It’s easy to talk about socialism in the abstract, but hardly anyone tries to imagine and codify exactly what socialism in the United States could be like.
David Schweikart has a vision of what our society could be like after socialism replaces capitalism:
"[T]he Marxian vision of a new world is one in which the work I do — the work we all do — is both challenging and satisfying. Through work I develop my skills and talents, and have the pleasure of contributing to the well-being of others. The work I do involves my body as well as my mind, physical dexterity as well as intelligence — capacities that have been nurtured through education."
Schweikart’s book After Capitalism is an imaginative handbook for creating a socialist American society that succeeds capitalism. It describes in down-to-earth detail a replacement for capitalism that he calls "economic democracy” and how we can bring it about. The book is an entertaining and informative tour de force, with a lot of careful thought behind it. Only reading it can do justice to its complexity.
Schweikart lists four "fundamental problems” with capitalism: "staggering inequality, widespread unemployment, the intensification of work for those who remain employed, and intractable poverty, both domestic and global.”
Besides "its savage inequality,” capitalism is an irrational system: "How can it be,” Schweikart asks, "that the amazing technologies we keep developing tend to intensify, not lessen, the pace of work and make our jobs and lives less, not more, secure?”
Schweikart doesn’t envision the total overthrow of capitalism; he thinks it’s wise to incorporate the best qualities of capitalism into economic democracy. "A mass movement dedicated to establishing real as opposed to pseudo democracy is not going to trample on the genuine advances the previous order has achieved,” he says.
David Schweikart, After Capitalism, 2nd ed. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2011
"Economic democracy abolishes private ownership of the means of production and wage labor, but retains the market,” Schweikark says. In other words, economic democracy is a socialist system with a competitive market economy.
Economic democracy, according to Schweikart, has "three basic features, the second of which it shares with capitalism:”
- Worker self-management: Each productive enterprise is controlled democratically by its workers.
- The market: These enterprises interact with one another and with consumers in an environment largely free of government price controls. Raw materials, instruments of production, and consumer goods all are bought and sold at prices largely determined by the forces of supply and demand.
- Social control of investment: Funds for new investment are generated by a capital assets tax and are returned to the economy through a network of public investment banks.”
In economic democracy the means of production belong to the whole society collectively, and workers lease them from the society. "A flat rate tax is the source of revenue and is distributed to regions on a per capita basis,” Schweikart says. The workers receive a "nationally specified minimum per capita income” and the profits of the firms they work in. That income is economic democracy’s "equivalent to the minimum wage.” The government is the "employer of last resort.”
Whereas capitalist companies strive to maximize total profits, in economic democracy the idea is to maximize profits per worker, according to Schweikart.
"Economic democracy abolishes private ownership of the means of production and wage labor, but retains the market."
Schweikart defines a capitalist as someone "who owns enough productive assets that he can live comfortably on the income from those assets.” Economic democracy makes capitalists obsolete.
Economic democracy is a "genuinely democratic, fully employed, stable, ecologically sustainable society without overwork or poverty,” Schweikart says. As he points out, a healthy capitalism requires unemployment to keep wages down. Further, the threat of job loss is the "basic disciplinary mechanism of the system.”
In economic democracy, as in capitalism, Schweikart says, "stimulating consumer demand is in the immediate interest of every enterprise.” Unlike capitalism, however, economic democacy is not "under competitive pressure to produce, make a profit, reinvest and grow.”
"The transformation from capitalism to economic democracy is nonviolent and comes about as a result of a social movement inspired by deep humanistic ideals (which is the only way it will ever come about),” Schweikart asserts. "One of the ‘conditions,’ if there is to be a relatively peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism, is the coming to power of a Left political party with a radical agenda,” he says.
The labor movement, of course, plays a critical role in changing the economic system, but that’s not to say that other struggles aren’t important and interrelated. As to issues of race, sex, ecology, peace, gay and lesbian liberation, prisons and so forth, "[N]one of these issues in fact can be treated in isolation from the others, although various movements will doubtless have distinctive emphases.”
Schweikart doesn’t merely elaborate on the characteristics of economic democracy but offers a blueprint for getting there.
" Unlike capitalism, however, economic democacy is not 'under competitive pressure to produce, make a profit, reinvest and grow.'"
He suggests ways to move toward economic democracy by creating a more "benign form” of capitalism. Schweikart offers three scenarios for moving peacefully from capitalism to economic democracy, depending in part on the status of the economic system at the time.
After Capitalism leaves questions about specifics: What would happen to the military-industrial system under economic democracy? What would happen to Big Pharma? The health insurance industry? It’s a mark of a good book, however, that it leaves the reader eager to delve further into issues the book focuses on.
Democracy, Schweikart says, "is a system in which a universal electorate is reasonably well informed, active, and unobstructed by a privileged minority class.”
After Capitalism is a stimulating guidebook for those who want to work toward a genuine democracy in the United States.
Linda Greene can be reached at