A Post-Election Message from Richard Wolff



It appears we have entered the eve of a Trump administration. What now?

Trump rode workers’ anger at capitalism’s last 40 years: record profits from lost jobs, incomes, security and public services. For change, they voted down GOP and Dem establishments. But the system won’t let Trump bring change. There lies our opportunity.

The endless election effort is finally over (even as the next one begins to be planned by the candidates and their monied supporters). Now the nation confronts its fundamental problems after so many were swept under the rug by the “major candidates” in this election’s long exercise in mass distraction. The time lost, like the campaigns’ billions, could better have gone toward solving those problems. They just got worse during that time.

The world still remains in the aftermath of the crash of 2008 - the second global capitalist crash in 75 years - and most economists expect another downturn within the next 6-18 months. Especially because the current post-2008 crash originated in the US with the sub-prime mortgage collapse, the US has special responsibilities to deal with its economic instability and its global ramifications. Yet during the campaign, neither candidate addressed the issue. Why?

The inequality, instability and money-dominated politics besetting the U.S. all originate in basic economic decisions made by the major shareholders and corporate boards of directors they elect. These folks comprise the (in)famous 1% and their positions atop contemporary capitalist economies gives them extraordinary power, and hence responsibility for, economic conditions. What alternative organization might better serve democratic purposes? An economy of democratized, cooperatively organized enterprises is growing around the world. Yet the candidates in this presidential campaign - except for Bernie Sanders - ignored the issue. Why?

Let’s remember that elections these days are integrated parts of a system. The dominant power is intertwined with the dominant wealth. The corporate system -- and the individuals it makes rich -- normally buy the political process. That’s how systems work.

Only when massive oppositions of the people get aroused do they relearn the first of the great old lessons, that ultimate power resides with the people. When that happens, the question arises: will the people relearn the second of the great old lessons, that the power of the people becomes effective when it is organized? I believe we have already begun.


The Occupy Wall Street, Bernie, and Black Lives Matter movements are milestones along the way as people today grasp the first of the great old lessons. Building on all they accomplished as well as on the prior efforts to go beyond capitalism, we at Democracy at Work focus on that second great lesson. Our task is to help inform, focus, and, above all, organize an aroused and rising people. That’s what we do and what we invite you to do with us.

As always, thank you for supporting Democracy at Work.  We would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on how we can build this momentum together, and please know we are glad to have you as a part of this movement.

Richard D. Wolff
Co-Founder & Contributor
Democracy at Work


Showing 75 comments

  • commented 2016-12-03 09:09:23 -0500
    I began making my own list of objectives to consider, until i reviewed the comments; whole-heartedly concur with Deborah Andrew’s list. The primary objective is to get money out of politics. Perhaps D@W could work alongside organizations such as Wolf-PAC and Move to Amend in the effort to abolish the idea that corporations are people and that money is free speech. On reforming the voting system: There are many folks who have worked out ingenious ways to accomplish this. It can be addressed in the wake of getting money out of politics. The secondary objective is to educate the public at-large: Millions of people are disempowered by myriad sources of false information every day. We must work to attenuate the distractions of identity politics and social division by amplifying the message that deep-down, people already know – that economic inequality exists because it’s always been about the Haves and the Have-Nots. Yet If I had a nickel for every person who used the term communism or socialism like a dirty word…Once and for all we must crush the principle of rugged individualism from the mindset, and demonstrate to them the power of putting people above profit using real-world examples.
  • commented 2016-11-22 05:13:13 -0500
    Rafael: It should be remarkable that the population doesnt yet realise that political polling is in integral part of corporate media’s manufacturing of consent. On this I can speak as an expert because i am a qualified and experienced research scientist. I have followed the large polling companies for years. What they produce is highly defective because they violate the basic methodological requirements of survey design, implementation, and analysis. In reality, what they produce is a lousy commodity which they sell to newspapers. Both make a lot of money out of this. That is the main reason why it happens, and will continue to do so. Even under capitalism, products with this record of failure, actually vanish. But the media are so corrupt, polling will continue.

    Imagine, Nate Silver, politico and others want us to believe that if you have (say) ten defective surveys, all using different questions and methodologies, they can somehow be averaged ??!!! It would take just an hour’s intelligent class debate for primary school kids to understand why this is nonsense.

    What is remarkable isnt that this happens. Capitalism thrives on producing commodities that deserve to remain unsold. The remarkable fact is that the American people continue to spend their hard-earned and declining money on projects that serve to deceive them.

    This is an elaboration of the point I made above about the investment and complicity of the masses in the system which oppresses them. I look forward to someone here discussing how this gigantic obstacle, together with the continuation of belief in the American Dream, is to be addressed. Genuine radicals dont lie to the masses, dont allow them to believe that a radical change will leave their lives unaffected, and will be sacrifice-free. But I am afraid that the Left has perpetuated that lie, and is terrified to challenge it.
  • commented 2016-11-22 02:00:40 -0500
    Trump win exposes Media’s Smug Failures. The media took this as a comment about press freedom rather than its own failure to read the zeitgeist. In fact, it largely failed to tell any story other than its own. It what’s the day the data died. All of the money poured by financially challenged media Industry into polls and polling analysts was for naught. It profoundly misinformed. It created a compelling and powerful narrative that was the opposite of what was actually happening. There may be a few instances, excerpt perhaps under authoritarian regimes, where the media has so successfully propounded a view of events not only of its own making but at such odds with reality. It all washed away. Beyoncé. The tax returns. The theoretical Blue wall. Trump as a sexual predator. Putin. His shambolic debate performances. Hispanics. Indeed, every aspect of the media narrative, dust. This narrative not only did not diminish him, it fortified him. The criticism of Trump defined the people who were criticizing him, reliably giving the counter-punch something to punch. It was a juicy target. The Media Party not only Fashioned the takedown narrative and demanded a special sort of allegiance to it- Twitter serving as a orthodoxy echo chamber-but, suspending most ordinary conflict rules, according to the center for Public Integrity gave lots of cash to Hillary. The media turned itself into the opposition and, accordingly, was voted down.
  • commented 2016-11-21 22:24:39 -0500
    Lee; I can’t speak for others… but I recommend the creation of small investor, democratically controlled, investment funds… to be used for start-up seed loans for local coops… for instance, Nursing Homes and Senior Housing are often sold between Venture Capital Funds… they re-finance… cut services… cut staff… overtime… cut corners… and then file bankruptcy… with leadership and financing, the staff could buy their place of employment…
    Schools… the incoming Republicans LOVE to pay private schools with public money… why not let teachers organize their own school, where they have a vote on the curriculum, as well as all the other decisions currently made by the layers of administrators and charter school corporate boards…
    of course change won’t occur overnight… and there will always be new problems… unexpected consequences… setbacks… but we muddle thru the best we can, and pass the baton we’ve been given…
  • commented 2016-11-21 21:35:52 -0500
    Mike: How ? How is it going to happen

    Dick: How are you going to deal with the fact that the vast majority of the population are fully committed shareholders in the current system ? The expectation is somehow technology can fix everything, and radical change will make no difference to the lives of the average American except increasing our spending power ? That is as big an obstacle as the 1% hegemony. And it is such a taboo topic on (what passes for) the left, that it is almost never discussed.
  • commented 2016-11-21 13:32:33 -0500
    “What Now?”
    Professor Wolff asked…
    Now comes a wave of Privatization of Public Institutions…
    like schools, nursing homes, and public housing…
    Now is the time to take advantage of that trend, and create Worker Owned and Operated services and Institutions, to compete with the Fat-Cats who stand to Capitalize on the Neo-Conservative Agenda…
  • commented 2016-11-20 00:58:54 -0500
    Dear Lee, The kind of power shift you are talking about normally only happens during war (like WW II) or warlike conditions. To be prepared for this “Shock Doctrine” in reverse, you need not only analysis, but the building of strong organizations and alliances, even of alternative institutions. Plus you need a succession of carefully constructed campaigns with modest goals where you can be successful (raising the minimum wage, public banks, progressive taxes, single payer, shutting down fossil fuel projects, etc.) in order to build organizational strength, alliances, and alternative institutions. At this long stage a great deal can be accomplished by drawing from successful models abroad, even from our own history.

    This is precisely the time, when polarization is at its most extreme and frustration at political gridlock is boiling over, that unexpected progress can be made. Who would have thought 3 years ago that cities and states across the country would be raising the minimum wage, even to $15 an hour like here in Seattle? Or when the Army Corps of Engineers would be shutting down a big coal terminal project in response to a protest led by Native Americans, as at Cherry Point north near the Canadian border? So it’s time to think big, but in a probing, adaptable sort of way.
  • commented 2016-11-19 15:48:21 -0500
    Dear Dick. Fine.

    In case I am misunderstood (which would be my fault), let me clarify. If we are in the business of radical change, of course we need to have some idea of where the change is headed. But it doesnt need to be blue-printed, in advance, least of all by liberal intellectuals. Remember, the change benefits the masses, and we have to be part of the masses. Where we are headed has been pretty well described by Marx and his followers.

    The key issue for us now is not the fine details of the reform agenda. We all pretty well understand what it is. The real challenge, which is woefully neglected, is how to shift power. None of the changes people want can be obtained unless power shifts. That is what the ANALYSIS needs to focus on: where we are in terms of power, and what are the prospects and possibilities of power changing. Will it change as a result of tens of thousands marching in New York with anti-Trump banners ? No, it wont. This is not Iceland. Its a police state to which belongs the major proportion of the 0.1%. Is it a bad idea to march in New York with anti-Trump banners ? Probably not, it depends on whether anyone gets shot by the police, and its an act of solidarity (it really doesnt matter a damn whether I or you are in that demonstration…to think it matters is selfie radicalism, and is somewhat pathetic).

    Can power shift in America as a result of an accumulation of acts of solidarity ? This needs to be analysed. There comes a point at which the size of a movement cannot be resisted by shooting or imprisoning everyone, so mass action, really mass action (not ten thousand of already converted radicals with placards in New York)can shift power. It did in the case of Gandhi’s movement. But that was India and the fight was against the British colonial overlord. That is not the situation in the USA. How do they essentially differ, etc, etc….you can see where this analysis is headed. That is what is important now..to understand the forces ranged on all sides, the incentives, the choices, the sacrifices etc. In India the masses were not part of the ruling culture. In America they ARE… they have been captured by the culture of rampant consumerism, and they wont attack what is dear to them. It is not radical change to simply redistribute the American way of life, or the American Dream. It has to be understood that its the American Dream which is toxic, degenerate.and a lie. People like Bermie have not leapt that chasm,,,, nowhere near it. He is not a socialist. He is a sort of decent liberal.

    Hopefully it is this kind of unsentimental, class-based analysis that Richard can encourage. He needs to widen his canvas beyond the coop movement. That is just one aspect, and its time to get broader…to understand the consumer market, commodity fetishism as it applies to the US and the West, the way the masses are controlled by the media and advertising, the possibilities and limitations of social media in the shift of power, and so on. I hope you are reading this, Richard.
  • commented 2016-11-19 05:35:39 -0500
    We may be of differing minds, but it seems to me we are of like hearts, which is what matters. IMHO, this is not “degenerating” into a discussion forum but rather is well within the last sentences of Professor Wolff’s presentation. I look forward to looking into the
    Viking way, after all I like their furniture and their architecture very much. However, they have not been fair to Assange. To the wonderful idea of stakeholder ownership may add the ecosystem. Look at the 2008 Ecuador Constitution for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Constitution_of_Ecuador.
  • commented 2016-11-18 22:56:23 -0500
    Dear Lee: Sure, to some of us the way forward may be obvious, but not to the vast majority of Americans. The Scandinavian model of Democratic Socialism (see “Viking Economics” by George Lakey) is a great place to start because we know it works, but it is not well known to most Americans.

    I would go further by advocating for “stakeholder ownership” of all the major means of production (large corporations, key natural resources, etc.) The stakeholders would, of course, include workers and maybe suppliers or customers, maybe some non-profits, and always different levels of government from local to global, and always the citizenry at large. My first features would be those of cooperative, the government feature would resemble a partial nationalization, and the last feature is similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund and to Peter Barnes’ “With Liberty and Dividends for All”. The goal is both full societal accountability and a basic income for all that would vary with the economy at large. With appropriate variations, this could be done even on a regional or global scale. This is my vision to democratize both work and wealth.
  • commented 2016-11-18 17:05:52 -0500
    It seems that this format is degenerating into a discussion forum. It may be helpful to review Professor Wolff’s final sentence in his introductory remarks.
  • commented 2016-11-18 15:58:34 -0500
    thank you thank you..to lee roberts!
  • commented 2016-11-18 14:52:24 -0500
    Dear Dick: We really are quite far apart, I’m afraid. Bernie’s was a programme, and nothing he advocated was either original nor visionary. He himself admitted he was comparing America with Denmark. Everything he spoke about exists somewhere and can be studied. It might have seemed visionary to Americans, but that simply tells you about Americans.

    Radical change arises out of the situation, based on what is politically possible. Radical change doesnt happen when “vision” is grafted onto the situation. I know of no successful and reasonably sustainable radical change that emerged from vision. If you know of any, please educate me. In almost all cases, the path was obvious and the opportunity was there. It doesnt take “vision” to call for a national healthcare system, or regulating banks against crooked practices. That is why Richard is able to explain the way forward in such simple, direct, non-intellectual ways. That is why he is so confident that workers with limited education can figure out how to run coops and make them a success.

    The problem is the organising, not the vision. Its pretty clear what needs to happen.
  • commented 2016-11-18 12:50:38 -0500
    Dear Lee,
    Sure, analysis is essential, but so is vision. Just read George Lakey’s book “Toward a Living Revolution”. His first of 5 steps is “cultural preparation”, consisting precisely of analysis and vision. How far do you think Bernie Sanders would have gotten without listing the many things that would be part of his envisioned “political revolution”? Even he said very clearly that he would not be able to achieve his list of new programs without the political revolution, yet the public needed to know what he stands for.
  • commented 2016-11-18 12:06:54 -0500
    Deborah: It is never my intention to be cruel. But unless the left separates itself from liberalism, it will do the wrong thing when the opportunity presents itself. Liberalism is driven by sentiment, not analysis. It is driven by guilt, mostly, of the racial kind, but also by many other emotions. Participating in the struggle becomes “me having to do something”….that something brings personal relief. even if the act is useless, stupid, pointless. The “I” in the political struggle becomes the most important element.

    I grew up in apartheid South Africa where my family were somewhat rare members of the ANC, being white. My father was as steeped in Marxism as Richard. I am actually a bit older than Richard and a political veteran of many struggles. I learnt at an early age to be wary of liberals. They were always for loud denunciations and childish urges to charge into the midst of the struggle, even although they had no chance of winning, and no stake other than their consciences. It was utterly exhausting haveing to listen to their outrage, their demands for instant action. Often we had to rescue the idiots from acts of political suicide (because they were our friends). Often they exposed us with their childish self-indulgence and many comrades suffer.

    American liberalism is even worse, because it is so faithful to the “me culture” that predominates almost every sphere of American live. I experienced it for 25 years and longed to get back to Europe, where there is some remnant of political skills survive/ Politics isnt about feeling good or bad. Politics isnt a personal journey. Its a collective endeavour in which personal self-indulgence is poison. Effective political action doesnt start with lists, or brain-storming, or facilitated T groups. It starts with analysis.. (Marxist in my case) and identifying what is politically possible. That is quite separate from my personal opinion. You organise around what is politically possible. You dont organise by trying to use a list of reforms as a personal battering ram. I hope I have not been too obnoxious.
  • commented 2016-11-18 09:54:43 -0500
    Lee Roberts, you are so right to question the making/submission of my list of the changes I would hope to see. Our power to create change is limited. Even so, from my perspective, I hope it is useful to know what we hope to achieve. Then to find chinks in the armor protecting the status quo, through which can make an effort to create the change we hope to effect. If I do not try, I feel as if I am complicit. So, I do this in spite of knowing the truths you express so well.
  • commented 2016-11-17 20:08:21 -0500
    Dear Comrades: Politics is a lot more than listing the things you want to ban or change. You dont have the power to do any of the things you have listed. And guess what. Those with the power arent going to ban or change them just because you have created the list for them. You know this already. So why do you say these things ?
  • commented 2016-11-17 19:44:06 -0500
    Right! Riders are used pass pernicious usually pro-corporation legislation. If a measure cannot make it on its own, it should not be passed as a rider.
  • commented 2016-11-17 19:32:39 -0500
    Ban all riders on Congressional bills, a great idea! (McCain had this as part of his platform…let’s bring it back!)
  • commented 2016-11-17 19:20:46 -0500
    Leonardo Legorreta, I agree. Ban lobbying.

    To that, I add, ban riders in Congressional legislation.
  • commented 2016-11-17 02:13:48 -0500
    Repeal Citizens United. Repeal Buckley v. Valeo (opens the door to super pacs).

    Sue lobbyists in tort whenever they contract our representatives (eg, tortious interference?). If they want to lobby something, they must contact us, not our representatives. Only we should be able to contact our representatives. Ban lobbists from interfering with our democracy. Protect the privilege of having a representative in government. No more backroom deals.
  • commented 2016-11-17 02:02:38 -0500
    We need to bring democracy not only to the workplace, but to politics. Ours is a failed form of Democracy. It is a plutocracy. Ban lobbying.
  • commented 2016-11-16 22:17:36 -0500
    Dear David,

    An excellent question. In all honesty, I do not have an answer worthy of the question. I will offer the following as a start, however. My sense is that our entire model of governance is quite worthy of being questioned, discussed, revised and tested. It is also my sense that we would do this best at the local level focusing on re-localization (from banking, to food, to transport, to energy, etc). That communities do this through ad hoc advisory committees with a clear charge, open membership. That communities determine a mutually agreeable region of sufficient size that all the needs of the member communities can be reasonably met from within the region. I think of ‘world cafe’ as a possible model, coupled with Sociocracy. I would advocate making decisions Sociocratically (by consent, which can only be obtained in the absence of any paramount/reasoned objections). Sociocracy also embraces interlocking circles of responsibility with a system of communication/reporting, as one possibility to explore. Doing away with majority rule changes the dynamics and distributes both responsibility and power equally among participants.

    The short answer: to make the needed changes will take time, effort, staying power, commitment, integrity, patience … commitment to the precautionary principle and the principle of do no harm. My sense is that neither the process nor the exact outcome can be predicted.

    I wish I had something far more concrete to offer. It will be in the search that we will find the answers, I believe.
  • commented 2016-11-16 21:07:22 -0500
    That is an excellent list below, Deborah Andrew. What do you see as the concrete steps needed to get to a point where your list could actually be implemented?
  • commented 2016-11-16 19:17:53 -0500
    Carla, you are absolutely correct. War is profitable for some, but hugely costly and destructive for many. You might be interested in “No War 2016.” I am a pacifist, and would abolish all weapons, all forms of violence whether toward individuals, countries, or the environment…ah well.
  • commented 2016-11-16 15:36:20 -0500
    I’m not sure where this idea came from that war is not profitable. many. many businesses profit from war. One fact is that the remaining manufacturing jobs in the US are the defense industries. The powers that be will NEVER let them go overseas. It was no coincidence that the auto industry was bailed out, it is easy to retool from consumer vehicles to war vehicles. It was done in WWII. Our largest exports now are the instruments of war. We talk of foreign aid but more than likely the aid is military goods, not medicine or food. W Bush farmed out many of the jobs that the military used to do to private industry. It was a huge boon to Halliburton, Blackwater and others.

    After WWII was when the US was rebuilding Europe that’s why there was a huge industrial boom. Besides many companies sell to both sides of a conflict the oil companies, banks, big pharma are worldwide conglomerates. Capitalism knows no Nationalism! It is about making money and war with its destruction offer a great potential for gain.
  • commented 2016-11-16 14:34:19 -0500
    Lots of good suggestions. On a personal level, remember to smile, say hello and be kind on all transactions. It is contagious and very much needed.
  • commented 2016-11-16 14:23:50 -0500
    My sense is that it would be useful to consider efforts/dialogue that focus on the following:
    1. Acknowledge fallacies & eliminate electronic voting. Replace with paper ballots.
    2. Acknowledge fallacies & impact of gerrymandering. Outlaw.
    3. Bring back and enforce Glass Steagal.
    4. Bring back and enforce original boundaries/intent of corporate charters.
    5. Break up big banks.
    6. Significant reductions of military, pentagon budget, and close all overseas bases
    7. Eliminate Citizens United.
    8. Federal funding of all elections. No additional monies.
    9. Return League of Women Voters to oversee all political debates. Abolish National Elections Committee.
    10. Emphasize Relocalization, and support with Federal/State funding.\
    11. Consider Sociocracy as an alternative decision-making model and organizational set of tools/protocols.
    12. Examine/critique and possibly abandon majority rule.
    13. Promote worker owned coops.
    14. Reform tax code. Remove welfare for the wealthy.
    15. Legislate CEO salary as 12/1 ratio to that of lowest paid worker.
    16. Significant government support of conservation of energy.
    17. Science based, factual examination of the harm done if politicians, organizations, and prominent individuals continue to promote the manufacture and installation of Industrial Wind Turbines & solar arrays (I can provide well-researched references)

    It is my sense that these concrete steps are necessary.
  • commented 2016-11-14 16:56:12 -0500
    Can I offer the idea that it is possible with modern technology to influence the outcome of legislation by the substitute for the current system of representative democracy by direct democracy. There is now a system that allows every citizen to vote on every piece of legislature that goes to the parliament. I means that your representative can have their vote and only their vote whilst you the citizen have your individual vote as does every other citizen.
    Legislation is then voted and passed by a simple majority of all citizens.The system is called VOTE-COIN and a full explanation is available if want it by replying to this comment
  • commented 2016-11-13 21:23:15 -0500
    Greeting from Jakarta . . . ! Professor Wolff’s remark resonates very well to Indonesia’s so-called “emerging democracy” with its open votes election processes (after the 1998 crisis). Remarkably it follows as a mini-model of the US system — (yet, without its electoral collage, and the country is not a federal republic) — from its very core political economic structure where all main media are owned by big businesses, political parties are owned and run by the rich and/or powerful elites, and money politics (even is forbidden) has become the common currency to get the people’s votes, and recently as shown in the ongoing Governorial election in Jakarta these days, Trump’s bigotry, racism, and propagation to people’s anger have become the rule and rather than an exception. Wolff’s analysis about the “root” of the problem is very true and can be confirmed comparatively, I think the fundamental flaws of capitalist economy can be applied universally. The spread of Western “democracy” that emulates the American model (or any Western capitalist countries) across the globe will be a starting of the global political crisis that we will be witnessing in the near future (and has happening in some countries in the world today). Thank you for having this forum to keep up our human solidarity to build a sane society!
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