The Continuing Relevance of the Marxist Tradition for Transcending Capitalism

  • Erik Olin Wright University of Wisconsin, Department of Sociology
Keywords: Karl Marx, 200th anniversary, transcendence of capitalism, real utopias, socialism, contradiction, crisis


No idea is more closely associated with Marx than the claim that the intrinsic, contradictory dynamics of capitalism ultimately lead to its self-destruction while simultaneously creating conditions favourable for a revolutionary rupture needed to create an emancipatory alternative in which the control by the capitalist class of investments and production is displaced by radical economic democracy. Marx’s formulation of a theory of transcending capitalism is unsatisfactory for two main reasons: 1) the dynamics of capitalism may generate great harms, but they do not inherently make capitalism unsustainable nor do they generate the structural foundations of a collective actor with a capacity to overthrow capitalism; 2) the vision of a system-level rupture with capitalism is not a plausible strategy replacing capitalism by a democratic-egalitarian economic system. Nevertheless, there are four central propositions anchored in the Marxist tradition that remain essential for understanding the possibility of transcending capitalism: 1. Capitalism obstructs the realization of conditions for human flourishing. 2. Another world is possible. 3. Capitalism’s dynamics are intrinsically contradictory. 4. Emancipatory transformation requires popular mobilization and struggle. These four propositions can underwrite a strategic vision of eroding the dominance of capitalism by building democratic-egalitarian economic relations within the contradictory spaces of capitalism.

Author Biography

Erik Olin Wright, University of Wisconsin, Department of Sociology

Erik Olin Wright is a leading sociologist and Vilas Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of many books, including Class, Crisis, and the State (1978), Class Structure and Income Determination (1979), The Debate on Classes (1989), Classes (1985/1997), Interrogating Inequality (1994), Class Counts (1997), Deepening Democracy (with Archon Fung, 2003), Approaches to Class Analysis (ed., 2005), Envisioning Real Utopias (2010), Understanding Class (2015), Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy (with Robin Hahnel, 2016)

Karl Marx @ 200: Debating Capitalism & Perspectives for the Future of Radical Theory