These are select books that are part of understanding capitalism and resisting it:
BOOKS ON CAPITALIST CRISIS
Introduction to Political Economy: Charles Sackrey, Geoffrey Schneider and Janet Knoedler
If you’ve given up on ever trying to understand economics, your ship has come in. Social disciplines such as sociology and psychology usually present their topics with between 4 and 5 theoretical views. But when it comes to economics courses, the field is dominated by one school – “neoclassical economics” or “market fundamentalism”. Introduction to Political Economy pries open the black box of neo-classical textbooks by introducing 4 other theories, which come from the now heretical school of political economy where Marx, Veblen, Keynes and Galbraith presented it in a non-mathematical way which is easy to understand.
Understanding Capitalism: Competition, Command and Change: Samuel Bowles, Richard Edwards, Frank Roosevelt
This textbook explains capitalism better than any textbook we have ever seen. It covers all the topics traditional economic textbooks cover, but from a Marxian viewpoint. It has an excellent explanation of surplus value and surplus labor that is not ordinarily found in other texts. It is very easy to understand for the non-specialist. THIS is the textbook we wish we could have had, instead of the dry, incomprehensible, cheerleading that goes on in most economics texts.
Economics: Marxian vs Neoclassical: Richard Wolff and Stephen Resnick
This is a wonderful book for those who have tried and failed to bridge the gap between the vocabulary of Marxian economics with what they have been taught about economics in high school, college or at work. Wolff does a great job of developing a vocabulary for translating Marxian terminology into neo-classical terms and neo-classical vocabulary into Marxian terms. Though a Marxist himself, Wolff goes beyond what most Marxists would do in being fair to the neo-classical school. Even business majors might take their hats off!
Against Capitalism: David Schweickart
Long before the current economic meltdown, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, David Schweickart had the nerve to say that capitalism cannot go on forever. In this closely argued book, Schweickart decides to take on the person who he thinks is the most rigorous capitalist economist, Ludwig Von Hayek. Schweickart argues point for point what the problems of capitalism are by bringing to bear the tools of a trained philosopher. This is a non-mathematical, dense but juicy book. Free of moralizing.
The Pathology of the U.S. Economy Revisited: Michael Perelman
Michael Perelman has a wonderful gift of being both a scholar of Marxism and popularizer of his ideas. In this book he shows how capitalism has not delivered on the promise of raising the standard of living. Instead, profits are made by cannibalizing the working class and the social infrastructure and by making profits from war or the investment in finance capital, which produces no real social wealth.
Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism: David Harvey
David Harvey is one of the best in explaining Marxian political economy in a way that an educated layperson can understand. In this book he lays out all the contradictions of capitalism in a systematic way, and then draws out what a socialist economy would have to do to overcome the contradictions. While the book does not predict when the ultimate crisis might be, seeing all the contradictions in one place gives us hope that the system could not, in the long run survive these irrationalities.
The Long Depression: Michael Roberts
What actually happened in the crash of 2008 from a Marxist perspective? Some Marxists have abandoned his theory that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is the key to understanding how capitalism will collapse. Michael Roberts does a beautiful job of not only comparing Marxist theories to each other, but also laying out the theoretical differences between mainstream economic theories about the crash. Roberts expands our temporal and spatial reach first by comparing the three major depressions in U. S. history. Then he also explains how many other countries have been affected by the crash. Roberts’ style is straightforward with plenty of helpful graphs.
World in Crisis: A Global Analysis of Marx’s Law of Profitability: Edited by Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts
This is a wonderful collection of articles from around the world which seek to show how Marx’s argument of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is still in operation. Besides the United States the countries include, Japan, the United Kingdom, Greece, Brazil, and China. There are also five chapters devoted to the expansion of the spreading of fictious capital.
The Bubble and Beyond: Michael Hudson
There is no one better than Michael Hudson at distinguishing profits made on production (industrial capital) from profits made on fictitious wealth (finance capital). Hudson brings a vast cross-cultural and historical knowledge base to the field of economics. His arguments can be technical in part but some can be skipped and you can still retain the gist of the argument. He explains in detail the degeneracy of finance capital like no other. Don’t show your banker this book.
J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception: Michael Hudson
If you wanted to make an analysis of economic propaganda, this book should be on your reference desk. We don’t care for the dictionary-like organization of the book, but the topics covered more than make up for it. The last third of the book has some interesting essays, one of which is The 22 Most Pervasive Myths of Our Time.
Capitalism: Competition, Conflict and Crisis: Anwar Shaikh
This book is the culmination of a lifetime of study by a Marxian economist. It covers both macro and micro economics, production, exchange and competition – both from within and between countries. There is a long chapter in which different theories are compared. The book is comprehensible to the non-specialist and like most Marxian texts there is little in the way of mathematics, for those who are intimidated by math.
The Shock Doctrine: Naomi Klein
A shock doctrine was originally a psychiatric term for shocking patients in order to make them more pliable. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein argues that the same principle applies to how militaristic and finance capitalist have “shocked” nations around the world into adopting destructive economic practices. These practices undermine those nations’ capacity for building and expanding social programs and scientific research, as well as developing an infrastructure whose rate of profits are too slow for those U.S. crazed predators. Written by a journalist who really knows her stuff.
The Powers That Be: G. William Domhoff
William Domhoff is a Research Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz who has devoted his life to studying how the ruling class in the United States rules. Unlike many Marxists who speculate about it without doing research, Domhoff has done his homework. It is especially important that he doesn’t name names. As a sociologist he could care less about the good or bad personality characteristics of capitalists. Instead, he provides interlinking structures of how capitalists rule – from foundations to think tanks to interlocking directorates, to policy planning to opinion leaders. This is not a “Who’s Who” of rulers, but a “How To” rule a capitalist society.
BOOKS ON LONG TERM SOCIAL CHANGE
Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present: Christopher Chase-Dunn and Bruce Lerro
Ever wonder about the origins of inequality? How far back into history do social revolutions go? In Social Change a macro sociologist and a historical psychologist join forces to reveal the conflicts, crises and trajectory of social evolution. A very unusual dimension of this book is to historicize psychology by showing how the impact of large-scale social change affected the growth of individualism, cognitive development and the organization of sense ratios.
Forging Promethean Psychology: Emotional, Sensual, and Imaginational Foundations of Western Psychology: Bruce Lerro
Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism is part of a movement to create 21st century socialism. However, 20th century socialism has been wracked by conflicts that are much larger than capitalism and much older than the 20th century. My latest book, Forging Promethean Psychology, places socialist movements in a grander, deeper Western tradition. This tradition includes how we formed our Western psychology and how this psychology has filled Westerners with arrogance, decadence, adventure, curiosity and hope. All these features have been the foundation for socialism on the one hand and constraints upon its realization.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Jared Diamond
In Guns, Germs and Steel Jared Diamond made history come alive by explaining how the global inequality of today was rooted in the unequal plant and animal distribution of resources 10,000 years ago. In this book he spans the globe for instances of how past tribal and agricultural civilizations failed to meet challenges and the conditions under which they succeeded. Collapse treats the crises of contemporary social life in a historical perspective.
The Collapse of Antiquity Michael Hudson
Hudson reviews the collapse of both the Greek and especially the Roman Empire with an emphasis on their failure to forgive the debts accumulated by the lower classes.
The Long Descent: John Michael Greer
When we think of a society collapsing, we usually think of a deck of cards that caves in rapidly. Like Jared Diamond’s text Collapse, this book points to instances of collapses of past civilizations. However, Greer takes issue with the house of cards image of collapse and points out how past civilizations collapsed slowly from 100 to 500 years. This framework allows us to face the collapse not as “the end of the world” scenario, but as something we can adjust to by making adjustments along the way. In addition, his theory of “catabolic collapse” gives us a framework for understanding collapse as it is happening.
Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World: Michael C. Ruppert
Michael Ruppert is a former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics investigator turned investigative journalist. He is the author of Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. In this book he details the intricate connections between money and energy, including the ways in which oil shortages and price spikes triggered the economic crash that began in September of 2008. Given the 96 percent correlation between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions and the unlikelihood of economic growth without a spike in energy use, Ruppert argues that we are not, in fact, on the verge of economic recovery, but on the verge of complete collapse. At the end of the book he lays out a very clear, and hopeful, 25 point plan of action. We don’t agree with many of his points, but the book is provocative and well-analyzed.
BOOKS ON ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIES
Parecon: Life After Capitalism: Michael Albert
If you could control your workplace in a democratic manner what criteria would be the basis of remuneration? How hard you worked? How long you worked? How many sacrifices you made? Has state socialism proven that economic planning cannot work? Are markets the only alternative? Should the right to inheritance be abolished? Parecon: Life After Capitalism treats all these questions in a systematic and complete way. In addition, this book compares and contrasts “participatory economics” to other 21st century socialist proposals.
After Capitalism: David Schweickart
In this much shorter work, Schweickart makes his case for market socialism based on what he calls worker “economic democracy”. Unlike most Marxists, Schweickart argues that socialism needs to maintain a market in the distribution of goods, while at the same time retaining a limited place for competition. Unlike many visionaries who easily promote socialist end-states, Schweickart takes on the much harder process of a transition program for getting there.
Ours to Master and to Own: Workers Control From the Commune to the Present: Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini
This is a grand overview of the historical experience of worker implementation of direct democracy, both inside and outside of revolutionary situations. After three chapters of orientation and a layout of the theoretical controversies, the book describes workers’ councils in Germany, Russia, Italy and Spain – all in revolutionary situations. In the rest of the book, we see how workers’ councils fared under state socialism, anti-colonial struggles and under capitalism.
For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements and Communalism in American: John Curl
Even those who have taken courses in U.S. history might be surprised to find that many Americans have found cooperation in work more compelling than they find competition. This book spans the history of cooperatives all from Native American practices to well into the 21st century.
Democracy at Work: Richard Wolff
Have you ever thought you and your fellow workers could run your workplace without your boss? Richard Wolff thinks so, and he is not alone. After discussing the 40-year crisis of capitalism and the limitations of state socialism, Wolff discusses the current movement of worker cooperatives in the United States. This book is easy to understand, it is clear and Professor Wolff makes no leaps to an overly optimistic view of human nature. It not only gives a description of a future society, but it lays out a process of how to get there.
Envisioning Real Utopias: Erik Olin Wright
Erik Olin Wright is one of the best empirical Marxists around. He has worked diligently for years at upgrading a Marxist theory of social class, which takes into account changes in white-collar work as well as in the service industry. In this book Wright does what all scientists should do: use empirical data to project a vision of the future based on that data. Wright describes the alternatives to capitalism and from these theories he crafts his own vision for how the state and the economy will change. He also describes what the change would be like in sudden crises as well as in more gradual conditions.
Ecology or Catastrophe: Janet Biehl
This wonderful biography of Murray Bookchin has much for working class people to be proud of. Biehl tells the story of how in the 1930s Bookchin’s unstable home life and his erratic attendance in school did not stop him from being a self-educated revolutionary who was drawing crowds on the street corners of the Bronx when he was 13. No academic intellectual, he worked for five years in a foundry, organizing workers. This book tells the tale of his political evolution from Stalinism to Trotskyism and eventually his conversion to anarchism. Murray was also at least ten years ahead of his time, writing a book on ecology as early as 1952. For anyone who does not like reading or learning about history this book is not only a political biography, but a chronicle of the rise and fall of left-wing movements from the 1930s to the 1990s.
After Capitalism: From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy: Seymour Melman
This book is a rare combination of an attack on capitalism and a very empirical description of how workplace democracy outperforms capitalist workplaces. Melman takes capitalism at its claim to be productive and convincingly shows how capitalism derives profit with very little production. He especially attacks military investment as a source of production.
Destiny of Civilization: Michael Hudson This book is based on a lecture series Michael Hudson gave in China in 2022. In it he compares finance capitalism, industrial capitalism and socialism. Michael is not a Marxist and is more in the tradition of Thorstein Veblen who saw scientists and engineers as the real producers of wealth in society.
…and forgive them their debts: Michael Hudson In this book Hudson compares the stupidity of the Greek and Roman ruling classes to the ruling classes of Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamia the rulers instituted “Jubilee” in which the debts to the ruling class were forgiven at the end of the year. This allowed rulers to rule for centuries longer. The Greeks and Romans did not forgive debts and their civilizations collapsed. The accumulation of compound interest is a disaster in-the-making. Michael argues that any society with industrial wealth should never allow its debts to accumulate if its society is going to continue to prosper. Michael points to China as a place where debt forgiveness is thriving. The global south is industrialization not only because China has forgiven debts, but because their loans are long-term with low interest rates.