How To Be An Anticapitalist In The 21St Century Book Summary By Erik Olin Wright

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How to Be an Anticapitalist in the 21st Century is a thought-provoking book that offers readers a compelling view into the heart of capitalism and its alternatives.

Written by renowned sociologist Erik Olin Wright, this book provides an in-depth look at the moral shortcomings of our current economic system and proposes strategies for creating democratic socialism.

With decades of informed opinions, this practical guide allows readers to understand the realities of capitalism while providing practical advice on how to set up an alternative economic system.

It's an essential tool for anyone looking to develop a new mindset towards money and economics in 21st century society.

How To Be An Anticapitalist In The 21St Century Book

Book Name: How to Be an Anticapitalist in the 21st Century (A pragmatic strategic guide to building an alternative economic system)

Author(s): Erik Olin Wright

Rating: 4.1/5

Reading Time: 35 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

"How to Be an Anticapitalist in the 21st Century" was authored by the late Erik Olin Wright.

He was an American sociologist and one of the most prominent Analytical Marxists, seeking to bridge the gap between classic Marxism and modern social science.

During his life, Wright worked as a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for over 30 years and had published 10 books including "Envisioning Real Utopias" and "Understanding Class".

Sadly, he passed away in 2019.

But his legacy will forever remain as one of the greatest minds that helped shape our understanding of Marxist economic thought in this century.

Erik Olin Wright’s “How To Be An Anticapitalist”: A Guide To The Ideas Of Analytical Marxism

Erik Olin

In the 21st century, there are many different takes on what it means to be an anticapitalist.

Thanks to Erik Olin Wright’s book How to Be an Anticapitalist in the 21st Century, readers now have access to a fresh take on what anticapitalism can mean in the modern era.

Wright was a prominent advocate of Analytical Marxism, which combines several fields – such as history, economics, sociology and philosophy – in order to remove assumptions and misconceptions from discussion on socialism and capitalism.

This approach enabled him to provide comprehensive answers to questions regarding whether replacing capitalism is truly possible and desirable considering the twentieth century’s failed experiments with communism.

The final work of one of the most influential sociologists of our time explains why anticapitalism should go beyond classical Marxism, dissects why the Soviet Union wasn’t actually socialist and explores how socialism can coexist with market economy structures.

All these insights offer new perspectives on what anticapitalism could really look like today.

The Case Against Capitalism: Why Anticapitalism Is Necessary In The 21St Century

The pro-capitalist might argue that capitalism has enjoyed tremendous successes since the mid-twentieth century, including major increases in overall prosperity and living standards.

But it’s important to remember that these successes are not evenly or fairly distributed.

Despite living in one of the richest capitalistic societies on earth, many people still suffer from malnutrition, ill health, and other serious issues related to poverty and economic inequality.

This highlights issues like unequal access to resources and opportunities within our capitalist system, and serves as a reminder that while capitalism can boast many advantages, it also has many shortcomings.

Furthermore, most working adults are stuck in boring unfulfilling jobs in order to produce the wealth and innovate for big businesses.

This means that even though there have been large boosts in economic growth and labor productivity for some, those same benefits have had a much more muted effect for most who don’t get to benefit from capitalism’s bounty to a natural degree.

Finally, capitalism is destroying our environment and causing climate change – endangering our ability to continue living on this planet.

All of this indicates that although we can acknowledge the successes of capitalism over the past few decades we must not ignore its glaring faults either.

Classical Marxism: An Argument For Opposing Capitalism Without Moral Consideration

Classical Marxism contends that in order for anticapitalism efforts to be successful, activists should focus less on moral values, and more on understanding workers’ class interests.

This is diametrically opposed to the idea that society can be changed by moral condemnation of the current economic system.

This belief was held by Karl Marx and his followers, who viewed society as being divided into two distinct camps: capitalists – those that owned means of production, and the workers – the majority, whose only economic resource was their own labor power.

The ultimate goal of attacking capitalism should be to help workers become aware of their own class interests –– rising up in turn and taking decisive action to overthrow the system.

Class consciousness was thought to achieve this.

Some may argue that morality has no place in arguments against capitalism; however, contemporary debate suggests that other factors such as cultural norms also play a vital role in motivating change within our current societal structure.

In Order To Succeed In The Current Era, Anticapitalists Can’t Rely On Appealing To People’s Class Interests Alone


It’s a given that one’s class interests largely influence their opinion on capitalism.

For instance, a CEO of a multinational corporation will most likely view the current economic system in favor, while the perspective of a sweatshop worker may tilt towards opposition.

However, for most people situated between those two extremes, class interests tend to sway both ways.

In light of this fact, anticapitalists must be creative and savvy in their strategies if they wish to have any chance of success in the 21st century.

As it turns out, appealing to one’s class interests alone is unlikely to get them off the fence when it comes to how they view capitalism – such arguments often lack resonance with many today because life under modern capitalism is far more fragmentary than it was in Karl Marx’s time.

Today’s highly diverse realities mean that even within one particular class position (say, an office manager), there exist conflicting benefits and drawbacks from our current economic system – thus making such people feel mixed about their experiences with capitalism.

Hence why defenders of the status quo will need another way to effectively win over doubters by utilizing other sources of motivation besides focussing solely on class interests.

It Takes More Than Economics To Understand And Inspire Human Behavior: How Moral Values, Identity, And Social Justice Issues Impact Anticapitalism

Anticapitalists need to understand the vital role that values and identities play in motivating people to take action.

Friedrich Engels is a perfect example of this – despite his family’s wealth, he actively worked to oppose capitalism due to its moral injustice rather than align himself with his economic self-interests.

Values are incredibly powerful in driving people’s decisions and behavior, often outweighing any potential financial benefit.

Similarly, identity can play a large part in motivating an individual’s political activism, especially when they identify as part of an oppressed or marginalized group.

For anticapitalists to be successful in furthering their cause, they must recognize the importance of both values and identities when attempting to persuade others.

Unfortunately simply appealing to economic interests won’t work – it is essential for anticapitalists to acknowledge the multiplicity of people’s backgrounds, beliefs and experiences if they want their message of justice and equality to resonate.

The Key To Effective Anticapitalist Politics: Connecting Moral Values To Diverse Identities And Interests

In the 21st century, it can be difficult to effectively promote an anticapitalist agenda.

To succeed in this task, it is important to recognize that people’s identities and interests are varied and complex.

We must acknowledge that moral values are a key component of our politics and that these values provide us with a vehicle for connecting different aspects of life: particularly when it comes to identifying with issues related to economic inequality and racism.

One example of this is seen in the workplace, where Black people often face discrimination – an issue that involves both economic injustice as well as racial justice.

Through appealing to widely-held moral beliefs around equality and fairness, we can draw attention to the various ways in which economic issues cross over with issues related to race.

These connections can help us develop mutually supportive campaigns against capitalistic exploitation as well as racial injustice.

By recognizing how morality can bridge our diverse identities and interests, we have the opportunity to create meaningful social change through our anticapitalist politics.

This will ensure that we are better equipped to make progress toward a fairer and more equitable society in the 21st century.

The Moral Argument Against Capitalism: Founded On Equality, Democracy, And Community


In order to mount an effective argument against capitalism, one must go beyond the facts and present a moral basis for one’s claims.

This is especially true when it comes to topics like poverty which are so tightly connected to the dynamics of capitalism.

The concept of equality encompasses more than just having equal access to resources – it also involves an individual’s right to live a flourishing life free from hardship or inequality.

This includes things like access to meaningful work, family time, and other forms of self-expression and connection with others.

Democracy emphasizes the freedom that each person should have when making decisions about their own lives.

Having a say in how those decisions are made allows individuals to find some autonomy amidst a system where they may otherwise feel oppressive or helpless.

Finally, solidarity encourages people to come together and fight for shared causes with a collective commitment towards achieving mutual welfare for everyone involved.

It is this combination of equality, democracy and solidarity that gives us the moral framework upon which we can construct an effective argument against capitalism.

Capitalism Fails To Live Up To Our Moral Values Of Community/Solidarity, Equality/Fairness, And Democracy/Freedom

It’s simple.

Capitalism fails to meet up to our moral values, and here’s why; starting with the values of community and solidarity.

The system encourages people to act in highly competitive, individualistic, and selfish ways.

It pits everyone against each other, propagates an ‘us vs them’ mentality, and pushes people to look out for their own interests.

This is far from the cooperative spirit and camaraderie we desire in a just society.

Equality and fairness are also trampled on by capitalism since economic inequality and poverty prevent many from having equal access to the resources needed for living a flourishing life – whereas richer individuals have almost no restrictions in what they can buy or do.

Asymmetrical power dynamics between citizens take away from political freedom, as corporations invest heavily into politicians through donations, lobbying efforts and more.

Ultimately, capitalism fails to bring us closer together nor provide us with equal opportunity or real freedom – which is why it doesn’t stand up to our set of moral standards in this day and age.

Democratic Socialism: An Alternative To Capitalism And Statism

The idea of democracy and socialism being allied is not a new concept, but in the 21st century, Democratic Socialism offers an alternative to both statism and capitalism.

The main differences between these systems are who has the power to make decisions about how society’s resources are used and allocated, and how that power is exercised.

Under Capitalism, wealthy individuals and institutions like banks own most of society’s wealth, which they can use as an incentive or disincentive in making economic decisions.

This is essentially a form of bribery – capital equals leverage for wealthy entities.

State-run economies, on the other hand, take away decision making from citizens by relying on rules enforced by threat of punishment from governmental agencies.

Democratic Socialism allows ordinary people to organize into cooperatives that jointly own, manage and operate their own businesses via democratic decision-making.

It relies on social power generated by persuasion rather than bribery or coercion in order for people to work together so everyone benefits.

Examples like worker cooperatives can demonstrate the potential for social power in achieving success without relying heavily on capitalist or state-controlled forms of economic tyranny.

We Already Live In A Mixture Of Capitalism, Statism, And Democratic Socialism

Democratic Socialism

The current society we live in has already embraced some elements of democratic socialism.

Worker cooperatives, for example, embody one of the core values of democratic socialism: decision-making by ordinary people.

Similarly, participatory budgeting committees let residents of cities decide how public funds are spent in their own neighborhoods.

There is also an increasingly large presence of non-profits, mutual societies, and a variety local community organizations that help citizens meet their needs for childcare, eldercare, and affordable housing – all features that could exist in a fully realized form of democratic socialism.

However, it’s also important to point out that although elements of democratic socialism may exist in our current system – it is far from perfect and there is still a long way to go before it can become a reality.

Capitalism still holds sway over most aspects of the economy, making it difficult to see a fully realized version without major reform or upheaval.

All this being said though – the fact remains that we have already seen glimpses of what democratic socialism can offer – from worker cooperatives to peer-to-peer collaborative networks and beyond.

This should give us all hope for the future as we strive towards creating a fairer economic system for everyone.

Capitalism Can Be Gradually Eroded And Replaced With Democratic Socialism Through A Long, Gradual Process Of Erosion

The idea of replacing capitalism with democratic socialism is not an impossible dream.

In fact, history shows that capitalism can be gradually eroded by such a transformation.

Just look at how capitalism itself evolved from the feudal system of the Middle Ages.

Back then, those who engaged in trade and banking outside of the feudal hierarchy were minor actors but within centuries their influence had grown to the point where feudalism eventually crumbled, leading to the formation of capitalism.

This illustrates how enterprises such as worker cooperatives, participatory budgeting committees, and other forms of democratic socialism may currently occupy marginal positions in society but given enough time they could become major players in a future economic system where capitalism has been replaced.

The gradual erosion process is already underway and transformative results may be seen down the line if these proto-democratic socialist entities continue to gain power and presence.

We Need The Market And The State To Transition To Democratic Socialism

The transition to democratic socialism requires an understanding that both the market and the state have necessary roles.

The traditional idea of a “market economy” should not be equated with capitalism – instead, it is defined as a mechanism which allows for economic activities to coordinate without the need for central planning.

In this sense, citizens, worker-owned cooperatives, and even capitalist-owned organisations can all use markets without relying on full-scale state control.

In order to make full use of markets under democratic socialism though, the state needs to intervene in order ensure all parties have an equal opportunity to succeed.

This could include instituting a universal basic income or providing credit so worker-owned enterprises can get off the ground.

Additionally, publicly funded training courses should be available in order to equip citizens with the skills needed to run their own businesses.

At the same time, there are certain areas where state intervention may be more beneficial than markets – such as public healthcare, education and transit systems.

Systems such as these already exist under capitalism and they would be further developed under democratic socialism in order to provide people with access necessities.

The Key To Reforming Capitalism: A Strategic Configuration Of Taming, Resisting, Escaping And Dismantling Strategies

Reforming Capitalism

Anticapitalists often think that to combat the effects of capitalism, they have to completely overthrow it in one fell swoop.

Yet this revolutionary approach is not only outdated but also carries many undesirable consequences.

So, rather than trying to find a single solution, it’s best to adopt a combination of strategies.

For that reason, anticapitalists should choose four strategic approaches – taming, resisting, escaping, and dismantling capitalism.

Through taming capitalism, measures like universal basic income can be adopted to counteract the harms caused by underemployment and unemployment.

When it comes to resisting capitalism, this involves actively fighting back against tendencies such as low pay for workers through unionization.

To escape capitalism, anticapitalists can explore alternatives like worker cooperatives, where enterprises are run in an egalitarian manner away from the rule of capitalists.

Finally, for those who want to dismantle capitalism gradually and build up something better in its place should consider policies like the Meidner Plan which transfers ownership from capitalists to labor unions over time.

By combining these four different tactics into what we can call “eroding” or whittling away at our existing economic system while building a better version at the same time, anticapitalists can effectively fight against capitalism in all forms without compromising their values or risking growing undesirable consequences.

Wrap Up

At the end of How to Be an Anticapitalist in the 21st Century, we arrive at a powerful conclusion.

Capitalism fails to live up to its purported values of equality, fairness, democracy, freedom, community and solidarity.

As such, democratic socialism is offered as an alternative that stresses all these values over the bottom line of maximizing profit.

The book provides ideas on how this transition can be achieved gradually by leveraging existing elements like worker cooperatives, participatory budgeting committees and public provisioning of essential services.

With this knowledge, it falls to us to stand against capitalism and realize our collective desire for a secure and sustainable future.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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