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The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development


“A good society,” Michael Lebowitz tells us, “is one that permits the full development of human potential.” In this slim, lucid, and insightful book, he argues persuasively that such a society is possible. That capitalism fails his definition of a good society is evident from even a cursory examination of its main features. What comes first in capitalism is not human development but privately accumulated profits by a tiny minority of the population. When there is a conflict between profits and human development, profits take precedence. Just ask the unemployed, those toiling at dead-end jobs, the sick and infirm, the poor, and the imprisoned.

But if not capitalism, what? Lebowitz is also critical of those societies that have proclaimed their socialism, such as the former Soviet Union and China. While their systems were not capitalist and were capable of achieving some of what is necessary for the “development of human potential,” they were not “good societies.” A good society as Lebowitz defines it must be marked by three characteristics: social ownership of the means of production, social production controlled by workers, and satisfaction of communal needs and purposes. Lebowitz shows how these characteristics interact with and reinforce one another, and asks how they can be developed to the point where they occur more or less automatically—that is, become both a society’s premises and outcomes. He also offers fascinating insights into matters such as the nature of wealth, the illegitimacy of profits, the inadequacies of worker-controlled enterprises, the division of labor, and much more.

An important book . . . highly recommended.


Michael Lebowitz has forcefully demonstrated that the phrase “Socialism for the Twenty-First Century” is not a mere slogan. Rather it stands for a developed theory and practice stretching from Marx to Latin America’s new Bolivarian Revolution. The Socialist Alternative is one of the foremost works in this new theory of socialist transition, and a worthy complement to Lebowitz’s previous works, Beyond Capital and Build It Now.

—John Bellamy Foster, editor, Monthly Review

Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon

…among the most thought-provoking works I have recently read. Grounding the work in an analysis of the crisis of socialism, Lebowitz takes the reader through an examination of the workings of capitalism and the problems of not only a transition to socialism, but ultimately to a society that represents freedom from class exploitation. Lebowitz does not stop there, but whets the appetite of the reader in contemplating the implications of all of this for efforts to eliminate other forms of oppression engendered or enhanced by capitalism, as well as efforts to save the planet from the destruction wrought by capitalism. This is the sort of book that should be the focus for discussion groups of activists as they attempt to unite their radical practice with theorizing a radical, democratic, and Marxist alternative for the future.

—Bill Fletcher, Jr., co-author, Solidarity Divided

Executive Editor,

At this historic moment, when the limits and insanity of capitalism are especially clear but an intimidating sense of fatalism militates against a response—neither an alternative to capitalism nor a way to get there seem ‘realistic’—Lebowitz has produced the must-read book for those still clinging to hope. Highly accessible without setting aside the complexities involved, Lebowitz provides a desperately needed framework for linking vision to action to self-and-social transformation. The radicalism that has been so commonly written off as impractical becomes what is in fact the truly ‘practical’ in today’s world.

—Sam Gindin, York University, Former Research Director, Canadian Auto Workers

Michael Lebowitz has written a compelling argument for viewing the transition to socialism as a process of human development. He rejects the concept of stages, in which the forces of production are first developed to create the conditions necessary for people then to change. Instead, he argues that by acting on society now people change both it and at the same time themselves. Drawing on the Venezuelan concept of the ‘triangle of socialism,’ and deeply rooted in Marxist scholarship, this is a thought provoking and inspiring book—essential reading for all interested in and working for a socialism for the twenty-first century.

—Pat Devine, University of Manchester

This is socialism as it has been intended from the 1500s onward, a society that supports and promotes real human development. This is socialism as Marx saw it, created by active conscious protagonists who at the same time re-create themselves. Anyone interested in the current 21st century rebirth of socialism should carefully read and reflect on this important contribution to the debate by Michael Lebowitz.

—Al Campbell, Professor of Economics, University of Utah

This is a terrific book that is both theoretical and practical. Most importantly, it challenges us to take socialism seriously. Lebowitz illuminates and extends Marx’s powerful insights to provide a clear and well grounded vision of socialism, a critical perspective on past failures and current efforts, and a strategic framework for building a successful path towards socialism.

—Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor of Economics, Lewis and Clark College

Michael Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class, winner of the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize for 2004, and Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. He is Director, Program in Transformative Practice and Human Development, Centro Internacional Miranda, in Caracas, Venezuela.

SKU: mrp2143 Categories: , , ,

Publication Date: July 2010

Number of Pages: 160

Paperback ISBN: 9781583672143

eBook ISBN: 9781583674949