Sirens of our times are pregnant with urgency — unprecedented floods, fires, species extinctions and the Covid-19 pandemic — all linked one way or the other with capitalism, global heating and the ways we live.
In 2020, I published my most successful article to date, if success can be measured by readership. A research article in a Symposium on Capitalism and the Pandemic, COVID-19: Capitalist and postcapitalist perspectives went online first 21 July 2020 and later appeared in Human Geography. By 25 September 2021 it reached more than 15,000 views and downloads, and had been ‘the most read article in the last six months’ for numerous months. It indicates a keen interest in postcapitalism with respect to current crises.
In 2022, 20 January to be precise, Pluto Press will publish Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy. This year has seen me complete the manuscript, agonise over multiple revisions and fret over editing and proofs. It’s entire texture is postcapitalist, offering both a vision and certain strategies for postcapitalism.
So, I have been pondering: where, how, why and what is ‘postcapitalism’?
Alongside a flurry of books on the topic over the last several years, I recommend Chris Wellard’s The Postcapitalism Podcast with its in-depth interviews on imaginaries and the practicalities of postcapitalism, an introduction to the topic, reading list and videos.
In general, I find various postcapitalist works wanting. Many authors speak of postcapitalism simply as a specific model or vision arising out of mainly anti-capitalist movements, such as ecosocialism, degrowth, commoning and ecofeminism. For instance, in a chapter in Post-Capitalist Futures: Paradigms, Politics and Prospects, I examine three distinct streams of ecosocialism in an effort to identify the most convincing postcapitalist model.
Strong technological and institutional, say state, framings of a postcapitalist transition and unclarity around visionary details and transformative steps, leave me frustrated. A failing, which Paul Mason typifies, is to talk simultaneously about ‘revolution’ and workers and investments. Yet, surely postcapitalism takes us beyond the crucial relationship between capitalist owners and managers, and workers — as well as beyond exchange value, money?
Instead, too many postcapitalist imaginaries display an inherent confidence that we can make value, money and prices mean whatever we want them to mean, no more and no less. While political economy analyses practices, it is not uncommon for authors to speak as if economists create economic practices and all that is required is a change of approach by economists — or more ethical market-oriented behaviour by all of us. Much discourse leaps beyond the state but is still mired in the market.
On the ground, in practice, prefigurative gestures to a new world seem more lively and vivid illustrations of how we might successfully transform and where we might be headed. They are my key reference points. I have seen a distinct shift over the last decade as practical activists grapple with anomalies of markets.
The benefit of nonmonetary economic arrangements is undiluted attention to social and ecological values as discussed by contributors to collections such as Housing for Degrowth and Food for Degrowth. See too, the eco-industrial post-capitalist Catalan ‘colony’ Calafou, associated with Catalan Integral Cooperative; the archtypical ZAD; and Can Masdeu.
Postcapitalism is a great discussion point for disillusioned young people who are anxious to realise a transformation to a fair and sustainable world in which to live. Moreover, the topic speaks to where many find themselves either in, or emerging from, Pandemicland.
In my Human Geography article — written just after Covid-19 started to impact country after country via mask-wearing, restricted mobility and pressure on hospitals — I reflected on how sources of, and state responses to, the pandemic exposed weaknesses of capitalism as an economy and polity. At the same time, grassroots action to fulfil outstanding unmet needs revealed the latent potential of specific forms and currents of postcapitalism.
Horizontalism, material localisation and justice have been core processes and principles in activities of pandemic solidarity both as mutual aid groups and networks. From my perspective the most authentic postcapitalist currents have long advocated localisation of economies and autonomous governance. Before and alongside vaccination, the Covid-19 pandemic and usual responses to minimising its impacts displays the rationale for such calls.
In contrast to standardised regulations on vaccination, mask-wearing and intimacy, greater local self-provisioning and co-governance would allow for appropriate, immediate, relatively consensual and localised responses. Also, in nonmonetary economies there would be no long term ramifications such as capitalism’s relations of debt and credit. Unsurprisingly, interest in movements advocating new structures, movements such as the degrowth, has surged.
The urgency to apply these approaches emanates from an over-arching necessity for a groundswell of grassroots activities to address climate change in material ways. A necessity born of a void. Capitalist structures such as the state, in its multiplicity of incarnations, is unwilling while the market is incapable. We are still to experience all the ramifications of state expenditures to support economies, effects such as the credit boom which has already resulted in higher house prices, housing unaffordability and associated evictions.
There is only one agent who is either able or willing to do what needs to be done.
It is a collective agent.
Will ‘the people’, in glocal upsurges, make themselves in this very action?