If social change came through combining old shibboleths with the latest fads, there would be a future for the Left. But that is not how social change takes place.
The latest old Leftist to write a book on the end of capitalism is somebody I had never heard of: Paul Mason. His book is titled, Postcapitalism.
To launch it, The Guardian, that aging warhorse of British Leftism, published his article: “The end of capitalism has begun.” This has been announced repeated by The Guardian for 80 years.
[Note: the book I regard as the best autobiography I have ever read, Malcolm Muggridge’s Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick, provides a series of delightful vignettes on his years as a correspondent in Moscow for The Guardian.]
It never ceases to amaze me how people who cannot think straight can come up with new justifications for whatever worldview they decided at 20 was correct, and which did not pan out. They keep changing the reasons for their grand scenario, but the scenario never changes. It is always this: “Capitalism is just about to die. But this time, we will not have to go to the barricades. It will all be easy-peasy. We don’t have to risk anything. It’s all built into the mode of production.”
This is Marxism without courage. This is Marxism without revolution. The argument from the mode of production is as empty analytically as Marxism was from the beginning, but at least Mason’s screed is written in English, not English as a second language, which Marx wrote in. (If you ever read anything lively or even insightful written by Marx, you can be sure that it was one of Engels’ ghost-written essays.)
Here, I dissect Mr. Mason’s article, not because he is worth refuting for his own sake, but so you can see the pathetic quality of his arguments. Yet he is regarded as hot stuff in the English Left community. The Guardian has baptized him. He is the latest and the greatest. He is the last man standing. Of course, when his new book sinks without a trace, there will always be another last man standing.
It’s not easy being a Leftist under 80.
THE DEATH OF SOCIALISM
He begins where every Leftist should always begin his analysis: the betrayal of socialism by socialists. This is where Marx usually began, most famously in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). (By the way, this also is where all conservative analysis should begin: the betrayal of conservatism by conservatives.)
The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.
Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.
Actually, the proletarians never behaved the way Marx said they would. They were rarely Marxists. The few who were had little influence. The workers went in the direction of trade unionism, which just wanted a larger slice of the pie. That was the position of the revisionist Marxists under Eduard Bernstein in the 1880’s. They dropped the idea of revolution, which was the central idea of Karl Marx. The refusal of the workers to adopt Marxism was why Antonio Gramsci, in the 1930’s, abandoned Marxism in the name Marxism, and instead promoted the view that the revolution would never come until the workers of the West abandoned the morality of Christianity. He scrapped Marx’s idea that the mode of production is fundamental.
Mason refuses to go that far. He still clings to Marx’s mode of production theory of the stages of historical development. He thinks Moore’s law will do the trick.
Mason at least admits that socialism is now a spent force. The capitalist mode of production did not cause a communist revolution, contrary to Marx. Democratic socialism has also failed to displace the capitalist elite. Socialists never did come up with a blueprint for how their system could deal with the problem of scarcity. None of them ever described in detail a socialist incentive system that will rationally allocate wealth, and will also maintain economic incentives for high productivity — incentives that will match, let alone exceed, capitalism’s incentives.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)