March 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'S.O.S. Alternatives to Capitalism'. By Richard Swift. (New Internationalist Publications. 2016)
In this revised, second edition one-time editor of the New Internationalist Richard Swift surveys various attempts to counter capitalism over the years. He begins with USSR-style state capitalism (which he misleadingly calls state socialism) and Social Democrat parliamentary reformism. Of the former he makes the point that:
‘In retrospect it could easily be claimed that orthodox state communism was not really an alternative to capitalism at all but merely a transitional form of it that allowed certain large ‘backward’ societies, hitherto blocked in their development path, to move towards their own peculiar model of autocratic capitalism.’
As to the Social Democrats and Labourites, they evolved as mere alternative managers of traditional-style capitalism.
He goes on to dismiss Marxists for still talking about the class struggle, anarchists for living in the past, and Italian autonomists for being too vague (he could have added for being incomprehensible). What he likes are movements in the South (Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil) and indigenous communities resisting the impact of capitalism.
Despite the title, most of the book is taken up with describing opposition rather than alternatives to capitalism, and not so much to capitalism as such but to ‘untrammelled’, ‘rapacious’ and ‘unregulated’ capitalism. It is not until page 156 out this 184-page book that he makes the point that ‘people need to know what you are for rather than just what you are against.’
A valid point but, as in so many books like this, what is proposed is disappointing. In Swift’s case, ‘degrowth’ (reducing production and consumption), ‘bringing finance under control’, and a universal guaranteed minimum money income. There is no understanding that, to be able to control ‘growth’, whether to stop, increase, or re-orient it towards meeting needs – and to end what he had earlier called experiencing ‘the economy as a kind of external force disconnected from human will’ – ownership of the means of production will have to pass to society as a whole, with the consequent disappearance of the market and market forces.
All Swift comes up with about ownership of means of production is vague talk about co-operatives operating within a system where there is still finance and money incomes – which wouldn't really be an alternative to capitalism.