No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Confronting Capitalism

Chibber, V. (2022), Confronting Capitalism – How the World Works and How to Change it, London/New York: Verso.



Confronting Capitalism starts with the current financial insecurity of many Americans, which is a result of something fundamentally wrong with the current economic system. This insecurity is not shared by the wealthiest Americans who have seen their wealth and income grow significantly in recent decades. Chibber writes that the reason for a change in attitude towards the economic system is because people are beginning to understand that the problems they face are not caused by individual politicians or parties, but by the system itself.

Five points are important to understand about capitalism:

  1. capitalism is not just a collection of individuals, but individuals grouped in social classes;
  2. people don't come to the market as individuals competing on a level playing field, but are grouped into different classes and face very different economic conditions;
  3. the basic fact that differentiates people into these classes is whether or not they own their means of production;
  4. capitalists and workers have very different interests, with capitalists driven to maximize profits and workers wanting to set wages and work pace as high as they can;
  5. because the employer is the stronger party, workers are often forced to accept terms that undermine their well-being. The only way for workers to improve their situation is to act collectively and form collective organizations to defend their interests.

The labor movement has sought ways to reduce this power, one of which is through the democratic state. Chibber debunks the theory of pluralism, which suggests that democracy neutralizes the power differences created by capitalism. Capitalism undermines democracy by overwhelming it, ensuring that the state is fundamentally biased toward capitalist interests. This happens through three channels:

  1. the wealthy are more likely to get into office;
  2. the wealthy exercise greater influence on the people in office;
  3. the state's dependence on capitalism ensures that politicians will favor capitalists even if the first two mechanisms fail.

The state's bias towards capitalist interests is not solely due to capitalists having more personal access and influence in the state, but also to the state's structural dependence on private investment for its reproduction in a capitalist economy. Real power in capitalism does not reside in the state but in the economy.

The Left believes that capitalism is fundamentally unjust as it places the majority of people in permanent material insecurity and deprives them of the basic ingredients for a decent life. The working class is the most important group for political strategy because of its numerical preponderance, direct interest in pursuing goods essential for social justice, and capacity for social change. While workers have an interest in organizing themselves and are well-positioned to do so, capitalism has not been overthrown and workers' capacity and desire to do so has dissipated. Obstacles preventing collective organization must also be taken into account, including individual resistance and the hurdles that workers have to overcome when trying to organize themselves. Chibber writes that creating a solidaristic culture, where workers feel a mutual obligation towards one another, is key to convincing them to take on the sacrifices that come with job actions and to overcome the obstacles to collective resistance.