Note to Henwood

In further pursuit of what I hope will be useful discussion of vision and strategy relevant to "reimagining socialism" I have writtent he following note to Doug Henwood, regarding his comment in the exchange….




I am curious what you intended to communicate when you wrote in the exchange for the Nation – “I don’t think off-the-shelf utopias like Parecon are very helpful; there’s just no imaginable roadmap from here to there.”

What is in your mind, I guess I am asking – when you call parecon an “off-the-shelf utopia” a phrase nicely suited to conjuring in the mind of the reader all manner of dismissive sentiments, but which precludes your needing to give any real reason, just the swipe…

In other words, what does a dismissive comment like that contribute, or mean to contribute? I am trying to figure it out, and honestly I can’t. So I ask.

“Off the shelf” typically means, I think, an option that has long existed, one that is old hat and not suitable due to being familiar, tried, out of date, etc. We need to get beyond such off the shelf options, would be the usual connotation, as they offer nothing new and we need something new. Surely, though, you don’t mean to say that, do you?

Utopia, used like in your quick swipe, typically means impossible, as in ruled out by natural laws or social ones, and thus not worth any time or attention. But again, could you possibly mean that?

As to the last – is it the case that you really can’t imagine a route from now into a pareconish future? And not only can’t you imagine it – but you think that means that no one can? And, more, if no one can, it makes the vision worthless, as compared to implying that we ought to try?

Finally, what does “not very helpful” mean? I would think this part is pretty unequivocal and could only mean believing in the efficacy and worthiness of parecon would have no useful benefits for activists, or even just for analysts, now. Could you mean that? That even if the model was viable and worthy, knowing it, advocating it, would be an abstract undertaking with no current implications?

I would be curious your reactions – I know I have given your few words more time than you have given the entire edifice of writings about or related to parecon – but that’s because, I guess, I attribute more importance not only to the vision, but to seriously addressing it, and vision more generally. If you think it simply not worth the time, okay, but please let me know one way or the other…

On the other hand, if you do think there are important issues lurking here, perhaps we could have a formal exchange, a debate/exploration in the manner of many others that we have sponsored on ZNet – see the debates section of the site…


Michael Albert
[email protected]


1 comment

  1. avatar
    Paul Street August 4, 2014 4:07 pm 

    Fascinatingly enough, in his largely flattering review of bourgeois liberal Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century (2014), Henwood wrote that “the USSR…for all its problems, was living proof that an alternative [to capitalism] economic system was possible.” Parecon is an unhelpful “off the shelf utopia,” but the Soviet state-capitalist tyranny shows “that an alternative economic system was possible.” See http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_01/12987

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