Ehrenreich: Why don’t you call yourself a socialist? It seems to me Parecon is well within the socialist tradition. Are you uncomfortable with being associated with that tradition?
Is the socialist tradition about fighting against domination and hierarchy in pursuit of classlessness and self management? Or is the socialist tradition about crushing grassroots direct involvement in economic and social life and imposing domination from above?
The fact that you and I prefer the former tradition doesn’t negate that the latter tradition has been a ubiquitous outcome for projects called socialist. And I think that we have to pay attention to that. And that we have to pay attention to common usage among the constituencies we wish to talk with, and also to the impact that using labels can have on narrowing our own thinking.
When applied to economics the word socialism means state or public ownership, market or centrally planed allocation, remuneration for output (or arguably for power), and corporate divisions of labor. These features have been present in every economy that has labeled itself socialist. They have characterized the design and logic of almost all movements that have called themselves socialist. They are present in nearly all written accounts of a socialist economic model that go beyond espousing values to actually specifying institutional aims. And finally, these are features that I reject the same as I reject private ownership of productive assets.
In the past, I have spent considerable time calling myself an unorthodox Marxist, or a libertarian socialist. I wrote books like Socialism Today and Tomorrow that rejected aspects of today’s models of socialism but advocated other models for tomorrow. But I think there comes a time where we have to admit that we have lost the war of words, or at the very least we have to recognize that it is a battle with diminishing returns, and move on to the real substantive issues without conceptual baggage.
I am anti private ownership of means of production, anti profit, anti market, anti central planning, and anti remuneration for output. I am anti corporate divisions of labor and anti coordinator class rule. I favor specific institutions contrary to all those characteristics. That means I reject much of what has gone under the name socialism and instead advocate things like balanced job complexes and participatory planning that have not gone under that name. I guess I think that worrying about whether other leftists will think we are rejecting what is good in the heritage when it is utterly obvious that that we aren’t should not be a concern for advocates of parecon. I think our concern should be whether people who seek classlessness and who advocate institutions to attain classlessness can communicate effectively with the rest of the world.