Economic Update: Socialism & Worker Co-Ops

Economic Update: Socialism & Worker Co-Ops

Welcome, friends, to another editor of Economic
Update, a weekly program devoted to the economic dimensions of our lives: jobs, incomes, debts—our
own, our children’s. I’m your host, Richard Wolff. I’m going to continue today with a program
that we have been developing over the last several months in which basic issues that
you’re concerned about, that you write to us about, become the subject for an entire
program. Today that subject is the relationship between
modern socialism, on the one hand, and the movement to create worker co-ops, on the other. The relationship between these two has become
very intimate, let’s call it—very close. I want to explain why and what the implications
of that are. First, socialism has been going through—particularly
over the last thirty to forty years—an intense period of self-criticism and transformation. And that’s as it should be. A healthy movement, a healthy system is one
that questions itself and changes itself when it finds flaws, failures and so forth. Every system has strengths and weaknesses. It is healthy to identify the latter, for
sure, and do something about them. And that’s what socialism has been doing. And socialism identified one of its weaknesses
as being an over-concentration of power in the hands of a state apparatus. It has asked itself—this movement of socialism—what
went wrong there. How do you deal with that problem? Are there forms of socialism that can make
sure, in some basic way, not to produce too much power in the hands of too few people
in a state apparatus. And worker co-ops, as I will show, are a way
to do that. But before I go on, I want to contrast a socialism
that is going through self-criticism with a global capitalism that is not doing that. And therein lies a big story. When capitalism is in a declining phase, which
I believe it currently is, it is perhaps not surprising that its chief spokesmen and women
are afraid to confront their failures and flaws. Afraid of self-criticism because their system—they
hope—will somehow last longer if they pretend it doesn’t have flaws and failures. Let me give you an example. The Trump administration, the Republican Party—and
a good bit of the Democratic Party too—currently act as though capitalism is the greatest thing
since sliced bread. And if you are going to admit that it has
problem, you locate them elsewhere. You know, immigrants are somehow causing whatever
difficulties we have or unfair trading partners in China or elsewhere are causing all the
trouble. If only we became more nationalistic, if we
had a pure American capitalism—well, then, there would be no problem. Because the capitalist system is always left
uncriticized, not found wanting and hence no exhaustive self-examination is really allowed. It’s celebration time, not criticism time. Socialism, for a whole host of historical
reasons, does not have that luxury and that’s a good thing for the development of socialism. So where does the critique go? It goes as follows. Socialism focused on what we might call the
macro level of society—the big picture. And in that process it decided that the problems
of capitalism that socialism would remedy were the following two basic ones. Number one, by leaving factories, stores,
farms, offices in the hands of a few people—the owners of businesses, the boards of directors
of big corporations, a tiny minority of our people—what would happen is that the economic
system would be controlled by them, for their own benefit, so that the people at the top
would become the most wealthy—which they kind of have—and the most powerful—which
they kind of have. And so the socialists reasoned that the way
to deal with this problem was to take the property in means of production—factories,
offices and all of that—and transfer it from private individuals, enriching themselves
because of their positions, and give it instead to the state to manage these properties, these
productive properties, in the interests of the whole society, hence the very name: socialism. And the second thing socialism would do would
stop using markets as the way to distribute things, and the reasoning of socialists there
was always very simple. Market allocate things that are produced or
resources to the people with the most money. And for socialists this made no sense at all,
since the rich at the top who own everything are the ones with most money, so once again
the system benefits them because they’re in a position in markets to dominate, just
like they’re in a position everywhere else—because they own the means of production—once again
to dominate. So the socialist said let’s not have markets,
let’s have the government distribute goods and services and resources in a democratic
way, rather than using the market which favors the rich. And socialists therefore focused this way. We’re going to take the property in means
of production from the private owners and make them state property and we’re going
to stop markets from distributing things and have government planning do it—that was
their idea. The problem turned out to be not that this
didn’t help economic development. As I like to remind viewers and readers, the
economic development of the two societies that went the furthest in this way—the Soviet
Union in the 20th century and the People’s Republic of China in the 21st century—were
able to achieve rates of economic growth far faster than societies who did not do this
including the United States, Western Europe and so on. So if that was the goal of this kind of socialism
it succeeded, even though it put way too much power in the hands of the government and that
had bad consequences as socialists are the first to understand and agree, having lived
through it. So what happened in the self-criticism of
socialism was to ask the question was there something missing, was there something wrong
in how that kind of socialism, which was successful in economic development but was unsuccessful
in the larger social questions of civil liberties, civil rights, cultural freedom and so on. And they came up with an answer. Yes, the problem—these self-critical socialists
have said to themselves and others—is this: that socialism addressed who owned the property
and socialism addressed how things got distributed. But what socialism didn’t address in the
twentieth century, at least not in any systematic way—neither in Russia nor in China nor in
the other societies that have experimented with socialism—what they didn’t do was
transform the workplace. The little workshop, the factory, the office,
the store, the farm. They didn’t understand that if socialism
is going to be established you don’t just transform who owns the property and you don’t
just transform markets into planning, for all the reasons socialists give, but you also
have to transform the workplace, that place where people spend all of their creative time,
or at least a large part of it, for their entire adult lives. Five days a week, all the rest of it. The workplace. And if you don’t transform the workplace—wow… You may set in motion a conflict, a contradiction
between the big changes you’ve made in property and markets and the unchanged workplace and
it may allow for that workplace, unchanged, to undo the changes you made at the higher
level and there’s evidence in Russia and China that precisely that happened. Well, what then is the difference between
a socialized workplace and the capitalist workplace we inherit? Well, I can begin by telling you the funny
story—or I hope you’ll find it funny. In many cities in the United States, and I’m
sure the same exist elsewhere, there’s a remarkable place a lot of workers visit when
they’re done with their day at the factory or the office or the store in capitalism. They pass by a local drinking establishment. You know, a bar. And in the window of the bar in big letters
they read the following words: happy hour. Why would they call it that? Well, my guess it is it has a lot to do with
underscoring that what you just finished, your work time, was unhappy hours and here’s
a chance with a little alcohol to offset the unhappiness with some happiness. People in capitalism feel oppressed, exhausted,
abused, misunderstood, mistreated, exploited and that language we have for that experience
is immense because the experience is virtually universal. The whole idea of worker co-ops is to change
that. To make the workplace democratic—that’s
right. To install democracy in the workplace where
it has been excluded for the entire history of capitalism. It’s as if the idea of being a place where
the decisions that impact you are decisions you have the right to participate in—that’s
what democracy means—it is as if that right, that commitment, which applies to where we
live somehow shouldn’t apply to where we work. The whole notion of worker co-ops runs against
that. Yes, it should apply. In fact, if you don’t have democracy in
the workplace, you don’t have it where most adults spend most of their lives and therefore
you are not a democratic society unless and until you include the workplace where democracy
ought to be installed. And indeed it’s an old dream of working
people—the majority—to have democracy in the workplace. That’s why slogans like freedom and democracy
and liberty got going, because people wanted something—not just outside of the workplace. They wanted liberty and freedom and democracy
in it, because they spend so much time there. That’s partly why they are unhappy and need
a happy hour after work. And people have been organizing worker co-ops
for centuries. It’s all over history if you know to look
for it. Today let me give you an example that many
of you have heard of: the Mondragon Corporation in Spain. Started out over fifty years ago as a little
worker co-op of six workers put together by a Roman Catholic priest, Father [Arizmendiarrieta]
in the north of Spain. Fast forward to now, Mondragon is a family
of about 250 worker co-ops, all run democratically within each co-op. It’s the seventh largest corporation within
all of Spain. It is a democracy of working people and it’s
not the only one, but it’s the biggest and most successful that has grown real well over
the last fifty years. So modern socialism, the one that emerges
from the self-criticism of 20th century, is a 21st century socialism that puts first and
foremost the transformation of the workplace finally to bring democracy to that central
part of our modern life. We’ve come to the end of the first half
of today’s program. We will continue, but before that I’d like
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appreciation to the Patreon community that is such an important source of support and
encouragement. We will be right back. Welcome back, friends, to the second half
of today’s Economic Update. This is a program devoted to the relationship
between socialism and worker co-ops. In the first half we talked briefly about
the worker co-ops as the democratization of the workplace and now I want to focus on what
that means, what that implies and what that enables so that people can understand why
a socialism would move in that direction. Let’s begin with the practicality, the immediacy,
the local nature of worker co-ops as a central feature of socialism. Transforming your workplace from a place where
you did the work somebody else told you to do and lived with the results of what somebody
else decided, but transforming it into a place where are part of the decision making apparatus,
where you participate in designing and directing and not just performing like a train seal. This is something that will transform people’s
lives, they will understand that. It will be a socialism that’s immediate
about our lives on a daily basis, not something done far away in some government office that’s
abstract in terms of how it functions. You—the working person, the majority—will
be at the core of such a concept of socialism. It also makes socialism something that is
democratic at the base. The power of the people will be focused on,
embodied in the fact that the people own the wealth—the productive wealth of society. That’s what’s hampered democracies so
far. You can have all the voting and everybody
voting that you want, but the power of money is concentrated in a tiny minority, they corrupt
that. They will have influence based on their wealth
and economic position that undermines the whole point and purpose of political democracy. What the worker co-op does is democratize
the power and the wealth by putting it in the hands of working people. If you want the economy to work for the people
you’ve gotta put them in charge. If you want democracy to be genuine and not
just a formality of voting, you’ve gotta put the people in charge and they have to
be in charge of the economy, otherwise the minority that in capitalism controls the economy
will also pervert the democracy and I present the United States and other countries like
it as prime examples. The second benefit, if you like, of a socialism
that includes and focuses on worker co-ops has to do with undermining the critiques of
socialism that have been developed over the last century by people who want to protect
capitalism—and are afraid of socialism—by denouncing socialism for its statism. That is, for the socialisms that were powerful
states, like Russia and China and others. By saying that socialism is inherently and
necessarily statist, which clearly is not the case, but which has been a very effective
critique of socialism by arguing that it’s a big powerful state that we don’t need
or want. One of the reasons you get interested in worker
co-ops is it’s a way of defining socialism that has to do with people’s immediate work
lives and has nothing to do with the state. But I want to stress that socialism has a
history, particularly here in the United States, that also suggests that if you define it in
a way that touches and means something to the mass of working people, you can get very
far indeed. It’s not a hypothetical, it’s the American
history that teaches that lesson and I want to make that really clear. To do that, I’m going to go back a hundred
years ago to the beginning of the twentieth century when there were three successive efforts
by socialists to run for president of the United States. Bernie is not the first one. And I want you to follow me in looking at
how they did to learn a basic lesson. The first time the socialists ran a candidate—a
man named Allan Benson—was in 1916. He ran for president, he got 600,000 votes
in the United States, which was approximately 3% of the total. Four years later, the next presidential election
1920, the candidate for the socialists was Eugene Victor Debs. He got 900,000 votes—that’s a 50% increase
over those four years—and that amounted to 4% of the total vote cast. Four years later, in 1924, the socialists
ran again but because of the beginning of an anti-socialist crush from the government
they didn’t call themselves socialists—they called themselves progressives, but it was
the same program basically. And the candidate in 1924 was Robert La Follette
of Wisconsin. He got—ready? Five million votes, a five time increase in
four years and that worked out to a whopping 17% of the total vote. In other words, across those years socialism
showed that it could and it would excite and engage the American people. The notion that socialism is somehow unable
to find footing in the United States is false. It has in the past and indeed the reaction
to the fast-growing power of socialism brought down the entire apparatus of repression in
this society, as businesses and capitalists were terrified and used the power of government—which
their position as the wealthiest and the most powerful business interests gave them—to
crush it. Indeed, the last century has been an unremitting
attack on everything having to do with socialism because if you hadn’t done that, what those
elections at the beginning of the twentieth century showed is that socialism finds indeed
a fertile soil in the United States. And a new self-critical socialism, allied
with the movement for worker co-ops, for the democratization of the workplace, is in a
position to repeat that history this time around and perhaps with less vulnerability
to what is now a tired old repression focused on the state, the power of the state, which
is associated with socialism but will have a much harder time associating with a socialism
that’s focused on worker co-ops that have nothing to do with the state. By the way, associating socialism with a big
state is a conceptual mistake, as well. One of the most famous arguments in favor
of a diminution of the role of the state, of getting rid of the state, was made—it
may surprise you—by Vladimir Lenin, the original leader of the Soviet Union, who coined
the phrase “the withering away of the state” which he advocated. Had he been leader longer—you know, he had
a brain aneurysm four, five years into the Revolution and died, leaving the economy to
others and the society to others who didn’t have that attitude—but the notion that in
socialism there’s some celebration of the state misunderstands that movement in a way
that is not exactly innocent. The next implication of worker co-ops in socialism
that I want to stress for you is to explain to you how they could be a very powerful,
mutually reinforcing alliance. Imagine a political party, a socialist party
in the United States, that advocated a transition from capitalist enterprises to worker co-ops. Here’s how that party would work. It would be the contradiction of—the difference
from, the opposition to Republicans and Democrats alike, because those are parties that depend
on capitalists for their donations by and large, do capitalists want, support the capitalist
system—I know that, because they both say so, over and over again. So the socialist party would be—no, no,
here’s where we’re different: we are for the democratization of the workplace. And they would, indeed, push for laws, regulations
enabling worker co-ops to grow and expand, and in turn the worker co-ops would be the
local basis for support for the socialist party, just the way the corporations across
America—capitalist corporations—are the supports for Republican and Democratic parties. We would begin to see a real political debate
in the United States. It would be remarkable and the symbiosis,
the relationship between a socialist party that did advocate something really difference
and the worker co-ops that would be in a sense its political base across the country is a
winning formula for changing this society. In office, here’s some of the things a socialist
party could do, and indeed the way is being shown by the Labour Party in England. One of the first things the Labour Party is
committed to do—and a socialist party in America would do the same—is to make a law
called the right of first refusal. No company can leave the country, sell itself
to another one, go public with stocks or simply cease to exist without first giving its own
workers the right of first refusal. That is, the workers can buy the company from
whoever owns it now and convert it into a worker co-op. And if you’re wondering where the workers
would get the money to do that, the government with a socialist leadership would lend them
the money, which is exactly what Mr. Corbyn and the Labour Party in England are proposing
to do. Finally, there’s this old argument of people
who love capitalism and fear socialism—that somehow capitalism is innovative. They like to point to high-tech companies
and say, “See? Capitalism is developing these big companies.” I like to answer that with a story. Years ago I was approached by engineers from
Silicon Valley in California and they asked me to come out there and talk, which I did. And here’s what happened. I had meetings and I learned the following,
that some of the most important breakthroughs in modern, high-tech technology—telecommunications,
computers, hardware, software and so on—were not made in big capitalist corporations. On the contrary, it turns out that every year
in Silicon Valley, high-paid engineers working in big companies—you know, Cisco and Apple
and IBM and all of them—quit. They can’t stand it anymore. That’s what they say. They don’t want to come to work in a tie
and a jacket. They don’t want to come to work to be told
by some sales person what they should be studying or not on their software platforms and so
forth and so on. They want to be creative—that’s their
word—they want to be innovative—that’s their word, and they can’t be in a capitalist
corporation. So here’s what they do. They take their laptops and they leave, often
leaving $200-, $300,000 a year jobs and they get together in a group of twenty and twenty-five
in somebody’s garage and they have a little rule: here we come to work in Bermuda shirts
and a Hawaiian shirt. Here we come to work feeling good about ourselves—no
bosses. Everybody’s an equal here, we all make our
decisions together. Monday through Thursday, we work on our software
programs and we work on our computers, and Friday we sit around making the decisions
of what to produce, how to produce, where to produce and what to do with the revenue
our creative efforts realize. It’s a democratic workplace. Wow! That’s where the creativity blossoms. That’s where many of the great breakthroughs
were achieved. Even some of those companies went back into
being capitalist companies—that can happen. But my point is the innovation credited to
capitalism is misunderstood. It often comes precisely from people who have
walked away from capitalism to create a worker co-op even if they don’t know the phrase
“worker co-op” to describe what they have done. A new socialism, connected to and embracing
worker co-ops as the transition from capitalism to a better system is a socialism that you’re
going to be hearing more and more about in the months and years to come. I hope you have found this conversation of
interest. The movement in the direction of socialism
is underway in the United States in a way it hasn’t been for a century and this time
it is going to do better. I look forward to speaking with you again
next week.


100 thoughts on “Economic Update: Socialism & Worker Co-Ops”

  • sorry for my english. but i am live in ussr and capitalistic ukraine. And i can sware capitalism ist most horrible thing i ever see.

  • gabethegrouch says:

    I like the idea of worker Co-Ops and I agree that the workplace should be democratic but I wonder if the true nature of a corporation would change if turned into a co-op. For example, if Lockheed Martin turned into a co-op, would it's objective still be to sell murder weapons and lobby for war? I might be missing something obvious but I'm not sure how that would change…

  • Julia Henriques says:

    Professor, I do realise you have to focus on the monumental task of "selling" these ideas to a capitalistic minded US audience, and for that we are, as we should, all deeply thankful. That said…

    Maybe you could at some point address in more detail what happened in the USSR from 1917 to 1937, from the revolution to the total takeover by Stalin. The civil war, war communism, civil rights movements [an extremely successful feminism, extremely successful ethnic equity (at least on paper), and so on], cultural vanguards, the NEP, Lenin's death, the rise of the centrist faction, the first purges of Stalin, the fall of Trotsky, the fall of the original Politburo, the decapitation of the Red Army command in 1937. There's SO MUCH to study and learn from. Such colossal errors, the most significant of which are usually overlooked, and such colossal achievements, from the economic growth you usually point out to the fact that by 1927 Trotsky had already predicted that the Chinese revolution would have to be made by farmers, that in the stalinistic path the USSR would become isolated and unable to compete with the capitalist world, and that the US would become a militaristic power the likes of which the world had never seen. That period is one whose study is mandatory to anybody interested in understanding socialism in depth. Please, do grace us with your analysis of it. 🙂

  • Afraid is a weird word to use. Capitalism is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Capitalism pulls people out of poverty while Socialism pulls people down. Please give the statistic of world poverty percentage from 1920 to 2019 and tell me what the actual cause was for that drop. You literally admitted to stealing the business from the individual that created it and giving it to a government entity to run into the ground because somehow socialist believe that profit is not important.

  • Prof Wolff- Wouldn't it be better to respond to the free market high tech innovation charge with the fact that high tech largely comes out of the Pentagon system via taxpayer funding which is obviously sheltered from market forces? ARPANET -> Internet, NaviStar -> GPS, Army Anti Air Tech -> Computer chip, etc. ?

  • Just a sidenote, it has always baffled me how republicans and rightwing democrats don't see our capitalist system as inherently statist. It's right to think about protecting socialism from statist co-opting and elitist government takeover, but it's also a major fallacy in our discourse that we don't talk about the hierarchy of capitalism being exactly those things. Heads of corporations and industrial magnates essentially install their favorite capitalist ideologues into power and/or buy legislation from representatives. Commercial industry is subsidized, directly and indirectly, by tax revenue. The leadership of both major political parties are explicitly loyal to capitalism, either giving no reason or false reasons. Meanwhile the government functions the general population have a democratic right and practical need to guide toward maintaining infrastructure, that everyone, including capitalists, need to function, is made weak or impotent. Taxes are supposed to all go to corporate tax-cuts and a giant military. It's hard to think of a more statist system than plutocratic, oligarchic capitalism.

  • While I can support workers coops I don't see how they have any inherent relation to socialism. Such coops are still engaged in capitalist production.

  • Utopia Project says:

    I like richard wolff and i enjoy his talks and his message. Many leftists i have listened to and spoken with have a high amount of
    skpeticism about a worker-cooperative-centric model of socialism. I wonder about the limits of worker co operatives, they still have to operate in a free market, so they are subject to market discipline, meaning sooner or later the profit motive or bottom line will prevail for survival in a competitive marketplace. This can mean major compromises, ideologically, morally or ethically, ecologically, politically, socially, etc. This also means that ultimately society will lack fundamental transformation. it likely that only having co operatives may leave capitalism intact, sort of like social democracy?

  • And back stabbed, bullied, shouted down and shut out. All competition and no cooperation is not only destroying our workplaces, but our communities and families, too. Thanks again Professor!

  • Professor Wolff has a very well honed and clear message. He carefully avoids many of the traditional words associated with these libertarian socialist ideas – words that the capitalist propaganda machine has co-opted or turned into abuse words. I haven't yet heard the words libertarian or anarchism or syndicalism or revolution or even union or wildcat. Sticking with the words socialism, democracy and worker coops makes a lot of sense for a simple clear message without the baggage of extremist associations. Possibly this strategy is just avoiding complex jargon but it does imply or correlate with missing some of the historical threads that are highly relevant.

  • It would be good to have a message with some linkage with anarchism & syndicalism and their ideas and histories. Also, some detailed explanation of how syndicalism would extend real (direct) democracy from the small to the large scale by federation.

  • Most of the jobs are created by entrepreneurs. Usually, unless the entrepreneurs do all the work themselves or contract out the work to someone else, the entrepreneur has to share the work with someone else or contract it out. It evolves CO-OPERATION of other individuals.
    Pooling the startup money or getting a loan is part of the game. It likely takes time for the workers to gain efficiency in what their doing. If a group of workers do not have experience in what they are suppose to do, it takes time to get up to speed.
    CO-OPs seem to be the answer where the workers become the decision makers.

  • Wolff never directly addresses the question of why worker co-ops don't take off on their own, if they have so much to recommend them. He wants the gov't to tax free-enterprise businesses to raise money to loan to workers to finance the co-ops, but that seems an admission of the fact that free-enterprise/capitalist ventures appear to be the more desirable choice. If worker co-ops are so wonderful and democratic, why are there not more of them?

  • REDneck Nestor says:

    Low birth rate is the number one problem worker Co-ops face as far as I can tell.

    Can you speak more about how we average working class folks can be starting worker Co-ops in our daily lives?
    Should we focus on point of production union organization, election campaigns or influencing elected officials, or will it grow out of something peripheral like the DSA or some of the grass roots Tennant unions being formed today?

    Thank you for answering.

  • Hendo's experience says:

    Mr. Wolf you are spot on, I strongly believe that your message needs to reach a broader audience. Maybe you and JIIMMY DORE can do something on his shoe. He has 580,000 plus subscribers and growing.

  • Hello Richard… could you do one of these videos concerning Hong Kong. How the police and military, even though paid by the taxpayer through tax have forgotten the people because the government tax ppl and write the checks. Imagine if the ppl paid the police and military directly, I promise that all war and corruption in government would disappear bc the police and military will understand their true role and not to harm they actual employers. I guess this relates to the Capitalism we see where too much power in the hands the of few who if corrupt with create an environment where society work in fear and not for the benefit of humanity. Cheers.

  • Capitalism won't just disappear, because what Richard Wolff called problems and failures are actually the signs of it's strength, namely unemployment, inequality, perpetual war etc. The fact that the elite can get away with all this proves that their power is stable and safe. Even if physical obstacles arise like a nuclear war, capitalism can simply displace its limits by coopting and recuperating all the revolutionary ideas and forces, as it always has whenever there was a threat of social upheaval. Just look at what has become of feminism, and the same thing can happen to everything else. It is not enough to come up with a new agenda. There must be some guarantee in it that, whatever movement it is, it is able to create a new relationship between man and nature by a complete break with the old structures.

  • Democracy is difficult . It's hard to reach consensus. Dealing with people is a nightmare. Businesses are trying to automate, not because it's cheaper ( in many cases it's not), but because dealing with humans is complicated, requires too much energy.

    For many people dictatorship would be perfect happy place. Simple people love dictators. This why people loved Hitler, loved Stalin. Many had no clue about any atrocities happening. Fox News is happy place for many Trump supporters.

  • zombiesingularity says:

    How can you say that "overconcentration of state power" is an issue in Socialist states? The history of Socialism shows the opposite, as in the case of Gorbachev's failure of Glasnost, WEAKENING working class state power left it open to direct attack from internal and external class enemies. Obviously the extent to which you exert that power depends on the international situation and domestic situation.

  • I hate to be a naysayer, but there is a huge error at the end. Those Silicon Valley guys did not leave capitalism. They left their old company to create another. And in view of those salaries I'd guess that they all had investments in other exploitative enterprises, maybe even a few shares of their old abusive company, so it's not something the people with no access to capital can do, even if they are similarly skilled. Not to mention, whatever they do, they simply cannot compete with the corporate giants, they can only find their own market niche. Good move for them, but inconsequential to society.

  • zombiesingularity says:

    Could you do a video on Yugoslavia under Tito's leadership? Sounds pretty similar to your ideas. I've heard good things about Yugoslavian Socialism too, workers definitely loved co-ops.

  • I feel like its a bit hyperbole when Wolff claims there were no transformative measures taken in the workplace during China or Russias early socialist history. I know for sure China during its cultural revolution had experimented with different forms of management/self management during that era. There's a really good documentation of this on youtube .. type in "the generator factory china" in youtube search bar.. the film is in colour and you can tell it's from the 60s.. fascinating film.. look into it ! ..

    and yes these cooperative workplaces did collaborate with the party cadre officials, but democracy was definitely practiced in this instance.

    EDIT: The original upload got deleted but someone else has re-uploaded it! enjoy, link is below

  • for the people says:

    to achieve socialism, is a hard way. China infact rooted out the class hierarchy by the bad named cultural revolution(class struggle). due to that movement, people have a strong sense of equal, another reason is based on traditional chinese culture that the strong and powerful man always come from the poor family. the poor do not mark a social class. this idea is deep rooted in the culture. this is fareness.

  • for the people says:

    all people are born the same. this is something of education. people share same fate and future. the interest of peoples are involved with each other. so the present main USA idea is just a deformity. china CCP is infact just seeking for a way that humane to govern the earth together to make it better and more harmony for humanity. why we can't call the whole world is just a big family? yet most of them do not reallize that. keeping selfish,and fighting. foolish

  • Does anybody honestly believe that the state in the soviet union would have ever withered away if Lenin had lived or under any other circumstances? I am all for rejecting the state but Lenin's version of that literally posits that an entrenched class hierarchy of party bureaucrats will eventually one day look at their state and say "welp, looks like we are no longer needed. We've taught the people everything they need to know about communism and they've responded accordingly. Now we can all go and retire to the country and history can end."

    A center of power never withers away as long as power is still there. I can't imagine any of the people who rose to the highest ranks of the CCCP ever giving up that power and I don't think Lenin would have ever given it up himself. If there are any Leninists who feel like they understand something I don't that would make this thing, which has never happened at any point in history, make sense to my anarchist brain I would be very curious to hear it. I like Richard Wolff for a lot of the approach he takes and he does jettison a lot of useless, authoritarian Marxist Leninist baggage but he still holds to these narratives that I just can't fathom ever happening. The idea of a communist society isn't counter to human nature, similar such societies have existed throughout human history and some exist today, but the idea of a massive one party state apparatus voluntarily "withering" itself and choosing to give up its power, now that is counter to human nature and is something no Marxist has ever made sound plausible to me, Wolff included.

    Why don't we just start off with democratic, worker led structures based in unions, co-operatives, communes, or worker's soviets for that matter that DON'T need to later on abolish themselves cause they were authoritarian and reproducing class society in the first place? You want to "wither" the state? Then build the alternative structures that will replace it. Not some "managed" capitalism run for the working class by self appointed academics and party careerists who always saw themselves as superior to the average worker that will have to eventually be "withered" or "dismantled" if the "socialists" we give all the power to happen to be feeling virtuous.

  • ᚫᛞᚱᛁᚫᚾ ᛚᚢᚦᛖᚱ says:

    What Richard Wolff is promoting is called "market socialism". I used to be one, but there's another hard reality in achieving socialism than just revolution: there's a global capitalist hegemony that contradicts with a socialist system. History has shown that every socialist system without exception, already being one or about to be one, has faced external aggression, and no wonder, the socialist system declares war on capital itself.

    Having a strong state is not ideal:

    "So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state."
    – V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution

    But having it is a necessity. A legitimate state favored by the proletarians does not need to enforce its rule dictatorially, and can exist with Soviet Democracy and Dictatorship of the Proletariat. That is, the state being built from bottom to top via democratically elected soviets, that are all subject to recall by their electors without exception, having the people armed, and organized in to a universal militia.

  • Pradhivan Gurusamy says:

    The need for Democracy @ work already proves the fact that corporations run on a simplified model of communism/socialism/fascism..

    Which is why there is a need for democracy in the workplace which is in fact the foundation of capitalism..

    The points negate themselves..

  • America is more socialist now than most countries. Nobody even comes close to the amount of money taken from tax payers and then redistributed globally. system works great, until you run out of others money.

  • Debt based system, plus printed money to fuel it at the top. What it means? You are not a member is a start, but more than that to play you have vast amount of capital ( foreign countries) or ability to leverage printed capital. leveraged by ? major banks. Really only nationalized business would work, coupled with wresting control of money printing and taxes. Einsteins theory? People who have all the power and money tend to want to remain in power.!

  • The failure of the new Soviet state to fade away was not contingent on Lenin living or dying. In the first place, his own democratic centralist party concept tended toward dictatorship, in emulating a military command structure, as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out. In practise, the process of replacing the Tsarist state, including the Duma, with the Bolshevik party itself, moved with an organisational inertia toward that dictatorship of one man and of the party over the the proletariat and the whole of society, and that inertia was in the opposite direction from allowing the state to wither away. Indeed, the manufacturing co-ops which had been created by workers between the February and October revolutions were steadily seized by the Bolshevik government to bring them under centralised administrative control and planning. Secondly, it was not in any case possible to do without a state, because there was a civil war to win, and a hostile international context. I am dubious about whether it is possible to do without the state, because of the experience curve involved in providing competent, adequate, accountable public services, meaning that some people have to make the provision of such services their life's work, and they in turn need to be paid, which means that there has to be some form of taxation and so on. But even if it is possible, if the population at large can carry out those responsibilities directly, the Russian people were not ready to. But because the duplication of the centralisation of the Bolshevik party model as the state model involved the suppression of other parties, of alternate organisations and alternate press, and even the suppression of factions within the Bolshevik party, there was not the open, free discussion and argument necessary to build up the political education and decision-making competence of the public which Rosa Luxemburg called for.

  • What would happen to all the big corporations if we tried to transition to a more socialist Society with work co-ops? Does that mean there is votes of a boss or manager? Or is it just deciding or getting a say in the direction the business goes??

  • Wow!! This was an extremely informative and exciting presentation Prof Wolff. So, we can reach progressive socialism directly from this horrid capitalistic exploitive state by workers walking away and developing their own co-ops or buying out the corps w/ government loans after Bernie is elected.Very cool. I have been beaten so far down to the ground by capitalist exploitation, I have'nt been able to work in my profession in 25 yrs. Capitalism does not permit social science in practice in my profession. It insures that we remain outside of the established work. I believe most people practicing are imposters who don't understand the science in my field of what should be community, evidence-based clinical services. If we were permitted to practice there would be little or no "youth detention centers" which would bring down their precious criminal justice empire. This info restores hope that I may practice my work before retirement. Thank you for the good work and interest in helping to keep the world alive. You are a brave man. So, how do you get billionaires interested in saving the world? They have to leave it all behind after they are gone, why can't they be shown the joy they could have & bring by using it while they are alive?

  • Can somebody explain why worker coop firms cannot exist within a capitalist system like we have and directly compete with non-coop firms for market share?

  • Snake oil pitch: buy our socialism with all your income and we provide everything you ever need.
    Just wait in line with rest of the folks like you.

  • Whenever i think about policies i always ask the same question, "who stands to benefit the most?". The smaller the number that benefits, further sway i am from it ideologically.

  • As someone who grew up in Yugoslavia, it really bothers me that he never mentioned Yugoslav self-governing 'Social Property' (as it was called).

    My fathers company was self governed, market oriented and very successful, providing us very nice living standard.

    I never seen anywhere workers so loyal and devoted, as the guys who worked at his company, cos it was their company.

  • Kholke Holkepolke says:

    By definition, worker co-ops are socialist, by fundamental purpose, they are even more so, capitalistic.. I see this, as an evolution of capitalism. After all, capitalism really is merely an experiment, which has essentially derived from slavery..

  • Leslie Stenta says:

    I worked for a hospital for 28 years. The board of directors lost millions of dollars and drastically cut my hours. I had no say., also disrespect for my time and financial situation. I left my unstable job took out my pension and 401k. I was really lucky to be able to get out and retire early.

  • Professor Wolff, as always I am so illuminated by your videos. You take complex ideas and make them understandable. You're objective and critical. And, you separate fact from fiction – in easily understandable ways. I couldn't understand politics or economics, because they were so complex. As a result, I ignored them – to my great detriment. Then, I saw you on RT – on Thom Hartmann's show. I didn't even know you existed, up until that point. You've broadened my understanding of economics, politics, and their relationship with one another – and the effect they have on….everything. I'm happy to have discovered you. Thank you for your efforts and the efforts of your colleagues.

  • The ultimate problem with socialism is that it ultimately strips human lives of value. Why? Because it takes power away from the individual, which empowers, and puts it in the hands of a central authority, which oppresses. ANY system with centralized authority is inherently oppressive, and this is why socialism has an eight-digit death toll, which objectively makes it the most destructive idea ever conceived by human minds other than Islam (and even that is close).

  • Socialism/anarchism has ALWAYS been focused around the workers owning the means of production. This isn't anything new, it's just that most "socialists" now still claim that the Eastern bloc was true socialism. What the Eastern bloc was, was a totalitarian command economy built on the backs of slaves. Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Mao, et al, were NOT socialists in any sense of the word. They called themselves socialists, because it attracted socialists to them and their revolutions. In reality, they were despots and nothing more.

  • Kevin Blanchard says:

    I have worked with worker co-ops here in the US. From talking to the people that work there it was hard to implement due to the greed and power hungry people in the US that has been inherent in capitalism. As of this year they say it has finally leveled out and is working great. This is the 10th year for some of these companies and myself and many others would love to work for them. Their quality of work and personal self accomplishment has increased through the years.

  • timberrecycling says:

    Dr. Wolff, after following you for a number of months I now understand the link between socialism and worker co-ops. You raise some good points in addressing how socialism can (and maybe should) be implemented under a limited govt, as it is the fundamental argument against it in many forums. In the future, could you address more links between a limited state and socialism? This is the fuel the argument needs!

  • Prof. Wolff's ideas are compelling but I think most people wouldn't know how to begin to set up these worker co-ops.
    Mondragon of Spain ought to have training institutes where interested parties could learn the ropes from an organisation that's had 50 years of practice in doing it right. I'm sure they could get this thing going.

  • Living Infernus says:

    We need a special word for this co-op kind of socialism. We could call it producerism, like consumerism. It was popular among artisans in the 18th-century 13 American colonies.

  • Are cunts retarded like socialism is gonna destroy the country because the people that work very hard are going to have to give their money to other people that aren’t working as hard as them also when this process continues no one is going to want to work because they are giving their money to the people who aren’t working

  • Augur Cybernaut says:

    Begins critique of Socialism by pointing the finger at Capitalism…. 🤦‍♀️ just dishonesty of the typical.

  • Could you please change the intro music? Every time it feels like I'm going to watch some kind of socio-economical "Pimp my ride".

  • Nout van der Hidde says:

    28:42 Could you please offer a source on that. It would be really useful information, if it wasn't just an anecdote.

  • John Milton Perkins says:

    You built up your argument about creativity and innovation so great at the end, and I was really hoping for you to nail it home with a LIST of innovations and where they came from that was not capitalist companies. I agree with the bulk of what you're saying here, but are you just bullshitting us about the innovations Professor or can you deliver the goods?

  • Jeremy Sweeney says:

    Holy crap! Am I missing something? Capitalism doesn't stop you from starting co-ops.. if there such a good idea why does the government have to get involved?

  • Antediluvian Atheist says:

    They never seem to be able to answer the question: If a new machine lets you do twice the work per person, do you cut the hours and keep the same pay, freeing up you workers to have a better work/life balance or other cool things, or do you fire half of them, and make more profit?

    If you are the worker of the co-op, this question is easy, and it also prevents the jobs going overseas.
    Which way do you vote, as the worker in this story?

  • xDD I work in the tech sector– I've never thought of open development and agile methodology as democratic; but you're right– it is. All the innovation comes from basic government funded scientific research, and from "open innovation". Ie. all the socialistic stuff. lol

  • Objectivityiskey says:

    @ 5:16

    I'm sure you didn't mean to say "take the property", I'm sure you actually meant to say "steal the property", correct?

    Take implies an amount of something gained or acquired from one source. Did the people or person just give the property to the Government, or did the Government "take" the property by threat of force?

    I'm betting the Government "Took" the property by the threat of force, and so we have a better word to describe this action or behavior, theft, robbery, or stealing. All of these are illegal and immoral.

  • Kevin Schmevin says:

    Dr Wolff, I recently started watching your videos and I've learned a ton, thanks. Can you explain how entrepreneurship works in a Marxist system, i don't understand why someone would start a new business if they won't have access to the future profits of that business?

  • I am fascinated by the idea of worker co-ops but I have a few questions :
    As with Plato's Republic, the philosopher warned about the dangers of universal suffrage if the voters are not well educated and the potential for demagoguery. The question here is that will each voter vote rationally and independently? How do they make an informed decision? Where would they get information to enable them to make such decisions? Professor Wolff mentioned in the Mondragon example that the workers would employ the managers. I presume that such managers would then gather information and provided possible choices for the everyone in company to vote on? If the managers made a mistake of presenting or championing a decision to the company that resulted in a negative business outcome, how would it affect the power dynamics in the company? What happens when the employees have to vote on firing one of their own? And who will be the underlying authority in the company if there is insubordination? There are many questions that goes into how can this system will work and what are its potential pitfalls.

  • Socialists are just losers who can't make it on their own. They should have been aborted. It's not too late. Go ask your mommy to take you out.

  • Objectivityiskey says:

    LOL, I just looked at how much the CEO of REI makes a year, around $1,500,000.00. REI is a CO-OP, why does the CEO make so much more than the workers? It's simple, his job and responsibility are worth the price whereas the jobs of the workers are easily replaceable.

  • Objectivityiskey says:


    Law: Right of First Refusal… Let's make something perfectly clear, Governments DO NOT make money. Governments tax people and businesses that DO make money. Saying that the Socialist Government will loan the people money to buy up a business is saying that the Government will steal money from people and businesses that actually make money and give it to some other group of it's choosing. This is called theft and it is morally wrong. This is advice to hobble America into a 3rd world pit of despair.

  • Objectivityiskey says:

    Your story at the end is misleading and sad, I will explain.

    Once a product is invented it needs people to assemble/market/sell the product. The individuals that invented the product often don't assemble/market/sell the product. Why? Because the are too busy inventing new products. This is how you end up with a justified and moral unequal distribution of the profits these companies make.

    The individuals at the top, often the inventors/investors, make the most money (Because the have the most to lose), and the individuals at the bottom assembling/marketing/selling or scrubbing toilets make significantly less (Because they have the least to lose). This is how the division of labor works. Wolff you are a despicable man that is misleading the unskilled labor force into thinking they have more value than they actually do.


    We will be left with unskilled workers ready to assemble/market/sell products that don't exist. Places like REI will have a lot of unskilled workers in green vests with nothing but empty shelves and a nice building. Slowly the unskilled workers will either have to become skilled at something and start the process over again or starve in their ineptitude. Once those unskilled workers find a skill, they will also require higher pay and will cherish their intellectual property and their right to own and maintain it. This is why Socialism never works. This is why Collectivism in all of its forms is morally evil and untenable.

    “The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay cheek was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.

    “Every man is free to rise as far as he’s able or willing, but it’s only the degree to which he thinks that determines the degree to which he’ll rise. Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. The man who does no more than physical labor, consumes the material value-equivalent of his own contribution to the process of production, and leaves no further value, neither for himself nor others. But the man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor-the man who discovers new knowledge-is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it Is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. This is mutual trade to mutual advantage; the interests of the mind are one, no matter what the degree of intelligence, among men who desire to work and don’t seek or expect the unearned.

    “In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong.

    “Such was the service we had given you and were glad and willing to give. What did we ask in return? Nothing but freedom. We required that you leave us free to function-free to think and to work as we choose-free to take our own risks and to bear our own losses-free to earn our own profits and to make our own fortunes-free to gamble on your rationality, to submit our products to your judgment for the purpose of a voluntary trade, to rely on the objective value of our work and on your mind’s ability to see it-free to count on your intelligence and honesty, and to deal with nothing but your mind. Such was the price we asked, which you chose to reject as too high. You decided to call it unfair that we, who had dragged you out of your hovels and provided you with modern apartments, with radios, movies and cars, should own our palaces and yachts-you decided that you had a right to your wages, but we had no right to our profits, that you did not want us to deal with your mind, but to deal, instead, with your gun. Our answer to that, was: ‘May you be damned!’ Our answer came true. You are." – John Galt's Speach

  • The only downside of this video is that the title will turn away the very people who would love it the most. Innovators. Independent thinkers. Collaborative entrepreneurs. Look past the title – this is the real American dream. It might be time to rename "socialism" and "worker co-ops" which have been tainted with the Soviet model and capitalist backlash. What could we call these that would attract the people who actually need this the most?

  • FIGHTFANNERD9.I'm Gay for Moonbin says:

    24:30 who said you needed government for that different my ass both parties made government way bigger then it needs to be

  • Philosophy by Psyche says:

    This is where the one-size fits all version of "socialism" starts to fray badly… Democratizing work is not a generically good thing, it would be suitable and desirable for some, and unsuitable and problematic for others (imagine being apart of an organization that was being run fairly, effectively and efficiently, and now some lowest common denominator sentiment is given mob-rule, where the more industrious workers are made to subsidize the wishful thinking of the majority, in their quaint moralizing over issues that are more-so invented by the collective-imagination). There is no perfect formulaic solution, the best democratic workshops/enterprises, are those where all those involved were fairly well-trained professionals or specialists and in specialist industries, who had the humility to make decisions for long-term strategy: this scenario is not suited for most of the population, which although might be equal in principle, there is a fundamental divide when giving management a laissez-faire engine of moral-authority to promulgate its own independent truths. Appointing the right leaders, with democratic accountability, will always produce some form of democratic deficit, which will, if honestly examined, be because of the insufficiency of the demos itself: an insufficiency which "socialism" is not capable of recognizing or tackling, as it is doomed to oscillate towards unaccountable mob-rule, and unaccountable authoritarianism. I come from the tradition of left-Marxism, or libertarian Marxism, I believe the basis of transcending the market or scarcity, is to preserve a vibrant culture of status and choices, although economic and political interfacing should [perhaps] be relatively independent streams governed by some transparent arrangement that applies equally to all members, offering an array of options and roles (society organized as a 'fair game'): the basis of all of this, would be voluntary association, as this way of life would not belong to an actual state, but to a free association of those who have voluntarily put their lot in with each other, in consciously maintaining a contractually premised, collectively monopoly that is tasked to synthesize an alternative to market-relations: these collective tasks are themselves incredibly difficult to manage, and much harder to achieve than what most socialists consider, as the despotic profile of capitalistic society, has a much more fluid and built-in set of metaphysical relations and constructs, which although it is based on some level of coercion, is honest about the depths of the soul, whereas socialism has traditionally expected a de facto revision of human psyche to conform of the collective fatalism that it offers as the solution. (Not wishing to elaborate too far: I believe therefore, that capitalism, in a liberal-democratic form, is the perfect default system to maintain a shell of state, that can become host to the transcendent cultural model, that would both be capable of offering aide to others who wished to follow a similar line of development, and is capable of creating a culture of independent capacity that is capable of real good-will and good-faith negotiation in the realm of diplomacy etc. But make no mistake, the real challenges will be internal, in creating a realm of cultural freedom for its members, where culture is not merely meaningless, and not tyrannical, and there is enough political interface to allow individuals to alter the collective-systems which govern life: the right kind of judicial/arbitration, and conceptions of such matters will be pivotal, I have more to say on these subjects, but this comment is already too long.)

  • Anyone else here read Ciccariello-Maher's Building the Commune? I just finished it today and it was really fascinating how he discussed the tension between the Venezuelan state and the communal non-state being built from the bottom up via democratic working communities.

  • On the topic of tech socialism, why isn't anyone talking about Open Source?! Free software is unequivocally by definition a form of social ownership that has been dramatically successful. Heck, the entire internet is literally built atop numerous open source technologies. Modern software simply wouldn't be the same without Linux, OpenSSL, GNU, GCC, and so many more completely free and open projects

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