“The old world is over”

Q&A

Paul Mason is a British columnist, author and freelance journalist. In 2015 his book PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future was published by Allen Lane, and in February 2016 he resigned as the economics editor at Channel 4 – just four months before the Brexit referendum – to pursue a more activist form of journalism, free of the impartiality rules that UK broadcasters must follow.

Mason recently spoke to Equal Times during the journalism festival Internazionale a Ferrara, held between 30 September and 2 October 2016 in Ferrara, Northern Italy, about a number of topics, including the UK’s plans to leave the EU, his model for post-capitalism and the future of the media.

 

What do you think about the UK-EU negotiations on Britain leaving the European Union and the possibility of a ‘hard Brexit’?

Personally, I started this journey thinking that I would have liked to make a progressive Brexit – a left exit – because after what happened to Greece, I became convinced that Europe was pretty unreformable. But given the dynamics of the British situation, I looked around to see that the forces that wanted to leave were the worst.

The Labour Party wanted to stay, the trade unions wanted to stay, the Conservatives who wanted to leave wanted to do so to impose more free market and more anti-environmental laws. Therefore, there was only one option.

Myself and others tried to convince people to stay in by promoting the most aggressive reforms, but we were not helped by the fact that Brussels and the other EU 27, especially the Germans, just wanted to carry on as normal. At the end of the day, we were trying to convince working class people, who feel threatened economically by migration, that there was a solution other than Brexit, but we could not.

It’s going to happen and our job now is to make sure it happens in the least damaging way possible. That means we have to fight to stay in the single market; but to stay in the single market you must theoretically have free movement. Maybe there will be something less than free movement, but there will not be a drastic difference.

If we can do that…that would be an achievement. If we do the opposite, the hard Brexit, the walkaway and the end of migration, it’s going to disrupt the world economy and it would destroy part of the UK economy.

 

Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party for the second time in September, this time against fellow party member Owen Smith. What are your views on the future of the Labour Party, given the growing distance between the majority of Labour MPs and new party members?

The party has fundamentally changed its character. It is now, very clearly, in large part, old social-democratic leftism, but among its younger members there is a new, more networked and globalist leftism. Between these two forms of leftism we can defeat the neoliberal right of the party, wherever there is democracy.

What we [as members and supporters of the Labour Party] want is to deepen the political offer for the people who voted for Brexit. We have to make them understand that the real enemy is the elite of Britain and that their strategic friend is the migrant worker.

 

How likely are Europe’s anti-austerity movements to be successful, considering what happened in Greece with Syriza – something that you followed directly in your documentary #ThisIsACoup – and the current difficulties facing Podemos in Spain?

The European Union has to reform or die. That’s the problem for the leftists: how do you assemble the forces to create what [the Italian communist intellectual Antonio] Gramsci called ‘the hegemony’ [or ideological domination]. Syriza thought it had done this and I think that under any normal circumstances, it could have.

Syriza won 45 per cent of the vote, it called for mass reform, it cornered the right and it made them powerless. But of course the right had the massive support of the European elite and the European elite effectively dismantled Syriza.

With Podemos there is a debate going on about how it should move forward. I would say that going forward is reaching out towards the centre rather than consolidating as a left force. Podemos has to imagine itself as a Corbyn-style mass movement and try to live with it because if it does something different it will just remain at the 20 per cent of the vote.

 

What can you tell us about your model of post–capitalism and the space it could occupy in the currently “unreformable” Europe?

My model of post-capitalism is very simple: we have a state and a market and both of them can be slightly replaced by a non-market. [By this I mean] a third sector that is collaborative and free, in which money does not work. This is the true sharing economy, not like Uber’s version.

People have already started to build this economy. There are many projects where space is free or where food is shared. I want the mass movement to recognise it and nurture it and to say: ‘If we cannot solve everything through taxation and borrowing, there are some things we can solve by empowering local communities to provide for themselves’.

 

As a journalist, what role do you think the media can play in offering a progressive perspective, especially in the UK?

Ordinary people have to populate the media. The media is very justified in its search for authentic voices. During the Brexit referendum, racist and xenophobic voices were given legitimacy because progressive and anti-racists voices were relatively quiet. I think we [progressives] need to raise our voices.

We also need to demand that the media aligns itself with reality. In the 1930s most media started to support right wing policies as things headed towards fascism. Some realised that they were going too far and they defended liberalism.

Remember, it was the Times journalist, George Steer, who covered the Nazi bombing of Guernica and that was mainstream journalism. The thing that is missing today is that no section of the elite has stopped being neoliberal. We need a new kind of media, a media that understands that the old world is over, that neoliberalism is choking and that globalisation can only be saved by ditching some of the widened neoliberal economics.