Professor Richard D. Wolff recently conducted a speaking tour over several major cities in the U.S., noting a consistent and remarkable growth in the number of attendees at his events — a phenomenon which he has linked to the mass of people’s growing frustration with capitalism and the crises it manufactures. His uniquely engaging style and ability to translate the complexities of Marxian economics into the vernacular of working people has allowed him to expand his listenership internationally in recent months. Members of the Socialist Party Los Angeles Local were able to connect with Professor Wolff at a recent talk in Los Angeles, where he cordially agreed to be interviewed.
Mimi: What motivates you to write and speak? For those who have yet to see you speak or hear or read your words, why do you think your message is important? Is there urgency to the message?
Professor Wolf: A crisis engulfed global capitalism in 2008. It continues its awful legacy of economic disruptions and declines. Given the Great Depression of the 1930s, this is the second major global crisis of capitalism in 75 years. We are, I believe, caught up in a major social change that profoundly affects our present and future.
Partly this involves the massive relocation of capitalist enterprises from their original territories (western Europe, north America and Japan) to the now more profitable regions of Asia, Latin America, and so on. This means long-term economic decline for the populations of those original territories — or, more accurately, decline for those who cannot cash in on the greater profits generated by the relocation. Those are, of course, the top 5-10% there. Thus social gaps widen that separate the shrinking rich from the growing poor and that spark tensions, angers, and social explosions.
Partly this involves the massive corruption of politics as the ever-smaller group of rich and richer secure their positions by buying parties and politicians to make sure that universal suffrage does not undo the economic advantages they have taken. And finally it involves the increasing constriction of many cultural opportunities (from schooling through engagement with the arts, etc.) to the shrinking numbers who can afford their costs.
After half a century when fundamental social criticism of our economic system — capitalism — was almost totally taboo in the US, a massive awakening is underway. Capitalism’s crisis is opening the space for a renewal of the debate over capitalism that should never have been choked off by Cold War hysteria and fears. Everywhere I go, people — from all walks of life and from most political and ideological perspectives — want to engage that debate now and appreciate my doing so. The welcome I get is hugely encouraging, shows the importance of renewing that debate, and provides evidence of the urgency people feel about what is happening to capitalist societies and about changing directions.