Slavoj’s view on postcapitalism – a contribution to mέta:

Civilising Civilisations

What justifies the characterization of today’s global order as “corporate neo-feudalism” is a process that Marx didn’t envisage. When, due to the crucial role of the “general intellect” (knowledge and social cooperation) in the creation of wealth, forms of wealth are more and more out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, the result is not, as Marx seems to have expected, the self-dissolution of capitalism, but the gradual and relative transformation of the profit generated through the exploitation of labour – its transformation, namely, into rent appropriated through the privatization of general intellect. Let us take the case of Bill Gates: how did he become the richest man in the world? His wealth has nothing to do with the production costs of what Microsoft is selling (one can even argue that Microsoft is paying its intellectual workers a relatively high salary), i.e., Gates’s wealth is not the result of his success in producing good software for lower prices than his competitors, or in higher exploitation of his hired intellectual workers. Why, then, are millions still buying Microsoft? Because Microsoft imposed itself as an almost universal standard, (almost) monopolizing the field, a kind of direct embodiment of the “general intellect.” Things are similar with Jeff Bezos and Amazon, with Apple, Facebook, etc. etc. – in all these cases, commons themselves – the platforms (spaces of our social exchange and interaction) – are privatized, which puts us, their users, into the position of serfs paying a rent to the owner of a common as our feudal master. The big achievement of modernity, the public space, is thus disappearing, and the solution is not the nationalization of privately-owned commons – they are spread well beyond nation states.

But what makes the situation really dangerous, pushing us into a new barbarism, is that these global privatized commons co-exist with a new wave of strong nation-state competition which runs directly against the urgent need to establish a new mode of relating to our environs, a radical politico-economic change called by Peter Sloterdijk “the domestication of the wild animal Culture.” Till now, each culture disciplined/educated its own members and guaranteed civic peace among them, but the relationship between different cultures and states was permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each epoch of peace nothing more than a temporary armistice. The entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism, the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s nation-state, which means that the wild barbarian relations between states serve as the foundation of the ethical life within a state.Today, things are getting even worse. Instead of civilizing (the relations between) cultures, the ongoing privatization of commons undermines the ethical substance within each culture, pushing us back into barbarism. However, the moment we fully accept the fact that we live on a Spaceship Earth, the task that urgently imposes itself is that of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities. There is no higher historical necessity that pushes us in this direction, history is not on our side, it tends towards our collective suicide. As Walter Benjamin wrote, our task today is not to push forward the train of historical progress but to pull the emergency break before we all end in post-capitalist barbarism.

Slavoj Žižek is a political philosopher, cultural critic, and Lacanian psychoanalyst; he is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University and International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London. Slavoj Žižek is a prolific writer, whose work attracted international attention after the publication of his first book in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989).

Lyndsey’s view on postcapitalism – a contribution to mέta:

Dancing after Capitalism

Will there be culture after capitalism? Yes, there will be dancing and singing, words and images. Hopefully, the songs will not be about the ends of capitalism but about the beginning of something new. But equally, the tunes could sound wearily familiar. What if we got to the end of capitalism but then discovered that we had forgotten how to dance?

Over fifty years after Guy Debord described how the ‘society of the spectacle’ meant that relationships between people were now mediated by images, the new brokers of power have given us a ‘society of the algorithm.’ It may well be that the capitalism of commodity fetishism is now collapsing under the weight of the stubborn truths of climate disaster and economic unsustainability. We used to believe that if we consumed the potent glittery things we could find a way of appearing in the world. Now we’re not so sure that the images can stop us – and life – from disappearing from the earth altogether.

But the means of cultural production are already under new management, and this should worry us about the prospects for new kinds of cultural, imaginative, political and ultimately earthly and planetary lives.

Intimately in-tune with our personal tastes and habits, the algorithms of the empires of big-tech are dedicated to giving us exactly what we like — so that we can like some more. Many millions of us think that what we would really like is something else, new, sustainable, real, something very different to this, so we click and indeed we discover others who have put similar thoughts and feelings into words, images, sounds, and objects. We experience for a time the pleasure and exhilaration that comes from being between one another in a creative space.

Before long, however, the hand of the hidden curator makes itself present. It is not simply that one is served more of the same, or even worse, more of what the curator assumes is your same, but that we are being served at all, and endlessly. The point is not that we discover, but that we ‘keep on discovering!’

The lostness that came with the society of the spectacle is as acute, perhaps keener still, in the production of culture that farms our curiosity and restlessness in this way. The writer, Julia Bell, has used the phrase the ‘Attention Industrial Complex’ to describe how the very thing that gives us art and culture  – our attention – is now monetised.

The ‘Crisis in Culture’ has of course been with us since the beginnings of capitalism. In her essay of that title, Hannah Arendt intuited early on that there was an intimate relationship between the increasingly apocalyptic exploitation of natural resources and the consumption of our creative resources.

It didn’t – and doesn’t – have to be like that. The word ‘culture’, she observed, originally ‘derives from colere – to cultivate, to dwell, to take care, to trend and preserve – and it relates primarily … to the sense of cultivating and tending nature until it becomes fit for human habitation’. This ‘attitude of loving care’, she  said, ‘stands in sharp contrast to all efforts to subject nature to the domination of man’.

Hannah Arendt, it may surprise some to know, liked to dance on tables. Learning how to dance again is, I think, part of  mέta‘s mission. I can’t wait to join in.

Lyndsey Stonebridge is a writer and professor of humanities and human rights at the University of Birmingham in the UK, where she works on new creative, collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to human rights such as Refugee Hosts and Rights4Time.

She writes on twentieth-century and contemporary literature, political theory, and history. Recent books include, The Judicial Imagination: Writing after Nuremberg (2011), winner of the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize, 2014, and Placeless People: Writing, Rights, and Refugees (2018), winner of the Modernist Studies Association Best Book Prize 2018, and a collection of essays, Writing and Righting: Literature in the Age of Human Rights (2020). 

She is currently writing a critical-creative account of the relevance Hannah Arendt’s thinking for today, Thinking Like Hannah Arendt, which will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2022, and working on a new project, The Future of Hope. She is a media commentator and broadcaster, and writes regularly for The New Statesman.

Michael’s view on postcapitalism a contribution to mέta:

In order to achieve a post-capitalist society, we need first to identify the defining institutions of capitalism.

In my view these are:

(1) private ownership of productive assets,

(2) authoritarian control of workplaces,

(3) production for profit and to maintain the conditions of owners ruling and profiting,

(4) a corporate division of labour with empowered employees (who I call a coordinator class) dominating disempowered employees (who I call a working class),

(5) remuneration for property and power (or for output); and

(6) allocation by markets or central planning.

Each of these institutional features creates class division and class rule; empowers the few and subordinates the many; produces obscene differences in status and wealth; destroys dignity; sacrifices sociality; and denies diversity. And even beyond all that, these institutional features together constitute a suicide machine that devours not only prospects for human fulfillment, but even prospects for human survival.

To get beyond capitalism, and more, to get beyond class division and class rule, and for that matter, to get beyond the economy abetting and intensifying all other social hierarchies, whether rooted in racial, cultural, gender, sexual, or political relations, and to get beyond our downward slide into a barbaric ecological nightmare, we therefore need to attain post-capitalism—and also post-racism, post-patriarchy, and post-authoritarianism.

Of course, what a worthy and sustainable future economy (or culture, family-life, or polity) will look and function like will depend on the actual experiences of escaping the past and entering the future. The details for later cannot be foreseen, much less legislated now. However, we can try to answer a paramount question. What are the minimal essential economic institutional features we must attain if our future selves are to be free and equipped to collectively self manage our post capitalist lives with dignity, equity, and social solidarity? We have a responsibility beyond waiting to see what emerges. We have a responsibility beyond fighting against current injustices. We also need to agree on a scaffold of key characteristics that will prove essential for attaining post-capitalism (and other extra-economic gains) and we need to struggle for and win those key features so that our future selves can live as they decide in a new world they create.

When I think about that responsibility, in particular regarding getting beyond capitalist economics, to me the key features together constitute what has sometimes been called participatory economics, sometimes participatory socialism, and sometimes other names as well, which names are mere labels. The features of this emerging participatory vision are these:

(1) a commons of productive assets (to replace private ownership of those assets),

(2) workplace and consumer self-managing councils (to replace authoritarian control over production and consumption),

(3) production for human fulfillment and development (to replace production for profit),

(4) jobs balanced to equilibrate their empowerment effects (to replace a corporate division of labour that elevates an empowered coordinator class above a disempowered working class),

(5) remuneration based on duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially-valued labour (to replace remuneration for property, power, or output),

(6) and decentralized cooperative negotiation of allocation called participatory planning (to replace markets and central planning).

The details of how each of these critical structures will form, much less the multitude of additional attributes any future worthy economy will include, will of course emerge, contingently, from practical experiences and popular sentiments, no doubt differently in different places that embody different histories and circumstances. But the advocates of this particular vision, including myself, claim that these few defining structures are essential if there is to be self management, equity, solidarity, diversity, sustainability, and classlessness. This set of proposed institutions is thus a scaffold to refine and build on. A scaffold for hope. A scaffold for commitment. And a scaffold for orientation. A post-capitalist economic vision.

Michael Albert is a founder and current member of the staff of Z Magazine as well as staff of Z Magazine`s web system: ZCom. Albert`s radicalization occurred during the 1960s. His political involvements, starting then and continuing to the present, have ranged from local, regional, and national organizing projects and campaigns to co-founding South End Press, Z Magazine, the Z Media Institute, and ZNet, and to working on all these projects, writing for various publications and publishers, giving public talks, etc. Albert is the author of 21 books. Most recently these include: Fanfare for the Future (ZBooks), Remembering Tomorrow (Seven Stories Press), Realizing Hope (Zed Press) and Parecon: Life After Capitalism (Verso). Many of Albert`s articles are stored in ZCom and can be accessed there along with hundreds of other Z Magazine and ZNet articles essays, interviews, etc.

Guy’s Twenty-first Century Good Society – a contribution to mέta:

We are living in an era of rentier capitalism, which has morphed from neo-liberalism. And we are confronted by an existentialist crisis in the Global Transformation, which could either lurch into a neo-fascist authoritarianism, with a panopticon and banopticon state, or to a new forward march based on a revival of the Enlightenment values of Liberty, Equality and Solidarity. To avoid the first and to achieve the second, we must forge a new vision of a Good Society – an agathotopia, not utopia (a Good Society for imperfect people, as James Meade put it).

The first task must be to dismantle rentier capitalism, which is vital for ecological survival. The struggle to do this must involve a class-based struggle respecting the aspirations and ecologically grounded values of the emerging mass class, the precariat. Every forward march is led by the interests of the new mass class, not the mass class of yesterday. And every transformation is armed with a new vocabulary, a new narrative and a new artistry. So far, the left across the planet has failed to meet the challenge, and most have not even tried.

Unless one’s enemy is correctly identified, we are unlikely to defeat it. Rentier capitalism is the scourge of society, the plunder of the commons and the generation of the precariat wallowing in chronic uncertainty, many reduced to being abject supplicants. We need a strategy to achieve a revival of the commons – all five varieties – and, inter alia, a basic income or common dividends as a fundamental republican right, constructed from a Commons Capital Fund.

Politically, only by mobilising the energy and anger of the precariat will we have a realistic chance of overthrowing the plutocratic fraud that passes for today’s democracy. For a revolt to succeed, there must be a clear idea of what society we want. For that, we must quickly put a méta to post-capitalism. We need a positive to replace a negative. And for that, we must have a vision that harnesses the dreams and surging energy that exists in the global precariat. It can be done.

Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London, and an honorary professor at the University of Sydney. An economist with a PhD from the University of Cambridge, he is a Fellow of the British Academy of Social Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, co-founder and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), and member of the Progressive Economy Forum. In 2016-19, he was adviser to Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell.

He was professor in SOAS, Bath and Monash Universities, and Director of the ILO’s Socio-Economic Security Programme. He has been a consultant for many international bodies, was Research Director for President Mandela’s Labour Market Policy Commission, and has implemented several basic income pilots. His books include The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, published in 23 languages (fourth edition, 2021); The Corruption of Capitalism (third edition, 2021); Basic Income: And how we can make it happen (2017); and Plunder of the Commons (2019). In 2020, he collaborated with Massive Attack in a video based on his book, Battling Eight Giants: Basic Income Now (2020).  

Vasilis’ view on postcapitalism – a contribution to mέta:

At the beginning of the 21st century, a new world is emerging.

Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a deeper transformation of the fundamentals of our socioeconomic life. A new commons-based mode of production, enabled by digital technologies, redefines how we (can) produce, consume, and distribute. This pathway is exemplified by interconnected collaborative initiatives that produce a wide range of artifacts, from encyclopaedias and software to agricultural machines, satellites, and prosthetics.

For example, consider Wikipedia, a free and open encyclopedia that has displaced the Encyclopedia Britannica and Microsoft Encarta. Wikipedia is produced and maintained by a community of dispersed enthusiasts primarily driven by other motives than profit maximization.  Furthermore, in the realm of software, see the case of GNU/Linux on which the top 500 supercomputers run, or the Apache Web Server, the leading software in the web-server market.

In the same way, the emergence of networked micro-factories are giving rise to new initiatives in the realm of design and manufacturing. Such spaces can either be makerspaces, fab labs, or other co-working spaces, equipped with local manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing and CNC machines or traditional low-tech tools and crafts. There is already a rich tapestry of such initiatives that do not need a unified physical basis because their members are located all over the world. For example, consider the L’Atelier Paysan cooperative that builds open-source agricultural machines for small-scale farming; the LibreSpace Foundation that produced the first open-source satellite in orbit; the OpenBionics project that produces open-source and low-cost designs for robotic and bionic devices; or the RepRap community that creates open-source designs for 3D printers that can self-replicate.

This emerging paradigm embodies both capitalist and post-capitalist aspects. On one hand, such initiatives draw their viability through partnerships with the dominant system. On the other, they rapture the core of the system pointing towards new paths. They create the world they envision, through the world they seek to transcend.

Vasilis Kostakis is Professor of P2P Governance at TalTech and Faculty Associate at Harvard University‘s Berkman Klein Center. Moreover, he is the Founder of the P2P Lab and a founding member of the rural makerspace Tzoumakers (Tzoumerka, Greece). Vasilis is interested in exploring how to create a sustainable post-capitalist economy based on locally productive communities that are digitally interconnected.

iLiana’s view on postcapitalism. – A contribution to mέta. 

Imagine a world where divisions based on race, gender, sexuality or nationality are non-existent. Imagine a world where the idea of class is obsolete. Imagine a time of equality in all possible senses. Salaries are colour-and-gender-blind, and are based on qualities such as commitment, knowledge, responsibility and reliability. Wealth has been redistributed, there are no tycoons or oligarchs anymore, and the difference between the lowest and the largest income is merely symbolic. Nobody starves. Health-care and education are free throughout the globe. There are no borders. Everybody has a place to call home. The turbo-capitalist concept of growth is obsolete. Everything is carefully constructed so that the earth is not damaged anymore. The pace is slower. But the levels of happiness have increased. Nations are obsolete; therefore, conflicts and wars are obsolete too. 

In this world, culture has had a huge role in this change. Cultural producers from organizations the world over, created a memorandum where the idea of culture and art was proposed as one that needs to be equally redistributed and free for everyone. The concept of the white cube doesn’t exist anymore. Works of art are no longer contemplated for their aesthetic qualities. Art can be produced by everyone and for everyone. It is not for sale, but can be accessed by anyone, or rented by anyone that wants to experience any form of art in the comfort of their own home. The profits from renting works of art or donating to visit museums that are open 24 hours, 7 days a week, are used to support new scientific research, to combat climate deterioration and disaster (still a result of past tropes of turbo-capitalism) or for research for all non-human societies of the planet, that are in need of interpreters and infrastructures.  Could this be art in a meta-capitalist future?

iLiana Fokianaki is a curator, theorist and educator based in Athens and Rotterdam. Her research focuses on formations of power and how they manifest under the influence of geopolitics, national identity and cultural and anthropological histories. In 2013 she founded State of Concept Athens, the first non-profit institution of its kind in Greece which she directs to this day. State of Concept has worked with artists such as Forensic Architecture, Kader Attia, Sanja Ivekovic, Laure Prouvost, Jonas Staal, Hito Steyerl a.o. while collaborating with local and international curators such as WhW and Nick Aikens. Fokianaki has curated exhibitions for Kunstinstittut Melly (formerly known as Witte den With CCA, Rotterdam), KADIST Foundation, La Colonie Paris, e-flux New York, Museum of Contemporary Art Ljubljana (MG+MSUM), Galerija Nova Zagreb a.o. Her most recent project THE BUREAU OF CARE (2020-2022), received the European Cultural Foundation’s solidarity grant. She is currently working on the exhibition Machinations which is planned for 2023 at Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid (co-curator) and a solo exhibition of Kurdish film collective Rojava Film Commune at Artspace, Auckland. She has developed lecture series for several institutions, such as GOSSIPS (2019) for Het Nieuwe Instituut Rotterdam. Fokianaki is a lecturer at the Dutch Art Institute, and has lectured in academies, independent spaces, museums, and foundations worldwide. She publishes regularly in journals such as e-flux, Frieze a.o. and has participated in several publications. Her book “Gossips: WomXn Gather” will be published in 2021. 

Mari’s view on postcapitalism – a contribution to mέta:

Rethinking the Human in Human-Robot Interaction 

Over the last 15 years there has been a dramatic increase in human-robot interaction (HRI) research. The progress that has been made in technological aspects of robotics has served to emphasise the gap in knowledge of human perception and behaviour as people gradually begin to encounter and interact with robots. It is inevitable that the next generation of robots will interact with people to a much greater extent than ever before. In 2018 the International Federation of Robotics projected that more than 22 million robots with a value exceeding USD 4.6 billion would be sold for personal and domestic use in 2019 [IFR, 2018]. Japan has responded to its coming demographic challenge by directing substantial research funding towards robotic assistance for the aging. Notably Japan Science and Technology Agency in 2019 announced an ambitious research and development programme “Moonshot” that is funding numerous robotics programs from 2020–2050.

At present we are faced with three pressing challenges in the development of social robots: 1. Insufficient focus on the experience of people; 2. Insufficient understanding of how people respond to robots; and 3. Sustaining human interest and engagement in long-term human-robot interaction.

As we are now entering a different phase in social HRI, it is essential to concentrate on the human experience in order to create and sustain engagement with robots. The greatest challenge in human-robot interaction research is to understand the human component, since people are far more complex than any technological system.

Designing social robots involves not only the conceptualisation and realisation of robots that can interact with people but demands a focus on the experience of those people as they encounter and interact with a robot. This focus on interactant experience requires an understanding of the context of the interaction and the culture within which it takes place, underscoring the importance of the social sciences and creative arts to social robotics; disciplines that have a long history of studying people and their relationships to the spaces that they inhabit. A multidisciplinary approach that takes into account the human experience when developing new robotic forms is not only complementary, but essential.

The human responses to robots that we currently perceive as engagement are often a result of novelty factor. Very little is known about how human interest and engagement can be sustained when the initial excitement of the robot has worn off and a person has to co-exist and collaborate with the robot from days and weeks to months and years. The next generation of social robots should be developed using creative principles in an approach that favors experiential design, embedding creativity in every area of AI robot application – Moving towards technological systems that do not displace but complement and enhance the human experience.

Professor Mari Velonaki’s research is situated in the multi-disciplinary field of Social Robotics. She holds a PhD in Experimental Interface Design (UNSW 2003). Velonaki began working as a media artist/researcher in the field of responsive environments and interactive interface design in 1997. She pioneered experimental interfaces that incorporate movement, speech, touch, breath, electrostatic charge, artificial vision and robotics, allowing for the development of haptic and immersive relationships between participants and interactive agents. In 2014 she was voted by Robohub – a large robotics community of researchers, educators and business- as one of the world’s 25 women in robotics you need to know about.

She is the founder and director of the Creative Robotics Lab (Art & Design UNSW) and the founder and director of the National Facility for Human Robot Interaction Research (UNSW, USYD, UTS, St Vincent’s Hospital). Mari is a Research Leader at the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute.

Mari’s contributions in the areas of Social Robotics, Responsive Systems and Human-Machine Interface Design include:

• Created novel interfaces between a human and a robot that include the modalities of movement as body language, touch as an encoder of human emotion.

•          Created interactive robots that are of human scale and have substantial presence in the physical world. Most of the experimental studies in Social Robotics to date have utilised ‘toy-sized robots’ such as the Nao, or even images on a computer screen, to evaluate appearance and public acceptance.

• Introduced open experimentation whereby robots are placed in public spaces and not tested only in laboratory settings. 

• Velonaki has assembled two of the world’s largest datasets (over 690,000 recorded interactions in 13 countries) in human-robot interaction (HRI) studies that provide valuable information on the qualitative dimensions of human-machine relations.

She is the recipient of several competitive grants, including Australia Research Council Discovery, Linkage, ARC LIEF, an ARC Fellowship, an Australia Council of the Arts Fellowship, NICTA, Australia-Japan Foundation, U.S. Airforce, Fuji Xerox Innovation (Japan), DST (Army).

Mari’s robots and responsive agents have been exhibited worldwide, including: Victoria & Albert Museum, London; National Art Museum Beijing; Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Korea; Aros Aarhus Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh; Millennium Museum – Beijing Biennale of Electronic Arts; Ars Electronica, Linz; European Media Arts Festival, Osnabruck; ZENDAI Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Sydney; Conde Duque Museum, Madrid; Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao.

Her vision is to innovate by creating technological systems that complement and enhance the human experience.

Yanis’ view on postcapitalism. – A contribution to mέta.
Looking beyond capitalism

Our global predicament changed radically after 2008, the year the western financial system imploded. Following twenty-five years of financialisation, under the ideological cloak of neoliberalism, global capitalism had a 1929-like spasm that nearly brought it to its knees. The immediate reaction was to use the central banks’ printing presses, but also to transfer bank losses to the working and middle classes (via bailout loans), so as to re-float financial institutions and markets. This combination of socialism for the financialised few and stringent austerity for the masses did two things.

First, it depressed real investment globally (as firms could see that the masses had little to spend on new goods and services), thus creating a gigantic gap between (a) real investment and (b) available cash and savings (boosted massively by government money printing). The result was discontent amongst the many and stupendous riches for the very few. Secondly, it gave rise initially to progressive uprisings (from the Indignados in Spain and the Aganaktismeni in Greece to the Occupy Wall Street movement and various left-wing forces in Latin America) who were, however, efficiently dealt with either by the Establishment directly (e.g. the crushing of the Greek Spring in 2015) or indirectly by the stagnation of global capitalism (e.g. the fading of leftist Latin American governments as Chinese demand for their exports collapsed due to the imbalance between global savings and global investment).

Yet that gift keeps on giving. Consider what happed on 12th August 2020, the day the news broke that the British economy had suffered its greatest slump ever. The London Stock Exchange jumped by more than 2%! Nothing comparable had ever occurred. Similar developments unfolded in Wall Street, in the United States. My interpretation is that, when Covid-19 met the gargantuan bubble with which governments and central banks have been zombifying corporations and financial institutions since 2008, financial markets finally decoupled from the underlying capitalist economy causing capitalism to evolve surreptitiously into a horrid postcapitalism – not, of course, the postcapitalism that convinced socialists once envisioned.

We need seriously to take into account the possibility that capitalism is not only worth terminating but, more pressingly, that capitalism has already undermined itself. Ιt is crucial to imagine what a postcapitalist world might be like.

To be desirable, it would feature markets for goods and services since the alternative –a Soviet-type rationing system that vests arbitrary power in the ugliest of bureaucrats – is too dreary for words. But to be crisis-proof, there is one market that market socialism cannot afford to feature: The labour market. Why? Because, once labour time has a rental price, the market mechanism inexorably pushes it down while commodifying every aspect of work (and, in the Age of Facebook, of our leisure even). The greater the system’s success in doing this, the less the exchange value of each unit of output it generates, the lower the average profit rate and, ultimately, the nearer the next systemic crisis.

Can an advanced economy function without labour markets? Of course it can. Consider the principle of one-employee-one-share-one-vote. Amending corporate law so as to turn every employee into an equal (though not equally remunerated) partner, via granting them a non-tradeable one-person-one-share-one-vote, is as unimaginably radical today as universal suffrage used to be in the 19th Century.

By granting employee-partners the right to vote in the corporation’s general assemblies, an idea proposed by the early anarcho-syndicalists, the distinction between wages and profits is terminated and democracy, at last, enters the workplace – with the new digital collaborative tools standing by to remove all inefficiencies that would otherwise hamper the prospects of a democratically-run corpo-syndicalist firm. Besides the democratisation of firms, it would bring the demise of share markets and terminate the need for gargantuan debt to fund mergers and acquisitions.

Already, some Central Banks are thinking of providing every adult with a free bank account. If this goes ahead in a society without share markets, why would you want an account with a private bank? Once debt leverage linked to share markets and personal banking disappear, so does commercial banking. Goldman Sachs and the like become extinct – without even the need to ban them.

What if we were to take this idea further, proposing that the Central Bank also credits each such account with a fixed monthly stipend (a universal basic dividend). As everyone would use their central bank account to make domestic payments, most of the money minted by the central bank will be transferred within its ledger. Additionally, the central bank can grant all new-borns a trust fund, to be used when they grow up.

Thus, persons would receive two types of income: The dividends credited into their central bank account. And earnings from working in a corpo-syndicalist company. Neither need be taxed – the end of income and sales taxes (VAT). Instead, three types of taxes fund this type of government: A 5% tax on the raw revenues of the corpo-syndicalist firms. A carbon tax. And proceeds from leasing land (which belongs in its entirety to the community) for private, time-limited, use.

Once this principle is embraced, a market-socialist blueprint almost writes itself. Freed from corporate power, unshackled from the indignity imposed upon the needy by the welfare state, and liberated from the tyranny of the profits-wages tug-of-war, persons and communities can begin to imagine new ways of deploying their talents and creativity.

As far as climate change is concerned, we know what we must do. Power generation must shift massively from fossil fuels to renewables, wind and solar primarily. Land transport must be electrified while air transport and shipping must turn to new zero-carbon fuels (e.g. hydrogen). Meat production needs to diminish substantially, with greater emphasis on organic plant crops. Strict limits on physical growth (from toxins to cement) are of the essence.

All these merely circumscribe some of the elements of a postcapitalism worth fighting, and living, for. And an escape from the dystopian postcapitalism that currently awaits us.

Professor Yanis Varoufakis is a member of the Hellenic Parliament, the Secretary-General of MeRA25, and a professor of economic theory at the University of Athens. He is the co-founder of DiEM25, member of the Progressive International’s Council, and the former finance minister of Greece. He is the author of several books, including the postcapitalist political sci-fi Another Now, as well as Adults in the Room and And The Weak Suffer What They Must?.

Paul’s view on postcapitalism. – A contribution to mέta.
Capitalism is no thing: we make it up

Capitalism, to use Aristotle’s terminology, is not a natural kind. That is, there is no thing in nature that is Capitalism. When we use this term we are speaking of a series of collectively believed and enacted human inventions that are continuously being reinvented, and that can be reinvented in very different ways to the prevailing norms under which we now live. For example, John Kenneth Galbraith describes how the utility companies of the 1880s invented mega-banks and mega-corporations which entirely changed what ‘capitalism’ before that time was. Equally, Shoshana Zuboff’s analysis of 21st surveillance capitalism is an entirely new form of commercial power which has changed the way commercial and political realities now function. ‘Capitalism’ is an ever moving feast (or famine, depending on who you are).

There is, of course, a real world that cannot be simply constructed. This real world is occupied by real beings, and, at bottom, real wealth is the basis of any human commercial and economic structure; but real wealth and real beings do not have a dollar value other than as fabricated abstractions, for monetary value is a human construction premised on the prior existence of real beings and real wealth.

To explore ‘post-capitalist’ ways of thinking about wealth, natural and human flourishing, and political power, does not imply that ‘capitalism’ is a fixed and known reference point in reality that we are thinking ‘after’. There never was a natural reality called Capitalism.

The way financial, economic and political norms now work (call this Capitalism if you will) needs to change, radically. It is destroying the earth. It is destroying the ideological landscape that is presupposed for liberal democratic politics. It is astonishingly and unsustainably unfair. And, to the theologically inclined (such as Pope Francis) our present predatory and exploitative economic norms are an affront to divine reality, and all transcendent horizons.

Capitalism as we experience it today is astonishingly and unsustainably un-fair because this is a system of power that constructs two classes of people in the world – the superrich and the rest.

Deutsche Bank has loaned Donald Trump over $2 billion, but after Kristallnacht resonate riots in Washington in January 2021, Deutsche Bank decided to sever ties with Trump, even though he still owes them $300 million. It may well be too hard for them to get that money back, and they may well just forgive him that amount in order to be rid of him. To the super-rich, $300 million is petty cash that hardly needs to be accounted for. But for the rest of us, this is an unimaginably large amount of money. Merchant banks also live in another world to the rest of us. The volume of funds moved in currency and derivative trading is orders of magnitude larger than the globe’s actual economy; financial power and actual reality have no contact with each other, and yet power lies with finance rather than reality. This is not only morally and politically unsustainable, this is the means whereby the integrity of the globe’s biosphere itself is being ransacked.

One thing that the superrich understand is that money is not a natural kind. We make it up. They make it up to subjugate the rest of us, to live in exorbitant luxury, and to refuse to share with justice the resources of the earth for the flourishing of all. They make up money so that it is a tool of power that is much more significant than political power. This needs to change. We need to make things up differently.

Dr Paul Tyson is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland’s  Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. Tyson is an integral thinker who works across philosophy, theology and sociology. Metaphysics and epistemology, understood not only philosophically and theoretically, but equally theologically and sociologically, are his areas of interest. At present he is a Principal Investigator and the Project Co-coordinator for the “After Science and Religion” project, run through IASH. This project stems from Professor Peter Harrison’s 2015 text, The Territories of Science and Religion, and seeks to re-think what both science and religion could look like as we move forward.

Nicholas‘s view on postcapitalism. – A contribution to mέta.

Is post-capitalism a useful analytical construct? Well, maybe. There is no date on the birth certificate of capitalism, nor is it possible to put a date for its demise. Nevertheless, more than 17 decades ago the young Marx and Engels in a descriptive, analytical, revolutionary, and prescient manifesto had described the creative and destructive nature of capitalism. We live in a different world now, where the driving forces of capitalism, economic, social, political, and ecological have taken us. 

Globalization, physical and virtual, is today much more complex and intensified to a degree that it changes qualitatively the field of economic competition and facilitates the concentration and centralization of capital and the real subsumption of labour to it. The increased mobility of capital and its migration to low-wage non-unionized economies, has put a pressure on wages and workers’ rights in the industrialized economies of the West and increased the precariousness of employment for large parts of the working class and throws working people into poverty. The fall of the Soviet countervailing power and the defeat of the Left has left capital – international and domestic – to enforce its terms on labour reversing the gains made by the latter after the Second World War. The winner-takes-all technology, the enhanced possibility of surveillance and control, the manufacturing of consent and manipulation on information and opinion formation all had led to a society of increased inequality of wealth, income, access to education and health, and living conditions. Changes in the economy led to changes in politics.

Neoliberal policies require increasingly authoritarian solutions, and the discontent of the people is not capitalized by the Left but by xenophobic, nationalistic politicians offering easy solutions and who blame immigrants for their country’s predicament. In Brussels, a wasteful and unaccountable bureaucracy use a discredited economic theory in a selective way, to create an economic universe of supposedly free-market, and hence “optimal”, arrangements. In fact, they impose an artificial non-market regime that serves the ends of the bureaucracy and the European capital and enforces austerity on the peoples of the EU using the repayment of an unpayable debt as one of its main instruments under the guise of EU solidarity, while assuming the Calvinist moral high ground.  

There are no obvious or easy ways out of this dystopia. The pandemic only exacerbated and made clear for all to see the limits and contradictions of the capitalist order and its virulent mutations. There is no silver bullet to kill the zombie. A fight from below must be fought on all fronts.

As an educator let me offer a glimpse of a possible utopia, or a facet of it. “For a world in which everyone can be a scholar”, a phrase suggested by a close friend and comrade. As it is today, education, especially tertiary education, is becoming increasingly inaccessible to the many, and the educational process itself follows a ‘business model’ that mimics the ‘efficiency experts’ practices of the shopfloor, streamlined and bereft of critical thinking. Imagine instead of a market-oriented education commanded by bureaucrats, an education free for all at any level. Scholarships would be amply available for those who cannot afford even a “free” education. Teaching should be done with a view to promote critical thinking and assessment of teachers and institutions should be freed from inane and distorting metrics betraying their Taylorist origins.  Research conducted in state-funded institutions should be published in open-access journals and books. Society would have changed the intellectual property laws and would have made possible to anyone with internet access to access the fruits of the human genius. Public educational institutions should devote more time in allowing the diffusion of their research and ideas to the general public with an open-access model that would make indeed possible, for everyone to be a scholar, even without a formal tie to the educational world.

Professor Nicholas Theocarakis is professor of economic theory and history of economic thought at the University of Athens. He studied Economics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and at the Churchill College of Cambridge University, where he graduated in 1979 and would later receive his doctorate in economics. He has co-authored Modern Political Economics: Making sense of the post-2008 world with Yanis Varoufakis and Joseph Halevi. In March 2015, he was appointed General Secretary of Fiscal Policy, leading the technical negotiations of the Greek Ministry of Finance with the Eurogroup. 

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