After many years in which the idea of challenging capitalism felt wildly unrealistic and where people thinking about the question rarely had new ideas, there is freshness and excitement in the community of scholars and activists coming from around the world to discuss this subject.
The problems are manifest. Multinational corporations control the governments of most countries. While the science is clear, and the technical solutions are ready, our climate is already becoming devastatingly chaotic, as a result of the power that fossil fuel companies have over many of the world’s governments. In a world of enough food to feed everyone every year, millions go hungry, and millions die from lack of access to clean drinking water.
And yet, the idea that we might be able to do something to change those dynamics has seemed elusive. We have been told that “there is no alternative,” that capitalism brings prosperity, and that all opponents of capitalism favor authoritarian governments.
None of that is true of course, but it has been very hard in some countries to build a sense that there are realistic alternatives and that we have a chance to move beyond capitalism.
In my recent book Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope (Lexington Press 2013), I argue that the ways many of us have been taught to think about capitalism have contributed to our sense that it is inevitable. If capitalism is an organized system that is the name for our whole social reality, and if socialism is the name for an alternative we must replace it with all at once or not at all, then our hopes for “moving beyond capitalism” seem rather grim.
But if capitalism is the name of a particular set of practices and processes that lead to specific sets of an unsustainable and inhumane social dynamics, and if we are able to reweave the social fabric such that the new comes to replace the old, then we have a fighting chance. We get past capitalism, not by naming capitalism as the danger to human well-being that it is, but building realistic alternatives and talking about how sustainable and viable they are, and by challenging free trade agreements, corporate takeovers of government, and by building movements to add momentum to those efforts.
Cynthia Kaufman is the Director, Institute of Community and Civic Engagement, De Anza College, Cupertino CA and author of Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope.