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How Financial Crisis, Economic Inequality, Social Media, and More Brought Revolutions in 2011--and Changed Us Forever

Journalist Paul Mason covered the uprisings of 2011 as they occurred. His new book "Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere," explains why they all happened at once.

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What does that statement imply? What it implies is an acceptance of of neoliberalism's extreme proposition, which is that the free market is a steady end-state of capitalism.

A lot of the left just basically accepted that, because once Stalinism had collapsed and lost its allure, they couldn't see a way of organizing society that would be more coherent than the free market.

When I observe the left, I still think that's the job of work they would need to do. It's no accident that the only coherent and holistic model on offer to America right now in the election is the Ron Paul model. He's clear on what it would mean—a return to 19th-century-style capitalism, boom and bust, poverty. Where's the left's equivalent to that? Where's the left's statement of what it is?

Equally, if you read The Coming Insurrection , you begin to think that for this generation there might be a third pill, and the third pill is do it yourself. Don't worry about the state level, find each other, create communes, create little islands of civilization within the jungle. That is in fact what early social democracy and early anarchism did a hundred years ago.

As I say in the book, a lot of the horizontalist left would be quite happy to live despite capitalism. The problem is capitalism is quite capable of completely falling apart as you stand there at the sidelines. Certainly in Greece, what is the space for autonomy now, if a massive clash at the level of the state is about to happen?

While people have overcome the psychological paralysis they had during the capitalist realist phase, it's very difficult to see a holistic answer coming forward. There's a fear of engaging with the real and the possible because for so long people think that means putting on a suit and tie, or greenwashing corporations. The fear of compromise is huge.

Yet as a labor historian I know that the entire story of labor in the last 150 years has been the inadequacy of the local and partial solution. Because if the progressive part of society doesn't impose it, the reactionary part of society can impose it, because it always inhabits the world of the power, the structure, the hierarchy, the Nietzschean world.

I keep saying to people, if we did flip into a reactionary nationalist racist world, it would be a much bigger flip this time than occurred between the 20s and 30s. This coffee bar couldn't exist under fascism. The relationships between people, the public discussion, couldn't exist. But it took five years for Berlin to go from a gay nightclub heaven to a book-burning fascist paradise. Berlin was the liberal center of Europe. Don't imagine that the cultural ties would stop it happening. Economics is all.

SJ: But you also say, “Don't presume that nothing is different this time.” And the thing that is different is this technology, that is connecting people on different continents.

PM: When I speak about my thesis, I boil it down to three things. One is the collapse of the economic narrative. Two is the availability of networked technology and network kinds of thinking by people, networked protest, circumventing of mainstream media, horizontalist activism, but the third thing, and I would say a lot of my audience switch off when I say this, we're talking about different types of people.

Who knows whether there's anything neurological, but certainly behaviorally, people are exhibiting a greater propensity to behave in a networked way. Manuel Castells, who did one of the few mass studies on this, does say that the more you use the Internet, the more inclined toward autonomous and progressive personal ideas and behaviors you become.