Books on politics and political issues rarely capture my attention or my imagination.
During the past decade, I have read just three books about politics, all biographies – Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Probably great fodder for Freudians who’d like to pop me in a pigeon-hole. Good luck with that!
My own self-analysis of why these works did attract me tells me that each addresses times and experiences of significant change and, indeed, upheavals in society, in political landscapes and more. Each author, either directly and/or via a ghost, weaves a compelling narrative that resonates strongly with my understanding and sense of contemporary society and the changes I might wish to see happen as well as those I’d rather not.
The politics in each – in terms of labels like left, centre and right – get largely ignored.
This morning, during my usual early-Saturday online news consumption and sharing time, I came across an article in The Guardian by journalist Paul Mason that did very much capture my attention and my imagination.
In the article, published on July 17, Mason lays out a deep rationale and the canvas for his forthcoming book that discusses a topic that is most interesting if you take the politics out of it – the successor to capitalism.
Titled simply PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Mason’s book is described by publisher Penguin as “a guide to our era of seismic economic change, and how we can build a more equal society.” Clearly politics – and by that word, I mean class politics – will be very much a part of this no matter how I wish it weren’t.
After reading Mason’s piece in The Guardian, I thought about how would I sum up what the book’s about in a tweetable-length text? I came up with this:
— Neville Hobson (@jangles) July 25, 2015
Mason’s article is peppered with thought-provoking opinions to support his clear view that we are en route to a post-capitalist world that will capture your imagination, whether you agree or not.
To start with:
Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era. At the heart of further change to come is information technology, new ways of working and the sharing economy. The old ways will take a long while to disappear, but it’s time to be utopian.
Well, that got my attention. Thank God he didn’t say “It’s time to be dystopian” that you might expect from a journalist who, in his own words, “was a Leftie activist.”
Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.
New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. Buzzwords such as the “commons” and “peer-production” are thrown around, but few have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself.
And a paragraph that especially grabbed my attention:
There is, alongside the world of monopolised information and surveillance created by corporations and governments, a different dynamic growing up around information: information as a social good, free at the point of use, incapable of being owned or exploited or priced. I’ve surveyed the attempts by economists and business gurus to build a framework to understand the dynamics of an economy based on abundant, socially-held information. But it was actually imagined by one 19th-century economist in the era of the telegraph and the steam engine. His name? Karl Marx.
Karl Marx, as you will know, was a co-author of the Communist Party Manifesto, a publication I read in the 1970s and have always believed presents a Utopian view of a world that has never (can never?) been fulfilled as the failed dystopian Soviet project over a 70-year period clearly illustrated.
What Mason argues is for change within the current economic (and, I would argue, political) system rather than the “man the barricades” treatments you typically hear from ‘Leftie activists’ and those who talk about “we are the 99 percent,” etc. And, arguably, that’s what you see and hear today in much of the polarising rhetoric from the mainstream political Left.
So I like how Paul Mason makes his arguments for change with reality statements like this:
The modern day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long term. They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death – but as we saw in New Orleans in 2005 [hurricane Katrina], it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a financially complex and impoverished society.
Most 20th-century leftists believed that they did not have the luxury of a managed transition: it was an article of faith for them that nothing of the coming system could exist within the old one – though the working class always attempted to create an alternative life within and “despite” capitalism. As a result, once the possibility of a Soviet-style transition disappeared, the modern left became preoccupied simply with opposing things: the privatisation of healthcare, anti-union laws, fracking – the list goes on.
And so I have pre-ordered the Kindle edition of Mason’s book which will be published in the UK on July 30. Can’t wait to read it.
[Image at top via The Guardian.]