In Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, the book I’m serial reviewing chapter by chapter, I’ve come upon some of his most colourful writing. Writing that also completes a gap in my understanding of Marxist economic theory.
In the second chapter, Mason sets out rhapsodically to describe the discovery of sine waves, from their natural origin to Classical Indian mathematics to harmonics in music and even with the presence of “waves within waves” that surfers rely on. It takes Mason less than a page to bring this metaphor back to his dissection of capitalist economics and from there he launches into market long cycle theory and crisis theory.
He starts by describing the sad demise of Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, whose assertion that Capitalism wasn’t ultimately doomed but was instead cyclical in nature. This caused Stalin and the Bolshevik boys to go all aggro on him as Communist orthodoxy at the time could only tolerate the tenet of Capitalism’s imminent collapse. So poor old Kondratieff finished his own earthly cycles in 1938 at the receiving end of a firing squad.
Mason defines some important concepts to Kondratieff’s capitalist theory – the theory of fifty-year cycles or long waves. Or in Kondratieff’s words,
During roughly the first two decades before the beginning of the rising wave of a long cycle, we observe an invigoration of technical inventions. Before and during the beginning of the rising wave, we observe the broad application of these inventions in industrial practice, due to the re-organisation of production relations…
Mason neatly translates this for modern internet-conditioned readers:
- The rollout of new technologies
- The rise of new business models
- New countries dragged into the global market
- A rise in the quantity and availability of money.
This chapter reminded me of the intellectual rigour and liveliness among thinkers and theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Soviet Russia. In the era we’re presently leaving, it seemed there has been no debate to be had about Capitalism and Socialism. As neoliberal Maggie Thatcher put it, “There is no alternative.” Now the question is—a question I suspect Mason is working up to answering—is Capitalism coming to the end of one of its fifty-year long cycles, or is this really it?