Comments: 2930 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

JonasThiel231 karma

I've heard you say that you believe we should create an economy "that doesn't distribute wealth unequally in the first place." Since you are also a proponent of worker co-ops, I wanted to know how to combine those two Ideas. In an economy that is dominated by cooperatives, people working for more profitable companies would still make more money than people working at smaller ones, right? I'm a fan of both those Ideas and I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this.

ProfWolff27 karma

There would be a variety of ways to achieve these two goals together so that we avoid socially divisive struggles over redistribution by distributing wealth and income much less unequally in the first place. Worker coops make income distributions based on one-person one vote democratic decisions. No one doubts such decisions would never give 3-4 workers millions while most workers cannot afford to send their kids to college...that is, they would distribute enterprise incomes less unequally than is now the case in enterprises organized capitalistically. A concrete, currently existing example of how this can work occurs in the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain. Coop workers there democratically decided to make the highest paid worker earn no more, in each enterprise, than roughly 8 times what the lowest paid worker gets. Apropos enterprises' having different revenue streams relative to the workers in them, this could likewise be limited to, say, a difference no more than 4 to 1. Thus, no enterprise could distribute to its members an average income more than 4 times what was distributed to the average lowest paid worker coop's members. Any enterprise's income above that would go automatically into a general fund to support collective consumption provided equally to all. Such a system would need also to take into account different mixes of labor vs leisure when weighing different incomes, and so on. Commitments to full-employment would likewise support an economy based on worker coops and opposed to redistribtion schemes. These and other mechanisms exist that worker coop members, all together, could democratically decide to be necessary to sustain and reproduce a worker coop based enterprise system. Every system of enterprise organization needs to find i place or else produce and sustain specific conditions outside enterprises if that system of enterprise organization is to continue.

BatchBat168 karma

Big fan! I look forward to every Economic Update you put out.

What is your opinion on the works of Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, etc. - and/or anarchism in general?

ProfWolff183 karma

Marxists and anarchists have much in common, more than enough to collaborate (without denying issues where they differ). Coalitions between the two can and should make both, working together, stronger than they can be without coalition.

juriettochan154 karma

Do you support a General Strike movement in the United States?

Sara Nelson was at the netroots nation 19 convention talking about just that:

And here yesterday:

ProfWolff206 karma

Sara Nelson was super in her comments about a general strike in general andin response to the Trump/GOP disasters especially. A general strike is a tactic and thus depends on the specific conditions as to when it is the right call to make. The conditions are maturing in the US now as an increasingly desperate effort to distract angry American workers from capitalism's failures draws Trump/GOP into ever more divisive modes of racism, anti-foreigner craziness. What we need most are the organizations and careful thinking and planning that can make general strikes convert their huge potential into actuality.

CCCmonster96 karma

What’s the running total on lives lost at the hands of communist regimes?

ProfWolff103 karma

As far as I know, such totals are gathered by people who long ago lost any credibility with numbers. And to be fair to them, it is a weird calculus. It would be like adding up all the victims of capitalist colonialism from India to Africa and Latin America plus the victims of two world wars waged among capitalist economic systems or the millions denied affordable food, medicine, housing, childcare by unequal capitaists systems across the last 3 centuries. But who reasons that way? Should we compare millions lost? Really?

Farzad3148 karma

Hi professor Wolff!I see a lot of people in my position:They understand there are a lot of problems with capitalism,but they also are really dissapointed with the "Marxism Legacy" in the past century.How a new marxist left possible with all the dirt around the name "Marxism"?

ProfWolff130 karma

There is no escape from facing up to awful things done in the name of Marxism. Marxists have done so and keep doing so. We need to learn from what Marxists did wrong (so we dont go down such roads again) but we also need to learn from what they did right. The enemies of Marxism have mostly tried to smear all Marxism without recogizing its multiple interpretations and activities. That amounts to the equivalent of equating Christianity with the Spanish Inquisition, the burning of witches, the religious wars and crusades, the gross intolerances. Marxism, like Christianity, is a mixed bag. One can admit horrors done in their name yet also seek to save and build on what they did well. Marxism gave radicals powerful insights into the capitalism that oppressed them; gave strategic foci for political activity; connected revolutionaries in different societies to one another by seeing their objectives in parallel lights. Just like Christianity gave some people an important sense of being loved and cared for, being connected to all other people, and so on.

If we do a good job of explaining to people the mixed bag of Marxism they will see the point and engage with arguments about what is positive about learning from and using that tradition in your thinking and your action.

RevolutionaryMarxism45 karma

Will you ever have Michael Parenti on your show?

ProfWolff55 karma

Sure....but we need, given our technical situation, to have live interviews in studio in New York.

AntsInMyEyesJonson41 karma

What do you think of the common criticism of co-ops, which is that transitioning each company to a co-op will a) take far too long without a government mandate and b) retain many of the same hierarchies inherent to capital accumulation, only this time the capital accumulates around individuals within more successful corporations.

Do you support and can you name some measures that move us further away from an economy based on GDP growth?

How can co-ops still have some sort of profit motive while also effectively combating climate change?

ProfWolff92 karma

Every economic system builds and supports other institutions to support it. Slavery and feudalism sometimes avoided markets and at other times shaped those markets to reinforce itself. An economy based not on the unjust dichotomies of slave/master, serf/lord, or employee/employer - an economy based instead on a democratic community/worker coop - will develop markets or other mechanisms of distribution that reinforce coops. In other words, the criticism of worker coops that"the market" will make them capitalism misunderstands how differently markets work depending on the economic structures of production that define and shape them. A worker coop society does ot make profit the bottom line and would not permit "market activities" to undo coops any more than capitalists permit markets to undo their system

Q1Oz37 karma

When are you going on the Joe Rogan Podcast?

ProfWolff105 karma

Would love to............and would as soon as he invites me.

T3rkish34 karma

Professor Wolff, I'm a huge fan of yours and you've helped articulate problems with our current systems that I feel but couldn't quite put to words.

Do you feel that we are at a point in time to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, for real systemic change? With the looming climate crisis, I feel that we have one of two paths. Confront the destructive force of capitalism or continue down the path of extinction due to climate catastrophe.

ProfWolff50 karma

The extreme nature of the Trump/GOP regime attests to the desperation of a deeply troubled capitalism underlying the glib repetitions of "great economy." Climate crisis, racial and gender division, white supremacy and many more are signs of social decline and rising opportunities as well as demands for change. The iron is hot and heating, the audiences for radical critique are bigger than they have been for half a century. So yes, now is a time for action for all of us.

crispierdrawers24 karma


ProfWolff49 karma

Because I was not smart enough by then. And then it happened: i had good high school teachers, some good college instructors and I studied a lot on my own. I was really interested to understand why some are rich and others poor. Many of my teachers, good and bad, worked hard to get me to endorse and celebrate capitalism. I listened carefully but was not persuaded. So began a slow, steady progression, with plenty of doubts along the way, that led me to read and appreciate Marx's work. It also made me recognize the lacks in my formal education - lacks of reading the serious critics of capitalism. Bad marks for US education.

But then your question was not serious; my apologies for giving you a serious answer nonetheless

chandlerkaiden16 karma

Hi Richard, can you speak to how, when, and why the American right co-opted Christianity, which—in both its canonical gospels and apocrypha—is specifically antagonistic to their economic values, and whose sacred texts and ancient prophets espouse values opposed to those that capitalism would later embrace? Capitalism loves contradictions, and this one is egregious and absurd.

ProfWolff61 karma

Christianity has always had its left and its right - like all other religions and social movements. The strengths of the left and right depend in good part on their relative strengths elsewhere in society. The point is never to give up struggling no matter the momentary situation. The right presented Christianity as a protest against what they defined as the enemy (the state, multicultralism, etc.) better than the left presented its interpretation as a protest against capitalism. That fight has gone both ways in the past and can do so again.

lukasmukaspukas13 karma

Hi Professor Wolff, I have heard you praise the plans of John McDonnell with respect to the firms going bust -> co-operative takeover plan. Do you think such plans go far enough or what else could a socdem/socialist Labour government do to incentivise the establishment of more WSDE's?

Big fan btw

Edit for clarification after the response: I wasn't being disparaging of the policy it, and McDonnell are fantastic, I was just trying to get my question out quickly. Everybody should read at least the key points of the Labour manifesto from the last election for an example of what a strong social democratic/reformist strategy could look like in the post-crash era.

ProfWolff43 karma

McDonnell's plans are NOT primarily about enterprises going bust, but rather about all enterprises and especially the successful ones. When their owners want to close, or leave the country, or sell to another company or go public, McDonnell says that they must first give their workers right of first refusal to buy the company for conversion into a worker coop. McDonnell also says the UK gvernment, if Labor Party wins, will lend the money to such workers to do that. The whole point is to help build a worker coop sector of the UK economy so the British people can see and know how it works and thus have real freedom of choice as to what mix of capitalist and worker coops they want. Such a choice does not exist now in the UK and of course not in the US either.

WarHasSoManyFriends12 karma

What's your thoughts on Lenin and do you consider him a socialist?

ProfWolff29 karma

I was part of an opening panel of the 2019 Left Forum in New York, where Chris Hedges, Kali Akuno, Laura Flanders, and I spoke to the relevance of Lenin...I suggest you check the panel on You Tube where it is available in its entirety.

chandlerkaiden11 karma

Have you ever considered doing a lecture series for The Great Courses by The Teaching Company? 24 lectures on Marxism from you would be incredible, with that institution’s standards and production value.

ProfWolff23 karma

I have and we discussed it, but they were not "ready" to do so a couple of years ago. I remain ready and willing to do it and the interest in the interest inthe topic is huge as we learned recently from sales of the short volume Understanding Marxism that I wrote ad published this year. You can access the book, by the way, at


Thanks for doing this AMA professor!

During your interview with Chapo Trap House, you mentioned that the transition from feudalism to capitalism had lots of failed attempts, like the transition from capitalism to socialism. Could you elaborate more on that?

ProfWolff40 karma

Sure. Countless escapees fro feudalism ran to medieval European cities and there worked as capitalist eployers or capitalists' employees. Feudal lords tolerated this when it was to their advantage; but they also raided the cities, robbed the capitalists, and often killed them when that was advantageous to the lords. Then capitaist enclaves survived for weeks, months, or years before disappearing. It took many trials and errors before the capitalists figured out how to survive, let alone succeed in replacing the feudal system with capitalism. The workof Henri Pirenne remains a key text on all this. The importance of knowing that history is that it helps understand that the USSR, China, Cuba were all comparable experiments on the road to longer-term survival and progress toward displacing capitalism altogether.

JimmyTheOtherCat10 karma

Is "cultural marxism" actually a thing?

ProfWolff78 karma

No, or rather it has become a shorthand epithet of rightwingers who want to lump very different things (multiculturalism, LGBTQ civil rights, critiques of capitalism, anti-sexism, anti-racism, etc.) into one basket of things horrible in their eyes. So the term "cultural Marxism" suits that objective for them. It does not exist within the Marxist tradition; Marx never used the term. Its users dont define it at all rigorously, but then they dont need to; it is a curseword for them not anything analytically precise.

WhatIsACarrotAnyway9 karma

Hi professor - overall, would you say you are optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

ProfWolff60 karma

In reply I have always quoted the great Marxist thinker, Antonio Gramsci: he said he was "a pessimist of the intellect, but an optimist of the will." Be ruthless i analyzing what is going on, no wishful thinking that way. But never conclude that nothing can be done. Something always can because our analyses are never 100% complete or true. And in that incompleteness and partiality lie possibilities for revolutionary thought and action.

xijiajun8 karma

Hi, professor. The democracy at work place is really a freshing idea that I have ever seen. My question is how can we practise this transformation under the current economic and political situation? Because under the current system, the more profit that corporations can make, the more competitive the corporations can get. How can co-ops compete with corporations? And under the current system, how can working class democratize the exsisting giants?Those boards and capitalists are very unlikely to volunteer to give up their company.

ProfWolff28 karma

Much evidence already exists that worker coops can be MORE profitable than capitalist corporations (that happened for much of the period, 1956-2019 in Spain, which is why the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation outcompeted many capitalist corporations. While worker coops do not need to make profit their bottom line as capitalists do, they can achieve all sorts of profitable economies that capitalist corporations cannot match. That is not a theoretical pint but merely a record of evidence from actually existing coops.

rashiu_alvarez7 karma

Hey Dr. Wolff! Also a big fan of your EU show!

What do you think the movement for an economy based on worker-led co-operatives should look like? Should we make our own co-operatives to compete with traditional corporations? Should we try to seize pre-existing multinationals and democratizing them? What is the role of the state in this process?

Thank you for your time!

ProfWolff15 karma

There are many ways to build coops - from scratch or by converting existing capitalist enterprises of all kinds. No one knows the "best" lets use whatever ones are available. The role of the state is to facilitate all the ways of building coops (by the legal changes we need, the funding we need, the purchase orders to coops we need and so on.) In short, the state should do for worker coops what it always did for capitalists. We need a political party securing the state support for worker coops that the GOP and Dems have long done and so no for capitalists.

platanomics7 karma

How do you think young Heterodox economists can engage better with young people and social movements? Greetings from UMass Amherst and the Center for Popular Economics!

ProfWolff19 karma

In classes and outside, present your heterodox approaches every chance you get, to every possible audience. Nor stop your education ever: you can always learn from people, be the student again and let your students be your teachers. Especially study the Marxian is the most developed part of heterodox economics to which the most theory and practice have been devoted. To not know or apply it is to engage the fight for social justice without many of the key tools needed to achieve that.

The_Whizzer7 karma

Big fan Dr. Wolff.

What is your opinion to the fact Europe is slowly getting more and more liberal? Looking at Germany and France for example, which are leading the way.

And how do you believe to be the best way for Europe to stop trading with China without compromising economic stability?

ProfWolff17 karma

Competition for Chinese and US capitalists is steadily driving European capitalists to support profits by gutting their social democracies. But they are weaker than the Chinese and US governments and they face stronger social democratic constituencies. So it is not clear where this will end up. Europe may yet go another way because it cannot replicate its competitiors' situation.

internationalmazby125 karma

What is your major book Prof Wolf ?

ProfWolff15 karma

In some ways, my first (Knowledge and Class) with my co-author Steve Resnick.And in some ways my last, the short Understanding Marxism (2019 at

izzelbeh4 karma

Do you think that the problem is capitalism or cronyism? Which do you think we have right now?

ProfWolff37 karma

Cronyism exists in past and present and in many parts of society. Capitalism has its kinds of cronyism. People with wealth and power share it with friends and relatives - cronyism - rather than distribute it according to people's needs or people's competences. That has been true of the 1% at the top of capitalism (owners of businesses above all) since the system's beginnings. And capitalist cronyism seeps into the rest of the culture leading people to know that getting a job depends far more on who you know than what you know. Capitalist cronyism runs so deep that capitalism has had to develop a thick ideology to obscure cronyism. That is the ideology of "meritocracy"the fake notion that people advance in capitalism according to the merit they have.

Cronyism existed before capitalism, but capitalism has taken it to new heights partly by hiding it behind a curtain of fake meritocracy.

lamp_wizard4 karma

Hello professor Wolff, big fan here B)

I'm going into academia/teaching for history, but am considering also getting a degree in economics. From a leftist or anti-capitalist perspective, what is the most "exciting" up-and-coming topic of economics that is going on in academics today? Also, in your opinion, what should anti-capitalist economists focus on going forward in regards to both economics as a study/field and as politics?

ProfWolff9 karma

The key thing to do in the hide-bound, conservative field of academic economics (dominated by business mentalities and business "donations" is to challenge and confront it with the absurd and intellectually dishonest imbalance it embraces. Keynesian economics and mostly socialist ad Marxian economics is blocked, denied, minimized and slandered when an honest curriculum would have the advocates of each school able to present it to students so they could choose.The critique of capitalism, the arguments as to how and why alternative economic systems would serve us all better - these are the issues to demand as students and as teachers.

wrstlr32323 karma

Big fan Dr Wolff. Drove back from vacation and listens to some of your YouTube videos for the full 4 hour drive.

I have a degree in Econ as well and, as you’ve stated, they don’t say anything about communism so it’s all been outside reading. Are there any books you recommend that aren’t as well known as some of the more popular socialist books most people talk about?

ProfWolff14 karma

One of the greatest - old but super good: Maurice Dobb, Political Economy and Socialism. Excuse my immodesty, but try Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of political Economy (Resnick and Wolff: Univ of Chicago Press, 1987).

Mango_drink3 karma

Dr. Wolff, I’m a fan of your Democracy at Work YouTube channel and thank you for your efforts to educate people. What I would like to know is what would be the Marxist solution to the rise of automation replacing workers?

ProfWolff14 karma

Its actually simple. Technical progress is used by capitalists to increase their profit. If a new machine is twice as productive as an old one, the capitalist lays off half his workers, produces the same amount of stuff, sells it, pockets the same revenue but now has half his old payroll so keeps that money himself. Profits up. Half his workers fired. Good for him, awful for his workers.

But if the enterprise had been converted into a worker coop by well organized and well-informed Marxists, for example, they would use the new machine altogether differently. They would cut the work day in half, keep all the workers, pay them the same. That would leave the profit unchanged as output and sales were not changed. In effect, the gain from the new machine would be the enormous increase in leisure for the workers. Capitalism uses tecnology for profit. A socialist system could use it instead to benefit the majority, the workers. Techology and technological advance is not and was never the problem. Capitalism was because it used technology to boost the profit of the few at the expense of many and socialism would not need or want to do that.

Shrek_Pepe3 karma

Hello there Doctor Wolff!

This question might not ne one your an expert in, but how important is left unity and is it feasible for all sides of the 'left' to work together and get a say without political domination by a certain group like the MLs in the Soviet Union.

Can Marxist-Leninists, Anarchists and even Democratic Socialists or Social Democrats all unite in solidarity against the more reactionary forces of the world?

Thank you so much for your time.

ProfWolff7 karma

We know they can because they have. History overdoes the divisions among them because they wereoften spectacular and painful. But there also often unities that can be studied and replicated if the conditions permit. But the pull is always the same: we are much more powerful united than divided much of the time.

Deedeedee133 karma

What topic do you find to be the best starting point to convince people who are social democrats, as opposed to socialists who are anti-capitalist, that capitalism itself is inevitably the source of a multitude of serious problems?

ProfWolff34 karma

Capitalism's drive to inequality, its instablity (cycles) and its injustice (arrogating power to a few at the costs of the many). These are basic, systemic flaws that have never been solved by "reforms," because they are systemic and require system change to get beyond them.

Busby662 karma

Hello Professor,

Do you think that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren getting into office could really change something in the US?

If so, do you favor any of the two candidates?

Thank you !

ProfWolff13 karma

Yes, I think that either Sanders or Warren could and likely would make significant changes that I would support. Such changes and the opposition from capitalists to them would also alter US society in multiple ways that would present new political opportunities for the left. In that environment, the arguments for basic social change - for a system change beyond capitalism - would become, I believe, more urgent for ever more people. Since I am most interested in a movement for system change - since I believe the social problems we have are systemic (linked fundamentally to the capitalist system) - that is a prospect I see as positive. Hence my support for the kinds of reforms Sanders and Warren propose.

InfiniteGrover2 karma

Hello Dr. Wolff, and thank you for doing this. Anything that gets Marxism further into the public consciousness is a good thing!

My question for you is a somewhat personal one: what would you say has been the high point and low point for you as a Marxist economist?

ProfWolff29 karma

The high point has been the last 5 years as the audience for, the interest in, and, yes, the appreciation for my work has exploded - far beyond anything I had ever expected to see in my lifetime. It is, for me, a heady time indeed. The lowest was the 1980s and 1990s when capitalist triumphalism (after the implosion of the USSR especially) made many people who had been interested think that somehow the struggle between capitalism and socialism had been ended and won by the former. That was tough to watch and witness.

FreudoMarx2 karma

Hi Wolff! Marx famously said that "the workingmen have no country"

Should marxists put forward a critique of nationalism or try to work with the framework of national sentiment to push policies?

ProfWolff2 karma

Not an either or. They should do both. Nationalism has been and can be a social movement that criticizes capitalism and pushes beyond it. Nationalism has been and can be a fascistic reactionary movement too (as we saw in Italy, Spain and Germany in the 20t century and in today in Hungary, Poland, Brazil and the US. No wholesale dismissal of nationalism, but rather a critique based on whether it is used to distract and deflect working classes from struggles against capitalism or whether it is part of a movement that is critical of capitalism.

the-other-shoe1 karma

Prof Wolff, how do we convince people that 'big government" isn't the enemy and that the USSR, China, Cuba, Venezuela etc are not the end all be all of socialism? What is the best way to get people to recognize the failings of capitalism and open their minds to other possibilities?

ProfWolff7 karma

Tell them exactly what your question says. Make that point however, wherever and to whomever you can. There is plenty of material to use. Be able to explain both the successes and failures of the first experiments with socialist societies. Explain how we can and must learn from the successes and avoid the bad things. That is reasonable and persuasive. By the way, I spent 10 years with my colleage Steve Resnick to analyze what happened in the USSR. You might find all sorts of useful analysis there: Class and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

CatWhisperer50001 karma

Do you advocate a specific model of socialism? I am a vehement anti-capitalist but I can't seem to land on any particular socialist model to advocate.

ProfWolff8 karma

In general, past socialisms have focused on government taking over or at least regulatin private capitalist enterprises and replacing markets with planning. While that produced some notable gains (the fastest growth of GDP ever achieved, first in the USSR and more recently in China). But it also produced some notable failures such as too much state power used for bad political and cultural ends. Thus the 21st century priorities of socialism that impress me refer to the transformation of the workplace (office, factory, store) from top-down capitalist to democratic worker coop) as a way to ground real democracy, displace the social center from the state to the working people. A socialism that advocates for an economy that serves the people by finally putting them in charge (rather than leaving that to the minority of masters - in slavery; lords - in feudalism; and employers in capitalism) is one I think can capture people's hopes and dreams and provide a way forward as capitalism decomposes around us.

hamhandling1 karma

I'm going to be teaching high school level Microeconomics for the first time this year- do you have any tips or recommended resources?

ProfWolff8 karma

Go to Dollars and Sense magazine (Boston) for perfect resources you can use.

GovWarzenegger0 karma

Which career path should I pick, to improve society at large? Thanks for doing this!

ProfWolff43 karma

There is no best career. In addition what your passions suggest is usually wise to follow because you will invest such work with those passions. We need advocates for basic social changes everywhere. We need critics of capitalism coming from every job, neighborhood, social group. No one knows what catches fire politically first, so the best strategy is to stay true to the critical stance this society so badly needs while engaging the career path the also meets your personal needs and desires.

PhilippeCoutinho0 karma

Massive fan. Have you ever considered running for President?

ProfWolff5 karma

No but thanks for the flattering thought. I have run for political office twice, both times in New Haven, CT: for Mayor in 1985 and for Board of Aldermen in 10% of vote the first time and 45% the second. Learned a lot from both experiences. Ran as a New Haven Green Party candidate.

MatthewDLR-1 karma

what can young marxists practically do for their community that works towards an eventual revolution?

ProfWolff40 karma

Identify and assemble like-minded friends, co-workers, neighbors into an organization because while the consciousness of the need for basic social change is growing fast, organization - building lasting groups that can build political and social strength - is lagging badly. Organizations that educate themselves while focusing on small, achievable changes, that talk about the need for basic changes as they themselves push for small ones...those are proven recipes for success in building a new, Marxist left

nondairy_kramer-1 karma

I think the US is at a crucial point, where socialism is more possible than ever before. But I wonder if we can actually win against the power of capital at this point. My biggest fear is that capitalist retribution for left success in politics will break people's political will, via capital flight, disinvestment, etc.

Do you think capitalists might already have too much power for us to take control back now? And how can we cope with that kind of retribution, and potentially large harm to workers as a result?

ProfWolff18 karma

Good question...and always has been for people seeing the need for systemic change: what those who lose by systemic change are prepared to do to others to keep systemic change from happening. My response is this: when a social system has exhausted the support of enough people in it, it dissolves. The power of those who want to stop change then shows itself to be a lot less than they had boasted it was. The British mocked and ridiculed the puny power of the US colonies just before they were defeated by them. Likewise the French Court never dreamed the Parisian rabble could defeat their police and army before the Revolution blew the Court away. And the Czar had so much power before the Bolsheviks exposed it and defeated it. Capitalism is building the people, groups, movements, and organizations that can and likely will perform the same sorts of exposures yet again.