans can cope with? For example, isn’t one of the biggest forces in the contemporary world the kickback against the kind of incessant, transformative modernity that Paul celebrates? Whether that be militant religious identities, or hard-core environmental resistance, or more locally the four million odd votes on this island for UKIP, asking to “stop the world and get off”?

Mason has a tin ear for this philosophically conservative tendency (with a small “c”). At one point he writes about the travails of labour organisers in the global South, and the “social and ideological cobwebs” in the minds of locals that “they fail to overcome”. Those cobwebs Mason defines as “ethnic rivalries, the village network, religious fundamentalism, organised crime”.

For Paul to call these “cobwebs”, presumably to be swept away by a confident ultramodern hand, isn’t reckoning seriously with their shaping power. Take a young African-Muslim man’s militant ethno-religious identity, fuelled by the meretricious quality (not to mention the lethal drone strikes) of Western civilisation. Would his head and heart be so easily “sublated” by the influence of his compatriots becoming “universal educated individuals” on their ever smarter phones?

Mason and I hugely admire the Catalan social thinker Manuel Castells, only glancingly referenced in this book. But I wonder whether a deeper engagement with his work might have helped here. In his trilogy on network society, Castells talked about the tension between “the Net” and “the Self” (I commissioned Castells on this topic for my E2 page in the Herald in 1997, and recently referenced this in an essay on Alasdair Gray’s “settlers and colonists” controversy in 2012).

On one side, Castells posits the fluid experience of network society – the world at your digital fingertips, and the “multiple identities” you need to function properly in it. And on the other side, Castells concedes an equally strong impulse to have your feet planted somewhere, to lay down a collective anchor of identity in the global storm.

So yes yes yes, Paul, let’s push forward new practices that both demand and forge “new humans”. But shouldn’t those interested in a good society also be trying to find a healthy balance between cosmopolitan complexity and traditional stability – or even more elemental, between risk and security?

One way to balance these poles is through a civic nationalism or constitutional patriotism – a vibrant national polity seeking to make its progressive, constructive mark on the affairs of the planet. This was summed up classically by the SNP pioneer Winnie Ewing’s old 60s phrase, “stop the world, we want to get on”.

Mason wrote a Guardian column recently which resisted mightily the idea of any kind of English identity, even while accepting that constitutional reform is coming to England. He wants Englishness itself to be like its language – a sprawling force for plurality, hybridity and worldliness. Something that could only be crudified by association with a flag or nation.

But couldn’t that be expressed as a unity-in-diversity, an e pluribus unum, a national home whose framing of diversity and difference you could be proud of? That “green and pleasant land” implied by the recent invocations of William Blake’s Jersusalem – whether they be Jez Butterworth’s, or Danny Boyle’s?

“Don’t try to burden me with yet another layer of bogus identity politics”, says Paul in the Guardian article – and it’s OK, Paul, I won’t! But the national dimension brings me to the question of how Paul’s PostCapitalism might inform the policy agenda of pro-independence parties and movements in Scotland – which I’ll explore in my next Bella blog.


Pat Kane is a writer and musician, and one of Bella Caledonia’s innovation editors (

Comments (44)

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  1. Mike Fenwick says:

    I worry, in part because I simply cannot engage at the levels of engagement to which I am invited to participate, t’was always thus when I read Pat Kane.

    My larger worry however is that I am unsure that “Post Capitalism” is the correct definition of what is being discussed, for me “Post Ownership” seems more appropriate.

    I offer this extract:

    Recognising enduring values is a key mechanism for organisations and movements to learn from their own history, especially when their original purpose and the historical context in which they operate has altered.

    Peter Hunt, of Mutuo, noted:

    History is really significant … one of the problems with politics is that people don’t think about history enough, it’s not just about what works… There has to be some kind of consistency about
    the values of what you are trying to achieve and what you then put into place … (Hunt, 2009)

    The extract is from this link:

    The report offers an historical account working forward from early societies, through the feudal period, to the early modern period, to post 1945, to capitalism – the latter being but a late entry into mankind’s history.

    For me each of those historical periods and the changes that were evidenced, through wars, through laws, through human endeavour, through thoughts, writings and the sharing of knowledge, had a common theme – a struggle against what I am suggesting was “Ownership”.

    I also suggest that question of “Ownership” may be what lies at the heart of the quest for Scottish Independence, thus the cry for “Freedom”. It is a cry that echoes to us down through the ages.

    In our place, in our time, perhaps we define that freedom, the freedom sought, as “Post Capitalism”, and perhaps that is right, I am not so sure.

    What do we want? When do we want it? Two very good questions.

    1. pat kane says:

      You seem to be engaging at precisely the right level! Great point. It’s the relationship between the appeal of national democratic sovereignty in Scotland, and the promise of these post-property digital technologies, that I’ll explore in my blog tomorrow. Very useful link, which I will reference. Thank you for engaging!

    2. david dunn says:

      Ownership is at the very center of where we are as a global society are headed.

      I believe that we are all equal owners of all the earth’s resources, and if this was recognised then the way we fundamentally respond to the crisis we have ongoing from economic , climatic and environmental would all be addressed in a coherent policy.
      It is the very lack of linkage between all natural resources their use and consequences to the environment, and the fiscal and economic policies, that is at the heart of all the problems we have today.

      Changing the tax system in particular so all natural resources are taxed according to the damage to the planet and mankind, is fundamental to our sustainability to remain on this planet in an sustainable and harmonious way.

      Each and every individual has to have a sense of ownership of all resources and therefore belonging , to dispel the lack of trust that modern society has of governments,corporations and big business.

  2. Kenny says:

    How does Mason square his views with the findings of Picketty, which suggest that the power of capital is increasing. What about the rising value of land and the increasing scarcity of water and other resources? I see little evidence for a coming post-scarcity world based on information sharing. The evidence I do see points in the opposite direction.

    It would also be nice to read an economic historian’s view of the book. No offence to Pat Kane or Irvine Welsh but they’re not the first people I would turn to when asked the question: is capitalism about to end? I’m doubtful that the current wave of new technologies is really more disruptive than technologies of the past. Much evidence suggests it is less so. AI and robotics could be very disruptive but I’m not sure their progress quite lives up to the media hype.

    1. Pat Kane says:

      Mason does say in the book that it can go either way. Either towards an info-capitalism which re-encloses the digital commons opened up over the last ten years (see my National essay on this Or towards a post-capitalism which needs, as part of the mix, a friendly state government that can be as bold about supporting free digital production, as the post-WW2 generations were about establishing an NHS, public housing, comprehensive schooling, open university, etc. I agree with him that we do lack imagination – and worse, are crippled with fear and trembling – as to where to take networks, automation, biotech, etc. He does very clearly address land, water, and carbon limits in a chapter called “The Case for Rational Panic” But for most of the book, he wanted to try to clearly show how digitalisation can challenge capitalism at its base – the price mechanism, property, etc.

      1. Pat Kane says:

        And incidentally, I think your call for an economic historian to review the book is an excellent idea – wonder what Tom Devine or Barry Eichengreen or even Joseph Stiglitz would make of it?

      2. Mike Fenwick says:

        Followed the link … I want to use these two extracts:

        “With the right mix of social experiment and state policy …,

        To some degree, it is territorial, state or governmental regulators who should have a bit more confidence and sense of the public good about them. ”

        They tie in with your reference to ” … a friendly state government…”

        “Social experiments”, should be encouraged, and can be “incubated” within a system.

        They will mirror evolution, as descent with modification, and will survive and last – or decay and die – within the landscape and the time frame they inhabit.

        Are you however correct over the involvement of the state? Do those who would experiment need to seek the permission of the state?

        1. Mike Fenwick says:

          Cut myself off … oops!

          Might it not be that the social experiment is the teacher, the educator, and the state, or states, the pupil?

      3. Kenny says:

        “Mason does say in the book that it can go either way.”

        Ok but there’s obviously a big difference between the end of capitalism and an even stronger capitalism. I get the feeling Mason is trying to cover all bases by predicting that capitalism could go in all sorts of ways. But this is roughly equivalent to predicting nothing at all.

        Also, because companies like Google and Facebook get so much press I think people are over-estimating the economic value of information. The information economy, assuming such a thing exists, is very small compared to property, commodities, health, financial and other services. Even most of the biggest tech companies are primarily hardware and IT services companies, not information ones. I give more info on this here:

        Information is obviously important in all these sectors but not as important as Mason would have us believe. The abundance of it may simply be decreasing its value relative to natural resources.

  3. Brian Fleming says:

    Pat, I’m by no means stupid, but I’m afraid I couldn’t read all of this. It was nippin ma heid, as an old friend from Dundee once complained when I was bending his ear about Independence many years ago. I got back into it towards the end and was struck by Paul Mason’s resistance to the idea of an English identity. That just reads to me as yet another example of the English superiority complex: all that identity stuff is OK for you inferior bods in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, etc. but we English are above all that.

    Sorry, but I ain’t buying it. Until the English fully grasp their post-imperial reality and learn to confine themselves to their own sphere unless invited in elsewhere, I can see no chance of genuine, peaceful progress on “these islands”, as the phrase now goes.

    1. Pat Kane says:

      Sorry the piece didn’t connect Brian. I think the kind of society and consciousness we’ve achieved in Scotland over these last few years is rarely correctly understood by non-participants – even ones as sympathetic as Paul Mason. Maybe reading a bit more Tom Nairn or Stephen Maxwell would help them understand our “left-wing nationalism”.

  4. kate says:

    because mason presents no analysis at all of ruling class responses to attempts to gradually end capitalism, free up time & limit work, particularly while retaining social life support, or to using new technologies in non exploitative, more democractic ways – at a time when technology/surveillance is increasingly used as political control,the aims of bioegineering etc are ruthlessly led by profit and while life support for non workers is gradually being turned off – mason’s narrative seems disingenuous. its more likely that if the ruling classes cannot profit from particular sections of the people and they don’t need us to work, they will deprive us of housing,medical care and food or otherwise incrementally kill us, an approach that is already underway in the west, particularly the US & Greece, but is also making headway in the UK and other places. i can’t see much evidence the creators of new technology will not also serve the continuation and adaptation of capitalism, or why capitalism can’t adapt to the challenges presenting.

    1. Pat Kane says:

      I’d get the book… he’s perfectly aware of all that. But as we watch the spectacle of power that you describe, Paul’s challenge – not just to makers/creators/hackers, or ordinary individuals, but to governments like the SNP that talk a good progressive game – would be this: can we respond by creating a “counter-power” that uses the opportunity for free services and products that unleashed digital networks can bring? And in Scotland, what can we add to that, in terms of community empowerment, land control, cultural access?

      1. Anton says:

        It seems that Paul Mason’s vision of free information – or, as you put it, free cultural access – would necessarily involve the abolition, or at least the substantial revision, of current copyright and patent laws. So, no more restrictive practices by way of “royalties” or denial of access to information by way of price barriers (such as having to pay £12.99 to read Paul Mason’s book).

        Isn’t there an inconsistency here?

  5. Douglas says:

    Well, I haven’t read Paul’s book, I read his Guardian article,

    What I saw there was a lot about information sharing, but nothing about the key basepoints of any human life. Do you have a steady income? Can you afford a home? Can you put food on the table for yourself and your family? If those basic questions were adequately solved for every human being then we might start talking about post-capitalism. But I didn’t see anything in Paul’s Guardian article which suggested he has the answers to those questions.

    There are millions of us in the south of Europe who have been plunged into poverty the last few years – not so much from the first crisis 2008-2010 as the austerity drive imposed on the south of Europe from the north since 2010, 2011. What has happened is that a lot of us have realized we had been sucked into a system which thrives on unnecessary needs.

    You don’t need to own a home.
    You don’t to buy anything with a label.
    You don’t need to eat out or even drink out.
    You don’t need all the shit they try to sell you.

    You come to reject materialism, absolutely, in all its forms. Which in turn leads to a much spiritual view of life. So in a way, the crisis has been good, a silver lining to a very black cloud.

    But until you solve basic human needs, it will always be capitalism.

    By the way: the State has used completely disproportionate amounts of violence on people in Spain and Greece. The Spanish government has juat passed laws which are taking us back to Francoism.

    So I find it hard to share Paul Mason’s optimism or Pat Kane’s. I see us heading into a kind of hightech fascism if anything.

    The whereabouts, the correspondence, the bank accounts, the habits of the networked individuals Mason talks about are all known to the State. We are in an Orwellian world. And the State is there to protect capital. You only need to see the riot police in the South of Europe in action to see that…

  6. Donald Mitchell says:

    I think the mistake that many on the Left make is in seeing capitalism as an ideology rather than the consequence of human nature. The question surely is how it can be managed in a civilised way that benefits, or at least doesn’t exploit people?

    1. Douglas says:

      How come “human nature”?. Human beings cooperate and collaborate far more than they compete. The whole of human civilization is based on cooperation, on socialization. Think about your daily life and you see it everywhere. From waiting in a queue to opening the door for somebody, to giving up your seat on a bus for a pregnant woman, to respecting a red light…

      The weirdoes are the bankers, the brokers, the ruling financial class who use their power to exploit people with no end in sight, backed by the violence of the State, who live the life of the socoipath, and have no fellow-feeling for the rest of human society.

      You know, there were a fair number of Nazis executed after the Nuremberg Trials….I don’t hear many lamenting their passing…

      …and I wonder just actually what a Channel 4 journalist who must obviously be on an excellent salary can tell the rest of us about “post-capitalism”….that’s no disrespect to Paul Mason, that’s just a fact. If your basic life needs are sorted, then of course you can afford to speculate. You can’t eat wikipedia and you can have all the knowledge you like, but knowledge means little if you are homeless or a refugee camped outside Callais. Where is the post-capitalism there?

      It is the same full on, red-bloodied, violent and hardcore capitalism from where I am sitting…I can’t see how Paul comes back from Greece with so much optimism.

      In any case, I need to read the book.

      1. Donald Mitchell says:

        You make a fair point about everyday society, most people are polite and respectful of others and can be fairly generous, although i don’t see this as being at odds with civilised capitalism such as SMEs and community businesses, my point is that profit isn’t a bad thing in itself and is needed to fund public services.
        My phrase “human nature” was perhaps unfortunate, i meant to say that those of us on the broad Left sometimes misunderstand the nature of right wing capitalists as being ideological, rather than ruthlessly pragmatic.
        Your comparison to the Nazis is, i’m afraid sadly misplaced. That terrible regime was ultimately destroyed by its own twisted ideology as much as by the courage of our grandparent generation.
        Exploitative capitalism thrives because it doesn’t believe in anything, except greed.
        In my view the mistake of the Left has been to give the Right to much credit by assuming they must at least be true to themselves, usually they are not.

        1. Douglas says:

          Fair enough, Donald, and you’re right about most businessmen, I have no objection to business per se, I have an objection to the financial oligarchy who are screwing over millions of people the world over.

          As for the Nazis, well we could talk about that. Adorno believed that Fascism was the natural end result of capitalism and the Enlightenment. The Nazis kept the strictest book-keeping in everything they plundered from the Jews…. There is obviously a connection between Fascism and capitalism. The post war settlement sought to put a distance between the two, not least with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

          Those human rights are being seriously undermined, in say, the South of Europe, just as Capitalism goes into its most crazed, frothing neo-liberal phase.

          If the market is to decide everything, then of course you can easily end up with a kind of Fascism again. A high tech Fascism. That’s what I see coming…

          1. Donald Mitchell says:

            You certainly have a point about the erosion of human rights and democracy, Greece being the most obvious example.

  7. Crossest Man In Scotland says:

    Karl Marx prophesised in the 19th century that the end of capitalism was inevitable and it is incredible that a stubborn minority continue to expound his theories in spite of the wealth of evidence that it leads to economic stagnation and oppression.

    Whereas Marxism/Socialism is a theory, capitalism has evolved over the centuries in response to the basic drives and motivations of human beings. We want a choice of quality goods and services, we are prepared to work hard to support ourselves and our families, we value individual liberty.

    Left wing intellectuals (like Marx himself) view capitalism as the means by which the heartless exploit the helpless and see their role in life as to protect the latter from the former. They fail to understand that people on average and below average incomes do not actually hate those who are richer than themselves and generally speaking admire people who have achieved something in life and have little time for condescending middle class lefties.

  8. john young says:

    Tend to think we are/have been losing our spirituality/faith in the last 50yrs or so in our pursuit of “Nirvana”,it seems to be the “need for greed” and/or self is the new faith/religion and the more we pursue it the more elusive it becomes,something along the lines of “what if man gaineth the world but loses his soul”.Whoever he was Jesus was a bit savvy

  9. florian albert says:

    ‘Paul’s chosen agent of change is the “universal educated person” that’s coming to consciousness throughout the capitalist world’.

    How many such people are there in Scotland ?

    1. Kimberley Cadden says:

      according to ONS Scotland best educated country in Europe and among the best educated of the world….

      1. florian albert says:

        When the SNP took power in Holyrood in 2007, one of its first actions was to dump the ridiculous ‘best small country in the world’ mince which Jack McConnell had started.

        If you believe that Scotland’s education system is a success – especially for those in the least prosperous areas – you need to look at it more closely.

        1. Broadbield says:

          Your first para is reasonable but your second unfair. Two seemingly contradictory “facts” can both be true. If the ONS say that then it’s something to celebrate, not denigrate. At the same time there is much to do, including improving the chances of those from “the least prosperous areas”. But that is symptomatic of more general unfairness and inequality in our neo-liberal society organised for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

          1. florian albert says:

            Writing about ‘our neo liberal society organized for the benefit of the rich and powerful’ is something of a cop out.

            The reality is that the main political groups in Scotland, SLAB and the SNP (plus what passes for the Left) have allowed educational apartheid to develop.

            ‘There is much to do’ because the people who could have done much over the past 30 years failed to do it.
            Yesterday’s SQA fiasco suggests it will not be done anytime soon.

  10. barakabe says:

    Having to read the cynical posts of all these conventional, conformist, conservative types is becoming pretty repetitive on here- why do so many tory trolls feel the need to comment on these pages? What kind of personal insecurity drives them to do so- is it sexual frustration? Low self-esteem? Feelings of inferiority & insignificance? Going by the evidence of the neurotic over-compensation of the remarks (most emphatically about how uniquely hard working they are) and the nature of the cynical views on humanity you would have to think its all of these factors. A world populated by the ‘other’, by enemies, by competitors, with no equality, respect, empathy or co-operation- in a word it is a world devoid of real ‘humanity’. Analysing the comments of these proud strivers endless justification for inequality it seems clear they emanate from people who have a real support for the ‘values’ that presently reside at Downing Street- if we are to use their adherence to the values endorsed by the Tory leadership as evidence. Please just fuck off back to Toryland…

  11. Big jock says:

    Teddy- Sweden….goodnight.

    1. Teddy Henfrey says:

      Nothing more than a quick check on Wikipedia reveals that 90% of resources and companies are privately owned, and state-owned enterprises have never been important.

      The commanding heights of the economy have never been in state or employee hands.

      So Sweden isn’t and never has been remotely Socialist.

      Try again.

      (Of course, Sweden is an example of the ‘Nordic model’ where the welfare state and nice things are funded by high taxation on everyone. And of course, all the social attitudes surveys show that people in Scotland don’t want to pay higher taxes. They are very interested in higher taxes though – on other people. “Don’t tax me, tax them”.)

      1. JBS says:

        Plenty of opportunities for clockjobbers in Manchester, I take it?

        Keep going, Corporatist Hell alias Teddy Henfrey. You’re doing sterling work in promoting Scottish independence, even if your obsession with Bella Caledonia is really kinda creepy.

  12. Big jock says:

    Teddy I noticed you omitted to mention Swedish wages are 25% higher than Scotland. Cost and tax is bearable relative to wealth.

    Sweden is a social democratic state in a modern world. I would say they have the balance right. The elected government looks after society and the old and vulnerable are extremely well cared for.

  13. Ross McNairn says:

    Technology can be an enabler and a barrier, a force for good and a force for bad!

    For example the state broadcaster in Scotland, through technology, could choose to open people’s eyes to London miss-rule of Scotland, yet it chooses or is told to misinform Scots and chip away at our confidence.

    A more enlightened or well educated person (not sure where you draw the baseline), can fathom out themselves that all we are being told is not true, even question why we are being told what we are being told and by whose orders or pleasure.

    Others below the baseline may just accept what they are told, their fears and prejudices can then be manipulated to suit an elites agenda. Two good examples are the war on terror and the dark consequences of a country choosing to run its own affairs.

    I recall reading a book by France’s Cairncross called ‘The Death of Distance’ circa 17 years ago, certainly there is similarities with Paul Masson’s works as related by Pat.

    For me the key is obvious, a quality education so you can question the status quo with a degree of confidence. However, those with the highest levels of education and or money “tend” to vote conservatively.

    Re England and its identity, the bbc for years has been trying to forge an English identity, as we know this often strays into confusing England and the uk. I live in London, I have extreme difficulty idenfying an English identity. I think this is manageable now, but in the future……. Holding onto Scotland was one way that English politicians could point to England’s prowess, but that won’t last for long and what does that leave?

  14. Mike Fenwick says:

    Extract: PS name me the Socialist country that has succeeded in providing a quality of life and standard of living for the majority of its citizens that matches or anywhere near approaches that provided by the various forms of state regulated capitalism around the world.

    Well folks, how did we do in answering that question?

    Did we just ignore and bypass it given its source (yep, I know, I know – don’t feed the trolls) but seriously do we have an answer – or is it that the question is based on the here and now, and is simply not looking forward, which is what Paul Mason (rightly or wrongly – I haven’t read his book yet) is inviting us to do.

    Here is where I think the question goes wrong – it relates to countries, it asks us to concede to state regulated capitalism – and that sets borders, it requires boundaries, and for me in the most simplest of terms – the world wide web breaks down those borders and boundaries, ironically perhaps except where “countries” or their agencies censor, block or abuse the freedom the web creates for the individual.

    As I sit, I have Libre Office, Mozilla Thunderbird and Firefox, and a few other wholly free apps and programmes. No licence, no monthly fee, no adverts – my only voluntary (and it is wholly voluntary) obligation is to provide feedback and participate should I so wish in their development.

    Maybe we all have our own individual way of deciding how to define and classify socialism, but for me, what I have just described fits in, it is NOT state regulated, it is collaborative sharing, it aims to serve the common good – but critically it is NOT Country defined – it is the very antithesis of such, not least in “language”, but more importantly in shared culture.

    I also updated to Windows 10 last week- and yes, there was no direct cost, it was downloaded for free, but there is a price to pay, via the licence under which I can use the system, for many of the options available, and perhaps most significantly on my privacy as an individual.

    I do not intend to over-emphasise the significance of this – but for me – if you compare and contrast one with the other, they indicate change, they indicate that we do have choices, and they indicate most certainly that we are not any longer geographically contained, and personally I don’t see those changes, those choices being reversed.

    But, self interest, whether political or commercial will increasingly challenge our choices, and the changes they may produce – ultimately nothing is for free, not even freedom itself

    1. JBS says:

      You may find this interesting, Mike:

      Apologies if you know all this stuff already.

      1. Mike Fenwick says:

        Appreciated JBS – thanks. Hadn’t linked to that, but had most of it covered – once MS offer to pay me for having one of their accounts, and a % of their advertising revenue, I might even just say hello to Cortana.

        Until then I’ll just keep playing the old XP laptop games 😉 … up the revolution!

  15. barakabe says:

    I don’t think anyone is disputing that science, instrumental rationality, technological progress or capitalism have been engines of human advancement but we have to recognize the brutal destructive power of the darker side to these enterprises- who even knows the levels of human/ecological catastrophe produced by capitalism? The statistics are so mind boggling as to seem incomprehensible to the ordinary person- in that sense we have no real picture of the devastation we’re inflicting on the planet & each other. Lets not get smug by saying just because capitalism is better than socialism at providing material comfort that we should all go home- at least the Utopians believe in something beyond immediate animal existence- we can’t all be satisfied with just owning what Benjamin referred to as ‘novelties representing a return to the always the same’- in that sense the Utopians are quite right in believing we can do better than the garbage we’re forced fed daily.

    1. Wul says:

      Good point Barakabe,

      For example. As I walk down the lovely Victorian streets of Glasgow’s city centre to my hospital appointment, I am passing buildings created with wealth made from the blood of thousands of lifelong slaves, being forced to grow a product (tobacco) which kills people.
      The taxes paid by an oil company which spills toxic waste into African rivers and drinking water and supports murdering warlords helps to provide my healthcare.

      So whilst I am indeed all-right-jack under capitalism, let’s not get too rosy tinted.

      I think the “Socialism or Capitalism” choice that’s often used to justify the status quo is a false one. A fairer society does not preclude trade or mercantilism. You can still make a decent living without shitting on everyone and everything else.

  16. Broadbield says:

    I thinks we’ve been here before with post-this and post-that. A few years ago it was “The end of History” – i.e. the triumph of western liberal democracy. Previously, there have been many revolutions since the collapse of the Roman Empire and before to the overthrow of monarchy in England, French and Russian revolutions, and what always seems to happen is that the same old elites, or new ones donning their clothes, arise in their place.

    The four most dangerous words in investing, “it’s different this time” (Templeton) might also be applied to Post Capitalism. We confuse living through a digital information age with real change – wasn’t the printing press a more epochal invention?- but your Googles, Facebooks and so on are really just capitalists of the old school in jeans, despite the aphorism “Don’t be evil” – tax avoidance anyone? And the corporate-politial elites are are richer, more powerful and have more insidious methods at their disposal to get their way. Just look at the US, they have the finest politicians money can buy, and we are catching up quickly.

    Sorry, but I’m pessimistic on a global scale, but have a hope that an Independent Scotland might be different, as there is a real groundswell for change – if we can win the argument and having done so don’t sell out like Blair, Brown, Darling and co and go through that revolving door to greed and self-interest.

    1. Wul says:


      It’s really just independence from London, rather than England, that I’m after.

  17. John Wight says:

    I like and admire Paul Mason. His previous two books – ‘Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere’ and ‘Live Working Or Die Fighting’ are on my bookshelf and both are excellent.

    However I don’t accept either the premise or conclusion of his latest work, ‘Postcapitalism’, nor do I share Pat’s enthusiasm for its analysis. Here, Paul Mason is advocating what amounts to a revolution without a revolution, suggesting that we are gradually evolving towards a post capitalist society/world based on the advances in technology and how these are changing and shaping our behaviour and social networks. But this tendentious view and belief in new technology as a catalyst for social transformation could equally have been applicable to any number of technological developments we have experienced since the Second World War – i.e. the mass availability of the telephone and television.

    Yes, I agree, working class culture has traditionally existed as a countervailing social entity within the mainstream, reaffirming and strengthening the bonds of solidarity that uphold and deepen class consciousness. And, yes, the revolutionary consciousness that the far left has traditionally espoused as the next step towards mass revolutionary struggle has failed to materialise anywhere in the West within the developed capitalist societies to any great extent. But this is because working class organisation has been able to win enough of the surplus to obviate the need for the huge social convulusion of a revolution in economies that are rich and developed enough to ‘buy off’ the working class in periods when its militancy rises to levels that constitute a threat to the status quo.

    The point is that despite the periodic shocks and crises that underpin capitalism, it is not going anywhere anytime soon. Whenever capitalism descends into crisis, people at the sharp end forge alternative social networks and organise themselves on a collective basis to weather the storm. But this is not the same as the formation of a new society or mode of production being born. No matter how much we wish it were otherwise we cannot ignore the question of power and hegemony. Ultimately it is the political institutions, and who control them, which determine where power resides. To put it more crudely, ‘they’ are the ones giving ‘us’ parking tickets and not the other way round, regardless of the new social networks that are being forged on the back of the advance in technology and how it transcends borders.

    So I disagree with Paul Mason and with Pat on this. We are not entering a post capitalist age, we are living through a shift in the development of capitalism, just as previous generations did through the previous tech revolutions that have occured since 1945.

    If capitalism has proved adept at anything it is in commodifying and absorbing the creative and cultural movements that have emerged at every stage of those tech revolutions. I don’t see any evidence of this one proving any different.

  18. Airconditioned says:

    As interesting and engaging as Paul Mason’s work sounds (having read the guardian extract)I can’t help but wonder if he has incorporated the singularity into his analysis.

    If, or should I say when, the singularity comes into being all bets will be off for what comes next.

    Good review though, I’ll be torrenting the book.

  19. Raphie de Santos says:

    Good review of a stimulating book. Capitalism has managed to use the technological revolution to increase productivity and reverse declining profitability. They have also managed to partially to control new media and exploit it – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, iTunes, Spotify etc. In doing all this they have proletarianise more people. The golden age of capitalism has passed but has many more years to run. But more and more people are rejecting its atomized material basis for a more collective existence.

    A new austere capitalism
    It really is quite simply a reaction to the measures that capitalism put in place to deal with the inherent contradictions of capitalism that sharply surfaced in the period 1974-1982. It created an unsuitable credit boom that resulted in the deepest recession since the 1930s as well as paying for the bailout of the financial system and the global economy, spending power and hence tax revenues have fallen dramatically with the cutting back of easy to obtain but complexly derived credit. There was also prior to the financial crash a reduction in the tax burden of the better off while their remuneration has dramatically increased compared to the majority of the population. As a consequence there is now a huge shortfall between government revenues and expenditure. Austerity is closing that gap by reducing expenditure rather than increasing revenues. It is not the end of capitalism but a new variant based consisting of low growth, low wages and reduced credit and public spending. It is an austere capitalism for the west. The rest of the world still suffers a slave capitalism with mass severe poverty.

    This would imply a new economic system that is not based on the generalised production of goods and services driven by profit and privately owned. Like Negri mistakenly believed before this system cannot be replaced by chipping away and creating alternative form of economic activity. The current second technological revolution is much more naive in its philosophy and is easily being assimilated into the current economic system.
    To create a post-capitalist economic society requires the conscious effort of the majority of society to harness innovation and resources under the common ownership to create a society based on the communal needs rather than the private consumer needs of the individual. One that is not driven by profit. The sharing of all the world’s resources in this way is the only way we can overcome inequality and provide a dignified life for all on this planet.
    The failure of the left over the last thirty years has come out of the defeat with neo-liberalism in the mid-1980s and the adoption of these neo-liberalism by most social democratic forces. The was the so called end of history.
    Very few on the left were able to predict, analyse the roots of the 2007 financial crisis, explains its likely dynamic and put forward an alternative. But there a minority did but lack of responses to the crisis has made traditional left social democratic ideas now look revolutionary (Corbyn, Saunders etc.). Their ideas cannot solve the crisis in the interests of the majority or lead us to a post-capitalist society although they are a step in the correct direction. That is not to say there are not revolutionary ideas out there as the reference below shows that can if they are made a popular pedagogy create a genuine post-capitalist society where private profit and consumerism no longer exist and the common good and communal needs drive the economy.


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