I’ve been thinking about alternatives to capitalism for a long time now. I’ve taught several courses on the topic and plan eventually to write up what I think I’ve learned, so naturally I was intrigued by the new book, The People’s Republic of Wal-Mart: How the World’s Biggest Corporations Are Laying the Foundation for Socialism (PRW) by Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski. I picked up a copy and started reading it, intending to write a review for this blog.
Well, I stopped about a quarter of the way through. It’s not worth my time or yours, and I briefly want to tell you why.
For over a hundred years, socialists have looked to the organization of capitalist businesses for a vision of what a post-capitalist society might look like. The conception of socialism as a single, all-encompassing public enterprise was widely recognized by advocates and opponents alike. Marxists in particular looked to each new management strategy as a building block for the socialist future, since Marx’s idea was that the new society will be the product of the old, when the forces of production are liberated from the old, confining relations of production. Remember Lenin’s encomium to the “scientific management” of F. W. Taylor?
And so there has been much left wing debate over the years about what is progressive and valuable about management, and what needs to be discarded. You would think someone writing a book on this topic today would review that literature to see what might be learned from it. Not this one.