Below is the first part of some correspondence I’ve been having regarding my recent essay “Paths Toward an Anti-Capitalist Liberation” (Nov. 11, ZNet). Thought I’d share it as I find these kind of exchanges always make me try to sharpen and clarify my writing. That and I find the angle in which the “Correspondent” approaches the essay, because he at least has vision, to be interesting.
Correspondent: I’m writing fm santa monica, ca. I just fast forwarded thru your
article and have a question.
Chris: Cool, thanks for writing.
Correspondent: you seem to concentrate on worker self-management of enterprise, rather than on worker/manager ownership of the stocks in those enterprises. it would seem that worker and manager ownership would be the better key to self-management. after all, if workers and managers own a company, they will certainly run it as they see fit, for their own benefit.
Chris: What I was trying to do was examine and compare many different
proposals for alternatives to capitalism — the purpose of it was to
demonstrate a method for determining what we want and to argue for a
Participatory Economy. So, I think you should look at the Parecon
section to see exactly what I am proposing…
Correspondent: otherwise, the workers are running the capitalists’ enterprises more
effectively, but without quarterly dividend checks to reward them for their
better management. my question is “why not have a cooperative socialist
society in which, as proudhon recommended, actual ownership of private
property is made democratic, and now workers/managers/consumers both work
and consume according to socialist free-enterprise principles?”
Chris: I think that markets or “free-enterprise principles” of competition,
through the institutional roles of buyer and seller directly
contradict and undermine “socialist” principles such as solidarity,
equity, self-management and diversity. And, I think there are a number
of things wrong with your suggestion to pay workers quarterly
dividends or for them, or managers to own “the stocks in those
enterprises”. I wrote about all this at some length in my essay, and
regarding stocks and dividends in relation to John Roemer’s “Coupon
Economy”, so won’t repeat it here…
Correspondent: I’m not talking about any sort of violent expropriation of capitalists, but basically of workers, managers, and sometimes consumers, going into business for themselves thru a vast cooperative movement.
Chris: It doesn’t seem very clear to me… An economic model suggests
property relations, divisions of labour, remuneration methods, a
pricing scheme and an allocation mechanism. You suggest a division of
labour between workers and managers, of which I am opposed on the
basis that a replication of corporate hierarchies in workplaces, where
managers, or the coordinator class, will rule over the working class.
The coordinators would rise to power creating a new elite class. I am
for a classless society via ‘balanced job complexes’, distributing
tasks equally among workers and work places for both desirability and
empowerment. I’m not sure what you mean by a “vast cooperative
movement”. Cooperatives embody a form of property relations: equally
distributed membership shares. And I would agree that they are better
and more efficient than privately owned enterprises. But why have
shares at all? Why not just abolish the concept of shares, or property
and replace it with methods of democratic planning where people,
whether workers or consumers, have decision making input to the degree
that they are affected? If we’re seeking a classless society and the
liberation of human beings and human potential, then we must seriously
seek those institutions which help seek our goals, and ditch those
that inhibit them. Things like stocks, bonds, taxes, shares, markets
and exchangeable money all confuse our preferences [and ability] to determine the
social and environmental costs and consequences of producing and
consuming economic goods, and who is affected and how they are
affected. Many of these instruments like stocks, exchangeable money,
market’s, etc, also lead to corruption which is not uncommon to the
societies that operate with them. I am for their abolition and
replacement by the institutions, rules and procedures of democratic
planning; again, outlined in my essay.
Correspondent: as I recall, proudhon’s idea regarding the state was that the power of the state needs to be balanced by some other power in society, or else the state
will tend to degenerate into tyranny (as happened in soviet-type economies).
the only power he saw that could balance the state power is private
property; and he concluded that the problem was not the abolition of private
property (thru its takeover by the state), but how to make it democratic,
i.e., held by the productive members of society. so, I wonder why there is
so much attention and language given to worker self-management, and little
or none to workers/managers/consumers coming into ownership of most
Chris: First I think you should read what I actually propose before writing
that I don’t give attention to worker and consumer ownership of
enterprises. Also, I share many classical anarchist principles and
ideals. But as you quote Proudhon, I don’t agree. Are you familiar
with what’s going on in Venezuela and Chavez’ use of the state? I’ll
point you to Michael Albert’s recent essay on Venezuela which is
As for what I propose specifically, here is the end of my essay
focusing on the economic system that I advocate, Parecon.
A participatory economy is comprised of social rather than private or
state ownership; nested worker and consumer council’s and balanced job
complexes rather than corporate hierarchy; remuneration for effort and
sacrifice rather than for property, power, or output; participatory
planning rather than markets or central planning; and self-management
rather than class rule.
The balanced job complex is a redefinition of our concept of work.
Basically, jobs are organized so that everyone has an equal set of
both empowering and un-empowering tasks. Jobs are balanced within each
work place and across work places. Balancing jobs within work places
is done to prevent the organization and assignment of tasks from
preparing some workers better than others to participate in
decision-making at the workplace, or what would be the result of our
standard work place corporate division of labor. Balancing work across
work places is equally necessary so that disempowering and menial work
places are not ruled by empowering ones. The outcome of the
participatory balanced job complex is that everyone has an equal share
of both desirable and undesirable tasks, with comparable empowerment
and quality of life circumstances for all.
Another key element is remunerative justice, or pay for effort and
sacrifice. This method of pay insures that unequal outcomes are not
produced and reproduced, due to ownership of the means of production,
bargaining power, output, genetic endowment, talent, skill, better
tools, more productive coworkers, environment, inheritance, or luck.
Of all these factors people control only their effort. So, effort and
sacrifice is the remunerative norm in parecon, tempered by need as
appropriate in cases of illness, catastrophe, incapacity, etc.
Participants are organized into federations of workers and consumers
councils who negotiate allocation through “decentralized participatory
planning”. Workers in worker councils propose what they want to
produce, how much they want to produce, the inputs needed and the
human effects of their production choices. Consumers propose what they
want to consume, how much they want to consume and the human effects
of their consumption choices. “Iteration Facilitation Boards” (IFB)
generate “indicative prices”, using both quantitative and qualitative
information, which is used by workers and consumers to update their
proposals for further rounds of iterations. The IFB whittles proposals
down to a workable plan within five to seven iterative rounds. A plan
is chosen and implemented for the coming year.
A participatory plan is a feasible and desirable choice distributing
the burdens and benefits of social labor fairly. It involves
participants’ decision making inputs in proportion to the degree they
are affected. Human and natural resources are used efficiently
providing a variety of outcomes.
This is only a thumbnail sketch of a participatory economy. Further in
depth reading and introductory material can be found at:
Life After Capitalism:
Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the 21st Century:
The Political Economy of Participatory Economics: