1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

Before arguing for individual policies (reforms) that respond to the predations of contemporary global capitalism, and without the greater detail that can be found in the chapters that follow, we offer first a brief observation on the dynamics of capitalism as a socio-economic system. Our intention here is limited to pointing out the systemic nature of the failures that require policy responses. Our hope in doing so is that the reader might avoid falling into the illusion that any single reform we might advocate later in this work would by itself set us on a new course or provide any security that an issue addressed by a single, isolated reform would be resolved in this way. Only a fundamental change in each of the major components that comprise the capitalist socio-economic system is likely, in our view, to accomplish lasting reforms if the problem is the capitalist system itself.

We will have a greater likelihood of moving beyond the cycle of partial victories followed by serious retreats if we consciously link our reform efforts with the necessity of system change. For that we need to first shed ourselves of the belief promulgated by our ruling elites that capitalism is a universal descriptor of economic life. Capitalism is no more a universal system than was feudalism. Its supporting ideology is no more universal than medieval belief in an earth centred universe.

In the subsequent chapters of this work, the reader will find addressed in greater detail some of the changes needed in our theoretical perspective (chapter 2) and in the two dialectically related subsystems of economics (chapter 3) and culture (chapter 4), followed by more attention to strategic considerations (chapter 5), some of the lessons we might learn from past struggles (chapter 6) and arguments for essential transition policies if we are to finally succeed in moving beyond capitalism (chapter 7).

In an effort to keep the entire work readable, every section of every chapter (marked by a section title in bold letters) is a brief, self-contained argument that can be read, revisited and re-evaluated in the brief snatches of time usually available to busy people.

We begin here by defining the individual capitalist as a person who makes a living primarily by earning income from the goods and services created by the labor of others. We likewise define a capitalist enterprise as one whose existence is dependent on the profit appropriated by the enterprise's owners from the sale of products and services created and provided by their employees. In the first place, profits are needed by capitalist enterprises to enable them to continue their own activity. This need would also be true of enterprises owned by their workers and operating within a capitalist market economy.

Both a capitalist enterprise and a worker cooperatively owned and operated one, so long as they are active in a capitalist market economy, need additional profits for investment in new technology to match or better the productivity of rival enterprises. Distinguishing capitalist enterprises from worker cooperatively owned and operated ones, however, is the striving of the former to achieve levels of profit that enable them to expand their activity in a capitalist world in which no amount of accumulation of capital provides certain security against predation, takeover and defeat by other capitalists. In that sense, it is questionable whether any enterprise, whether owned by a capitalist or by its workers can consistently behave as a non-capitalist one in a market dominated by capitalists.

Those capitalists that survive as such recognize the crises endemic to the system as occasions when those with larger amounts of capital, both in liquid form and in the form of credit-worthy collateral, are able to absorb or expand at the expense of their more vulnerable rivals, or at the very least, subordinate less powerful capitalists, making them the equivalent of labor exploited for the additional profits they channel up to the dominant capitalists. A ready example is that of the small farmer, squeezed by financial capital, the suppliers of the equipment, seed and fertilizer they depend on and by the retail chains they depend on for bringing their produce to market. Indeed, most such small business owners contribute more of their own labor to the benefit of the more powerful capitalists than these latter could extract by turning them into their direct employees.

The concentration in few hands and centralization geographically of capital ownership also have consequences for employees as well as for rival capitalists. For example, the crises that create opportunities for some capitalists to expand at the expense of their more vulnerable rivals are also opportunities for intensifying the exploitation of the most vulnerable participants in the capitalist market economy, workers. Those thrown into a more desperate economic position, in the absence of successful collective resistance, are frequently forced to accept reduced wages or more dangerous and self-destructive working conditions.

For working people, every economic crisis in recent decades has marked a further race to the bottom in relative economic position. For working people as a whole, this race to the bottom has forced acceptance of deteriorating environmental conditions. This deterioration is fostered by deregulation, imposed on workers as a means of creating more favorable local conditions for needed capitalist investment and therefore employment.

For those making a living through their ownership of small businesses, naming the result as profits fosters a corresponding illusion of their independence, which in practice continuously vanishes in the exercise of the increasing power of the monopolistic enterprises, especially financial ones, that precede and follow them in the economic web in which they are immersed. To paraphrase Marx, one capitalist kills many.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.