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Is society moving towards 'post-capitalism'?

Justin Easterbrook

September 21, 2015

In a widely-shared article in The Guardian, Paul Mason claims that the dream of the Left is dead, and that rather than a forcible overthrow of the ruling class by the working class, “post-capitalism” emerges out from capitalism through a “new route out”: “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 and behaviors. I call this postcapitalism.”

Of course he doesn’t explain what this “more dynamic” thing is, or more importantly how it will be created, but just simply supposes it will come into being, and with no resistance on the part of capitalists. He assumes that this ‘new route out’ is what will end the domination of capital over labour, that it will be willfully accepted by those who currently use capital to dominate labour, and that the workers will not eventually have to enforce a domination of their own.


He offers us these three points as a rationale for why “post-capitalism” is possible:

“First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages.” This implies that there will be some kind of dissolution of work as we know it, or that somehow people will not have to work in “post-capitalism.”

“Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies.” The author doesn’t actually explain how consumer information affects the prices of commodities. One could take a wild guess and assume he means that freely available information has affected the price on particular commodities, but this doesn’t reflect a change in the price of commodities in general.

The author also believes that the forming of monopolies is some kind of defense mechanism the market uses, which implies some kind of planned intent on part of the capitalists, as opposed to what a monopoly truly is—which is simply the inherent result of the contradictions within free market capitalism. In other words, it is simply profitable to buy up competitors, not part of a grand strategy conspiratorially thought up by a group of capitalists as a “defense mechanism.”

“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.” This argument is not new, in fact Rosa Luxemburg explained over 100 years ago why worker’s co-operative production is not capable of competing in industry, and is just as incapable of replacing capitalist production. If people would bother to read the classics, we wouldn’t have to re-hash century old political economy.

As she explained in Reform or Revolution, “As a result of competition, the complete domination of the process of production by the interests of capital—that is, pitiless exploitation—becomes a condition for the survival of each enterprise…In other words, use is made of all methods that enable an enterprise to stand up against competitors in the market. The workers forming a cooperative in the field of production are thus faced with the contradictory necessity of governing themselves with the utmost absolutism. They are obliged to take toward themselves the role of capitalist entrepreneur— a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production cooperatives, which either become capitalist enterprises, or, if the workers interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving.”

But most importantly, none of these points actually contribute to any rational argument for dismissing the likelihood of necessity for a “force applied by the working class,” a forcible overthrow of the state and capitalism. None of these points bring us any closer to a peaceful conclusion, no “new route out” which the author claims to have. The author glorifies co-operative efforts such as time banks and parallel currencies. Although these are interesting, they are not a prospective alternative to capitalism, but a desperate way for people who cannot acquire a means of production of their own to deal with our hyper exploitative era of late capitalism.


So how have things changed in such a way as to change the nature of everything we know about the world around us?

“Neoliberalism, then, has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures.” Again, nothing has been “programmed,” as this implies a planned intent on part of the capitalist class. Periodic crisis are the result of the inherent contradictions within capitalism, and nothing here has morphed into anything; capitalism has been generating crises from its very inception, and the current global crisis is not an exception.

The answer to this question is that capitalism has not fundamentally changed. Although our author provides a valid analysis of neoliberalism and information technology to some degree, none of these ideas pose a fundamental change in understanding our mode of production, because our mode hasn’t fundamentally changed.

As unique as the happenings of price surrounding information is, we still operate in a commodity production based economy, and none of these ‘new’ developments fundamentally change the way we do things. A commodity’s value is equivalent to the socially necessary labour which went into producing it—without question. A commodity’s price is obviously affected by supply and demand, but it always tends to gravitate towards its natural price (as recognized by Adam Smith, and properly understood by Marx).

“Post-capitalism” = more capitalism

Moving on, our author continues: “Once you understand the transition in this way, the need is not for a supercomputed Five Year Plan – but a project, the aim of which should be to expand those technologies, business models and behaviours that dissolve market forces, socialise knowledge, eradicate the need for work and push the economy towards abundance. I call it Project Zero.”

So we have finally arrived at our author’s conclusion, which is to support business, and that we as a human race will transition out of capitalism like magic. Very good theory indeed, but not at all a significant departure from what every other Social Democrat of the past has proposed, from Bernstein to Kautsky.

Just what will be the result of this “eradication of the need for employment” be? Firstly, rampant unemployment, secondly, a resulting driving down of wages, thirdly, increased debt, etc. Do these sound like the conditions for a “peaceful transition”, or a revolutionary situation? 

The absurdity of putting money into the market to expand business models until they paradoxically dissolve the very market you’re cranking money into is hardly something worth deconstructing. Mason appropriately calls his idea “Project Zero,” a fitting title.

This is shared from the blog tornasvnder. If you like this article, register for the September 26 conference Rage Against the System.

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