Magazine article Monthly Review

It's the System Stupid: Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism

Magazine article Monthly Review

It's the System Stupid: Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism

Article excerpt

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, The Guardian announced Queen Elizabeth finally received an answer to her question-"Did nobody see this coming?"-about the 2008 financial crisis.1 While she was touring the Bank of England, Sujit Kapadia, one of the bank's economists, informed Her Majesty that financial crises are a bit like earthquakes and flu pandemics: rare and difficult to predict. An impressive answer indeed. Brilliant for its vagueness, spuriousness, and obtuseness.

However, Kapadia is simply wrong not to have explained that many economists, financiers, and regulators anticipated and predicted the financial collapse.2 Additionally, metaphors of natural disasters are highly misleading. Financial crises are not inevitable occurrences, but historical, human-created, and contingent phenomena.

Her Majesty had asked: "Did nobody see this coming?" Perhaps she could have also asked three more questions: Does nobody see the suffering and socioeconomic injustices of oligopolistic-finance capitalism? Does no one see that the problems are structural and systemic? And is there no alternative to a system that generates continuous "quadruple crises"-the socioeconomic, political, environmental, and personal/psychological?3

The conventional wisdom is "There Is No Alternative," or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the "endless" quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.

The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.

Four recent books provide radical and practical alternative visions for both the workplace and the economy more generally. Rick Wolff's Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (2012), David Schweickart's After Capitalism (2011), Gar Alperovitz's America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy (2011), and Dada Maheshvarananda's After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action (2012). One important aspect shared by each of these books is that each was either written, or expanded and reissued, in reaction to the crisis of 2008 and the Occupy movement of 2011. All four books provide highly practical calls to action which are capable of transforming the economy and democratizing the workplace.

Before describing this exciting and inspiring work, two points should be underscored. First, these four books are merely the tip of the alternativesociety iceberg, and focusing on them specifically is merely a way to put at rest the misconception of TINA and the correctness of CINA. Second, CINA literature has always involved disagreement and debate, but unfortunately, none of the four authors provided other alternative models to CINA besides their preferred one. The intention here is to provide an overview for the existence of highly innovative and practical responses to the economic collapse and ensuing protests. These turbulent last four years are only a beginning to a revolutionary era of transformation away from capitalism. Each of these books is very well-written, well-reasoned, and well-argued, and all of them offer practical models to CINA.

Alperovitz underscores the fact that in capitalism there is a "democratic deficit."4 In the United States it is proclaimed that there is a democracy in the political realm. But once an individual enters the economic realm- when we enter the typical workplace-democracy is abandoned and totalitarianism runs supreme. Even within the political realm, oligopolization and political lobbying have put at peril any sense of a democratic process, and citizens have almost no say in government.5 Wolff reminds us that democracy is inconsistent with the production of surplus-value in capitalism and the profit motive.6 Schweickart and Maheshvarananda both maintain that democracy is not possible in capitalistic labor relations, or in financial markets under the hegemony of oligopolistic financial enterprises. …

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