How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century
- Erik Olin Wright
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Highly educated professionals, managers and many self-employed people, for example, occupy what I have called contradictory locations within class relations and have quite complex and often inconsistent interests with respect to capitalism.
This is what we normally mean by democracy: control “by the people” over the use of the power of the state. But a democratic society (rather than simply a democratic state) implies more than this; it requires that people should be able to meaningfully participate in all decisions that significantly affect their lives, whether those decisions are being made within the state or other kinds of institutions. A democratic workplace, a democratic university and a democratic family are as much a part of a democratic society as is a democratic state.
the decisions in question affect me and only me, then I should be able to make them without interference from anyone else. That is what we call freedom or liberty: being able to do things without asking anyone’s permission and without interference from others. But, if the decisions in question affect other people
If the decisions in question affect me and only me, then I should be able to make them without interference from anyone else. That is what we call freedom or liberty: being able to do things without asking anyone’s permission and without interference from others. But, if the decisions in question affect other people, then they should be parties to the decision as well or, at least, agree to let me make the decision without their participation.
Most participants in labor markets need a job much more than any employer needs their labor. The result is an inherent imbalance of power between capital and labor
Most jobs that are generated by capitalist firms are tedious, even when they provide an adequate income. Of course, in any process of producing goods and services, there will always be unpleasant, uninteresting tasks to be done. The issue is the grossly unequal distribution of work activity that is interesting and fulfilling compared with work that is experienced as a burden. Capitalism generates severe inequalities in the distribution of such burdens
capitalist firms are allowed to be organized as workplace dictatorships. An essential power of private ownership of businesses is that the owners have the right to tell employees what to do. That is the basis of the employment contract: the job seeker agrees to follow the orders of the employer in exchange for a wage. Of course, an employer is also free to give workers considerable autonomy in the workplace, and in some situations this is the profit-maximizing way of organizing work. And some owners may grant significant autonomy to workers as a matter of principle, even if this does not maximize profits. But the owner still has the fundamental power to decide when to allow such autonomy
While revolutions in the name of socialism and communism did demonstrate that it was possible “to build a new world from the ashes of the old,” and in certain ways they may have improved the material conditions of life of most people for a period of time, the evidence from the heroic attempts at rupture in the twentieth century is that they do not produce the kind of new world envisioned in revolutionary ideology. It is one thing to burn down old institutions and social structures; it is quite another to build emancipatory new institutions from the ashes.
By the end of the twentieth century, few critics of capitalism retained much confidence in such a highly statist understanding of a desirable alternative to capitalism. The ultimate failure of the historical attempts at building an attractive alternative to capitalism in the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere discredited the idea of comprehensive, bureaucratically directed central planning, both because of the highly repressive character of those particular states’ processes and because of the pervasive irrationalities produced by these economies