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Euphoria and doom: Andy Beckett reviews Paul Mason's Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere

Huw Lemmey11 January 2012

Paul Mason's new book offers a ambitious tour around the uprisings and revolutions that have followed the global financial crisis, according the Andy Beckett's review of Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere. But despite the difficulties of accurately summarising such a fast pace of political change — "Revolutions ... can make fools of excited writers as well as complacent politicians", according to Beckett — the book offers a strong analysis, avoiding truisms and examining the "paradox" of a technologically advanced anti-capitalist revolt. 

How do you write an instant book about something as fast-moving and diffuse, as half-finished and unpredictable, as historically pivotal or, possibly, trivial, as the sudden surge of protest around the world since 2010? The most up-to-date pages of this slim, ambitious volume are dated 26 October 2011 – almost three months ago; a small eternity in some of the feverish and ongoing political stories it covers ...

Is there much value in describing again the demonstrations, encampments and activist movements already covered, seemingly exhaustively, by the traditional and new media over the last two years? The quality of Mason's observation and storytelling quickly dispels any such doubts.

The book combines "Mason's authoritative knowledge of modern western business culture and free-market economics" with "compact, urgent, present-tense, declarative, addictive" reportage." He understands the dynamics of protest movements, and can add colour to his prose, because he is on the ground, following the action, literally a stone's throw from the clashes between protestors and the authorities they are facing down.

Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere offers "fresh and persuasive" analysis of the uprisings in the context of changing labour markets, disenfranchised young graduates and — vitally — the role of technological innovation in not just the strategies of protestors, but in informing their very ideology, with an emphasis on freedom of knowledge and communication. Dissent has escaped the "19th-century-style activities" of mass rallies and pamphleteering that has constituted political activism in the last few decades:

"The plebeian groups that kicked things off," he writes on the concluding page, "possess ... skill, ingenuity and intelligence. Info-capitalism has educated them."

Breaking away from staid critiques of the political situation (and "let loose from his BBC shackles") Mason has offered more than a journalistic survey of the international political environment on the streets; he has turned the focus to the role of technological development and young economic and political subjectivities in the sea-change of popular opinion worldwide. As Beckett concludes, gripping as Mason's account of the past year's insurrections is, what will be most fascinating is how this plays out in the coming months.

Visit the Guardian to read the review in full. 

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