erik olin wright

erik olin wright


intro’d to Erik via rt by Dale:

1/ reading this piece on Anticapitalism – Serious question: has there ever been a political system that’s…

Original Tweet:

dec 2015

How to Be an Anticapitalist Today

Anticapitalism isn’t simply a moral stance against injustice — it’s about building an alternative.

..look what happened when Russia and China tried an alternative to capitalism. Aside from the political oppression and brutality of those regimes, they were economic failures. So, if you care about improving the lives of people, how can you be anticapitalist? That is one story, the standard story.

Here is another story: the hallmark of capitalism is poverty in the midst of plenty.


Historically, anticapitalism has been animated by four different logics of resistance: smashing capitalism, taming capitalism, escaping capitalism, and eroding capitalism.

example on 4 – eroding – the lake…  isn’t capitalism the fish that doesn’t belong.. not natural..?

We need a way of linking the bottom-up, society-centered strategic vision of anarchism with the top-down, state-centered strategic logic of social democracy. We need to tame capitalism in ways that make it more erodible, and erode capitalism in ways that make it more tamable. One concept that will help us to link these two currents of anticapitalist thinking is real utopias.

ie’s of real utopias: worker coops; libraries; p2p collabs like wikipedia; un basic income

latest book: Alternatives to Capitalism: Proposals for a Democratic Economy

by Erik and Robin Hahnel – highly recommended by Noam, Gar, Juliet, ..

Download the book for kindle, free

notes/highlights (can’t get twitter/kindle notes to work – dang):

the myth of “no alternative” remains a powerful one – Stuart White

p1 – 1\ case for participatory econ – by Robin

loc 80

1\econ democracy: having decision making power in proportion to the degree one is affected by a a decision.

2\econ justice: econ reward commensurate w/sacrifice/effort

hmmm. isn’t that what’s stumped us in the past…? ie: who decides.. effort/reward…  never nothing going on ness…huge to spaces of permission – with nothing to prove. huge to sustainability. huge  to mindset of trust.

3\human solidarity: concern for wellbeing of others

4\econ efficiency: using scarce productive resources where they are most socially beneficial and not wasting people’s hard work


particip econ is simply a coherent description of how a fully developed system of equitable cooperation could function. it is not a transition strategy or political program

major institutions proposed to achieve 4 above: 1\ self govern.. each has one vote 2\ jobs w/balanced empowerment 3\ compensation judged by workmates on your effort 4\ participatory planning

so 1\ vote..? 2\ jobs..? 3\ judgement..?


like idea of neighbourhood consumption councils.. but not of .. ‘effort rating’

neighbor\hood (govt) ness

127 – Erik’s principal objection to the /model/ of a partici econ is the proposal to replace markets w/a procedure we call /partici planning’

138 – Erik presents reasons for believing that eliminating markets entirely is unnecessary and undesirable.

on planning – as annual procedure.. about known resources/people available next year… via only counsils.. who bring proposal

feared a bit by: annual and known and only and proposal..

we have tech to ground chaos of not that now..

and …graeber min\max law ness

163 – on neighborhood consumer council: a\ voting for delegates b\ making/approving consumption requests c\ deciding on public good requests… then goes on to show this neighborhood like a person… gets more the more effort put out

187 – this procedure ‘whittles’ overly ambitious proposals … down to a ‘feasible’ plan.. so that things will be available..


forced to ask for less.. or increase effort..

efficiency is promoted as consumers and workers attempt to shift their proposals in response to updated info about opportunity and social costs in order to avoid reduction in consumption or increase in work effort..

? – sounding so similar to what we have now.. no?

equity is promoted when further shifting is insufficient to win approval from fellow consumers/workers which can eventually only be achieved through consumption reduction or great work effort.

as iterations proceed, consumption and production proposals move closer to mutual feasibility, and estimates more closely approx true opportunity and social costs as the procedure generates equity and efficiency simultaneously..


makes me think of – i think it was nancy and penelope (a bit more harsh) – talking/writing of democratic schools.. on spending so much time (last para i read was about saving time) on making decisions/rules/et-al..

p1 – 2\ a critique – by Erik

loc 481 – Erik talking about complications in the complications.. and irony in the similarity w/market ness… and then offering more complications….. this will raise the oscar wilde problem of socialism taking up too many evenings, but it is worth it.

is it..?

all i keep thinking.. is how complicated this all is.. and why.. can’t we just trust people .. to work it out..

683 – after talking about different levels of labor.. differences in how people perceive activities.. i relation to the idea of compensating for effort… erik writes: i’m not sure what is the best way of dealing with these kinds of measurement problems.

don’t measure. trust.

being truly human means refusing to measure – david graeber ‘s debt

p1 – 3\ in defense – by Robin

loc 873 – on all discussion of pre planning what needs to be produced… ie: size 6 1/2 purple shoe…

am wondering if that’s really what alive people would be caring about…

p2 – 4\ socialism & real utopia – by Erik

loc 1216

3 general considerations about nature of social systems and the problem of transforming them:

1\ what precisely does the world system mean when we talk about social systems..

systemic ness and one ness

a\ an organism.. all parts tightly integrated into functioning whole  .. b\ an ecosystem.. like a pond.. alien species can enter it.. and thrive or not..

one way to transform an ecosystem is to introduce an alien species that initially finds a niche and then gradually increases, potentially even displacing certain other species.the idea of real utopias as a way of transforming a society is more in line with the ecosystem view of society than the organismic view..

whoa… real utopia is seeing alternative as alien species..even if that’s so… so much harder to manage/sustain.. even imagine.

if we go with first.. organism (and i’d say organism as ecosystem) .. we don’t have to plan.. or displace.. we just need to restore/uncover.. the real us/utopia ness. we certainly would have to trust. 100%. in people.

2\ change via

a\ ameliorative reforms (fix w/in current system but not beyond)  b\ real utopian transformations (emancipatory alt)

3\ how much concrete detail to specify

a\ detailed account to compel  b\ enunciate basic values.. that would facilitate a realization for those values..

ie: a nother way based on 2 deep enough needs.. – so that it regenerates … perpetuates itself/us..

1259 – stripped down concept of power: the capacity to do things in the world, to produce effects….. 3 kinds of power: econ (resources), state (rules), social (action)…. 3 types of econ structures: capitalism (privately owned), statism (owned by state), socialism (socially owned)

1283 – the need to move away from binary of capitalism vs socialism.. and work on hybrid where socialism is dominant…… says binary.. rather than hybrid is likened to the organism view


and that the alternate view to that is hybrid.. where there is even no dominant..

the need to clarify the alt ways we can conceptualise the deepening of the socialist component of hybrids…. the structural configurations of social empowerment.. (gives 7, w/8th being combo of all)… 6th one – solidarity econ.. where based on human need.. and ie’s: daycare and wikipedia… then says that system level proposal for partici econ.. via Robin.. as a universalisation of the solidarity econ to an entire econ..

?… we can go beyond that.. no? simpler.. et al.. to facilitate the chaos/complexity… for (blank)’s sake..

1498 – the power of capital seems so massive that if ever social power seemed to threaten the dominance of capitalism, it would be relentlessly attacked and undermined.

then on marx… believing contradictions of capitalism end up doing itself in.. making self weaker.. et al. .. and that that doesn’t solve problem of how to build the emancipatory alt to capitalism… but makes problem of overcoming obstacles of existing power relations much less daunting in the long run

1510 – relatively few people today…. fell confident that capitalism will destroy itself….. so looking for ways for… long term eroding of capitalist power.. and building alt’s.

3 strategies: ruptural (war – winner loser – socialism/communism – end w/more authoritarianism), interstitial (in niches – 2 loop theory – connected adjacency – anarchism – end w/pockets of change), symbiotic (non-reformist reforms – make better w/in system – social democracy – end w/new grass w/weeds)

1546 – appropriate orientation towards strategies of social transformation.. is to do things now which put us in the best position to do more later by working to create those institutions and structures which increase, rather than decrease, the prospects of taking advantage of whatever historical opportunities emerge. 

indeed.. open enough to free us and keep on freeing us..

then gives worker coops as ie..

and then says… worker owned coops help solve problems of unemployment, deteriorating tax bases, unstable communities, ..

what if those aren’t our deepest problems..

1570 – additional ie’s: wikipedia & p2p open source; urban agri w/community land trusts; community owned fab labs; open access intellectual property; free goods/services: libraries/transport; unconditional basic income; policy juries/randomocracy’ eco-villages/transition towns..

while elites may become resigned to a diminution of power.. unlikely to gracefully embrace prospects… often not optimal for elites and are thus resisted.. this means that a key element of ruptural strategies – confrontations between opposing organised social forces in which there are winners and losers – will be a part of any plausible trajectory of sustainable social empowerment.

i don’t know..  i think we can now move beyond that. by modeling. sync matters to the dance dancing…. hard to see that it’s all of us.. until its all of us..

p2 – 5\ breaking w/c – Robin

loc 1652

1686 – the second approach runs a greater risk of permitting people to dream about things that are actually not possible.

oh my. this is Robin adding a consideration he says Erik failed to mention when choosing 2nd approach of less specificity to alternative. then his examples are..

limiting discussion to basic values can delude people into thinking that markets are compatible w/econ justice and democracy , or that central planning is compatible w/worker self-management.

oh my. (thinking of Robin in video saying.. people are no longer telling him his ideas are impossible.. just hard to transition to given mess we are in… and wondering who changed/compromised.. and thinking of vinay’s roadblock ness.)

1731 – there is a reason that hybridisation breeds instability, and it is the same reason that incrementalism does not always work.

1742 – when we choose to use particular institutions to organise and govern our econ activities we are also choosing to some extent what kind of people we want to become. and this is why hybrids are generally less stable…. we humans find it difficult to serve two different masters.

1798 – there is no getting around the dilemma: in a market econ we must either allow the market system to reward people unfairly, or, if we try to correct for inequities we must tolerate even greater inefficiencies.

1858 – markets ‘work’ by stimulating greed and fear while undermining trust and solidarity needed to build the economics of equitable cooperation. in short, markets are cancer to the socialist project.

1870 – on people pushing for a dash of markets… Robin saying it’s not like a dash of salt.. but rather a dash of cancer.. that spreads and destroys entire system..

only positive to markets… people find them convenient..

this is the attitude of someone who argues that markets are not intrinsically bad, it is only the negative consequence of markets, not markets themselves that are problematic. nobody would say that about cancer. … nobody would agree to introduce a little cancer if it were convenient because chemo treatments are available.

1904 – on the need for high levels of commitment.. which activists have.. but unreasonable to expect from everyone

why sync matters.. costello law et al

1951 – on how to react when confrontation arises… Erik seeing it as not systemic.. but rather creating more spaces.. Robin sees it as chance to rive our stake through the vampire’s heart..

or perhaps neither.. this is why i’m so deep in this.. i believe we now have a means .. for a quiet/urgent/humane/sustainable revolution..

1963 – in today’s world an alt econ vision needs to accomplish 3 goals: 1\ open eyes of possibility – be inspiring 2\ show it’s possible by demo’ing concretely how questions would be answered.. problems addressed.. 3\ challenge misconceptions consistent/inconsistent w/goals..

on 2 – graeber model law again – i don’t think we can show possibility in writing/talking.. which bleeds into 1 – a sustainable inspiration.. like kid learning to walk.. and is based on #3 – model driven by core (ie: 2 needs)

p2 – 6\ final thoughts – Erik

loc 2090

2112 – Erik questions if Robin’s metaphor of cancer for markets is apt.. bringing in Robin’s ideas of working w/pollution.. and making comparisons.. to his cancer theory..

2150 – then he also brings in competition in sports…

benefits of markets: convenience, risk taking initiatives

2171 – convenience is a way of talking about the time and effort for doing one thing rather than another.

huge.. – something else to do ness.. luxury ness…

2216 – another way of looking at the issue is that even if magically one could involve everyone in every decision that had any effect on them we would not want to do this. individual self-directed autonomy is also a value, and a full implementation of democratic proportionality principle would involve too sever a restriction on autonomy. this is a tricky issue, of course, and it opens a space fora a lot of contestation about how much autonomous self-direction is desirable. billboards impinge on other people. some messages may be offensive…..

so – again the need for something else to do.. so that we get better and better.. or uncover and uncover… what matters.. what’s irrelevant.. ie: would we even have billboards.. would there be reason for offenses..? thinking of that guys book – un offensible. we could go there. we can’t not.

as long as we are trying to realise multiple values and ideals, then worrying about these kinds of trade-offs is inherent in the design of any social institution. in the case of economic institutions, democracy, solidarity and equality are critical values, but so are convenience and autonomous individual initiative.

well – perhaps we’ve learned that from the history lessons of not people. (that we’d run into problems big enough for this pre design ness to matter.) perhaps we just try (whimsy et al).. to trust people to dance the dance. since we now have tech to facilitate that choas… let’s just try.

2241 – this is a real feedback process, which is embedded in the post-planning uncoordinated interactions of buyers and sellers and the adjustments that emerge out of those interactions.

so – in describing real utopian systemic change.. we’re assuming buying and selling of products.. that we could most likely not even care about.. if we were truly alive. making me think of comment of jordan‘s – that tinkering with policy is a distraction. which we all at some point seem to make.. as we go ahead and tinker..

we have got to courageously/radically imagine a nother way. in desperate need for a global do-over.

2278 – there is a tendency for people who are really good at constructing formal mathematical models of social processes to treat real world complexity as disturbances and noise, rather than as problems that could potentially severely undermine the expected outcomes.

and/or.. as part of the dance.. we don’t yet see. no? can (esp social) processes really be mathematically depicted..?

2314 – i do not have an answer to the problem of what should be done in the face of the impossibility of further incremental advance, but i remain sceptical that a systemic rupture in which capitalism is effectively abolished could result in an emancipatory alternative.

2326 – we know from historical experience that it is possible to destroy the private enterprise market system w/o creating a democratic egalitarian alternative. what is unclear is whether under other conditions not yet historically encountered a ruptural, abolitionist attack on capitalism could have genuinely emancipatory results.

a quiet revolution.. exponentially unleashed.

(on Erik’s vision of extended time of interstitial and symbiotic strategies transforming) … a rupture would be fairly modest and the chaotic processes unleashed by rupture perhaps manageable.

we can manage chaos now..

2350 – i suspect that the time horizon before the issue of attempting a systemic rupture with capitalism in developed capitalist countries is very far in the future, and that it is even further in the future before the issue of whether or not markets should be abolished will be ion the political agenda of any democratic society.

oh my.

oh my.

why not yet.


googling found – his book on envisioning real utopias..

envisioning real utopias pdf
pdf of Envisioning Real Utopias    


and then this talk from jan 2015:

Transcending capitalism through real utopias

oh my




big agenda: emancipatory social science.. has 4 big tasks.. if we could accomplish all 4 would have a fantastic approach to changing world

1\ elaborating normative foundations

2\ diagnosis/critique of world as it is

3\ elaborating an account of alternatives that would better realize #1

4\ theory of transformation.. how to get from here to there..

i think 4th is hardest of all..

perhaps – a nother way

i want to focus mostly on 4.. my current framing 4 interconnected on #1

1\ equality 2\ democracy 3\ community 4\ sustainability

i see sustainability as sustainability of the 3 others…

a little on #2 – diagnosis and critique – my work is very much embedded in marxist tradition.. anti capitalist theory that insists on thinking about alternatives… both imagining and theorizing the problem of creating..

my critique of capitalism.. we live in a world now in which capitalism creates enormous harms… though most people believe it’s the only way to organize a complex environment

if you get a system.. what’s in it for me.. detrimental to environment

1\ capitalism generates these harms

2\ capitalism generates configurations of power that obstruct solutions

capitalism – power allocated to people who benefit from the harms..

so how do you challenge the system..? 4 ways

1/ smashing [ruptural] 2/ taming (sounds like 2-loop theory) 3/ escaping (hippie route – off in the woods – just one’s immediate environment) 4/ eroding (the real utopian route) [building alt’s in spaces where this is possible.. not merely an escape.. but erode the dominance of capitalism]

can we imagine building alt’s in the spaces where this is possible.. in such a way that it’s corrosive of the dominance..

i think it’s completely implausible.. it’s just less implausible..

my perspective is that we have to combine taming and eroding..

29 min – build alt economic practices/spaces.. so that people become less and less vulnerable to exit strategies of capital.. so that they can so.. good bye.. because have built sufficiently robust communities..

transition town ness.. michel bauwens

a key thing… not to think of it as an anarchist moment.. i think there are crucial ways this has to interface w/ state… ie: unconditional basic income..

an/or radical econ as transition to money less ness


find/follow Erik:

wikipedia small

Erik Olin Wright (born 1947 in Berkeley, California) is an American analytical Marxist sociologist, specializing insocial stratification, and in egalitarian alternative futures to capitalism. He was the 2012 President of the American Sociological Association.


Real Utopias

Wright has more recently been associated with a renewed understanding of a socialist alternative, deeply rooted on social associativism. The transition to this alternative, according to Wright, depends on designing and building “real utopias,” the name of a research and book of his. “Real utopias,” combine alternatives to prevailing institutions that carry moral principles in accordance to a just and humane world and that are concerned with problems of viability.


[via michel fb share]

Erik is now gravely ill and is sharing his travails at

Erik is in treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.



John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) tweeted at 8:27 PM on Thu, Jan 24, 2019:
Erik Olin Wright, a brilliant scholar and public intellectual, inspired the movement for a universal basic income.
Erik has died, too soon, at age 71. But, rest assured, his legacy WILL shape the future.
#EOWtaughtme #BasicIncome
@UWSoc @Ed_Miliband


michel fb share (i was hoping he would share something):

remembering erik

he was a really great scholar, and his definition of social-ism was simply a society where the social needs are primary, as opposed to capital-ism, where the needs of capital are primary.

He invited me in the spring of 2016, because he thought our P2P approach was eminently compatible with his own vision of Real Utopias. It is then that we wrote the first manuscript of what would become our new book (with 2 co-authors, and yes, the wheels of academic publishing turn very slowly)

from the review/obituary in Dissent magazine:

(see how he beautifully solves the dillemma between equal opportunity and equal outcome)

“Wright also believed that socialism must encompass social justice. Unlike a capitalist society where everyone ostensibly has an “equal opportunity” to flourish, social justice requires “equal access” to the resources that allow people to flourish. Social justice also means freedom from social stigma. Children should not get to attend better schools because of how much money their parents have, and racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression need to be overcome so they do not constrain life outcomes.

equity – everyone getting a go everyday

Wright believed that socialism was compatible with markets, but not the kinds of markets that undermine political and social justice. To work in sync with socialism, markets must be smaller in scale and the power of their participants must be limited. In other words, they should look less like free markets and more like garage sales. “


Danny Spitzberg (@daspitzberg) tweeted at 11:30 AM – 11 Mar 2019 :
Idea: a Lonely Planet guide for real but misunderstood utopias (, in memory of the late Erik Olin Wright #EOWtaughtMe. What do you think, @RichDecibels @mbauwens @JulietSchor? (

Michel Bauwens (@mbauwens) tweeted at 2:59 AM – 12 Mar 2019 :
@daspitzberg @RichDecibels @JulietSchor note that we have collected ‘real utopias’ for ten years in the, and have all the necessary raw material to work on such a book … I dream of a Whole Earth catalog for the p2p/commons era; and of a dictionary … We need allies for publishing! (

Richard D. Bartlett ⌛️ (@RichDecibels) tweeted at 11:40 AM – 11 Mar 2019 :
@daspitzberg @mbauwens @JulietSchor I tell ppl my job is mostly digging wormholes between marginal utopias (





let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

for (blank)’s sake

a nother way