Beyond Market Dystopia



This 56th volume of the Socialist Register is motivated by wanting to look beyond – while still taking into account – the deep contradictions of neoliberal capitalism that have so far dominated political and economic life in the twenty-first century. These contradictions amount to something of a register of the dislocations and distortions of capitalist markets over the last several decades: the gross income and wealth inequalities of class and nation; the massive global credit expansion in volume and complexity underpinning economic growth; the intricate interconnections between financial markets and global value chains; the ever more limited capacities of states to control economic crises; the breaching of greenhouse gas emission targets under the relentless acceleration of the circulation and accumulation of capital still thoroughly dependent upon fossil fuel energy supplies; and the massive void that now exists between liberal democratic politics deploying policies of social inclusion and the material sources of social polarisation and class divisions. In the Preface to last year’s volume, A World Turned Upside Down?, we suggested that these developments ‘increasingly raise the stark question of whether we should once again be thinking of the options facing the world in terms of “socialism versus barbarism”… In a world overturning old certainties, soberly expressing the prospects for a way forward for the left requires setting out new left agendas for confronting the corporate powers of capital, and indentifying new hopeful organizational dynamics that could lead to state transformations.’

To look beyond the restricted horizons disciplining the range of acceptable political options today requires overcoming the current limits of vision as well as practice that would allow for other possible political choices. In the past years, we have seen a multiplication of writings on ‘alternatives’ speaking to ‘post-capitalism’ but most remain cast in terms of still working within – and most often accommodating – actually-existing capitalism. They too often reflect rather than transcend the contradictions entailed in, for instance, the promise of abundance from automation but also a severe intensification and degradation of work; or in the imperative to address ecological limits in a transformation of the socio-economic system but a seeming inability to reverse the waste economy or climate change; or the sickening overhousing of the few alongside a desperate need to address homelessness, social housing and the new global slums.

By challenging our contributors to address what are the actual and possible ways of living in this century, we saw this as way of probing how to get beyond the deep contradictions of neoliberal capitalism. We did not want contributors to conceive their remit as future-oriented per se, but rather to see their mandate as locating utopic visions and struggles for alternate ways of living in the dystopic present. To this end, a number of the essays interrogate central dimensions of ‘how we live’ and ‘how we might live’ in terms of educating our children, housing and urbanism, accommodation of refugees and the displaced, and (to lean on that all too common phrase) the competitive time pressures for ‘work-life balance’.

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