Highlights and notes from "How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twentieth Century" by Erik Olin Wright, which I'm reading as part of the DSA SF Reading Club (https://www.facebook.com/events/3018390714878004/permalink/3027534677296941/).
On the complexities of class interests within modern capitalism: "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."
On how the desire for a democratic _society_ goes further than a just a democratic state: "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."
The community/solidarity "values cluster" is perhaps the most radical piece in this section. Olin Wright defines this as: "Expresses the principle that people ought to cooperate with each other not simply because of what they personally receive, but also from a real commitment to the well-being of others and a sense of moral obligation that it is right to do so."
This is fundamentally at odds with Western ingrained ideas about competition and "survival of the fittest".
A recent Slate article talks about the flaws in Darwin's theory, and how his thinking was heavily influenced by the ideology of this time and circle (Adam Smith et al): https://slate.com/technology/2020/01/darwin-competition-collaboration-evolutionary-biology-climate-change.html
"[...] we must learn to recognize the impulse to naturalize a given human behavior as a political maneuver. Competition is not natural, or at least not more so than collaboration."
Ways in which capitalism violates the equality/fairness value cluster:
- Inequality in income and wealth systematically violate egalitarian principles of social justice.
- Some suffer absolute deprivation of the conditions to live flourishing lives, not simply unequal access.
- Imbalance of power between capital and labor, leading to exploitation ("the rich are rich, in part, because the poor are poor").
- It is the nature of market competition for advantages and disadvantages to accumulate over time, amplifying inequalities.
- Economic dynamism often destroys jobs, but displaced workers can't instantly retrain and/or move to places with jobs appropriate for them: new jobs are created along with the marginalization and destitution of displaced workers.
Ways in which capitalism violates the democracy/freedom values cluster:
- "Private control over major investments creates constant pressure on public authorities to enact rules favorable to the interests of capitalists."
- Owner-worker power dynamics violate the principle of self-determination that underlies both democracy and freedom.
- Inequalities in wealth and income create inequalities in "real freedom".
On the ways in which capitalism undermines community/solidarity:
- "Capitalist cultures generally affirm two clusters of broadly shared values that are in tension with community and solidarity: competitive individualism and privatized consumerism."
- Capitalist culture narrows the social contexts in which most people see the values of community and solidarity as relevant, and expands the contexts in which competitive individualism operates.
This chapter ends with a section on skepticism of anticapitalist arguments.
According to Olin Wright, there are two main kinds of arguments:
1) Capitalism is not the main or only cause of these problems. He counters: "The diagnosis and critique of capitalism does not imply that capitalism is the only cause of deficits in the values of equality, democracy and community, but only that it is a significant contributor."
2) There are no viable alternatives. The rest of the book addresses this.
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