Can America go beyond capitalism?

To go beyond it through real practical utopias in capitalism

Erik O. Wright died on January 23rd after a prolonged illness. He reflected on it and then the approaching death on his blog just as analytically as he did before the social reality. His last entry, written on January 21st, begins with the words: «The last few blogs have been pretty heavy, understandably. I am in the last days of my life. This focuses the mind on the biggest questions. This combined with some health crises that had such a strong physical impact on me that I had to share that too. " Attached are excerpts from a letter to his grandchildren. He himself, he writes, can no longer accompany them on their way, cannot sit around the campfire with them again.

Erik O. Wright, born into a Jewish family in Berkeley, California, studied at Harvard and Oxford and received his PhD from the University of California in 1976. Since then he has been a full professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin. He was a member of the New Academic Left in the United States and made analytical Marxism influential and effective. In a special way he combined what Ernst Bloch called the cold flow of Marxism with the heat flow of emancipatory visions.

This becomes particularly clear when you consider that Erik O. Wright has two main projects. On the one hand, he has renewed Marxist class analysis with a whole series of works since the 1970s. After his first book "The Politics of Punishment: A Critical Analysis of Prisons in America" ​​from 1973, new books on the subject of capitalism as a class society followed, beginning with the book "Class, Crisis, and the State" from 1978 and ending with the Work “Understanding Class”, in which he combined the approaches of Marx, Weber and Durkheim in an extraordinarily original way.

On the other hand, in the 2000s, Erik O. Wright began the great project of real utopias that lead beyond capitalism or that can prepare and facilitate a great socialist transformation. In doing so, he consciously tied in with those questions that haunted him even as a student, as he wrote in the German foreword to his major comprehensive work “Envisioning Real Utopias” (2010) (in German “Real Utopias. Paths out of capitalism” 2017). In a student seminar from 1970 he formulated the following task:

«I think it would be undesirable to understand the draft of a conception of utopia as it concerns us here as an attempt to find conclusive institutional answers to various problems. We may be able to determine what kind of societal institutions negate our goals and what kind of institution seems at least to be moving toward those goals, but it would be impossible to develop detailed blueprints of actual institutions that would fully embody all of our ideals. Our real task is to try to design institutions that are themselves capable of dynamic change, that can respond to people's needs and develop accordingly, and not institutions that are so perfect that they don't need any further change. "

More than three decades later, Erik O. Wright set about making this socialist research program a reality. He has studied concrete projects with many others that have the potential, according to his conviction, to push back the capitalist in capitalism. Seven books have emerged and “Envisioning Real Utopias” is the one that systematically unfolds this approach, gives it a coherent theoretical basis, outlines it on individual projects and finally develops three strategies of transformation: the strategy of expanding alternative approaches in the capitalist niches dominated societies, the strategy of strengthening alternative democratic, social, ecological logics and finally the strategy of breaking with power and property structures and established orders as a whole. He gave a brief summary of the overall approach as President of the American Sociological Association in 2012. [1]

Erik O. Wright was a guest of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation several times and gave Rosa Luxemburg Lectures (2011, 2016). His book “Envisioning Real Utopias” was published in German with extensive support from the Foundation. We have lost a brilliant Marxist, one of the most original thinkers of democratic socialism and a friend, a comrade on our common path. But we can continue to learn from him.