Key Note: Erik Olin Wright 

Real Utopias as a pathway to an alternative future

The expansion of markets and pressures for endless growth in material consumption are not contingent features of a dynamic capitalist economy; they are intrinsic to an economy rooted in the competitive drive for profits and capital accumulation. Any serious effort to counteract these dynamics, therefore, must also attempt to transcend capitalism. But how is this possible? While capitalism has become more destructive both to the lives of people and the health of the environment, it seems to most people either to be an unalterable force of nature or to be backed by unassailably powerful social forces. Social democratic hopes of taming capitalism by neutralizing its harmful effects through decisive state regulations have been undermined by the globalization and financialization of capital. Revolutionary ambitions of smashing capitalism through a ruptural seizure of state power, a coercive dissolution of capitalist institutions and their replacement by an emancipatory alternative, lack credibility. Are these the only logics of transformation? There may be a different route that points beyond capitalism: eroding capitalism by building emancipatory alternatives to capitalism in the spaces and cracks within capitalist economies and struggling to defend and expand those spaces.

Erik Olin Wright was born in Berkeley, California, in 1947, grew up in Kansas, and was educated at Harvard, Balliol College, Oxford, and the University of California-Berkeley, where he received his PhD in Sociology in 1976. He has taught sociology at the University of Wisconsin since 1976 where he is currently C. Wright Mills Professor of Sociology and Vilas Distinguished Research Professor. His academic work has been centrally concerned with reconstructing the Marxist tradition of social theory and research in ways that attempt to make it more relevant to contemporary concerns and more cogent as a scientific framework of analysis. His empirical research has focused especially on the changing character of class relations in developed capitalist societies. Since 1992 he has directed The Real Utopias Project which explores a wide range of proposals for new institutional designs that embody emancipatory ideals and yet are attentive to issues of pragmatic feasibility. He was president of the American Sociological Association in 2011-12.


His publications include:

Class, Crisis and the State (1978)

Class Structure and Income Determination (1979)

Classes (1985)

Reconstructing Marxism (1992)

Interrogating Inequality (Verso, 1994)

Class Counts (1997)

Deepening Democracy (with Archon Fung, 2003)

Approaches to Class Analysis (2005)

Envisioning Real Utopias (2010)

American Society: how it really works (with Joel Rogers. 2011 and 2015)

Understanding Class (2015)

Alternatives to Capitalism (with Robin Hahnel, 2016)

He is currently working on a new manuscript, How to be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century.

Key Note: Monika Griefahn

Act, but act positive – to face the
challenges of our times

The world and our life on it face a lot of challenges – ecologically as well as in terms of human rights, democracy and health. People can be change makers and solve problems. This is my personal experience of about 40 years of commitment to make the world better. During my journey of life I found at every state and every level people who wanted the same and who committed themselves to improve the world, too. There is always somebody who cares. I started out as an environmental activist, went into politics and am now working for the economy without fundamentally having changed my aim to improve the world’s situation – for itself and for the people living on it.

My manual to chance the world for the better is as follows:

  • Work together. Talking is better than threatening each other.
  • Be constructive. Just saying no might be a beginning. A solution it is not.
  • Be persistent. Rome wasn’t built in one day.
  • Find consensus. Only then decisions have a real support and can be lasting.
  • Listen to your inner desire – it is the best advisor you have.

Never lose sight of your aim. If you feel weak, turn to your allies. You are many

Dr. Monika Griefahn is a founding member of Greenpeace Germany and was Co-CEO (1980-1983). She organized campaigns against chemical pollution of rivers and the North Sea. From 1984-1990 she was the first female board member of Greenpeace International and responsible for trainings and founding new offices all around the world.

From 1990-1998 she was Minister of the Environment in the German state of Lower Saxony. She put her main emphasis on working for renewable energy and the phasing out of nuclear power.

From 1998-2009 she worked as Member of Parliament in the German Bundestag. Her main responsibilities were in culture and the media, especially new media and foreign cultural policy.

Later on she founded the Institute Media, Environment, Culture (IMUK) – a company with advisory services and educational occupation in the sustainability sector. Since 2012 she is director for environment and community at cruise company AIDA Cruises, too.

Monika Griefahn is engaged in numerous voluntary commitments – among others as chair and jury member of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation (“Alternative Nobel Prize”) and chair of Cradle to Cradle e.V.