5.3 Is green social democracy the only alternative to neoliberal capitalism?

Ostensibly, there are other alternatives to neoliberal capitalism than green social democracy. But our search through the programs and practices of the contending political parties in Canada and the United States has not disclosed any. Most of the larger political parties embrace neoliberal capitalist policies, including the Liberal and Conservative Parties in Canada and the Democratic and Republican Parties in the United States. A couple of significant political parties lean sharply in the direction of green social democracy as we have defined it, most notably Quebec Solidaire, with three of its members in the Quebec National Assembly, as well as the Green Party of the United States, while the Green Party and New Democratic Party in Canada, each with elected members of Canada's Federal and provincial legislatures, and the progressive caucus within the Democratic Party in the United States, appear to be leaning in that direction.

The option that might have the greatest popular support at the present time if it were on offer is a reformed neo-liberal world, a kinder, gentler neo-liberal capitalism, one that would make reasonable concessions to the people and the environment. This alternative, if it were feasible, might give neo-liberal capitalism a further ride, much as the New Deal gave to liberal US capitalism and the world after the Great Depression and the Second World War. But are there any signs that the economic and political elite, facing the greatest global economic, environmental and social crisis since the period of the Great Depression, are today prepared to make these concessions, particularly in the absence of an alternative that effectively challenges its continued rule? Instead, they engage in the politics of appearances, giving the impression of a positive response to the people's demands, while continuing, when not intensifying, the very policies that transfer income and wealth up the economic ladder and exacerbate the environmental crisis.

Perhaps the more serious question is whether a kinder, gentler neo-liberal capitalism is even possible. It appears to be a system that is running out of room, much like previous class societies. The problem is that today there is nowhere for the human race to go to escape the results of overexploitation of human and natural resources and associated declining options for neo-liberal policies of vigorous capital accumulation. The mutual destruction of the contending classes (an end of human civilization) appears to be the best that neo-liberal capitalism can offer as a future for humanity.

The alternative to liberal capitalism proposed at the outset of the industrial revolution by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels was socialism, which they defined as "the common ownership of the means of production" (Communist Manifesto, 1848). From the Russian Revolution in 1917 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, socialist societies ostensibly built in accord with Marxist theory were constructed by one-third of the World's population, generally in countries recently emergent from feudalism, with limited experience of capitalism. Their existence inspired working class political action throughout much of the rest of the world and must be given some of the credit for the willingness of the political and economic elites of the capitalist countries to make concessions to the working class.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and most communist states can be attributed in part to the hostility and relative economic and military might of the surrounding capitalist states, but it is doubtful that these could have produced such a result by themselves. As we argue in the next chapter, it seems more likely that the lack of democracy, featuring centralization of decision-making in the hands of an uncontested political party and the corresponding alienation of the rest of the population also played a major role in the collapse of communism. In other words, the 20th century variant of communism does not represent an alternative for the 21st century. Green social democracy, as it is being defined by the people's social movements, does.

But how fundamental is the difference between neo-liberal capitalism as it exists and a green social democracy as we have defined and described it? Can a green social democracy be achieved through a series of reforms of neo-liberal capitalism? Must it await a situation comparable to either the 1917 or 1991 revolutions in Russia, where the key economic, political and cultural elements of the new system were established during a historically short period? To address these questions, we need to apply the best analytical tools at our disposal. We should then be in a better position to identify strategies we can employ to get us from here to there.


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.