5.4 Some analytical tools and their implications for strategy

Tools familiar to the authors and many readers of this argument include systems analysis, TS Kuhn's identification of paradigm shifts in scientific theory and Marx's historical materialism. Let's begin with systems analysis. There is admittedly a risk here of some confusion with the details of any of the wide range of ways in which such analysis is carried out, depending on the field of science that is involved. For our purposes, we can narrow our use of systems analysis to the application of the definition of "system" in Wikipedia: a "system is a set of interdependent components forming an integrated whole." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems).

Is neo-liberal capitalism, with the characteristics summarized above, a system by this definition? Is it possible to reform neo-liberal capitalism permanently by removing any one of the defining characteristics we have attributed to it? Or would the system operate in such a way as to restore the reformed characteristic? As it concerns the past, the verdict is clear. All such reforms have been and are being resisted by the defenders of this system, ultimately leading (so far) to the restoration of the characteristic feature. As to the future, the verdict must necessarily be speculative.

Even more speculative is the description of green social democracy as a functional alternative system. There is simply no green social democracy yet in existence, although there are examples in practice of each of its hypothetical features. It is here contended that green social democracy also constitutes a system, one that would be stable only with the achievement of all the characteristics attributed to it. Moreover, each of the characteristics represents a logical alternative to the corresponding characteristic of neo-liberal capitalism. To achieve a stable green social democratic society, therefore, would require a fundamental change in each of the defining characteristics of neo-liberal capitalism.

Let's consider TS Kuhn's use of paradigm shift in describing the revolutionary process of replacement of one scientific theory by another (Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1970.) Practical problem solving takes place through the application of existing scientific theory. There is understandably great reluctance to part with an existing theory. Not only must the existing theory be unsuccessful in accounting for some of the facts, a new, more inclusive theory must be proposed and its adoption supported by consensus of the community of scientists. Then, and only then, does it become the operative theory of the scientific community.

Neo-liberal theorists contend that their brand of economics is a science and their economic theories are scientific ones. The practical management of business and government, of course, requires some guidance from economic theory. Here we consider just the last thirty years, rather than the history of economics. For these three decades, neo-liberal theorists have contended that deregulation of banking and industry and reducing taxes on the wealthy would expand the economy, create jobs and produce economic stability. There has continued to be an impressive growth in world-wide production of goods and services as measured by traditional economic measuring tools. There have also been new jobs for much of the expanding world population.

But the application of neo-liberal economic theory has had other results as well. Reducing taxes on the wealthy has increased their personal disposable wealth, led to speculative frenzies, associated market bubbles and consequent losses, mainly borne by the rest of society. Continued economic growth, as traditionally measured, has occurred alongside an accelerated degradation of the natural world, the cost of which is not included in GDP and other standard economic measures. Nor is the resultant loss in quality of life for the vast majority reflected in such measures. There is reason, therefore, why some economists are arguing for a paradigm shift in economic thinking. We attempted to capture the essence of that shift in our third chapter and in the summary above of a proposed green social democratic political-economic system.

Now let's turn briefly to Karl Marx's historical materialism. The reader can find brief introductions to this theoretical perspective in our Preface and Chapter 2. In place of a more detailed summary of this philosophical view here, the reader is encouraged to consult the account in wikepedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism. Those who believe they are already acquainted with Marx's historical materialism and those who are new to his writing may find the wikipedia article helpful. Aside from its potential relevance here, it will likely give the reader a more realistic view of Marx than that conveyed by his detractors and some of his adherents. In response to the latter, Marx was apparently fond of declaring, "All I know is that I am not a Marxist." And with respect to the use of historical materialism as a substitute, rather than a philosophical guide to in-depth historical study, Marx and Engels are quoted as writing (in The German Ideology), "Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relation to one another as masturbation and sexual love."

While acknowledging our own debt to Marx, it is necessary to caution the reader that a superficial acquaintance with his work is likely to be worse than no acquaintance at all. As Alexander Pope wrote in the early 1700s, "A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not of the Pierian spring." Just witness the historical parade of economic determinists, utopian communists and dogmatic interpreters of history who claimed to be Marxists, including the majority among the ruling Communist elites who preached Marxism as a non-secular religion!

In the two chapters preceding this one, the proposed economics and culture of a green social democracy were presented as an alternative to neo-liberalism. Economics was presented as the sum of the relationships people engage in to secure the goods and services required for their existence. Culture was presented as everything else. As a philosophic guide, historical materialism views the latter as related to and largely derivative of the former (the "superstructure" built upon the economic "structure" of society). While it might be helpful to consider the facts in the light of this Marxist theoretical perspective, reality appears to be more fluid and far from completely understandable within that perspective. In particular, at least some elements of culture appear to persist across historical epochs, such as movement back and forth between less inclusive and more inclusive forms of democratic government.

In common with a systems analysis, Marxist historical materialism views a given socio-economic system as an integral one, in which its essential elements relate to each other. It asks whether two socio-economic systems are essentially identical or qualitatively distinct. Both methods of analysis would likely lead their proponents to the conclusion that feudalism and capitalism are qualitatively distinct forms of society, characterized by different social class relationships and institutional forms and values. Moreover, each method of analysis likely leads to the conclusion that when one socio-economic system acquires a preponderance of the characteristics of another, it is likely unstable. Movement will be towards one or the other until stability, at least temporarily, is achieved.

The philosophical viewpoint of historical materialism gives a central role to the distinction between quantitative change (such as temperature in a physical system or technology in a social system) and corresponding qualitative change (such as the state of a physical system - for example, liquid or gas - and the nature of productive relationships in a social system - for example, in a feudal system, between serfs and feudal lords).

In our contrast between an existing global neo-liberal capitalist system and a hypothetical alternative global green social democratic system, we singled out the relationship between workers, now a majoritarian class on a global scale, and the principal owners, executives and political representatives of the transnational corporations, the world's current dominant class. In the transition to a global green social democracy, the working class and its allies would prevail. Remaining capitalists would by law be required to serve the interests of society, including by charter made responsible for helping to achieve the goals of a just distribution of income and wealth, sustainable economic activity and improvement in the quality of life. These would be priorities. Once a country is developed, capital accumulation would not be a priority.

So long as they may continue to exist, any remaining capitalists in a green social democracy would be excluded from using their economic power to influence political decisions when there is a potential conflict of interest. They would compete not only with each other, but also with worker cooperatives and other forms of socially owned enterprises to achieve society's goals, the outcome (more cooperatives or more capitalists?) dependent on the results obtained by each. The only "personal" advantage for private owners of capital would be the privilege of management, for which their after-tax reward should be a just one, based on the value of their contribution to the common good. A market system, until it is completely displaced by the growing non-market sector of the economy, would remain a principal tool for achieving efficiency and responding to consumer preferences and needs, but a progressive taxation system and estate taxes would be used to counter the apparent tendency of market systems to redistribute income and wealth upwards.

If automated machinery and industrial organization characterize capitalism, what technologies are likely to characterize green social democracy? We contend that this is no longer a speculative question. Some of the more recent developments in technology carry with them a potential that is unrealizable under capitalism, notably information technology and robotization. The efforts to harness these to the purposes of capital accumulation are incompatible with human welfare, including health, education and environmental sustainability. In a green social democracy these new technologies and their further development will enable a rapid expansion of the non-market economy at the expense of the market one, the replacement of hierarchical decision-making by social democracy and the capacity to address the environmental and social crises which capitalism has created.

For a penetrating account of the contemporary dynamics of capitalism and an exemplary introduction to systemic analysis, in this case from a perspective that combines Marxism with ecological theory, we recommend The Entropy of Capitalism (2012, Haymarket Books) by political ecologist Robert Biel.


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.