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Confronting Capitalism: How the World Works and How to Change It

Confronting Capitalism: How the World Works and How to Change It PDF

Author: Vivek Chibber

Publisher: Verso


Publish Date: August 30, 2022

ISBN-10: 1839762705

Pages: 176

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Across the advanced capitalist world, something very significant has been unfolding over the past five years or so—the ideological legitimacy of the neoliberal model of capitalism has collapsed. After almost four decades of unchallenged hegemony, free market fundamentalism is under attack, not just among marginal left groupings, but in the political mainstream. Working people of all races and ages, who for years labored with the conviction that “there is no alternative,” as Margaret Thatcher famously put it, have issued a very clear warning that they are fed up with the untrammeled rule of capital. That frustration is being expressed in many and sundry ways, most typically inchoate, sometimes ugly, and overwhelmingly through electoral revolts rather than organized class struggle. But it is so pervasive that it feels like we are in a new political era.

Oddly, the political turn has been most sharply expressed in the unlikeliest of places, the United States. An early tremor could be felt in the Occupy movement in 2011, but the real catalyst was Bernie Sanders’s historic runs for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016 and 2020. Since his explosive entrance onto the national political stage, there has been an unmistakable revival of left anti-capitalist discourse, at a scale not witnessed in two generations. And even while his presidential runs are likely over, the thrust toward a social democratic turn in American politics has not abated—indeed, it has gathered steam. The largest left-wing organization in the United States today, the Democratic Socialists of America, is nearing one hundred thousand members, up from around less than ten thousand in 2015; there is an identifiable social democratic wing of the Democratic Party, still small by any reasonable standard, but its very existence is a significant step forward; within the Left, discussions are taking on issues of strategy and tactics, whereas just a few years ago they rarely rose above recondite debates around trivial philosophical hobbyhorses; and there is a small but unmistakable turn toward labor organizing.

This book is intended to contribute to the development of the incipient Left. One of the most glaring weaknesses of the current culture is the dearth of clear and simple introductions to the basic dynamics of capitalism. When the socialist movement was at its peak in the interwar years, intellectuals associated with Communist parties, socialist organizations and trade unions produced a rich corpus of pamphlets and short booklets intended to serve as pedagogical tools and organizing aids. This practice even carried over into the New Left, albeit less robustly. But by the 1980s it was a dying art. This was no doubt because of the processes I briefly examine in chapters 3 and 4 of this book, chief among which was not just the defeat of the organized Left, but more importantly, the complete takeover of radical discourse by the professional classes—academics and nonprofits. Radical theory became less concerned with disseminating and popularizing its advances, and turned inward, toward the professional concerns of those producing it. It became ever more abstruse, apolitical, and ultimately, pessimistic about the very possibility of political transformation.

The retreat into the academy wasn’t all bad. There were some genuine advances in Marxist and other socialist theories over what had been inherited from the classical Left. But because the links to the working class had largely been severed, the new developments remained buried in specialized journals and scholarly monographs. One of the most pressing tasks now is not only to put theory back into the hands of organizers, but to ensure that it is as up to date as possible—and presented in a language that doesn’t seem imported from 1870. I have also tried to keep to the essentials, so as not to get ensnared in Talmudic debates around sacred texts, and have also steered clear of more arcane analytical debates. Readers wishing to pursue the latter can consult the Guide to Further Reading at the end of the book.

After more than forty years of neoliberalism, the road back to sanity is going to be a long one. And it is by no means certain that we will achieve it. Even while free market fundamentalism is ideologically weakened, it is still a strong political force. For the latter to change, the Left will have to gather up its strength at a scale we have not seen since midcentury. At present, even as the socialist Left gains its ideological footing, it is in political disarray. It is my hope that this book, and other efforts like it, help advance the project of renewal.



1. The Basic Structure

2. Capitalism and the State

3. Capitalism and Class Struggle

4. Beyond Capitalism

Guide to Further Reading



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