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After Capitalism
Reviewed by Bob Stone

After Capitalism:  From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy
By Seymour Melman (New York: Knopf, 2001)

If the future of global warfare promised us by the current “war on terror” is an economic imperative of capitalism, how can we stop it before it brings greater disasters upon us?

Synthesizing a life’s study of militarism, de-industrialization and workplace democracy, Seymour Melman offers some answers. Melman commands attention because his classic of 1974, The Permanent War Economy, has largely come to pass. His new magnum opus places in historical perspective worker self-management as a strong and growing current in workplace relations worldwide. Those sharing his enthusiasm for this trend will find ample evidence that their hopes for cooperative commonwealth are not pipe dreams.

This hard-headed book musters overlooked information for a powerful argument addressed as much to union workers as to workplace democracy activists. Perhaps most valuable is Melman’s tracing of capitalism’s evolution from a drive for profit into a drive for power over people. The current “warfare state” business/government partnership, with its imperative for world hegemony, culminates this shift. After Capitalism links militarism to the collapse of the industrial sector, marginalizing American workers. This disturbing imitation of the recent Russian experience deepens the basic alienation of workers from control over their lives. An emeritus Professor in Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, Melman explains why workplace democracy is the only counter to these trends.

His book is a wake-up call to America’s workforce. He cautions that:

”So long as workers within the military economy view themselves as citizens rather than employees of an alienation machine, they remain trapped, unable to join their civilian counterparts in the struggle for disalienation—until workers address the need for economic conversion, they stay enmeshed in the global ambitions of the state and corporate managers, with the accompanying prospect of supporting wars abroad.”

Melman’s message is clear: the forward historical motion of the train we are on is deceiving: we’re headed not for progress but over a cliff. Instead of identifying with the bosses’ interests it now falls to workers themselves to stop or divert the train, assert their economic citizenship, and convert to a civilian economy before we arrive at our leaders’ destination of perpetual global war. Melman’s remedy for war-generating capitalism—workplace democracy—makes the connections we need to effect this conversion.

Bob Stone is co-author of a forthcoming book on the French philosopher Sartre. He can be reached at bobstone@igc.org .

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