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Capitalism vs. Socialism: Gough vs. Mason

Monday, 31 August, 2015

“When women protest against misogyny in India, Mason interprets this as an anti-capitalist protest. This is ahistorical nonsense; the status of women in India has been terrible since at least the Islamic invasions of the 5th century. Women were burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyres until the arrival of the (capitalist) East India Company, which banned the practice.”

That’s a snippet is from Julian Gough’s scathing review of PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future, by Paul Mason, the economics editor at the UK’s Channel 4 News. The Irish Times does little justice to Gough’s dismemberment of Mason’s work, however, by linking to it from its homepage via an image adorned with the text: “Paul Mason: Capitalism is at the heart of the world’s woes“. A more fitting caption would have been: “Julian Gough: Socialism is at the heart of the world’s woes”.

Paul Mason review

Here’s Gough poking fun at Mason’s grim world view: “From page one, everything bad is capitalism’s fault. Russian invasion of the Ukraine? The rise of Islamic State? ‘These are the signs that the neoliberal order has failed.’ Not signs that, say, totalitarian Russian rule might be in crisis; or that 1,000 years of brutal Sunni/Shia sectarian conflict might have caused some longterm problems in the region.”

Gough notes that Mason became a teenage member of Workers’ Power, “one of the more charming and earnest English Trotskyist outfits. (Current membership, after the last split, about 35.)… And, like all Marxists ever — including Marx — he is bitterly disappointed in the actual, non-theoretical working class. (Though, fair play to Mason, he does say Lenin was wrong to call them a labour aristocracy and try to kill them.) Mason despairs: ‘It has become impossible to imagine this working class — disorganised, in thrall to consumerism and individualism — overthrowing capitalism.'”

So what’s the solution? Simple, really. All we need is to return to the 20th century and the visions that led to millions of murdered innocents. Mason says “We need to be unashamed utopians.” Gough counters, “No, we don’t. Utopianism has never led to anything other than catastrophe, because it isn’t anchored in reality. The trouble with Paul Mason’s prescription is not that it requires a new kind of financial system; it is that it requires a new kind of human being. As ever, we, the actual workers, are not good enough for the revolution.”

Julian Gough deserves praise for swimming against the luvvy tide here. Paul Mason is a media darling and an unashamed admirer of the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. In fact, he provided the foreword for Varoufakis’s book, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy. Greater love hath no Utopian.


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