by Rob Lucas / New Left Review / July-August 2016
Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism is an ambitious book, spanning economic history and theory, the trajectory of socialism, diagnosis of the crisis-prone present and a strategic vision for the future. It is also an unusual one, treating topics typically ceded to left antiquarians with a free spirit that aims to build a grandiose historical-theoretical construction out of insights from Mises and Marx, Luxemburg and Hayek, Preobrazhensky and Gorz. And a best-seller—a notable feat for a work that covers such ground; due in part, perhaps, to Mason’s high visibility as economics editor at the BBCand Channel 4. Born in Lancashire in 1960, the son of a lorry driver and a primary school headmistress, Mason claims to have become ‘a Marxist at 16, a Trotskyist at 19’. He studied music and politics at Sheffield, starting an academic career in music in the early 1980s before switching to journalism. By the time of the late-90s dot.com bubble he was deputy editor of Computer Weekly, then joined BBC Newsnight as business editor, his first broadcast discussing the economic fallout of the 11 September attacks. In 2013 he moved to Channel 4. In these posts he has become a household name in Britain, known for his ruffled pieces-to-camera from the frontline of global uprisings. But he has straddled the range of media from TV and radio to newspaper columns, blogs, with a prominent Twitter and Facebook presence, and a novel set in China’s Wild West. This year he went freelance to engage with the ‘space opening up where the left of social democracy meets the radical left, green and autonomist politics’, unbeholden to the constraints of mainstream media, and has been a prominent commentator on the UK’s successive crises. Mason’s political positions have been oddly ambidextrous: supportive of Corbyn, Occupy and student protests—yet also seeming to call for an upgrade of UK nuclear weapons against the threat of Russian submarines and for the bombing of Assad. If there is a systematic explanation for such eclecticism, he has not yet offered it.