How to Be an Anticapitalist Today

The only hope is to destroy it [capitalism], sweep away the rubble, and then build an alternative. As the closing words of the labor tune “ Solidarity Forever ” proclaim, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.”

Erik Olin Wright explores four different ideas for being anticapitalist.

While it is true that much of the time capitalism seems unassailable, it is also a deeply contradictory system, prone to disruptions and crises. Sometimes those crises reach an intensity which makes the system as a whole fragile, vulnerable to challenge.

[mass mobilization] seize state power, either through elections or through a violent overthrow of the existing regime. Once in control of the state, the first task is to refashion the state itself to make it a suitable weapon of socialist transformation, and then use that power to repress the opposition of the dominant classes and their allies, dismantle the pivotal structures of capitalism, and build the necessary institutions for an alternative economic system.

The author illustrates this method of overthrowing the capitalist state as something that people did in the early 20th century. It isn’t something feasible in this day and age of mass surveillance, precision bombs, and general lack of interest from most people.

The major alternative to the idea of smashing capitalism in the twentieth century was taming capitalism. This is the central idea behind the anticapitalist currents within the left of social-democratic parties .

The idea of taming capitalism does not eliminate the underlying tendency for capitalism to generate harms; it simply counteracts their effects. This is like a medicine which effectively deals with symptoms rather than with the underlying causes of a health problem.

The claim that globalization imposes powerful constraints on the capacity of states to raise taxes, regulate capitalism, and redistribute income is a politically effective claim because people believe it, not because the constraints are actually that narrow. In politics, the limits of possibility are always in part created by beliefs in the limits of possibility.

Escaping capitalism typically involves avoiding political engagement and certainly of collectively organized efforts at changing the world. Especially in the world today, escape is mostly an individualistic lifestyle strategy. And sometimes it is an individualistic strategy dependent on capitalist wealth, as in the stereotype of the successful Wall Street banker who decides to “give up the rat race” and move to Vermont to embrace a life of voluntary simplicity while living off of a trust fund amassed from capitalist investments.

See hippie communes and preppers.

Intentional communities may be motivated by the desire to escape the pressures of capitalism, but sometimes they can also serve as models for more collective, egalitarian, and democratic ways of living. Certainly cooperatives, which may be motivated mainly by a desire to escape the authoritarian workplaces and exploitation of capitalist firms, can also become elements of a broader challenge to capitalism. The Do It Yourself movement and the “ sharing economy ” may be motivated by stagnant individual incomes during a period of economic austerity, but they can also point to ways of organizing economic activity that are less dependent on market exchange.

[Eroding Capitalism] is grounded in the following idea: all socioeconomic systems are complex mixes of many different kinds of economic structures, relations, and activities. No economy has ever been — or ever could be — purely capitalist. Capitalism as a way of organizing economic activity has three critical components: private ownership of capital; production for the market for the purpose of making profits; and employment of workers who do not own the means of production.

Some of these ways of organizing economic activities can be thought of as hybrids, combining capitalist and noncapitalist elements; some are entirely noncapitalist; and some are anticapitalist. We call such a complex economic system “capitalist” when capitalist drives are dominant in determining the economic conditions of life and access to livelihood for most people. That dominance is immensely destructive.

One way to challenge capitalism is to build more democratic, egalitarian, participatory economic relations in the spaces and cracks within this complex system wherever possible, and to struggle to expand and defend those spaces.

The strategic vision of eroding capitalism imagines introducing the most vigorous varieties of emancipatory species of noncapitalist economic activity into the ecosystem of capitalism, nurturing their development by protecting their niches, and figuring out ways of expanding their habitats.

Real Utopia is a self-contradictory expression.

There is thus an inherent tension between the real and the utopian. It is precisely this tension which the idea of a “real utopia” is meant to capture. The point is to sustain our deepest aspirations for a just and humane world that does not exist while also engaging in the practical task of building real-world alternatives

There are many other examples in the digital world. If we imagine this model of collaboration being extended into the world of production of goods, not just information, then it is possible to imagine p2p collaborative production encroaching on the dominance of capitalism.

Give up the fantasy of smashing capitalism. Capitalism is not smashable, at least if you really want to construct an emancipatory future.





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