My short bio: Hi there, this is Professor Richard Wolff, I am a Marxist economist, radio host, author and co-founder of I hosted a AMA on the r/socialism subreddit a few months ago, and it was fun, and I was encouraged to try this again on the main IAmA thread. I look forward to your questions about the economics of Marxism, socialism and capitalism. Looking forward to your questions.

My Proof:

UPDATE (6:50pm): Folks. your questions are wonderful and the spirit of inquiry and moving forward - as we are now doing in so remarkable ways - is even more wonderful. The sheer number of you is overwhelming and enormously encouraging. So thank you all. But after 2 hours, I need a break. Hope to do this again soon. Meanwhile, please know that our websites ( and are places filled with materials about the questions you asked and with mechanisms to enable you to send us questions and comments when you wish. You can also ask questions on my website:

Comments: 2500 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

Frajer449 karma

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Marxism?

ProfWolff965 karma

This one is easy: most folks have come to believe that Marxism is about the role of the state in the economy, a role presumed to be huge etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. Marx had little interest in the state, wrote very little about it, etc. He was interested in relationships among people as they produced the goods and services they needed to live. He felt that those relationships in capitalism were not good for people and that we can and should do better....and he tried to figure out how we might get to alternative, better economic systems.

cabral68152 karma

He wrote quite a bit about the state - charting its historical development in class society in his Ethnological Notebooks (which later would become the basis for Engels's famous book), and studying its role in the class struggles he witnessed in his day.

He concluded, based on the experience of the Paris Commune, that the working class cannot lay hold of the ruling class's state, but must destroy it and create its own, working class power, which is markedly different. The Paris Commune was the example of such a power.

What I want to ask you, Prof. Wolff, is if you think there is any value to this revolutionary theory of Marx's, or if you think socialism can be brought about by the mere establishment and expansion of workers' cooperatives. If the latter is true, do you think this fits with Marx's analysis of the Law of Value in Chapter 1 of Capital?

ProfWolff368 karma

With all due respect, what Marx wrote in the notebooks and pamphlet on the Paris Commune is tiny by comparison with his magnum opus, Capital and the companions Theories of Surplus Value. Those writings reflect and demonstrate the relative unimportance of the state in how he saw a post-capitalist economic system. The state was important as a means to get there, to express popular will and assist in the transition from a capitalist to a post-capitalist society. And there, the labor theory of value (which Marx took and altered from Adam Smith and David Ricardo) is useful as it lays bare the relationships in production that, in Marx's view, are the key objects to change in moving beyond capitalism.

littlemuffles265 karma

What do you think of Jill Stein's 30 second explanation of socialism?

Jill Stein: "If you define socialism as democracy applied to the economy so that it's an economy in which the people who are impacted actually have a controlling say in how the economy works, if that's how you define socialism I would say yes bring it on."

source: Jill Stein explains socialism in 30 seconds

ProfWolff324 karma

Pretty good for 30 seconds.

RolandToTheDarkTower236 karma

I remember that in one of your monthly economic updates you spoke negatively about the American gun industry.

What I am wondering is if you believe, as Marx had believed, that arms should never be stripped from the workers. Also, do you believe violent revolution is necessary to achieve true equality, and a democratic work place?

Thank you for introducing me to Marxism. I enjoy listening to all of your speeches.

ProfWolff477 karma

Marx understood that armed struggle has often been part of basic social change (its how slavery was finally defeated, how capitalism overthrew feudalism, etc.). He likewise grasped that it would be foolish to imagine that somehow the passage from capitalism to what comes next would not likewise be accompanied by armed struggles. And he surely wanted the workers to be armed to avoid their being slaughtered by the armed forces of the status quo. But that is a strategic conception light years from the NRA's promotional activity to boost gun sales for Ruger, Smith and Wesson, etc. Distributing arms to those who want buy or accumulate them, especially within the framework of a deeply committed right-wing organization committed to capitalism in principle is something altogether different.

PoblachtObrithe232 karma

You're very into economic democracy, that is cooperatives and workers' self management, do you think cooperatives are enough to do away with capitalism or do you think that there will need to be a mass movement of workers(Revolution) to undo the system and transform society on a socialist basis?

ProfWolff425 karma

No, I dont think that. My focus on worker cooperatives is aimed to add something left our by earlier anti-capitalist movements, with a few exceptions. Earlier critics saw a big role for the state; I dont. They wanted major social changes, with which I agree, but those needed a major change inside the relations among people in production. Changing a corporation from private to state leaves open whether and what kind of changes may or may not occur inside enterprises. For me, a democratic society requires to be based on a democratization of the workplace. That was not generally done in the USSR or China and thus stands as a key lesson of what we need to do to make changes here that are different from the failures there to revolutionize and democratize the workplace. Hence worker coops as a focus.

PoblachtObrithe229 karma

So what of Marx's economic theories in particular do you think are relevant today, especially in understanding the Great Recession?

ProfWolff610 karma

What matters most is Marx's method, his way of asking questions about any economic system. He wants to focus on the workers and how they are organized, who produces and who gets profits and how their relationship shapes society and them individually. These are questions very different from the narrow technical focus of mainstream economics today. Marx also understood how all systems change. Literally they are born, evolve and die. Slavery did; feudalism did, capitalism will....this alone is a perspective contemporary economics avoids like a bad smell.

-FallenWolf-119 karma

  1. Are we still in a Red Scare? People still seem to only associate Socialism with big spooky government.

  2. Why do you think most Leninist revolutions have ended with failure and a reversal to capitalism?

ProfWolff289 karma

Red scares are tools to quell dissent, criticism when they surge and threaten capitalism. Equating socialism with spooky big government is standard tactics in red scares, despite the fact that the snooping and intrusion of government surveillance and manipulation achieved in capitalist countries has often been as bad or worse than what happened in socialist ones. Leninist revolutions achieved many things and those need to be acknowledged and respected - as much as the things they did which need to be refused and avoided. Otherwise you buy into the dismissal of early efforts to go beyond capitalism rather than learn from them. What the early efforts missed was the need to revolutionize/democratize the workplace as the necessary accompaniment to the rest of socialism's changes to secure those changes and to enable the basic shift in morality and ethics without which socialism will not survive.

aacr2r118 karma

Hello Prof. Wolff, When an industry becomes socially unacceptable, such as the tobacco industry some decades ago and now the coal industry, the US spends money to ease the transition for those in that industry. This money in the case of tobacco mostly ended up with the corporations and the leaders of the corporations rather than for the re-training of the workers. The situation for coal miners may be even worse with the recent growth of the for-profit education industry.

How would this situation be different in a socialist society?

ProfWolff250 karma

Because the state in capitalist societies like ours is chiefly controlled by capital (via contributions to politicians and parties, lobbying, etc.) it helps capitalists in the ways you mention but even more massively in the post 2008 bailouts the cost trillions etc. Meanwhile, the ideologues revert to "free market fundamentalism" to argue against the state helping workers make difficult transitions for them when, say, automation savages jobs and communities etc. Then suddenly the money is not there (versus the trillions spent to help GM, AIG, etc in 2008-2010. A socialist society would put people and their jobs and incomes first; that would be the socialist bottom line, not the private profits of the few.

KomradeKoconuts91 karma

Hello Mr Wolff, regards from Brazil, first I want to say sorry about my english since it is not my main language. I've been reading some discussions about the Austrian School against Marx, and saw some people that said that Ludwig refuted Surplus Value theory. The arguments I read were simplistic but people still say that Marx was wrong, so my question is, Surplus Value was really refuted?

ProfWolff207 karma

No, not at all. The notion of "refuting" an economic theory is itself crude and inappropriate. That applies to Marxian theory as to all other theories. These are rather different ways to think about an economy, to approach grasping its structure and dynamic. To ask if an economic theory is true and another false is like asking if eating with knife and fork is true while eating with chopsticks is false. These are different ways of eating of interacting with food. Economic theories are likewise different ways of interacting with the system of producing and distributing goods and services....what matters is where these theories take you in your work, life, and civic engagement. Refuting one or the other misses the point as well as being empty scholastic exercizes of the worst and most irreleveant sort. The claim that an economic theory has been "refuted" serves merely to try to persuade people not to engage with it, to explore its insights and implications.

WohlT82 karma

Dr. Wolff:

What would it take for anti-capitalism to become mainstream in the United States?

ProfWolff198 karma

Not much more than what is happening already. The 2008 crash proved again and to a new generation that capitalism is unstable, unequal and unjust. Millions see that as the post-crash economy produces "recovery" for a few and long-term economic trouble and problems for so many. Bernie and Trump are products of different ways of dissociating from capitalism - as was the Brexit vote in the UK and political polarization elsewhere. With no solution in sight, continuing troubles suggest a deepening of anti-capitalist impulses that can become mainstream to an ever greater extent.

ElvishisnotTengwar14 karma

I'm not Mr. Wolff, but I'll go ahead and answer your question.

For one, we'd need people to start aligning with socialism/communism, which is helped by debate, writing and political activism. The only other thing I know stops socialism or communism from helping is the 1%, who like to shell money out to decry the "evils of socialism," so people would have to stop listening to Red Scare bullshit and instead turn over to looking at factual information.

ProfWolff83 karma

This is already happening in many locales. The tired old crap of blind support of a capitalism that does not work for most people is less and less attractive. Even many of its former exponents have stopped repeating the old stuff because it does no longer work or even provokes the opposite response. When young people over the last 5 years heard old politicians decry socialism and call Obama a socialist, they drew the conclusion that since they thought the old politicians were disasters and crooks, maybe this socialism of the young and preferred Obama might be worth looking into. When the political winds shift - which they have over the last 4 years - evrything else shifts too.

blinktwiceforyes76 karma

Hi Professor Wolff! Thank you for doing this AMA. I’m a long-time listener and a big advocate for your work (even my right libertarian-leaning mother-in-law is slowly getting on board!)

I’m wondering if you could elaborate a bit about a point you made in a recent edition of Economic Update in which you said that the structure of the workplace shapes the market. One common criticism of your work that I hear from other socialists is that converting more workplaces to coops/WSDEs wouldn’t change much, because they’d still be subject to the pressures of a market and the need to make a profit, so that converting more workplaces to coops/WSDEs without necessarily getting rid of markets would lead to the workers (to quote a friend of mine) “exploiting themselves”. Without a revolution at the top to demolish the market and institute planning, this line of thinking (as I understand it) goes, we won’t achieve socialism. How would you respond to this criticism?

Thank you for your time, and for everything else that you do. Shout out to the Democracy @ Work West LA action group, which is working hard to spread that class consciousness out here on the west coast!

ProfWolff131 karma

This is an important issue that arises often. Markets are one thing and class structures are something else. Markets are one way to distribute resources and products among members of society, but class is about how people relate to one another in producing (not distributing) good and services. Class relations in production and ways of distributing (markets or other ways) affect and shape one another, but they should not be confused. How an enterprise organizes its production is different from the mechanisms through which it acquires resources and distributes its products. In the history of slavery, primitive commnism, feudalism etc. sometimes markets were used, sometimes not. Its important to keep the two issues clear.

CoffeeDime73 karma

How has capitalism effected everyday Americans in ways they do not typically see?

ProfWolff233 karma

More ways that I can count. For example, if you work in an enterprise where a tiny number of senior executives and major shareholders make all the key decisions got their own reasons and profits (whether or not you have a job, what you get paid, what gets done with your output, etc), you develop a sense of powerlessness that does not stop when you go out of the workplace and into the rest of society. Workers denied democratic participation at the workplace lose the appetite and interest for it elsewhere too, as is demonstrated all the time in modern capitalist societies.

ransomedbyfire63 karma

Can Marxism exist peacefully with Christianity and other religions and vice versa? How can we possibly convince religious people that Marxism is a good idea when so many I know associate it with persecution?

ProfWolff150 karma

Yes, it can, as indeed it has often. Over the last 150 years, Marxist-Christian dialogues have happened in many countries and often with mass participation of churches and socialist and communist parties. Moreover, you write of Marxism in the singular, biut actually Marx's writings and the body of Marxist work is open to multiple interpretations so that it is better to speak of the Marxist tradition comprising various different theories etc. Otherwise, you risk mistakenly presenting one Marxist theory/intepretation as if it where the whole of Marxism. Since Marx dies in 1883, his thoughts have spread to every corner of the globe, inspiring people in vastly different cultures, etc. Of course, they interpreted the ideas differently over the last 150 years. Speaking of Marxism as one thing obscures or ignores all that.

lotictrance62 karma

For those of us who are already socialist, it can be especially frustrating to try to show peers in the American left how capitalism is the enemy they should be fighting most fundamentally, rather than conservatives or moderates. What kind of language would you recommend to use when talking to Democrats, socdems and liberals in general to help show that socialism isn't the evil they imagine it to be (or just a term for state capitalism)?

Also, I'm a huge fan of your work and have recommended your lectures to several friends. Thank you so much for what you do!

ProfWolff123 karma

Thanks for the kind words. I find that straight-forward talk, as concrete and full of examples as possible, works best. Avoid the jargon that has been demonized for the last 50 years. Above all, explain that it has been capitalism that has undone the middle class over the last 50 years, that has reverted to its old gross inequalities, that has imposed catastrophic instabilities on their economic lives and futures, and that human beings have always struggled to make things better so that doing that now in relation to capitalism is 100% appropriate....and that not doing that is a kind of giving up on human progress pushed on us only by the folks who stand to lose if we do indeed do better than capitalism.

CrumblyButterMuffins45 karma

This is a multi-part question so feel free to answer whichever way you choose!

  1. Which socialist organization do you feel is having the most success at showcasing an alternative to capitalism?

  2. What are some improvements do you feel parties and/or organizations should make in terms of building towards class consciousness? Are you for many organizations doing many different things and/or their own specific thing like union organizing, study groups, building co-ops, etc, or should socialist organizations try to focus on a few specific actions?

  3. What would you recommend people to do if they can't join an organization/decide not to, but still want to make people aware of Marxism and socialism without being threatening to people?

ProfWolff135 karma

Let me try #3. If you cant/wont join an organization, one thing to do is ask yourself why not. Individualism runs deep in the US...a kind of fear of losing yourself in a group, especially a political one. Yet social change is always a matter of groups and group struggle, sooner or later. Always has been. Of course, if you are not ready, ok, then read, learn and communicate what you believe to others...friends, family, co-workers....very important and often transformative.

-general43 karma

What do you think is the best way to reach the disfranchised voters? As this election has played out we see a large pro-Bernie crowd refuse to accept Hillary, what do you think is the best way to radicalize these people given how dirty socialism seems in America?

ProfWolff146 karma

Bernie galvanized millions and we all owe him for that. Hillary is an effort to undo all that and return us to the tired old establshment that brought us the crash of 2008, the greatest rate of racist incarceration in the world, and a money-corrupted politics. What I hope Bernie's millions do is see the need to maintain and build independent organizations inside and outside the old parties and to work together for a social break from a capitalism that is failing the vast majority who increasingly feel and know it.

insulasol37 karma

Hi professor Wolff!

I'm a part of a college socialist club pushing for our city to pass laws that make it easier to start and run co-ops. One thing that got brought up, by a city councilman of all people, was a zoning law requiring developers to put a certain amount of their commercial space towards co-ops. What do you thing of this, and what other policies should socialist push for in regards to cooperatives?

Edit: I'm also curious as to what sort of arguments you think policymakers would be most susceptible to in order to make them more pass more pro-cooperative laws.

ProfWolff76 karma

That sounds like a perfectly good way to proceed, to fight for such a zoning law since it eases another condition for worker coops to start and grow. Here's the basic pitch I would suggest: Americans should have freedom of choice. To choose to buy either a product of a capitalist, to-down enterprise or a democratic worker coop and such choice is only possible if worker coops are enabled to exist and function. Also to choose to work in a top-down capitalist enterprise or a democratically run enterprise, and to have such choice requires building up a worker coop sector. The state should do that because we believe that freedom of choice is desireable as a society. Also remember that the state has helped capitalist enterprises in countless ways for many decades....asking it to help worker coops now is minimal fairness, nothing more.

besttrousers35 karma

Professor Wolff,

I'd like to hear your response to the following comment from your colleague at UMass, Herbert Gintis.

After the fall of the Soviet Union the whole Third World Socialist Movement totally fell apart. We found was that the countries that were doing well were capitalist, like Korea, Costa Rica, and the Pacific Basin. We read all of this, and read Monthly Review, which was the organ of third world socialist development. It all failed, it totally failed. Cuba is a disaster; it’s a joke. So how can you go on and write the same stuff? How can you have the same politics you did before?

Some people just write the same stuff again, they don’t care. They’re really interested in the intellectual stuff. Other people, like Rick Wolff and Steve Resnick in my department, go into this post-modernism. I am a serious intellectual enemy of post-modernism in any form. I think it is an abdication of our scientific responsibility to find out how the world works and use it to make it a better world. The post-modernists hate science and they can’t do math. All they know is words. People who want to understand the world have to be able to do both math and words. I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I do both math and words.

I was very upset at the takeoff of post modernism. All of a sudden the Leninists have become fuzzy-wuzzies. That’s when I went off and said: Okay we have to stop being Marxists because it’s not getting us anywhere. It lost and if you lose you go home and try something else. What these guys do is that they lose and then they gather their wagons in a circle and they lick their wounds until they die, like the old WWI. They get together every year with banners and hats and become totally irrelevant to real politics. They simply make themselves happy. It upsets me that these smart people, who were so dedicated to social change, just opted out and started doing what was fun for them. That’s when I said, besides not being Marxist this stuff you are doing doesn’t get you anywhere.

Is Gintis right about the divergence in Marxist thought? How do you respond to his critique of your approach?

ProfWolff52 karma

I wont respond to Gintis since that is not serious material. Postmodernism is a way of approaching reality to know it. It is not Gintis's way and so he needs to dismiss and demonize. Not what debate means or achieves when serious. Marxism has a rich history and has been further enriched by its critical engagements with all major movements of thought (of which postmodernism is one). New kinds of Marxism have emerged including the kind whose engagement with postmodernism yielded the focus on reorganizing production into worker coops as a focus of socialism for the 21st century...something quite new and exciting in practical ways aimed at changing the world.

sjcmbam34 karma

What is your opinion of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, if you are aware of him?

Also, not a question but thank you very much for your lectures on YouTube - they made me a Socialist in the real sense of the word. Especially this one.

ProfWolff104 karma

Corbyn is a great fresh air for UK's politics. He has brought into political life hundreds of thousands of britons - alone an immense achievement that any serious democrat would applaud. And he has found new ways to raise socialism as a political goal. And that is why the old political establishment of the british Labor Party, of the the UK as a whole and of the old establishment in the US too (e.g. the NYTimes) work so tirelessly to denounce and demonize him.

Mamothamon28 karma

Was the best university in the US to study economics? especially if i'm interested in Marxian economics?

ProfWolff123 karma

The sad fact is that while there are a very few universities where Marxists are allowed to teach (New School University in NYC, UMass Amherst, Univ of Utah, UC Riverside - the residue of anti-Marxist repression and exclusion remains huge in the narrow confines of official economics), you wil have to learn it mostly on your own or with a few friends similarly inclined. Thats how I did it as I went through Harvard, Stanford and Yale (supposedly the elite but down and dirty with the other universities afriad to allow Marxists to teach). And it was possible if you wanted to. Try the elite universities not because the teaching there is what you seek; its not there. Go there because your jobs and life afterward will be better because of elitism that pervades academic and professional life in the hierarchical structures of capitalist society.

butterscotchwarrior24 karma

How are we ever going to overcome the "libertarian" voters who are firmly entrenched in "small government, no taxes" ideology so that we can finally create an economy that works for all of us and restore economic power to the working class? What's a good place to start?

ProfWolff94 karma

The notion that government is the really bad guy in the story is terribly convenient for the capitalists. They can hire, fire, pollute, abuse and the mass of people suffering blame not them but rather the government (as if the government were not financed and controlled by the big business community). I am not interested in drawing a big distinction between big capital and big government as they mostly act in concert and are our twin problems to overcome. Focusing on the government is a misdirection of anger and will leave untouched the economic foundation of the society we want to change....and that undermines projects for change.

anticapital66622 karma

Dr. Wolff, Thank you for taking the time to respond to our questions. My question to you is about market economics and WSDEs in relation to the goal of moving beyond capitalism. Are WSDEs and coops the "transitional" phase towards socialism. Is the goal to construct a socialist economic system operating within the realm of market economics or is there a longer term vision/plan to move past markets with the intent on reaching a system more closely modeled after the quote "from each according to their ability; from each according to their needs"?

ProfWolff61 karma

Great question. Yes, I think the demand for a worker-coop sector in today's capitalist economies is a demand that people will support, value and fight for. It is a practical, tangible change that will transform daily life, giving people a direct gain to fight for. I also believe that as worker coops grow and mature, they will investigate whether, when and how markets should or should not be their preferred mechanisms of distributing resources and products. I have my own views about markets as institutions and I am mighty critical of them, but that is another issue for another day when we can and no doubt will fight that out. By the way, in capitalism too, all sorts of distributions happen without markets and by design (as in how households distribute products among themselves, how distributions happen inside large corporations, etc.). It will be a major issue to square socialism and markets, but that is not the focus unless you link it intimately with the class transformation of the relations among people in producing goods and services.

HyborianPerspectives19 karma

If cooperatives are a means of achieving socialism then how come the largest cooperative, Mondragon, was allowed to prosper in fascist Spain?

ProfWolff56 karma

Mondragon is based in the Basque region of Spain/France. Franco feared engaging this fierce and independent people with a long history of armed struggle in their mountainous territory, so he had to leave them alone despite their left-political leanings. Also, since they were started by a Roman Catholic priest they had some protection from their churchly connections.

superbowlcdxx17 karma

Good evening, Dr. Wolff!

Many issues concern the American public, but capitalism, as you have eloquently pointed out many times, is the root cause of many of these issues. You and others discuss the socioeconomic effects of capitalism weekly on your program, but do you think the American public along with corporate media is farther from than closer to a tipping point of seriously discussing them?

ProfWolff52 karma

All I can say to that is the changes over the last 4 years have overwhelmed and surprised nearly everyone in terms of opening up the space to question and challenge capitalism. It is a sea change from anything I ever saw before in my lifetime. Despite the legacies of McCarthy, Cold War, etc., people by the millions have now shown they can and will vote for a presidential candidate self-defined as a socialist. No one imagined that possibility over the last 50+ years, So yes, everything I experince in my life and work says the attitudes and openness of the US people to critiques of capitalism and explorations of alternatives are soaring.

zorila13 karma

What sort of music do you listen to?

ProfWolff44 karma

Sure, my favorites have been the blues and also the classical music I grew up with. But I love creative music of all sorts, music that touches human experience in sound and poetry and is not afraid to do so.

ColoniseMars9 karma

Dear mr Wolff,

I am a big fan of your videos. What do you think of the rise of the right wing groups within Europe and how should we deal with the immigrant crisis (if we are able to at all) in a pragmatic Marxist manner? Sorry if this question is a bit on the heavy side, but this topic has caused great debate among socialists and communists, with opinions ranging from "Open Borders" to (near)-isolationism. There is a particular conflict when it comes to internationalism vs protection of the native working class for economic and tactical reasons.

ProfWolff43 karma

Lets go right to the core issues here. Do we as a people have obligations to the refugees? Yes, our governments bombed the Syrians who seek to escape. Our economies prospered on their backs. Are we the causes of their misery? No, that blames the people for a system that many of them are trying to fight and change. And that system has had allies in the countries from which the refugees flee. The blame is widely dispersed as is the suffering. The demand of the masses in the countries to which refugees flow must be for a transformation that can allow the refugees to be welcomed and the cost to do so borne by those most responsible for the problem and most able to be good humanitarians (i.e, corporations and the rich). What cannot be allowed is to use refugees and their suffering to drive a further wedge into the working class for the purpose of lowering the overall wage level...helping refugees at the expense of the working class. Jobs for the jobless is always the rallying cry and the expense to be paid by the capitalists.