Here is the first part of an essay I am working on:
Numerous routs have been taken in the course of seeking the good society. Ideals have been fought for, some have won and most have failed. Some have declared an end to history, the imperial order has been established, capitalism triumphant. Other’s, have continued to struggle for a better world beyond capitalism; they have rallied, resisted and converged. And, still yet a few others have made some specific proposals about what the good society may look like. This essay is an argument for thinking about economic vision, an evaluation of past and present economic proposals, and finally, an argument for organizing for a participatory economy.
For the purposes of this essay, I begin by arguing for the need to envision a liberating economic system. Then I outline what I believe are the general goals of a desirable alternative to capitalism. Values are established to act as guiding criteria to evaluate numerous proposals and possibilities. Along with these evaluative criteria, I use a radical institutional analysis to help understand the institutional frameworks of these other economic systems and their desirability.
The Necessity of Vision, the Need for Organizing
Some may think that proposing an alternative economic system is authoritarian, so they shy away from theorizing or looking at other alternatives. Others may say that it takes energy and resources away from other important pursuits, say resisting war and other forms of exploitation and oppression. And still others may argue that actually existing socialist societies (AES) throughout the 20th century were a massive failure; people have been burned more than once in the struggle to create a better world – centrally planned economies proved to be a catastrophe so we must make the best of capitalism.
However, there are important reasons suggesting we embrace the task of developing economic vision and then take on the task of organizing. The argument that proposing vision is authoritarian forgets that people will not join our struggle if we cannot answer the hard question of where we want to go. Offering vision is not the same as being vangaurdist. Vision is used to guide us and inspire us. Ideas should be proposed, shared, discussed and debated. Calling visionary thinking authoritarian is reactionary and curbs evaluation of past, present and future alternatives to capitalism. In short, it thwarts our activist efforts today and limits our chances for successful social change in the future.
The second line of reasoning, that vision takes time, energy and resources from other important pursuits, we can counter by analogy. Say there is something that cripples human beings to a point of overwhelming pain and misery that it is virtually unbearable to know of their suffering. Let’s say this something is cocaine or methamphetamines, and we know that it is wrong to let people suffer if they don’t have to. Let’s also imagine that someone proposes a medicine, or vaccination to make people immune to their addiction to these substances. Do we shy away from such proposals because doing so means we can put more of our energy into a harm reduction program or another homeless shelter? Or, do we look at the proposal and evaluate it. Sensible people would evaluate it while also committing time, energy and resources to harm reduction, shelters and other necessities. So why not employ the same process of developing a way to remedy the ills of capitalism as we would drugs, or other ills, say cancer. Developing vision does not imply that war, racism, patriarchy and the environment are not important to struggle against. Rather, it says that these things, including vision, are all equally important.
Also, reason number two can be countered by the fact that it is irrational to not know where it is you want to go, to not have vision — and so yes, a portion of time, energy and resources must be dedicated to vision. Just think how absurd it would be if, when every morning you walked out of your front door you did not know where it is you were going, subjecting yourself to perpetual wandering and episodic directions, never returning home to your door step. Knowing where we want to go, via vision, as social movements, is important because it informs us of our activism and organizing today – it raises our conscience for successful strategy.
The third reason is articulated as “There is no alternative” (TINA). Assume that someone is struggling against global warming and is horrified by the resulting environmental chaos and wants to help change it, but after years of courageous struggle she finally admits defeat and declares that “there is no alternative”. Global warming is an inevitable part of existence, just like the sun or moon, and declares “TINA”. She should not be happy about her declaration, but in fact should be immensely pained to have come to such a conclusion. People, who favor capitalism, as an inevitable economic arrangement, over other economic systems should not be happy about it. People, who have struggled against capitalism throughout the 20th century and come to the same conclusion, should not be happy either. Such declarations should only be made if careful research and analysis has been done to in fact prove that there is no alternative to capitalism; which no one has done. On the contrary, as we’ll see below, there are options to choose from, to look at, compare and analyze.
General Goals of a Liberating Alternative to Capitalism
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” – Che
Those of use who want to replace capitalism for something better have two possible motivations. One is that capitalism causes such human degradation, suffering and misery, it is virtually unbearable and we are compelled to act. The other reason is that for all the human lives who die pointlessly due to poverty, war, preventable illnesses, etc., we are losing valuable contributors to the richness and quality of human life; scientists, artists, mothers, fathers, lovers, composers, writers, painters, physicists, poets, mechanics and more, are all left from fulfilling their human potential do to the vile institutional arrangement called capitalism. By struggling for, and achieving a truly classless society we can liberate the rich human potential that lies dormant in ourselves and others. So, yes, a profound dissatisfaction with human misery and suffering is one motivation to want to change the world. But, it must be tempered with a love for humanity that sees what people are capable of, provided there exists an economy with an institutional setting that nourishes, accommodates and compliments human development in all spheres of life. If the need to explore this human potential is ignored, despite a desire do away with capitalism, the institutional context which may provide the setting for liberation will be overlooked.
The values listed here are derived from what I believe to be some of the most libertarian of Classical, New and contemporary Left values: solidarity, autonomy, classlessness or equity, diversity, and self-management. And, in addition to an institutional analysis, I use these as my guiding criteria to judge other economic systems, including alternatives to capitalism. So the more solidarity an economy perpetuates, the better it is; the more equity an economy achieves, the better it is; the more self-management an economy fosters, the better it is; the more diversity an economy generates… Even if the whole world pursues a participatory economy, if another proposal is put forward that realizes the above, or better values, even more so than in a parecon, we should all work to implement that proposal. With this attitude we can strive to escape dogma and sectarianism.