Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

Date Written: 1942


Explores the relation between a socialist view of society and the democratic method of government; argues that socialism is probably inevitable, for political rather than economic reasons. The book developes five principal themes, presented in five parts. Part I, "The Marxian Doctrine," attests to Schumpeter's belief in the importance of Karl Marx's thought, and discusses Marx in the roles of prophet, sociologist, economist, and teacher. His strength lay in synthesis of history, economics, and politics into a vision and system (which Schumpeter admires) that that can be used for solving problems and contributing to knowledge and insight; the value of Marx's theories and conclusions are found wanting. Part II "Can Capitalism Survive?" shows that a socialist form of society will inevitably emerge from the inevitable decomposition of capitalist society. Essential to capitalism is the process of "creative destruction," which constantly revolutionizes the system from within; this revolutionary transformation of capitalism, which spells its doom, results from its success--not, as Marx argued, from its failure. In Schumpeter's view of capitalism, monopolistic policies promote stability and increase efficiency; unemployment and business cycles accompany economic growth; and without political interference, output would increase and standard of living increase. The entrepreneurial function, which revolutionizes production by exploiting innovation, becomes routine and obsolete due to technical development and rise of big firms; the entrepreneur becomes a bureaucrat. Without innovating enterprise, profit will vanish or become unimportant. Capitalism's success undermines the social conditions that protect it. Capitalism will not survive because public opinion will not support it: the bourgeoisie is not equipped for politics; corporate evolution and decline of the family have reduced the bourgeois sense of property and incentives; destruction of monarchy and aristocracy have deprived the bourgeois of its protectors; and disenchanted intellectuals inflame discontent with free enterprise. Establishment of socialism can be expected. Part III, "Can Socialism Work?" answers, "Of course it can." Socialism for Schumpeter is centralized control over the means of production. Necessary for the success of socialism is reaching the requisite stage of industrial development and resolution of transitional problems. The assessment of a socialist society should be based less on economic efficiency than on the quality of the bureaucratic apparatus operating the system. Socialism may likely be as successful in satisfying consumers, promoting economic progress, and enforcing discipline and efficiency. Part IV, "Socialism and Democracy" argues one can have autocratic, theocratic, or democratic socialism. Socialism's economic problem should only be discussed referring to the given state of the social environment and historical situation. Schumpeter alternatively defines democracy as people's selection of a government. Socialism may be democratic if certain conditions are met: politics must be culturally valued, range of political decisions must be fairly narrow, a well-trained bureaucracy exists, and the public exercises democratic self control. Part V, "Historical Sketch of Socialist Parties" analyzes the history of the most important socialist parties in England, Sweden, U.S., France, Germany, and Austria, emphasizing how they tried to live within the structure of a Marxist system and to remain alive and grow politically. Socialism, though, is likely to present fascist features. (TNM)

Keywords: Marx, Karl, Capitalism, Socialism, Economic development, Economic policies, Social factors, Democracy, Economic analysis, Economic theory

Suggested Citation

Schumpeter, Joseph A., Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:

Joseph A. Schumpeter (Contact Author)

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