The OWS movement may presage the end of capitalism as we know it

This brilliant and visionary commentary by Richard Wolff, a self-described Marxist professor of economics, provides his customary lucid and insightful thoughts on our current situation and some provocative previews of possible breakthroughs to come.  (In fairness, I should add the above title is mine, not his).

Occupy Wall Street has already weathered the usual early storms. The kept media ignored the protest, but that failed to end it. The partisans of inequality mocked it, but that failed to end it. The police servants of the status quo over-reacted and that failed to end it – indeed, it fueled the fire. And millions looking on said, “Wow!” And now, ever more people are organizing local, parallel demonstrations – from Boston to San Francisco and many places between.

Let me urge the occupiers to ignore the usual carping that besets powerful social movements in their earliest phases. Yes, you could be better organized, your demands more focused, your priorities clearer. All true, but in this moment, mostly irrelevant. Here is the key: if we want a mass and deep-rooted social movement of the left to re-emerge and transform the United States, we must welcome the many different streams, needs, desires, goals, energies and enthusiasms that inspire and sustain social movements. Now is the time to invite, welcome and gather them, in all their profusion and confusion.  So permit me, in the spirit of honoring and contributing something to this historic movement, to propose yet another dimension, another item to add to your agenda for social change.

To achieve the goals of this renewed movement, we must finally change the organization of production that sustains and reproduces inequality and injustice. We need to replace the failed structure of our corporate enterprises that now deliver profits to so few, pollute the environment we all depend on, and corrupt our political system.

We need to end stock markets and boards of directors. The capacity to produce the goods and services we need should belong to everyone – just like the air, water, healthcare, education and security on which we likewise depend. We need to bring democracy to our enterprises. The workers within and the communities around enterprises can and should collectively shape how work is organized, what gets produced, and how we make use of the fruits of our collective efforts. If we believe democracy is the best way to govern our residential communities, then it likewise deserves to govern our workplaces. Democracy at work is a goal that can help build this movement.

Yet, for decades now, we have failed to similarly question, challenge, criticize and debate our economic system: capitalism. Because a taboo protected capitalism, cheerleading and celebrating it became obligatory. Criticism and questions got banished as heresy, disloyalty or worse. Behind the protective taboo, capitalism degenerated into the ineffective, unequal, crisis-ridden social disaster we all now bear.

Capitalism is the problem – and the joblessness, homelessness, insecurity, and austerity it now imposes everywhere are the costs we bear. We have the people, the skills and the tools to produce the goods and services needed for a just society to prosper. We just need to reorganize our producing units differently, to go beyond a capitalist economic system that no longer serves our needs.

Humanity learned to do without kings and emperors and slave masters. We found our way to a democratic alternative, however partial and unfinished the democratic project remains. We can now take the next step to realize that democratic project. We can bring democracy to our enterprises – by transforming them into cooperatives owned, operated and governed by democratic assemblies composed of all who work in them and all the residents of the communities who are interdependent with them.

Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by The Guardian/UK

by Richard Wolff

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