By Erik Olin Wright

How to Be an Anti-Capitalistin the 21st Century
Part of the books by Erik Olin Wright series:

What is wrong with capitalism, and how can we change it? Capitalism has transformed the world and increased our productivity, but at the cost of enormous human suffering. Our shared values—equality and fairness, democracy and freedom, community and solidarity—can provide both the basis for a critique of capitalism and help to guide us toward a socialist and democratic society.

In How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century Erik Olin Wright has distilled decades of work into this concise and tightly argued manifesto: analyzing the varieties of anticapitalism, assessing different strategic approaches, and laying the foundations for a society dedicated to human flourishing. How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century is an urgent and powerful argument for socialism, and an unparalleled guide to help us get there. Another world is possible. Included is an afterword by the author’s close friend and collaborator Michael Burawoy.

About Erik Olin Wright

Erik Olin WrightAccording to Wikipedia "Erik Olin Wright (1947 – 2019) was an American analytical Marxist sociologist, specializing in social stratification, and in egalitarian alternative futures to capitalism. He was known for diverging from classical Marxism in his breakdown of the working class into subgroups of diversely held power and therefore varying degrees of class consciousness. Wright introduced novel concepts to adapt to this change of perspective including deep democracy and interstitial revolution." He taught sociology at the University of Wisconsin since 1976, where he was Vilas Distinguished Professor of Sociology.

Reviews:Ben Tarnoff on The Guardian wrote:

"How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century deserves to be widely read. In 150-odd pages, Wright makes the case for what’s wrong with capitalism, what would be better, and how to achieve it. This is the rare book that can speak to both the faithful and the unconverted. You could buy it for your sceptical uncle or your militant cousin: there is something here for the reader who needs persuading that another world is possible, and the reader who wants ideas for bringing that world into being. Wright writes with an unusual combination of clarity, depth and warmth. He engages generously with opposing arguments. He acknowledges difficulty and complexity. He exudes a democratic respect for his reader. Democracy, in fact, is the essence of his socialism. For him, a just society would enact democracy in its deepest sense. He wants a world where everyone has access to the 'material and social means necessary to live a flourishing life' and the opportunity 'to participate meaningfully in decisions about things that affect their lives'. Capitalism, he argues, prevents us from creating such a world. So he proposes a two-pronged plan for “eroding” it, using the state to shrink capitalism from above while cultivating democratic structures of social ownership from below. Some of the particulars are more persuasive than others – I don’t share his enthusiasm for universal basic income – but the overall strategy is appealing. It’s an ecumenical approach to social transformation, one in which everyone has a role to play. [...] The 'fundamental strategic problem', he writes, is 'how to create the conditions in which sustained democratic experimentalism is possible'. His pluralism is designed to foster those conditions, by seeding new sites of collective decision-making within the cracks of capitalist society. Yet there is one method that Wright pointedly excludes: revolution, or what he calls 'ruptural transformation'. [...] Rupture is too risky, he warns: it never results in 'the creation of a democratic, egalitarian, emancipatory alternative'. For evidence, he points to the revolutions of the past."

John B. Judis on American Affairs wrote:

"Unlike other survivors of the New Left, Wright never abandoned his commitment to socialism, but instead spent his career as a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin attempting to develop a theory of class, capitalism, and socialism that made sense in postindustrial America—and in the wake of the obvious failure of the old socialist parties. Wright drafted How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the Twenty-First Century as he was dying of cancer. It represents his mature reflections on what a viable socialism and socialist politics would look like. Wright contends that instead of capitalism and socialism being distinct stages of history, punctuated by revolutions, socialism has come to coexist within capitalism. Just as capitalism developed within the bowels of feudalism, socialism is developing inside capitalism. Socialism manifests itself in public sector programs meant to “tame” capitalism, such as national health insur­ance, public education, and regulations governing workplace safety and pollution; it appears in cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, and nonprofit institutions that differ from conventional capitalist enterprises; and in provisions such as Germany’s codetermination system, which puts worker representatives on corporate boards and gives workers a voice in investment decisions. Wright foresees a transition to an economy that could be called more socialist than capitalist [...] Wright envisages 'struggles' from below led by unions, parties, and other political groups, but he does not foresee or advocate the kind of violent rupture that Marxists once saw as necessary and inevitable. [...] He writes in very general terms about what might happen in advanced capitalist countries like the United States. To the extent that he advances particular 'socialist' proposals, they reflect those of a typically liberal campus Democrat who has not ventured far into the America that elected Donald Trump in 2016. [...] Wright’s political specifics reflect the lim­ited vision of today’s metropolitan and college-town American Left. But in his broader, more abstract view of capitalism and socialism, he provides an important corrective to orthodox Marxist socialism."

Megan Day on Jacobin Magazine wrote:

"In his book em>How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the Twenty-First Century, Wright proposed that every economic system consists of three types of power: economic power, state power, and social power. These are pretty self-explanatory, except perhaps for social power, which Wright defines as 'the power to mobilize people for cooperative, voluntary collective actions.' In a capitalist society like the United States, Wright explains, state power is heavily subordinated to economic power. While there are some hard-won exceptions, the American government’s default is to behave, as Marx and Engels put it, as a 'committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,' habitually placing the needs of capitalists and their firms above the needs of ordinary people."


Lecture by Wright about the Book

Relevant Links

Table of Contents of How to Be an Anti-Capitalist

  1. Why Be Anticapitalist? (What is capitalism? / Grounds for opposing capitalism / Normative Foundations)
  2. Diagnosis and Critique of Capitalism (Equality & fairness, Democracy & freedom / Community & solidarity / Skepticism)
  3. Varieties of Anticapitalism (Strategic logics / Strategic configurations / Eroding capitalism)
  4. The Destination beyond Capitalism: Socialism as Economic Democracy (A power-centered concept of socialism / Building blocks of a democratic socialist / Nonmarket economic organization / Back to the problem of strategy)
  5. Anticapitalism and the State (The problem of the capitalist state / Prospects  / Democratizing the state)
  6. Agents of Transformation (Collective actors for eroding capitalism / The problem of collective agency / From identities, interests and values to collective actors)