Michael Lebowitz's "Build It Now" is a collection of seven short essays, all but one originally published or presented elsewhere, discussing some basic concepts of Marxism, democratic socialism, and recent events in Venezuela, where Lebowitz served as an advisor in the Ministry of Social Economy in 2004. While each essay is generally decent on its own -- well-written and often thought-provoking -- they are not well integrated into a coherent whole. They can also get repetitive, with whole paragraphs repeated verbatim in different essays. All together, "Build It Now" ends up less than the sum of its parts, while with some judicious editing it could have been considerably more.
Although the cover claims that "Build It Now" offers "a fresh, clear and innovative vision" of "socialism for the twenty-first century", I got the sense that Lebowitz primarily looked backwards, making Marx the central figure of the book and putting him on a very high pedestal. Somewhat more modern socialist topics were largely limited to Che Guevara and Yugoslavian experimentation with worker co-operatives, while Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution was pretty much the only twenty-first century phenomenon considered by Lebowitz.
Here are some very brief summaries of the seven essays that make up "Build It Now".
"The Needs of Capital versus the Needs of Human Beings" (2002) focuses entirely on Marx, presenting a brief but clear development of some of Marx's criticisms of capitalism.
"Ideology and Economic Development" (2004) criticizes neoclassical and Keynesian economics, along with the associated politics of neoliberalism and social democracy (respectively), promoting instead radical endogenous development.
"The Knowledge of a Better World" (2004) revisits Marx, challenging the commodification of knowledge, as opposed to "the accumulation of knowledge for human development".
"Reclaiming a Socialist Vision" (2000) argues that simply opposing capitalism, without a vision of a socialist alternative, has only limited potential. Again, much of the discussion centers on Marx and his contemporaries.
"Socialism Doesn't Drop from the Sky" (2005) presents a nice discussion of "socialism as a process", as well as arguing against the idea that "you can change the world without taking power".
"Seven Difficult Questions" (2005) is an interesting essay, which outlined some of the problems encountered by Yugoslavian experiments with worker self-management, largely concerning relations between individual firms and society at large.
"The Revolution of Radical Needs: Behind the Bolivarian Choice of a Socialist Path" is the essay written especially for this volume. Since the previous essays are not well integrated, I hoped that this chapter would attempt to knit them together more coherently. However, it doesn't make much reference at all to the preceding pages, instead summarizing the recent history of Venezuela and the development of its Bolivarian revolution, from the 1989 Caracazo to the 1998 election of Chavez and the course of his presidency through 2005.
Individually, some of these were interesting and engaging, though not especially innovative or forward-looking. But they don't mesh or provide enough substance to live up to the title of the book, taken from the famous slogan of the South African Communist Party: "Socialism is the future, build it now!"