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Book Review: The Alternative to Capitalism

A review of a book, co-authored by two SPGB alumni, which analyzes capitalism, clarifies the meaning of socialism, and fleshes out the few genuine socialist tendencies.

by World Socialist Party US



2 min read

Photo published by Theory and Practice on libcom.org.

Adam Buick and John Crump, The Alternative to Capitalism (Theory and Practice, 2013)

This short paperback is a concise introduction to basic Marxian concepts concerning the current system of society – world capitalism – and the alternative to it – world socialism. The texts are carefully written to be fully accessible to readers with no previous knowledge of Marx’s ideas.

Apart from the preface, the book consists of three chapters reproduced from two other books that were published in the 1980s and are now unfortunately out of print.* Although there is a note of this fact on the page just after the title page, under copyright and ISBN, it is not mentioned anywhere else, and this may confuse the reader who overlooks the note and does not realize that the texts were written over a quarter of a century ago, when the ‘Soviet’ system of state capitalism still existed in Russia and other countries.

Chapter 1 analyzes capitalism. The authors explain the essential features of capitalism one by one, leading to the succinct but – to the uninitiated – mysterious definition of capital as ‘self-expanding value.’ They argue that certain features that many people associate with capitalism are not in factessential to the system. In particular, its functioning as a capitalist system does not depend on whether the capitalist class consists of private owners and corporate managers, state managers and officials, or some other group (military officers, say).

Chapter 2 clarifies the meaning of socialism or communism (no distinction being drawn between these two words). The authors explain the essential features of a genuinely socialist society, contrasting them with the essential features of capitalism that correspond to them. They also draw attention to one important feature that capitalism and socialism share: they are both worldsystems. That is why they cannot exist simultaneously in different parts of the world.

A few pages are devoted to a discussion of how production and consumption might be planned and organized in a socialist world. Given the title of the book, however, it would have been appropriate to consider this problem at somewhat greater length and include some concrete examples to illustrate and enliven the general presentation.

Chapter 3 describes and compares the five currents of thought that (in the authors’ view) embodied a genuine socialist tradition in the twentieth century – namely:

  • anarcho-communism (the anti-capitalist wing of anarchism)
  • impossibilism
  • council communism
  • Bordigism (followers of the Italian communist Amadeo Bordiga)
  • situationism

While this chapter contains many valid points, it also raises difficult questions. Even the selection of currents to be recognized as genuinely socialist is open to criticism. Why include an offshoot of Leninist vanguardism like Bordigism? Conversely, why exclude syndicalist movements such as the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and DeLeonism?

Finally, why use the dismissive term ‘impossibilism’ for the current represented by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the World Socialist Movement, to which the authors themselves belong or belonged?** This term was coined by opponents who considered what the SPGB was advocating impossible, and then adopted by some of the few academics who have noticed our existence. It seems perverse for us to use it in reference to ourselves! I suggest replacing it by ‘world socialism.’


* Chapters 1 and 6 of Adam Buick and John Crump, State Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management (Macmillan, 1986) and a chapter from Maximilien Rubel and John Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Palgrave Macmillan, 1987). A few second-hand copies of both books are still available from Amazon and other sellers, though prices (especially for the second book) are high.

** Adam Buick remains an active member of the SPGB. John Crump, who died in 2005, resigned from the SPGB in 1973 (his resignation letter is online at http://libcom.org/library/resignation-letter-1973-john-crump) and (like this reviewer) was involved in the splinter group Social Revolution (see also http://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/9p8dk3).

Purchasing Information

The book can be purchased from Amazon with US currency (price $7.50, Kindle $2.99)


or with British currency (price £2.50)


It is also available in electronic form from


Tags: Books, Marxism, Theory

Photo of author
Standing for socialism and nothing but.

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