I increasingly marvel at the miracle of my laptop – an instrument that allows me to access the work of the world’s best brains even when their bodies are dead.
The last two posts reflect what has been a frenetic process of interrogating some hundred or so writers about what they think of the prospects for “a better world”….
It all started with my alighting on a piece entitled “How to be an anti-capitalist today” - written by Erik Olin-Wright in the radical American journal Jacobin which you will be able to read only by entering the “Jacobin” site and inserting Olin-Wright’s name in their search engine. It’s a cunning obstacle they’ve created to prevent people like me sharing the article widely….
I was impressed with the clear typology he laid out in the article which he expanded into a later paper on the “strategic logics of anti-capitalism” – namely “smashing capitalism, dismantling capitalism, taming capitalism, resisting capitalism, and escaping capitalism”. Some of this language may offend my readers’ tender ears but, whether they like it or not, each represents a distinctive option in the wider portfolio of choices of dealing with a nasty system…
I realised I had perhaps been too dismissive in my reaction to his Envisioning Real Utopias (2009) when I had come across it on the internet a few years ago – and had written it off largely on the basis of it devoting only a few pages to the amazing phenomenon of the Mondragon cooperatives. But there were also some aspects of the sociological lingo (referred to in a withering review at the time) which I found off-putting He does, however, admit in the Preface (the entire book is available just by clicking on the title) that it is almost impossible to satisfy both the general and the academic reader. Here he is on the structure of the book -
This framework is built around three tasks: diagnosis and critique; formulating alternatives; and elaborating strategies of transformation. These three tasks define the agendas of the three main parts of the book.
Part I of the book (Chapter 3) presents the basic diagnosis and critique of capitalism that animates the search for real utopian alternatives.
Part II then discusses the problem of alternatives. Chapter 4 reviews the traditional Marxist approach to thinking about alternatives and shows why this approach is unsatisfactory.
Chapter 5 elaborates an alternative strategy of analysis, anchored in the idea that socialism, as an alternative to capitalism, should be understood as a process of increasing social empowerment over state and economy.
Chapters 6 and 7 explore a range of concrete proposals for institutional design in terms of this concept of social empowerment, the first of these chapters focusing on the problem of social empowerment and the state, and the second on the problem of social empowerment and the economy.
Part III of the book turns to the problem of transformation – how to understand the process by which these real utopian alternatives could be brought about.
Chapter 8 lays out the central elements of a theory of social transformation.
Chapters 9 through 11 then examine three different broad strategies of emancipatory transformation – rupture transformation (chapter 9), interstitial transformation (chapter 10), and symbiotic transformation (chapter 11). The book concludes in Chapter 12 which distills the core arguments of the book into seven key lessons.
Olin-Wright devoted his life to trying to understand the capitalist system and how it might be tamed. His university keeps a full range of his papers accessible here – and they are a real treasure trove for the serious researcher – and activist.
Associations and Democracy; J Cohen and J Rogers (1995), for example, was the first of a series of books he helped develop under the “Real Utopias Project” banner (the others can be accessed on his site). And Taking the social in socialism seriously (2004) is a superb exposition which shows him testing out the ideas which went into “Envisioning Real Utopias” a few years later….
Sadly, he died in January of this year – with very touching tributes to his work as an inspiring teacher (see resource at end). But, before his untimely recent death, Wright went on to write a booklet (of 70 pages) with the rather curious title “How to be an anti-capitalist for the 21st Century” (2018) which you can read in its entirety by clicking the title. An expanded version is now available as a book and was nicely reviewed in The Guardian only last month.
He took copious notes at his presentations and discussion – and, unlike a lot of other radicals, gave a lot of thought to the process of change as is evident in Pathways to a cooperative market economy (2015)
Inevitably I no sooner post a table than I realise I have missed an important title. The Capitalism Papers – Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System