Book Review: Mick Brooks evaluates Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism: a Guide To Our Future’

Collage lightPublished: 29 August 2015.
Reviewer: Mick Brooks.

Paul Mason is the Economics Editor of Channel 4 News. As an ex-lefty, he offers a critical perspective on developments within capitalism. His latest book is not lacking in ambition: it promises nothing less than a guide to the future! It is indeed wide-ranging, and a challenging read for socialists.

What is Postcapitalism?
First the good news – according to Mason capitalism is likely to disappear off the face of the earth. Now the bad news – it will not be replaced by socialism, but by ?postcapitalism?. What is this beast?

?Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values, behaviours and norms.? (Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, p.xiv)

?Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years.

  • ?First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages.
  • ?Second, information is corroding the market?s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant…?
  • ?Third, we?re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.? (Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, p.xv)

?The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed ? not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.?

This analysis represents a challenge to Marxists. Can this huge reduction in working time consequent upon automation be achieved without a socialist revolution?

A Changing Working Class
We cannot take up all the points raised by Mason in his enormously ambitious book. For instance he asserts that, ?The hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a ?proletariat?, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.? Among the reasons for this transformation appear to be the following:

  • The working class is stratified. (The short answer: it always has been.)
  • Many workers live a precarious existence. (Though the term the ?precariat? may be of recent coinage, it corresponds to the concept of ?a relative surplus population or industrial reserve army? expounded by Karl Marx in his ?Capital?.)
  • But the principal change is that workers are no longer principally concerned with the world of work. According to Mason, they increasingly see themselves as ?networked individuals? and seek their salvation along this route.

Whether we no longer have a ?proper? proletariat and what it ought to think or behave like is contentious. Certainly the working class has gone through enormous changes over recent decades, as it has done since its inception. The nature of the contemporary working class is a huge topic which would require a separate investigation. Certainly the new mass working class in China (just to take one example) has a magnificent history of struggle in very difficult conditions.

Work in Twenty-First Century Capitalism
Likewise the assertion that capitalist progress will leave us a life of unlimited leisure where our only problem will be what to do with all our free time without getting bored is a decades? long yarn. This was a consistent theme of a BBC programme called ?Tomorrow?s World? that ran from 1965 to 2003. It hasn?t happened yet, despite continuous productivity gains over the decades. Clearly the obstacle to achieving this vision is systemic ? it is in the nature of capitalism.

The world of work under capitalism continues to be one of over-work on one hand and unemployment on the other. Marx explained that this was the normal outcome of the accumulation of capital.

Does Mason have an alternative explanation as to why overwork side by side with unemployment is still the norm and what, apart from socialist revolution, may cause it to change? From the propositions quoted at the beginning of this review we see that Mason does see capitalism as the obstacle:

?The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences….?

Mason admits that capitalism (?our social infrastructure?) is stalling the road to automation, and with it higher living standards and enhanced leisure for all. How then can we proceed except by sweeping away the entire system?

The Nature of Information
Unfashionably, Mason defends the labour theory of value, expounded by Marx, namely that value is determined on average by the socially necessary labour time involved in a commodity?s production. His point is that the explanation provided by the labour theory of value, and with it the system it strives to explain, breaks down because information is becoming abundant, and therefore should be free.

The thesis that information is becoming abundant is not new:

?The product of mental labour ? science ? always stands far below its value because the labour-time needed to reproduce it bears no relation at all to the labour-time required for its original production. For example, a schoolboy can learn the binomial theorem in an hour.? (Theories of Surplus Value Volume I, p.353)

The problem (for capitalism) is that information has public good characteristics. As Thomas Jefferson put it, you can pass on the light of your candle to another without extinguishing your own. This is not the case with a private good such as a chocolate biscuit which, once consumed, cannot be shared with another. If information is a public good, since the extra cost of supplying it to more and more people is zero, shouldn?t it be provided free?

It is indeed difficult for capitalists to charge individuals for information without letting it out into the wild for all to feed upon. But they certainly try. Mason is certainly aware of these arguments, but he believes that the artificial monopolies created by capitalism to capture the fruits of this onward rush of productivity in the world of information will eventually be overcome.

Proponents of capitalism argue that the public goods problem means that people will not bother to innovate since they have no incentive to do so without a financial reward. This is quite wrong.

People invent things because they are naturally inventive. This has long been known to be the case. Explaining why Milton was an unproductive labourer in terms of his economic analysis, Marx says, ?Milton produced ?Paradise Lost? as a silkworm produces silk, as the activation of his own nature. He later sold the product for ?5.? (Capital Volume I, p.1044)

Secondly, the firms that claim ideas as their intellectual property are not their inventors. Firms have never invented anything. But capitalist firms can appropriate the products of mental labour. Even if information is abundant, capitalists try to create an artificial scarcity, a monopoly, so as to make money from (other people?s) ideas.

Intellectual Property Rights
The capitalist class owns the material means of production. In addition they claim to own ideas as intellectual property. ?The economic product of the United States,? declared Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of America’s Federal Reserve, ?has become predominantly conceptual?. What he means is the need for the capitalist class to keep a tight grip on ideas they own is as important as their ownership of the material means of production. In fact the two go together.

The two forms of intellectual property that are important here are patents and copyright.

The most obvious abuse of copyright for Marxists is the Marx-Engels Collected Works, which for a time was not available on Naive folk may imagine that the people who ?owned? the works of Marx and Engels were Marx and Engels and that they or their estate, if anyone, should hold the copyright. However, Lawrence and Wishart decided that they held the copyright to the English translation because they had translated them in an earlier period, and they accordingly withdrew the works from the website. Fortunately the dispute seems to have been resolved for now, and normal service has been resumed.

Academic authors sign over the copyright to their articles to the journals they publish in as a matter of routine. Often they may be barred from photocopying their own articles for distribution to their students since they don?t own the ideas ? the journal does!

Patents are also a severe restriction on the free transfer of ideas. Patent law has been applied to software systems ? but this is a form of language. This is akin to claiming ownership of the English language!

The ?Fragment on Machines?
Mason quotes a section from the ?Grundrisse? often called the ?Fragment on Machines? (Grundrisse pp.699-714). This passage is an awesome anticipation of the future socialist society. Marx argues that calculation based on labour time will break down in the face of continuous productivity improvements informed by what Marx called ?the general intellect.?

?The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.? (Grundrisse, pp 705-6)

Here Marx makes it abundantly clear that these developments clash with capitalist property relations and show capitalism to be a fetter upon the further development of the productive forces. The coming to fruition of these developments requires a higher form of society where human individuality can flourish.

This increase in productivity will be partly driven by the achievements of what Marx called the ?general intellect?. Tony Smith (in a paper called ?The General Intellect in the Grundrisse and Beyond?) argues against the interpretation of Virno and Vercelloni in particular. They assert that Marx?s labour theory of value is already obsolete and that the ?general intellect? allows free development among workers under post-Fordist capitalism (the 20th Century form of capitalism based on mass production in large-scale factories ? Ed). Smith quotes Virno as saying, ?in post-Fordism, the tendency described in Marx is fully realised.?

Vercellone also goes along with most of this, though he disputes the validity of the facile use of the term ?post-Fordism? as a phase of capitalist development. Much ink has been spilled on the question of post-Fordism but we do not intend to enter into that controversy here.

The view of Virno and Vercellone basically accords with the position adopted by Paul Mason. In contrast, Tony Smith argues powerfully that the labour theory of value remains valid and will only wither away in a higher form of society, and that the ?fragment on machines?, correctly understood, underlines that view.

Smith also shows that the gains in productivity on account of the ?general intellect? are like those arising from the natural fertility of the soil:

?Wealth creation in capitalism has always crucially depended upon ?free gifts? that capital claimed as its own. Gifts of nature, such as soil fertility developed over millions of years, or water and wind power, are examples.?

Smith mentions in his contribution the example of open source software, as does Carchedi (see later). Open source software is invented by clever people and gifted to humanity, and then appropriated by corporations. Though these gains from ?free gifts? arise from human curiosity or from natural conditions, they are appropriated by the capitalist class as their own property – as a privilege due to them on account of their ownership of the means of production.

Free at Last?
So Mason adopts an interpretation of the ?fragment on machines? which has been adopted by the Italian ?workerist ?(operaismo) movement and the more recent autonomist tradition. These movements argue that Taylorism (the scientific management of mass production introduced in the early 20th Century – Ed) produced alienated labour, but the post-Fordist age of capitalism has allowed workers to use their initiative at work, for instance in computer programming.

Mason also argues that the ?information revolution? has allowed a stratum of creative and non-alienated workers to evolve. Since such workers have a much more detailed knowledge of what they are doing than their employers, they cannot be bossed and regimented as assembly line workers were in the past. The freedoms which Marx believed could only be attained as the result of a communist revolution have come to pass under ?post-Fordist? capitalism!

Mason seems to have adapted the concepts forwarded by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their 2000 book ?Empire?. In their view ?Empire? has replaced imperialism as our enemy and opposition to it is likely to be provided by ?the multitude? rather than the working class.

Following from this Mason believes that the difference between work and play, between producer and consumer, has been blurred by access to the internet. This is fundamentally misconceived, as we shall try to show later.

Hardt and Negri are clearly a major influence on Mason?s thinking. He quotes their 2012 book ?Declaration?:

?The centre of gravity of capitalist production no longer resides in the factory but has drifted outside its walls. Society has become a factory…With this shift the primary engagement between capitalist and worker also changes.? (p.210)

The Internet and Capitalism
Marx was radicalised in part by writing in 1842 on the enclosure of the commons taking place in his native Moselle Valley. Peasants who had collected firewood from the forests for untold generations were suddenly told that these lands were private property. The enclosure of the commons is a process that has been going on all over the world.

The internet is contested terrain. Some, such as Tim Berners-Lee the inventor of the World Wide Web, regard it as an intellectual commons, where anyone can pick up and experiment with ideas as simply as Moselle peasants formerly picked up firewood. The big corporations have different plans.

At risk of stating the obvious, the internet is big business. Though the services of firms such as Facebook and Google are formally free to the user they make massive revenues from advertising and are some of the biggest and most highly-valued corporations in the world. The people who work for them are, of course, proletarians responsible for producing their profits.

Google has just announced that its brand name is just part of a conglomerate called Alphabet. The workers for firms such as Google and Facebook are exploited exactly like coal miners or other industrial workers.

It is quite true that many of us use the internet in our own time for research, often for quite trivial applications such as to check our spelling. Formerly we used dictionaries. What?s the difference? As individuals researching in our free time, we are neither workers nor capitalists – but at the core of the ?networked society? are profit-making firms.

Carchedi (in ?Old Wine, New Bottles and the Internet?) points out that these ?mental agents?, as he calls individuals researching in their free time, can often add value for the capitalists. Mason believes that the internet causes the distinction between producer and consumer to break down. What really happens is rather different. Carchedi gives the example of ?modding?, where clever people can improve computer games in their free time, to the advantage of the firm that markets them.

It is also true that achievements such as Wikipedia have been built up entirely by the voluntary labour of 27,000 people. Mason believes Wikipedia is depriving encyclopedia publishers of $2.8 bn. in potential revenues in the process. What does this show? It shows that people are intelligent and altruistic ? and hate the restrictions that capitalist employment imposes upon their lives. It also shows that the notion that greedy, individualistic ?human nature? makes socialism impossible is the opposite of the truth. But, as long as the means of production remain in the hands of the capitalist class all that enthusiasm and initiative is likely to go to waste.

This is nothing new. As both Smith and Carchedi have shown, capitalists feed off and profit from human inquisitiveness. That is why they let their skilled workers off the leash ? they make more money that way.

Exploitation of Creative Workers
It is well known that the distribution centres for Amazon, such as the one in Peterborough, are factory hells for those who work there. The firm?s tax-dodging skills are equally well known. But the creative, supposedly cosseted, people who work at head office in Seattle are treated just as badly, according to a recent article in the ?New York Times?.

One employee was given a low-performance rating after returning from treatment for her thyroid cancer. Another miscarried twins, and claims she was told: ?From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don?t know if this is the right place for you.?

Bo Olson lasted less than two years as a book marketer and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. ?You walk out of a conference room and you?ll see a grown man covering his face,? he said. ?Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.?

Why do workers put up with this pain and humiliation, at least until they crack? Because they will not get a well paid job like this anywhere else. Because they are no more able to set up on their own account than a nineteenth century textile worker could run out and buy a cotton mill. They are wage slaves. The bosses? power lies in their ownership of the means of production.

Carchedi also presents a different side and more sinister side to his analysis of internet workers (?mental labourers?, as he calls them) – from the world of amateur enthusiasms and sharing portrayed by Mason.

Carchedi quotes a speech by Biewald of CrowdFlower from 2010: ?Before the internet, it would be really difficult to find someone, sit them down for ten minutes and get them to work for you, and then fire them after those ten minutes. But with technology you can actually find them, pay them the tiny amount of money and then get rid of them when you don?t want them anymore.?

Carchedi adduces evidence of long hours, unpaid overtime and intensity of labour carefully monitored and increased by electronic eavesdropping used by achingly trendy IT employers. He describes AOL (formerly America Online) as an electronic sweatshop.

Information Abundance?
Mason bases his case for postcapitalism on the argument that information is becoming abundant. Since its marginal cost tends to zero, ?Information technology, far from creating a new and stable form of capitalism, is dissolving it; corroding market mechanisms, eroding property rights and destroying the old relationship between wages, work and profit.? (p.112)

Our response to that is two-fold: first the capitalists have erected fences and barriers round the intellectual commons of the web to keep us out. Their intellectual property rights are enforced by the legal system today just a severely as the Prussian police kept the Moselle peasants out of the forests.

Secondly, even if information can be regarded as costless, it is usually bundled up with something that is not free, and can and will be charged for. Mason recognises this. He quotes IBM physicist Rolf Landauer as saying, ?Information is not a disembodied abstract entity; it is always tied to a physical representation (p.165).?

Mason gives a good example ? metal stamping. The modern process is now completely computerised. The stamping machine replicates the motions formerly done by human hand, and does it faster and more accurately.

Carchedi also points out that information is often sold in the form of a physical product, such as a DVD, which a capitalist can have manufactured at cost and charge for. Marginal cost does not tend to zero. Carchedi painstakingly establishes that the value of the product of mental labour is determined by the value of the capital invested in the prototype, the cost of production of replicas of the prototype, and the surplus value generated during the life cycle of the product of mental labour.

This may help to explain why the onset of a society of abundance is not rushing on us as fast as Mason hopes.

Market, Plan … and Networks
?The same bourgeois consciousness which celebrates the division of labour in the workshop…denounces with equal vigour every conscious attempt to control and regulate the process of production socially, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of property, freedom and the self-determining ?genius? of the individual capitalist. It is very characteristic that the enthusiastic apologists of the factory system have nothing to urge against a general organisation of labour in society than that it would turn the whole of society into a factory.? (Capital Volume I, p.477)

Mason tries to present the contradictions of the present era in organisational terms as a struggle between networks and hierarchies. A more familiar dualism (mentioned, for instance, in the interwar socialist calculation debate that he refers to) is the conflict between market and plan.

Let us consider these two ? market and plan – first and then introduce the role of networks into the analysis. Most economists, following in the footsteps of Mises and Hayek, regard market relations as essentially democratic and ?horizontal?. After all, it takes the agreement of both parties to trade with each other. However, Marx revealed the institutional inequality that exists within the form of the exchange of commodities in the case of the wages contract:

?This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will… On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the ?free-trader vulgaris? with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but ? a hiding.? (Capital Volume I, p.280)

By contrast the world of planning is seen as ?hierarchical?, as one where one person bosses around others. This distinction is quite false. Certainly most capitalist firms are profoundly hierarchical. But there is no reason why workplaces staffed by the free associated producers of the future should be organised in that manner. Without the unremitting economic pressure which makes the formally free wage worker submit to the order of the boss they would not tolerate a dictatorship within the workplace for an instant.

The real distinction between plan and market is the difference between ex ante (before the event ? Ed) allocation of resources and assignment ex post (afterwards ? Ed). The worker enters the workplace at the beginning of their shift and expects the manager to have planned their likely use of implements and raw materials in advance. It would not do at all for the worker to have to run out and buy these things before they could start work.

Yet that is precisely how the market works. A shortage leads to a rise in price, a signal that more is needed. A dearth on the other hand produces price falls, interpreted as a signal to reduce output. Since we never know how much is required in the market (by definition it is unplanned), a market economy necessitates a constant waste of resources, a waste that would be regarded as completely unacceptable in the workplace.

The Role of Networks in a Plan
Where do networks fit into this analysis? They are exchanges conducted by private individuals outside the marketplace. Like market transactions they are carried out oblivious to the requirements of society as a whole. How would they fit into a planned economy?

?If there existed the universal mind that projected itself into the scientific fantasy of Laplace; a mind that would register simultaneously all the processes of nature and society, that could measure the dynamics of their motion, that could forecast the result of their inter-reactions, such a mind, of course, could a priori draw up a faultless and exhaustive economic plan, beginning with the number of hectares of wheat and down to the last button for a vest.? (Towards Socialism or Capitalism? p.113)

It is clear that the author (Leon Trotsky) believes no such plan could be drawn up. Some things ? energy requirements, overall steel production ? are easier to assess than others and are therefore more plannable. A system of networks would play an invaluable role in ?filling in the holes in the plan?, particularly if provided by alert, intelligent and committed citizens of a socialist commonwealth. Networks would also be an invaluable source for innovation in the society of the future.

A Sharing Economy?
To support his case, Mason informs us that: ?You only find this new economy if you look hard for it. In Greece, when a grassroots NGO mapped the country?s food co-ops, alternative producers, parallel currencies and local exchange systems they found more than 70 substantive projects and hundreds of smaller initiatives ranging from squats to carpools to fee kindergartens.?

Why in Greece? In that country the social welfare system has completely broken down in the face of the grim economic conditions imposed upon the people. In that sense these initiatives are born of desperation. From a brighter perspective these are also signs of resistance to the unbearable conditions the Greek people are facing. Whether the product of desperation or resistance these initiatives are at present just nibbling around the edges of capitalism.

How could it be otherwise? In Greece, as elsewhere, the means of production remain in the hands of the capitalist class. Despite mass unemployment, the only realistic way for most people to make a living is to strive to earn a wage. The sharing economy represents a few fragile shoots which could only flower under socialism, which is after all ?the free development of individualities?, not a monolithic Stalinist state. The obstacle to a sharing economy is capitalism.

As Carchedi comments, ?There is nothing new about non-hierarchical processes of production of knowledge on the basis of solidarity. This has been a feature of capitalism ever since capitalism came into existence for the simple reason that there is no capitalist rule without resistance against it, and thus without the production of pro-labour knowledge as a weapon against that rule.?

The Role of Technology
Regular readers of Paul Mason?s work (and he is well worth keeping up with) know that he is obsessed with technology. The traditional Marxist view is that technology is neutral. It can be used by either side in the class struggle – to spy on workers and monitor their activities or to mobilise resistance to the bosses. Advances in technology will not, on their own, emancipate the working class.

Mason admits this in relation to the capitalist state. ?True, states can shut down Facebook, Twitter, even the entire internet and mobile network in times of crisis, paralysing the economy in the process. And they can store and monitor every kilobyte of information we produce? (p.xvii). The potential advantages of internet and mobile communication for workers can and will be suspended if the state believes that their system is imperilled.

Mason?s argument is that technology, in the hands of sharing individuals outside the control of the capitalist class, can emancipate us all. But this won?t just happen on its own.

What Role for the State?
Surprisingly in view of his understanding that the state is an obstacle to progress, Mason introduces the state as part of the solution to the unfolding of the postcapitalist movement that he sees bubbling up from within the existing capitalist order.

?I believe it? (the sharing economy) ?offers an escape route ? but only if these micro-level projects are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do. And this must be driven by a change in our thinking ? about technology, ownership and work.?

Why on earth would the capitalist state do this? Is it, or is it not, the guarantor of capitalist property relations? Has it not always defended the interests of the rich and powerful in our economy? When has its representatives ever shown any interest in the counter-movement that Mason extols?

Secondly where is this change in ?our? thinking to come from? The thought patterns of what Mason refers to at the outset as a ?proper? proletariat presumably came from class conflict with the bosses. Is this new way of thinking just to drop from heaven? Even if consciousness does change, how do we make the capitalist state take account of this? This is the same state that is plunging tens of thousands of children into poverty in the UK by removing child tax credits from impoverished families while contemplating further massive handouts to the most worthless sections of the capitalist class.

Mason goes on: ?If I am right, the logical focus for supporters of postcapitalism is to build alternatives within the system; to use governmental power in a radical and disruptive way; and to direct all actions towards the transition ? not the defence of random elements of the old system.?

How to Make it Happen
This is not going to happen of its own accord. To be fair to Mason, he knows this. ?Up to this point, I?ve treated postcapitalism as a process emerging spontaneously. The challenge is to turn these insights into a project? (p.265).

He calls it ?Project Zero?. Many of his proscriptions are quite familiar. As an opponent of neoliberalism he demands that the state stops privatisation, which he correctly sees as a means of looting public resources. But privatisation has been going on all over the capitalist world among governments of all different persuasions. It is not just a weird Thatcherite cult. The policy dominates because the ruling ideas of our epoch are the ideas of the ruling class. They have to be challenged, not just argued against.

Mason wants firms to act more responsibly in all manner of ways:

  • ?What would induce corporations to do any of this? Answer: law and regulation? (p.277).

This is an astonishingly naive statement after a monumental crash triggered by unregulated banks.

The unfortunate Brooksley Born, Head of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, wondered in 1998 whether derivates regulation should be strengthened. She got her answer from Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. He screamed at her over the phone, ?I have thirteen bankers in my office, and they say if you go forward with this you will cause the worst financial crisis since World War II.?

This man of wisdom Summers went on to become Treasury Secretary under President Clinton. He garnered a number of lucrative posts in the private sector in the Bush years and then served under Obama as an economic adviser. Foxes are in charge of the hen house!

  • Mason would ?suppress or socialise? monopolies (ibid.).

Fair enough. He calls for ?public provision of water, energy, housing, transport, healthcare, telecoms infrastructure and education? (p.278). This list shows that quite a lot of the present capitalist sector is in fact made up of rotten monopolies.

  • We need to ?socialise the financial system? (p.280).

This would involve nationalising the central bank and turning the rest of the banking system into a network of public utilities.

There are further proposals, such as a basic income for all, but the points outlined give the essential flavour. Project Zero turns out to be a far-reaching social democratic project of enabling reforms to the existing capitalist system, rather than a vision of the future.

The central weakness of Mason?s analysis is his failure to take account of the inevitable resistance of the ruling class and their state to his project. Rather than contemplating the future, we?ll have to fight for it. No surprise there. A future without capitalism is well worth fighting for, but ?networked individuals? will only achieve their freedom along with the socialist transformation of society.

Guglielmo Carchedi – Old Wine, New Bottles and the Internet

Karl Marx ? Grundrisse. Penguin, 1973

Karl Marx – Capital Volume I. Penguin, 1976

Karl Marx – Theories of Surplus Value Volume I. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969

Paul Mason – Postcapitalism: a guide to our future. Allen Lane 2015, ?16.99

[Some quotes are taken from his pre-publication excerpts published in the ?Guardian? at I have tried to source them in addition from the page numbers of his book.]

New York Times ? Inside Amazon: Wrestling big ideas in a Bruising Workplace (

Tony Smith – The General Intellect in the Grundrisse and Beyond. Historical Materialism, 21(4)

Leon Trotsky ? Soviet Economy in Danger in Towards Socialism or Capitalism? New Park, 1976

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