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Federated Participatory Coops


 

I believe that economics is the single sphere of life that in spending most of our lives engaging, intertwines most with throughout all others.  This is probably why we have parecon first, and not yet parpolity, parkinship or parcultural models. The below tactical strategy is a chance for us to escape convoluted hybridization of parecon through reform movements in capitalist institutions.  The tactical approach of FPC will enable quite a clear example of a full, stand alone parecon pretty quickly and thus prevent confusion in the public of what parecon actually stands for.

With very little effort we can win a big spring board as per the big credit unions and co-ops.  Imagine our own printing co-op sponsored into existence by $2 million in guaranteed business from the 5 initial co-ops, or maybe they notice that together they pay out %1.5 of their expenses for paper stationary, so they find paper mill workers and help them buy out a mill.  The consumers at the outdoor equipment co-op come together and agree to buy a jacket for $5 more to finance the workers’ buy out of a faltering textiles factory in Indonesia.  The media co-op (or MeFCoop) gets $60 million a year from our initial ‘stage 1’ credit unions to do the marketing for them as a federated brand/idea.  This hopeful message of an economy planned by we the people quickly garners %30 of consumers in a region who’ll always look for a Federated Participatory Co-op (FPC) to patron when they need a particular good or service.  From a core of just a few co-ops that we gained in small election campaigns (co-ops are generally governed by a democratically elected board of directors – 1 member = 1 vote, with little more than %6 member turn out and very split votes for multiple candidates), a Federation of Participatory Coops now has the widespread support to easily extend itself into broader things like our own manufacturing (actually Canada already has a large insurance co-op), grocery stores,  (which gives parecon a populace base by which to do food planning and integrate into agriculture), . 

With enough credit unions in densely populated Latino working towns we could easily compete with Western Union and put hundreds of Billion$ in remittance payments through participatory development of local economies in Latin America so that people don’t have to leave their families on perilous journeys North to settle for the U.S.  Just by facilitating many Participatory Co-ops in Latin America we now have many more base commodities sourced within a parecon framework and not in the market system.  We have reached independence

A federation of a few initial large and central participatory co-ops and credit unions can provide these nodal ‘corners’ for others to come along and put in the connective web tissue if you will.  Economy denotes a network of production, exchange and consumption.  Let’s call the initial few (5) big credit unions and co-ops that we win elections for ‘stage one’.  Stage one can sustain about 15 other participatory co-ops (stage 2)   through stage one operations spending.  So we support the Participatory IT firm, participatory legal, stationary, building maintenance/construction co-op, etc., etc.  Just in the few initial big stage 1 co-ops we electioneered for we have transferred a few hundred million dollars in business to ‘stage 2’ Federated Participatory Firms (FPC).  Stage 2 + stage 1 can in turn support a greater diversity of parecon goods and services firms without hefty loans, but more through their needs as an economic network of 20 firms.   So now another 20 business types (stage 3) can be identified as supportable by the expenditure budgets of the first 20 (stage 1 + 2).   This is now an organism that co-evolves spontaneously through other peoples symbiotically adding themselves onto the basic network exoskeleton to form a stronger and stronger body with more and more ability to maintain itself and grow.  At this point of business to business having created a pretty good diversity of goods and services, individual consumers can start to confidently see most goods and services provided by the Parecon Federation which means that we can look to set up an exchange system or ‘currency’ based on RES (Remuneration based on Effort and Sacrifice).  I think it can all start very quickly with respective communities organizing themselves to win campaigns to elect parecon facilitators (not directors) in the small and very winnable elections for the boards of the credit unions and co-ops in their region.  We can move into them right away with just a little movement focus.  This way we are closer to having visible parecon institutions which are the full model, and not some convoluted capitalist-parecon hybrid, which I think will confuse people and open the model up to unfair attack.

After winning some elections for the credit unions and big co-ops the next (as if linear) place I propose focusing on is the cultural and communications sector (memes sector – defined as cultural units of information).  We need some cultural reference points for an understanding of participation that people might be able to conjure and engage in participatory organization and planning.  The cultural movement will also afford us a campaigning community which will achieve approximately $350 billion in scale for federated parecon(s) in short order, just by electioneering for half of the credit unions – co-ops in North America (and loosing some).  (Many co-ops are controlled by nomination committees and many have open elections.)

We mentioned the memes – or cultural units of information – and I’ll introduce the idea of the meme economy.  That is to say that the production of knowledge, culture, law, efficiencies in methods, etc., all belong to the memes economy.  We recognize that the productivity gains realized in the information economy have propelled our current (“information”) economy by leaps and bounds (in capitalist terms).  A lot of this economic growth is firms researching better models of organizational structure and behaviour that are congruent with the opportunities in new technologies.  The shift in our cultural agreements for the way we interact across time and space, which is often induced by the adoption of new technics (technologies and their logically arising techniques for use) like the fax, cell phone, the internet(s), or parecon is a complex re-negotiation of our memes or the strands which form new narratives, even completely new structures of meaning.  Some communications academics have estimated the memes economy to be worth as much as one third of GDP, especially in the advanced economies of this ‘information age’.

Because re-negotiating the basic cultures of interaction, or rather the ways we form agreements and organize around socio-economics are what we are mostly concerned with in transitioning to a participatory society (parsoc) and parecon, I propose the Memes Facilitation Co-op (MeF Coop).  MeF Coop, which was earlier mentioned as the media and ‘marketing’ co-op would be a large ‘conglomerate’ (to use an old term) comprised of multiple worker divisions such as legal, media production, communications strategy, computer programming, council facilitators, etc., etc.,.   I envision it as an alternative institution and something of a counter institution.  It’s primary aim is to immediately translate our “top down” electioneered wins of the big credit unions into bottom up cultural practice so that people can be excited to fill those stage 1 FPCs with participatory practice (BJC, RES, say proportionate to stake, etc.,), thereby dissolving them of any “top-down” institutionalism.

 

MeF Coop can help with grass roots movement building, which I believe is most effectively done in fun, cultural sites like party scenes, participatory theatre, festivals, etc.  ParticiPartay (ParPar) or ‘The (Co-operative) Way’ is a cultural method under way in Vancouver which is forming new kinds of art and events, the very formats of which communicate the power and effectiveness of collective, inter-subjective realization of our will (instead of a strong performance audience dichotomies or ‘passively let some one do it to/’for’ you’ the audience helps create the event, script, music, etc.).  To put it simply, we do away with the audience|performer dichotomy and format a big game, theatrical piece or festival so that the audience actually produces, writes, performs, etc., in the happening.  More grass roots, underground cultural scenes in Vancouver, especially in the ‘People’s Republic of East Van’ have been moving in this direction for a while and these scenes grow into some of the more popular, regular events in the region.  Events like WorkLess Parties and their Church of Pointless Consumerism which approached form theatre, CriticalMass, WorldNaked Bike Ride (‘founded’ in Vancouver by Conrad Schmidt), regular cat call cabaret house parties, burlesque and major theme parties all represent participatory venues for developing our own deep culture.  They also give us sites of practice to understand participatory production, if only of culture.  These events have largely replaced confrontational occupations, marches, etc. as the primary organizing tactic because they’re more rewarding in that they inherently speak to our own power to make our own institutions without whining to extra-constitutional powers – as though the government or corporations should have any say over our lives.  Why should a group of workers whine to the executives of GM for crumbs when the workers could finance the buy-out of inoperable factories themselves and the Federation/MeFCoop can popularize their autos amongst loyal participatory consumers?  Bypass the modofos: what gives them the right to be negotiated with? To engage them only re-affirms the capitalist and coordinator class’ unjust normative claims to governing the productive means.  There is enough overcapacity capitalism has left laying around to prevent people having to go head on with capitalist owners, especially right off the bat.

As a mass, participatory communications arm, MeFCoop would foster the growth of a popular movement that is very visible in the street, in our slang, and where everyone would know someone who benefits from parecon institutions.   This would make attack from the state or elite dulled and indeed counterproductive in that it will only make them and their institutions less popular which in turn delivers less labour and ‘market share’ with which power structures can maintain institutions of force. 

The trade union movement has demonstrated that improved labour and wage standards in enough of the labour force pull up wages in a whole region.  In this way, alternative parecon institutions can structurally help reform efforts in capitalist institutions.  So while we provide a clear model that can really bring hope to workers and raise their wages we also give ourselves the resources to help capitalist firm work forces to parecon organize in a clear trajectory of systemic change. 

I believe that the main salient feature which has kept police and paramilitary forces on the blatantly unjust protest-battle lines I’ve been on is that “some order must prevail and these punks certainly don’t represent some kind of ‘order’” (that kind of cynicism and good double time pay of course).  But I think we are likely to see defection and refusal of orders when the violent state troops are ordered to attack coherent participatory institutions that are in successful, popular operation across a nation (transplanted National Guard or Mounties without roots in a community will not attack those institutions which people in their families back home are also connected to).  This happened even in the dirty 30s where many police refused to bust heads and evict people.  Also the traditional currencies of power-over structures will be weakened and thus less of a carrot for troopers, due to more of the economy’s exchange ‘velocity’ (velocity of money) being occupied by parecon exchange.  Along with this ability to prevent attacks and the strategy of parecon using some of the same infrastructure elites use to move their capital, MeFCoop can also use its legal and lobbying means to parry and counter.  If we use the same bridges they need to move their capital, they will loathe to destroy them.

MeFCoop would be such a hub or important entity in the parecon movement that great lengths should be taken to make sure that it is required and equipped for very advanced direct democracy in keeping with participatory principles of co-governance.  Such advanced direct democracy apparati would ensure that MeF Co-op ‘consumer’ members would have ‘constitutional’ say in editorial and discoursive policy, as well as being much of the primary producers of content or campaigns.  Additionally MeF Coop might be mandated to hold a good portion of it’s worker positions open to rotation of representatives from other industries to ensure communications infrastructure that meets inter-sector exchange needs.  We’ll get more into the nitty gritty in Chapter ??, including questioning the wisdom of adopting such large and ‘centralized’ or scaled spontaneous bodies as MeFCoop.

MeF Coop[1] could get under way quite quickly with a boost from the initial large co-ops (‘stage 1’ co-ops) that form Federated Participatory co-op to co-op (business to business) networks.  The initial FPC co-ops that we go for, namely the credit unions, have major needs for services and goods which fall in the realm of the meme economy such as legal, marketing, Information Communications Technology, etc.  Just in our region here in Western Canada I anticipate that there is an easy $120 million dollars in annual contracts that MeF Coop could garner from the stage 1/initial co-ops.  This is quite a revenue base and economy of scale to operate at, one more able to advance movement communications and needs than our little anarchist journals and cobbled together web sites based on donations, subscriptions, free labour from contributors etc.,.  With 20 people  in the Legal division of MeF Coop we can start to see how a few lawyers can be freed up to work on moving legislative changes through (especially in minority government situations), especially with the back up of MeF Coop’ wider communications capabilities to lobby and create public pressure.  We can work to maneuver a government, whether quietly or very publicly, with MeF Coop’ contacts in the media… Media outlets whose budgets we fill by paying to carry Federation announcements/invitations or ‘advertising’ with.

We take the view that the medium is the message: that even if the content of a cultural happening isn’t parecon that the collective modes of producing that content will communicate our ability to find coherence of values that we can act on together.  Values that are mostly about the processes of working out common ground from which we can build on.

We hope to take this participatory cultural format to the scale of major touring festivals.  It is thought that this won’t be difficult as many festivals and artists are very open to new ideas and community involvement.  These festivals can, again, allegorize the modalities of participatory exchange but they will also, hopefully, serve to create preferred consumer loyalty and participation in product design, metrics for the demand of goods and distribution of parecon federated goods.  This will chiefly be achieved through popularizing the motif/’brand’ of parecon across these festivals and cultural media venues by including people in the creation of that brand’s meaning or design ‘referents’.  It also creates a culture that can transplant it’s values from cultural venues to economic ones.

By including people in the formation of the meaning and design of the federation’s logo/motif/brand we bring much more of a sense of belonging and identity to it.  Making it participatory will allow people to feel like the motif is in respectful discussion with them as a full (or potentially full) member of that discussion or community, and will anchor that all firms (FPCs) using the motif are open for meaningful interaction in the design, production and distribution of the good(s) the co-op is involved in.  An environment composed of ever-present parsoc symbology will make it safe to engage participatory modes without risk of socially marginalizing oneself in the sea of competitive, hyper-individualism:  Basically a symbolic environment which creates an ever present assurance that ‘participatory values are in full, systemic affect in this street, theatre, shop, venue; you won’t get screwed or look silly for using or trying to learn participatory modes of socio-economic interaction in this public space’.

This is a major reason why it’ll be so important to get the major apparel co-ops like MEC and REI in the U.S. and Canada:  they will allow for participatory design and distribution of clothing which, in a very personal way – how we signal who we are through appearance – will allow this kind of participatory symbology a powerful public venue; each other’s personal space.  This was a big part of the success in Lulu Lemon in Vancouver I figure (now spring boarding off the West Coast to a retail outlet near you).  It started out mostly as yoga gear and because yoga is so popular here, carrying distinct cultures of meaning in tight community support networks for well being, Lulu Lemon clothes became a visual and constant touch stone, implicitly inviting a whole city to be more healthy, radiant and “did you do yoga today”.  I was practicing yoga daily in the yoga studio across the street from the first Lulu lemon store, and even I, who pretty well never buys any clothes new or retail, went and bought a pair of yoga pants.  Imagine whole apparel lines that ask in most every social situation we’re in together – “how do you participate”?

Very quickly we have consolidated participatory business-to-business and consumer-loyalty networks to represent maybe as much as %30 of exchanges touching %80 of the population (Co-ops in Canada, Britain, France, New Zealand, Australia, etc., already have much higher GNPs than in the U.S. (%5),  i.e., from 11% in Canada, to 21% in Britain and New Zealand), our currency has grown and has greatly destroyed the “velocity of money” basis that keeps the high multiples of credit and debt creation in the fiat system afloat.  

 

Coming soon: A blog posting with a focus on strategic principles for initial movement focusing of limited ‘spring board’ means.  I’ll address what I see as misinterpretations of historic Marxist-Lenonist and coordinator prone strategy…  And how parecon institutional codes along with our current historic moment provide a different situation to make such ML strategies, even as re-interpreted by anarchist philosophy, less appropriate.  I’ll also look to address how I believe we could be competitive cost wise with market firms while still having descent parecon work places.



[1] We might consider changing the pronunciation of co-op to ‘coupe’ to demarcate the evolution of co-ops’ old ‘democratic’ form to participatory form and make it a more expedient pronunciation.

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