Rising inequality of income and power, along with the recent convulsions in the finance sector, have made the search for alternatives to unbridled capitalism. Jul 21, PDF | Wright, Erik Olin. Envisioning Real Utopias. London: Verso. ISBN: Paperback: CAD. Pages: Rezensionen/Book Reviews ERIK OLIN WRIGHT: Envisioning Real Utopias . London Verso, p. Many intellectuals and activists in the West linked.
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Discussions of Envisioning Real Utopias, Berkeley, October ; Ankara, Erik Olin Wright, "Basic Income as a Socialist Project" (Basic Income Studies, issue. separate book, which eventually became Envisioning Real Utopias. governance. by Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright (London: Verso, ); Redesigning Distribution: .. Available at: musicmarkup.info memoriapdf. Erik Olin Wright, the great Marxist sociologist and pioneering scholar of class in capitalism, died from acute myeloid leukemia on January 23, He was
Rising inequality of income and power, along with recent convulsions in the finance sector, have made the search for alternatives to unbridled capitalism more urgent than ever. Yet few are attempting this task—most analysts argue that any attempt to rethink our social and economic relations is utopian. A systematic reconstruction of the core values and feasible goals for Left theorists and political actors, Envisioning Real Utopias lays the foundations for a set of concrete, emancipatory alternatives to the capitalist system. Characteristically rigorous and engaging, this will become a landmark of social thought for the twenty-first century. Only a thinker of Wright's genius could sustain such a badly needed political imagination without losing analytical clarity and precision. An incisive diagnosis of the harms done by capitalism; a masterful synthesis of the best work in political sociology and political economy over the past thirty years; and innovative theoretical framework for conceptualizing both the goals of progressive change and the strategies for their achievement; and inspiring survey of actually existing challenges to capitalism that have arisen within capitalism itself; and a compelling essay on the relation between the desirable, the viable and the achievable.
And yet, by the end of his life, Wright had reached a level of international acclaim that few Marxist theorists ever achieve. With the global financial crisis prompting a widespread search for alternatives to capitalism, and ideas he championed such as the universal basic income moving into the mainstream, Wright was a key figure behind the resurgent left on both sides of the Atlantic.
His ideas are more relevant now than ever. In , Wright poured his decades of research into one of his major works entitled Envisioning Real Utopias. He constructed it around three main axes: a diagnosis of capitalism, a look at some alternatives to capitalism and a theory of transformation.
Here, Wright wished to show the reader why a socialist alternative is not only desirable but also something achievable. It is, as I see it, akin to a manual for thinking about the practice of socialism. For Wright did not limit himself to demonstrating why capitalism ought to, and indeed can be, superseded by something better. He also highlighted how three core socialist values — equality, cooperation and freedom — can co-exist in practice.
As such, he provided the reader with a guide for not merely thinking about emancipation but, also and crucially, for realising it. In the case of Wikipedia, one finds highly collaborative practices between a core of paid employees and volunteers.
Students studying in seminaries were given a draft deferment and so seminary enrollments rose dramatically in the late s. As part of my studies, I organized a student-run seminar called Utopia and Revolution. For ten weeks I met with a dozen or so other students from the various seminaries in the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union to discuss the principles and prospects for the revolutionary transformation of American society and the rest of the world.
We were young and earnest, animated by the idealism of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement and by the counter-cultural currents opposed to competitive individualism and consumerism. We discussed the prospects for the revolutionary overthrow of American capitalism and the ramifications of the dictatorship of the proletariat as well as the potential for a countercultural subversion of existing structures of power and domination through living alternative ways of life.
In order to facilitate our discussions in that seminar, I recorded the sessions and typed up transcripts each week to give to each of the participants. In the first session we discussed what each of us meant by Utopia. Toward the end of the discussion I suggested the following: It would be undesirable, I think, for the task of constructing an image of utopia, as we are doing, to be seen as an attempt to find definitive institutional answers to various problems.
We can perhaps determine what kinds of social institutions negate our goals and which kind of institutions seem to at least move towards those goals, but it would be impossible to come up with detailed plans of actual institutions which would fully embody all of our ideals.
Our real task is to try to think of institutions which themselves are capable of dynamic change, of responding to the needs of the people and evolving accordingly, rather than of institutions which are so perfect that they need no further change. In due course the system of conscripting young men into the army changed to a draft lottery and I got a good number, so in I was able to begin my graduate studies in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.
For the next two decades my work revolved around the problem of reconstructing Marxism, particularly its theoretical framework for the analysis of classes. The problem of socialism and alternatives to capitalism surfaced from time to time, but was not the central focus of my research and writing. I returned to the theme of utopia and emancipatory transformation in The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union disintegrated.
Neoliberalism and market fundamentalism dominated government policies in capitalist democracies. With the demise and discrediting of the centrally planned economies, many people believed that capitalism and liberal democracy were the only possible future for humanity. The end of history was announced.
The idea of the project was to focus on specific proposals for the fundamental redesign of different arenas of social institutions rather than on either general, abstract formulations of grand designs, or on small immediately attainable reforms of existing practices.
This is a tricky kind of discussion to pursue rigorously. It is much easier to talk about concrete ways of tinkering with existing arrangements than it is to formulate plausible radical reconstructions.
Marx was right that detailed blueprints of alternative designs are often pointless exercises in fantasy. What I and my collaborators in the Real Utopias Project wanted to achieve was a clear elaboration of workable institutional principles that could inform emancipatory alternatives to the existing world. This falls between a discussion simply of the moral values that motivate the enterprise and the fine-grained details of institutional characteristics.
By four books had been published from the project two more have appeared since then and it seemed like a good time to step back from specific proposals and try to embed the project in a larger framework of analysis.
We had written a joint paper with this title for a handbook of sociological theory and thought it would be a good idea to expand that piece into a book-length manuscript. In the projected book we planned to trace the historical roots of sociological Marxism in the Marxist tradition, for which Burawoy would take major responsibility, and to elaborate more thoroughly its theoretical foundations, for which I would have the principle responsibility.
I began writing a draft of my part of the manuscript in which the concluding chapters were an elaboration of the idea of envisioning real utopias. As it turned out, Burawoy got elected President of the American Sociological Association and embarked on new line of thinking and writing on the theme of public sociology, so our joint book project was sidelined. He encouraged me to take those final chapters and use them as the core for a separate book, which eventually became Envisioning Real Utopias.
In the fall of I presented an initial version of the core argument of the book, written as a paper, Taking the Social in Socialism Seriously, at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Advancement of Socio-economics. It seemed well received at both conferences.
Plenum Press, We had a long, intense and somewhat frustrating discussion of the problem of defining dominance of particular elements in a complex structure of relations.
No one had any particularly constructive suggestions, and I left the gathering a bit demoralized. On further thought in the months following the meeting I decided that while the analytical problem raised in the discussion was a real one, it did not seriously undermine the central substantive thrust of my approach to the problem these issues will be discussed in chapter 5 , and so I returned to the paper and gave it a thorough reworking in That paper, which lays out the core ideas that are more fully elaborated in this book, was eventually published in New Left Review in Should it basically be a modest elaboration of the NLR piece?
Should I try to embed the specific arguments around envisioning real utopias in a broader agenda of emancipatory social theory? Should I directly engage Marxism both to establish the location of my argument within the Marxist tradition and to specify the ways in which it departs from aspects of that tradition? I decided that the best way for me to resolve such issues was to begin publicly discussing the ideas in the book as widely as possible by accepting invitations to give visiting lectures whenever such invitations came in.
This would enable me both to refine the arguments themselves through a dialogic process and to get a better sense of how useful it would be to expand the agenda of the book itself. So, I began what eventually became three years of traveling around the world giving lectures, seminars, workshops, and in a few places, more extended lecture series on the book manuscript at universities, conferences, and other venues.
The Analytical Marxism Group was begun to discuss central themes in Marxist theory, especially the concept of exploitation. In the course of the early s the members of the group developed a distinctive style for exploring Marxism, which eventually was dubbed Analytical Marxism.
I was invited to participate in the group in Other members of the group not all of whom were there from the start include G. Adam Przeworski and Jon Elster were members of the group in the s but had left by the time I presented this work. For collection of writings by members of this circle, see John Roemer ed , Analytical Marxism Cambridge University Press, When submitted to New Left Review the paper still had the title Taking the Social in Socialism Seriously, but the editors of the journal said that they did not like long, wordy titles, and changed it to Compass Points: towards a socialist alternative, which played off a metaphor I used in the paper.
While I still much preferred the original title, I acquiesced to their editorial judgment. One might think that eventually there would be significant diminishing intellectual returns from giving such a large number of talks.
But this really was not the case. Each wave of presentations and discussions occurred in the context of recent revisions and new formulations, and some of the most important refinements were triggered by discussions very late in this process.
I more or less continuously revised the manuscript, posting the most current draft of chapters on the web. Often when I gave lectures some of the participants had read some of the pieces of the book-in-progress and prepared comments in advance.
In planning such far-flung lecture trips in such different parts of the world I had anticipated getting sharply different reactions in different places.
Surely the questions people would pose in China would be different from Norway. The most striking fact of my discussions in these venues, however, was the commonality of issues raised, the commonalty of criticisms and concerns, and also the commonalty of the general enthusiasm for the agenda I laid out.
Everywhere people seemed to appreciate the institutional pluralism of the conception of socialism I proposed and the moral vision of social justice I defended, but also, everywhere, people were skeptical about the possibilities of social power rooted in civil society providing a basis for transcending capitalism, especially under conditions of globalization.
Of course there was considerable self-selection of the people into the audiences: mostly people who were likely to show up at a lecture called Envisioning Real Utopias would be critics of existing institutions and positively disposed to thinking about emancipatory alternatives. Still, it was reassuring to me that with a few interesting exceptions people were receptive to the idea of placing democracy For example, to anticipate some of the discussion in chapter 5, two pathways of social empowerment were added after my visit to Barcelona in May of Some of the transcripts of the discussions of the book manuscript in these lectures and seminars, and some of the audio recordings as well, are available on my website: www.
I felt that I was part of a global conversation on the dilemmas of our time, and even if many people remained unconvinced about the feasibility of real utopias, the analysis I laid out nevertheless resonated.
In the spaces between of all of this travel, I taught a PhD level seminar on Real Utopias at the University of Wisconsin in and In the spring semester of I organized this seminar around the existing draft of the book students read and commented on one chapter each week. The seminar also involved a weekly video-conference connection with a group of sociology students at the University of Buenos Aires who had attended my lectures there in May of and wanted to participate in the Wisconsin seminar.
The final consolidation and revision of the book came in the immediate aftermath of this intensive and for me anyway extraordinarily productive seminar. It is very hard in a process like this to know exactly where all of the new ideas and refinements came from.
The most accurate description is that they came out of the extended dialogue in which I was so vigorously engaged.
Of course, it is always true that ideas are social products, not just the result of individual imagination springing from interior reflection. But in the case of this book, the ideas are not simply a social product, but a collective product generated by the collaboration of hundreds of people around the world with whom I have discussed its arguments.
I am deeply grateful to the many people who came to these discussions and contributed their thoughts to collaborative process of developing the ideas in this book. I worry about thanking specific people, since I am sure that I will leave off someone whose skepticism, poignant comment or suggestion has played a real role in pushing the arguments of the book forward. Still, there are some specific people that I must acknowledge: Michael Burawoy has been both my most consistent critic and one of my two most consistent supporters.
He is relentlessly enthusiastic about the idea of real utopias, and equally relentlessly critical about many of the details of my analysis.
He, more than anyone else, has emphasized the importance of the word social and it was through our discussions especially on bike rides and hikes in Northern California that the specific terminological convention of talking about the social in Socialism emerged. My wife Marcia Kahn Wright has been the other most consistent supporter of this work and has not only continually refueled my commitment to the real utopias project and tolerantly put up with the disruptions of my travel, but has substantively contributed important ideas to the book in our periodic late-night discussion of particular problems and themes.
Harry Brighouse has become in recent years the person with whom I have discussed the problem of real utopias and its philosophical underpinnings the most. The specific elaboration of the concepts of social justice and human flourishing underpinning the normative foundations of this book owes much to our discussions. My collaboration with Archon Fung in writing the anchoring essay of volume 4 of the Real Utopias Project, Deepening Democracy, was of fundamental importance in helping me to understand why democracy is the core problem for transcending capitalism.
My earlier work had emphasized the centrality of exploitation to capitalism, and of course exploitation is pivotal to the way capitalism works. But the central axis of transcending capitalism is democracy. Joel Rogers has been involved in various ways with the Real Utopias project from the start. Indeed, he proposed the name on one of our weekly Sunday morning walks with my golden retriever in the early s as we were planning the conference on associational democracy that eventually became the basis for the first book in the project.
My former student, Vivek Chibber, has repeatedly reminded me that class struggle and class politics must be at the core of the effort to transform and transcend capitalism even though he I think now reluctantly agrees with me that ruptural logics of class struggle are not very plausible in the world today.
The members of the Analytical Marxism Group G. Cohen, Philippe van Parijs, Sam Bowles, Josh Cohen, Hillel Steiner, Robert Brenner, John Roemer, and Robert van der Veen might have been discouraging when I first presented the earliest version of the argument of this book to them in , but in the end their reaction was certainly helpful in pushing the issues forward.
More importantly, my understanding of philosophical ideas about equality and the conditions for its realization have developed largely through the quarter century of my discussions with the members of this group.
Finally, I would like to thank the students in the graduate seminars at Berkeley and Wisconsin who read drafts of chapters of the book and wrote provocative interrogations for each discussion.
Their willingness to raise sharp criticisms and express skepticism about many of my formulations has lead to many revisions of the text and the addition of many footnotes in which I reply to objections which they raised in class.
A note on the Audience for this book I began writing this book with a broad, relatively popular audience in mind. I somehow hoped that I could deal seriously with these difficult theoretical and political matters and still make the book accessible and attractive to people not schooled in radical social theory or Marxism.
As the book expanded and I encountered criticisms that I felt I needed to counter, it became clear to me that I was in practice engaged in a dialogue with a relatively sophisticated audience. One of the hallmarks of academic writing is responding to potential criticisms of ones arguments that will not have occurred to most readers.
Still, I wanted the book at least to be readable by people not steeped in academic debates. I have tried to resolve this problem by putting into footnotes the discussions of many of the more academic refinements and responses to objections to the analysis. The text itself can be read without looking at the footnotes. There is one other tension around the hoped-for audience of the book. I want the book to be relevant both to people whose intellectual and political coordinates are firmly anchored in the socialist left as well as to people broadly interested in the dilemmas and possibilities for a more just and humane world who do not see the Marxist tradition as a critical source of ideas and arena for debate.
This is also a difficult divide to straddle. In engaging people sympathetic to Marxism around the problem of the radical transcendence of capitalism it is important to explore the issue of revolutionary transformation and the limitations in the traditional Marxist theory of Preface vii history.
People who feel no connection to the Marxist tradition are likely to see those discussions as largely irrelevant. The use of the term socialism to describe the structural aspects of the emancipatory alternative to capitalism also reflects this tension: For people sympathetic to the Marxist tradition, my attempt at rethinking socialism in terms of social power and radical democracy connects with longstanding themes; to non-Marxists the term socialism may seem antiquated, and in spite of my terminological protestations, have too close a link to centralized statism.
This tension of writing both for people who identify in some way with Marxism and those indifferent or hostile to Marxism is further exacerbated by my desire for the book to be relevant to people in different countries where Marxism and Socialism carry very different connotations.
In the United States the word socialism is completely outside of mainstream political life, whereas in many European countries the word is an umbrella label for progressive politics rooted in democratic egalitarian values.
I do not know if I have successfully navigated these problems of audience. My strategy is to try to write clearly, define all of the key concepts I use, and carefully present the steps in my arguments in a logical way that hopefully will make the text accessible to people both familiar and less familiar with this kind of discussion.
It was generally called socialism. While the Right condemned socialism as violating individual rights to private property and unleashing monstrous forms of state oppression and the Left saw socialism as opening up new vistas of social equality, genuine freedom and the development of human potentials, both believed that a fundamental alternative to capitalism was possible.
Most people in the world today, especially in the economically developed regions of the world, no longer believe in this possibility.
Capitalism seems to most people part of the natural order of things, and pessimism has replaced the optimism of the will that Gramsci once said was essential if the world was to be transformed. This book hopes to contribute to rebuilding a sense of possibility for emancipatory social change by investigating the feasibility of radically different kinds of institutions and social relations that could potentially advance the democratic egalitarian goals historically associated with the idea of socialism.
In part this investigation will be empirical, examining cases of institutional innovations that embody in one way or another emancipatory alternatives to the dominant forms of social organization.
In part it will be more speculative, exploring theoretical proposals that have not yet been implemented but nevertheless are attentive to realistic problems of institutional design and social feasibility.
The idea is to provide empirical and theoretical grounding for radical democratic egalitarian visions of an alternative social world.
Four examples, which we will discuss in detail in later chapters, will give a sense of what this is all about: 1. Participatory City Budgeting In most cities in the world that are run by some form of elected government, city budgets are put together by the technical staff of the citys chief executive usually a mayor. If the city also has an elected city council, then this bureaucratically constructed budget is probably submitted to the council for modification and ratification.
The basic shape of the budget is determined by the political agenda of the mayor and other dominant political forces working with economists, engineers, city planners and other technocrats. That is the existing world. Now, imagine the following alternative possible world: Instead of the city budget being formulated from the top down, suppose that a city was divided up into a number of neighborhoods, and each neighborhood had a participatory budget assembly.
Suppose also that there were a number of city-wide budget assemblies on various themes of 1 Parts of this chapter appeared in the Preface to the first volume in the Real Utopias Project, Associations and Democracy, by Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers Verso: Chapter 1. The mandate for the participatory budget assemblies is to formulate concrete budget proposals, particularly for infrastructure projects of one sort or another, and submit them to a city-wide budget council.
Any resident of the city can participate in the assemblies and vote on the proposals. They function rather like New England town meetings, except that they meet regularly over several months so that there is ample opportunity for proposals to be formulated and modified before being subjected to ratification.
After ratifying these neighborhood and thematic budgets, the assemblies choose delegates to participate in the city-wide budget council for a few months until a coherent, consolidated city budget is adopted.
This model is the reality in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil. Before it was instituted in few people would have thought that a participatory budget could work in a relatively poor city of more than one and a half million people in a country with weak democratic traditions, plagued by corruption and political patronage.
It constitutes a form of direct, participatory democracy fundamentally at odds with the conventional way that social resources get allocated for alternative purposes in cities. We will discuss this case in some detail in chapter 6. Wikipedia Wikipedia is a large, free-wheeling internet encyclopedia. By mid it contained over 2. It is free to anyone on the planet who has access to the internet, which means that since the internet is now available in many libraries even in very poor countries, this vast store of information is available without charge to anyone who needs it.
In , roughly 65 million people accessed Wikipedia monthly. The entries were composed by several hundred thousand unpaid volunteer editors. Any entry can be modified by an editor and those modifications modified in turn. While, as we will see in chapter 7, a variety of rules have evolved to deal with conflicts over content, Wikipedia has developed with an absolute minimum of monitoring and social control. And to the surprise of most people, it is generally of fairly high quality.
In a study reported in the journal Nature, in a selection of science topics the error rates in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica were fairly similar. It is based on the principle to each according to need, from each according to ability.
No one gets paid for editing, no one gets charged for access. It is egalitarian and produced on the basis of horizontal reciprocities rather than hierarchical control. In the year , before Wikipedia was launched, no one including its founders -- would have thought what has come to be was possible. The Mondragon Worker-Owned cooperatives The prevailing wisdom among economists is that in a market economy, employee-owned and managed firms are only viable under special conditions.
They need to be small and the labor force within the firm needs to be fairly homogeneous. They may be able to fill niches in a capitalist economy, but they will not be able to produce sophisticated products with capital intensive technologies involving complex divisions of labor. High levels of complexity require hierarchical power relations and capitalist property relations.
Mondragon is a conglomerate of worker-owned cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. It was founded in the s during the Franco dictatorship and is now 7th largest business group in Spain and the largest in the Basque region with more than 40, worker-owner members. While, as we will see in chapter 7, it faces considerable challenges in the globalized market today, nevertheless the top management continues to be elected by the workers and major corporate decisions are made by a board of directors representing the members or by a general assembly of the members.
Unconditional Basic Income The idea of an unconditional basic income UBI is quite simple: Every legal resident in a country receives a monthly living stipend sufficient to live above the poverty line. Lets call this the no frills culturally respectable standard of living. The grant is unconditional on the performance of any labor or other form of contribution, and it is universal everyone receives the grant, rich and poor alike.
Grants go to individuals, not families. Parents are the custodians of underage childrens grants which may be at a lower rate than the grants for adults. Universalistic programs, like public education and health care, that provide services to people rather than cash would continue alongside universal basic income, but with universal basic income in place, most other redistributive transfers would be eliminated general welfare, family allowances, unemployment insurance, tax-based old age pensions since the basic income grant is sufficient to provide everyone a decent subsistence.
This means that in welfare systems that already provide generous antipoverty income support through a patchwork of specialized programs, the net increase in costs represented by universal unconditional basic income would not be large. Special needs subsidies of various sorts would continue for example, for people with disabilities but they would also be smaller than under current arrangements since the basic cost of living would be covered by the UBI. Minimum wage rules would be relaxed or eliminated since there would be little need to legally prohibit below-subsistence wages if all earnings, in effect, generated discretionary income.
While everyone receives the grant as an unconditional right, most people at even given point in time would probably be net contributors since their taxes will rise by more than the basic income. Over time, however, most people will spend part of their lives as net beneficiaries and part of their lives as net contributors.
Unconditional basic income is a fundamental redesign of the system of income distribution. As we will see in detail in chapter 7, it has potentially profound ramifications for a democratic egalitarian transformation of capitalism: poverty is eliminated; the labor contract becomes more nearly voluntary since everyone has the option of exit; the power relations between workers and capitalist become less unequal, since workers, in effect, have an unconditional strike fund; the possibility for people forming cooperative associations to produce goods and services to serve human needs outside of the market increases since such activity no longer needs to provide the basic standard of living of participants.
No country has adopted an unconditional basic income, although the most generous welfare states have incomplete, fragmented versions and there has been one experimental pilot program for a basic income in a very poor country, Namibia.
It thus could turn out that a generous basic income, if implemented, would not be viable it might self-destruct because of all sorts of perverse effects. But, as I will argue later, there are also good reasons to believe that it would work and that it could constitute one of the cornerstones of another possible world.
These are all examples of what I will call real utopias.