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The Socialist Imperative: From Gotha to Now


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In a little more than a decade, economist Michael A. Lebowitz has written several major works about the transition from capitalism to socialism: Beyond Capital (winner of the Deutscher Prize), Build It Now, The Socialist Alternative, and The Contradictions of “Real Socialism.” Here, he develops and deepens the analysis contained in those pathbreaking works by tracing major issues in socialist thought from the nineteenth century through the twenty-first.

Lebowitz explores the obvious but almost universally ignored fact that as human beings work together to produce society’s goods and services, we also “produce” something else: namely, ourselves. Human beings are shaped by circumstances, and any vision of socialism that ignores this fact is bound to fail, or, at best, reproduce the alienation of labor that is endemic to capitalism. But how can people transform their circumstances in a way that allows them to re-organize production and, at the same time, fulfill their human potential? Lebowitz sets out to answer this question first by examining Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, and from there investigates the experiences of the Soviet Union and more recent efforts to build socialism in Venezuela. He argues that socialism in the twenty-first century must be animated by a central vision, in three parts: social ownership of the means of production, social production organized by workers, and the satisfaction of communal needs and communal purposes. These essays repay careful reading and reflection, and prove Lebowitz to be one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of this era.

One of the best across-the-board presentations of the new participative/community strategic understanding in modern Marxist theory. A must read for anyone serious about the coming systemic transformation.

—Gar Alperovitz, author, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution

Does our 21st-century world generate a socialist imperative? Michael Lebowitz thinks that it does. It is in the logic of capital to destroy its sources in nature and labor. This is becoming increasingly evident in the circumstances of the intensified class war and ecological crisis in which we live. With lucidity and acuity, he moves from the nightmare of capitalism to the dream of socialism and explores its specific contours, bringing into play insights gleaned from historical experiences of the USSR, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Vietnam, and Venezuela and charting a viable path forward for our times.

—Helena Sheehan, Professor Emerita, Dublin City University

Michael Lebowitz reminds us of the continued power of the socialist dream. Attentive to developments in international socialism as well as pressing issues of climate change, the essays in this collection impress the urgency of the collective struggle to bring the capitalist nightmare to an end.

—Jodi Dean, author, The Communist Horizon

This is a must-read for everyone struggling for a better world. Once again, Michael Lebowitz complements frontline struggles against the nightmare of capitalism with an audacious and grounded vision of a socialist alternative. Together with our struggles, The Socialist Imperative will be an important part of making that vision a reality.

—Steve Williams, National Coordinator for LeftRoots

Karl Marx once asked who educates the educator? His answer was ‘revolutionizing practice.’ Michael Lebowitz exemplifies such revolutionizing practice in today’s struggle for a Socialism for the 21st Century, in which he has already played such an outsized role. His new work, The Socialist Imperative, constituting his most expansive vision yet, and a companion work to his The Socialist Alternative, is an informed, inspiring, and, for me, altogether indispensable, guide to the necessary socialist transition of our time.

—John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review; professor of sociology, University of Oregon; author, Marx’s Ecology

The Socialist Imperative makes an impassioned claim for the necessity of socialism. Faced with the living nightmare of 21st century capitalism’s destruction of human beings and nature, the prospect of barbarism increasingly haunts us. Lebowitz takes the reader on a guided tour of socialist ideas and institutions from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme to the present, drawing out the lesson that mitigation of workers’ conditions is not sufficient to nurture and sustain the dream of socialism. In an extension of his critique of socialist institutions in the 20th century in The Contradictions of ‘Real Socialism’, the author concludes that the destruction of the dream of socialism can and must be reversed. At a time when the executors of neo-liberal austerity have launched a ruthless, ideological offensive, Lebowitz’s work makes an important contribution towards theorizing a sustainable socialist alternative. New hopes and democratic impulses that are emerging in the Bolivarian revolution show that, with effort and will, humanity can reclaim the future. By struggling to realize the socialist dream, we can change circumstances and ourselves and create a new world of rich human beings and enriched nature.

—Helen Yaffe, author, Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution

Michael Lebowitz has long and widely been acclaimed as one of the preeminent socialist thinkers of our time. His work has had a profound effect on the way we think about revolutionary praxis and how we can live such praxis in our collective efforts in building a new society. In The Socialist Imperative, Lebowitz articulates a bold and provocative vision of human development and protagonistic agency in which the products of our social brain and social hand become mutually constitutive of our capacity-building and our equal right to contribute to our collective social heritage. In doing so, he pioneers a path from trade union consciousness to socialist consciousness that can help us not only to reclaim the commons but to expand and deepen it through workers’ councils and communal councils. Lebowitz forcibly argues with crystal clarity why a socialist party is necessary for facilitating the revolutionary process of transferring power to the people and for building a new society from the bottom up, based upon solidarity and community, while recapturing the state from capital. The Socialist Imperative is distinguished both by its epic breadth and prophetic voice. Written with stark erudition, precision, and with the benefit of decades of working inside and alongside revolutions-in-the-making, Lebowitz has courageously penned yet another masterpiece.

—Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director of the Paulo Freire Democratic Project and International Ambassador of Global Ethics and Social Justice, College of Educational Studies, Chapman University; author of Pedagogy of Insurrection

Analyzing both the inner nature of capitalism and historical experience, Michael Lebowitz proves in this book, in a new and updated way, the main finding of Karl Marx’s theory: “in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.” However, Lebowitz does not restrict himself to revealing that capitalism cannot be reformed into a humane and just system. After studying on the one hand the past failed attempts to build socialism in different parts of the world, and on the other the open fronts and the positive ideas of the present era, he lays down the prerequisites for re-imagining and re-inventing socialism. This book is valuable for all those who theoretically and practically struggle against capitalist exploitation and oppression. As Lebowitz writes: “If masses are armed with a clear conception of the socialist alternative, they can turn a crisis in capitalism into the crisis of capitalism.”

—John Milios, Professor of Political Economy, National Technical University of Athens

Socialism is imperative to transcend the barriers to human development inherent in capitalism. A human-centered society means that production must be to meet human needs instead of to make profits for the few, and production must be organized by the people who do the work and not imposed on them like animals. Another world is both possible and necessary, and we develop our human potentials by building it. In his latest collection of articles popularly discussing this, Lebowitz extends his earlier work on socialism as the goal, the path, and the compass.

—Al Campbell, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Utah

This very important book deserves a place in every library with an adult clientele…. Even Marx avoided describing the specifics of how socialism would look, famously declaring, “I do not write cookbooks.” The closest Marx came to an exception was his Critique of the Gotha Programme, a document opposing the Social Democrats’ plan to merge with another party, which he considered opportunistic. Lebowitz does an important service by bringing this document to public attention, and this book—which combines depth, insight, and clear writing—may be the first step in opening an essential dialogue about systemic transformation.


Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of The Contradictions of “Real Socialism,” The Socialist Alternative, Beyond Capital, Build It Now, and Following Marx. He was Director, Program in Transformative Practice and Human Development, Centro Internacional Miranda, in Caracas, Venezuela, from 2006-11.

SKU: mrp5465 Categories: , , , Tag:
Topics: Marxism Socialism Places: Global

Publication Date: July 2015

Number of Pages: 224

Paperback ISBN: 9781583675465

Cloth ISBN: 9781583675472

eBook ISBN: 9781583675489