This week we will read several texts that will help us to understand both capitalisms and anti-capitalisms. Too frequently we talk about the horrors of capitalism without fully understanding what capitalism actually is. In the same regard, we often essentialize anticapitalism when there are multiple ways of engaging.

First, we would like you to look at the definition of capitalism from Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society by Raymond Williams in order to provide us with a common vocabulary for our discussion.

Then we would like you to read Is Capitalism Everywhere the Same?from Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction. The text reviews the capitalist systems of Sweden, the United States, and Japan. From their development to the way that they function today the text compares and contrasts the systems. Additionally, the author looks at the idea of a global capitalism that presents in the same way across the globe and emphasizes the need for variation as a means of thinking through alternatives.

In How to Be an Anticapitalist Today,” sociologist Erik Olin Wright emphasizes the need to find a way change the capitalist system. He lays out four types of Anticapitalist activity: Taming Capitalism, Smashing Capitalism, Escaping Capitalism, and Eroding Capitalism, each of which has its own appeals. But, rather than settle on a single best model, Wright proposes Real Utopias as a way to “transform the no-where of utopia into the now-here of creating emancipatory alternatives of the world as it could be in the world as it is” (Wright). From worker-owned cooperatives to libraries to Wikipedia and proposals for an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI), real anticapitalism is more than possible, it is already happening.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some specific concerns and critiques we have of capitalism? Are these concerns inherent to capitalism writ large or can certain issues be resolved by alternative forms of capitalism (compare: Swedish, U.S., and Japanese systems, for example)? Are these concerns/critiques more prominent in certain forms / historical evolutions of capitalism? (“financialized” capitalism, “monopoly” capitalism, etc.)
  • What are some specific desires or goals that we envision for economic justice? Can certain desires/goals coexist within a predominantly capitalist society? Are there anti-capitalist institutions/formations in society today that could serve as models for other industries (i.e. library, Wikipedia)?
  • Is Wright right? He suggests that taming and eroding capitalism are the only viable options; do you agree, disagree? Is there a viable role for smashing or escaping capitalism as well?
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