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How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century

by Erik Olin Wright

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2426113,007 (3.95)None
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. 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.--… (more)
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English (5)  French (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 5 of 5
Best for:
Anyone looking for an easy-to-digest outline of the options we have for moving society away from capitalism.

In a nutshell:
In six short but packed chapters, author Wright explores the problems of capitalism, the various ways of fighting it, and what is needed to accomplish that.

Worth quoting:
“The claim that capitalism harms democracy and freedom is more complex than simply proposing that capitalism is opposed to freedom and democracy. Rather, the logic is that capitalism generates severe deficits in realizing the values of democracy and freedom. Capitalism promotes the emergency and partial development of both freedom and democracy, but it obstructs the fullest possible realization of these values.”

Why I chose it:
I think I bought this nearly a year ago when Verso books was having a big sale. It looked interesting.

What it left me feeling:
Discouraged, despite the author’s best efforts.

Review:
I found this book to be really well done. I appreciate shorter books like this one (150 pages) that don’t try to fit the entire history of humanity into its pages. Instead, author Wright breaks this book into six easy to understand chapters: why be anti-capitalist?; diagnosis and critique of capitalism; varieties of anticapitalism, the destination beyond capitalism - socialism as economic democracy; anticapitalism and the state, and agents of transformation.

The author is not calling for a revolution, not is he suggesting we burn everything down and start from scratch. My guess from reading up on the author is this because of pragmatism — if an actual, successful, all-out revolution were possible without harming loads of the people already harmed by capitalism, my thinking is he’d support that. Instead he looks at the different ways we can approach essentially gnawing away at capitalism from above and below.

He starts by laying out his foundations for the values that society should hold dear: equality/fairness; democracy/freedom; and community/solidarity. He then talks about how capitalism is really not great for any of these things (I think some people who claim capitalism nearly equal to freedom and democracy would benefit from reading this section). The third chapter focuses on the five ways he posits we can be anticapitalist: smash capitalism, dismantle capitalism, tame capitalism, resist capitalism, and erode it. Some aspects he notes are already in play, usually when things we might associate with socialism are implemented to fix problems caused by socialism. Those five ways are a mix of from above and from below, which provides for some variety.

The fourth chapter I found to be quite interesting because it was a short glimpse into his idea of what socialism could look like if implemented, including unconditional basic income, cooperative market economies, and democratizing capitalist firms (along with other suggestion). Chapter five looks at all the challenges we face with the state as it stands now; the final chapter talks somewhat about how to harness collective action.

I’ve said the book has left be discouraged because I think about the politics of the two countries I know best: the US and the UK. In the US, even as little children are murdered by guns in their schools, politicians only care about prevent drag performers from reading books to kids, and making sure that anyone who does get pregnant is forced to stay pregnant. And all the gerrymandering (which Wright does reference a couple of times) is allowing the minority political groups (far-right Republicans) to be in control of state houses. And in the UK, for some reason people who like to call themselves feminists are obsessed with the genitalia of people in restrooms to the point where they are putting the rights and lives of trans people at risk, often led by their anti-trans queen JK Rowling. (I know the US is horrible on trans issues as well; it’s just wild seeing how it is playing out here in the UK). The UK is also vile in its treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers. Just really invested in fiurther harming those who are already in horrible situations. Meanwhile neither place is doing nearly enough to address climate change, or the cost of living scandal, or racism, sexism, anti-trans hate, religious bigotry, poverty.

So I have a hard time thinking that the state can ever be changed. I know that’s silly and defeatist, and I’m not just giving up on thinking something better is possible. But so many people are so deeply invested in maintaining their own power and so invested in harming anyone who isn’t like them that I have a hard time seeing them willingly take any sort of action that will reduce their power or frankly help anyone who doesn’t look like them.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep ( )
  ASKelmore | Apr 10, 2023 |
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 both provide the basis for a critique of capitalism, and help to guide us towards a socialist and democratic society. In this elegant book, Erik Olin Wright has distilled decades of work into a concise and tightly argued manifesto analyzing the varieties of anti-capitalism, assessing different strategic approaches, and laying the foundations for a society dedicated to human flourishing. How to Be an Anticapitalist is an urgent and powerful argument for socialism, and a unparalleled guide to help us get there. Another world is possible.
  LarkinPubs | Mar 1, 2023 |
This short book is more than just a type of 'self-help' or 'how-to-do something' book. Sociologist Erik Olin Wright distilled some of the ideas from his previous book in 2010, Envisioning Real Utopias, with a comprehensive and accessible explanation to all kinds of readers. There are also changes in his thoughts that have developed through times and followed the current era.

He showed all of the more complex problems within capitalism and provided the glimmer of hope to reduce it at the same time. He proposed 'eroding capitalism' as a new strategic idea, combining the civil society-centered (bottom-up) strategies, such as resisting and escaping capitalism, with a state-centered strategy (top-down) of taming capitalism. ⁣

Wright also shared the same argument about Unconditional Basic Income with David Graeber in Bullshit Jobs, that UBI would allow people to reject exploitative work and capitalist labor market. With UBI that is funded from taxes paid by higher earners, people could do work that does them and the society good in any sector.⁣

I’d recommend this book to anyone with or without a background in sociology or economics. This book is an accessible primer to the anticapitalist ideas that we need in the current social climate.⁣ ( )
  bellacrl | Jan 19, 2021 |
Hey goodpals. Been on goodreads for a while now, but I'm trying to completely expunge Amazon from my life. Haven't bought anything on there in a couple years, but they own so much stuff now it can be difficult to avoid. Luckily in the case of goodreads, it's actually extremely easy, especially because there is a much better option now freely available to all! I'm moving over to LibraryThing . It's lighter on the social media aspect, but you can still see and engage with what friends are reading. It lets you actually find, catalog and organize books with an intuitive interface and it doesn't make me feel like I'm browsing the Home Shopping Network's website. It doesn't constantly try to trick you into accidentally signing up for Facebook or Prime or track you around the internet. You don't even need to give them an email, if you don't want. And, it doesn't help line the pockets of the worlds richest and increasingly cartoonishly evil man.

Anyways, I'll leave this up for a little while before I delete my account, but if you switch over too, my name on there Jetztzeit. Add me as a friend!


This book is good and makes a clear and compelling case for a multi-teared approach to collective action, challenging simplistic distinctions between "our individual consumer choices/actions don't matter" and "we must build a working-class movement to overthrow the capitalist state." etc. etc. Decades of thought distilled into an easily digestible treatise, there are few wasted words and no wasted sentences. ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE. SEE YOU THERE. ( )
  Jetztzeit | May 15, 2020 |
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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. 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.--

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