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Vision Matters


Michael Albert

So

far I have sent out an economic vision and strategy commentary each of the past

eight Sundays. I assumed we would quickly agree that we don’t have but that we

do very much need a shared economic vision, and that to get one we need to

collectively debate visionary ideas, junk what we don’t like, come up with any

new features we need, and finally settle on something we can collectively

espouse. But since it seems that we don’t in fact agree about the importance of

this agenda, here I want to re-visit the claim that having shared vision and

program is a prerequisite for an effective mass movement.

Imagine

you are organizing folks for the upcoming Washington IMF/World Bank

demonstrations. Or that you are giving a public talk about poverty, or that you

are making a presentation in an economics class, or that you are hanging out in

a bar chatting with workmates. Someone says, okay, I know you hate what people

are paid in our society. You hate our society’s jobs. You hate the way its

decisions are made. And you hate its competition and profit seeking. So what do

you like? What should people earn? How should we arrange jobs? How much power

should people have? What kind of workplace or budgetary decision-making should

we have? How should goods and services be allocated? What economy do you want

instead of capitalism?

My

experience is that folks skeptical about activism raise just these questions,

yet few leftists can compellingly answer them. If there aren’t any alternatives

to present institutions, these skeptics rightly reason, then seeking systemic

change is foolish. If we must have wages paid the way they are now, jobs

organized the way they are now, decisions made the way they are now, and profits

sought the way they are now, then even if we somehow change some other aspect of

our economy, these basics are going to overwhelm any momentary gains, and

everything will eventually wind up back where it was or worse. So why seek

hopeless change?

We

can logically rebut such cynicism by noting the important gains movements have

won in our history: the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, the

end of Jim Crow racism, the forty hour workweek. But no matter how high we pile

such historical evidence, our reports of past victories won’t assuage everyone’s

doubts about contemporary prospects. To become motivated, most people need to

see how economic life could be more fulfilling and how their actions could

contribute to such ends. To become motivated, doubtful people need to encounter

credible, positive, inspiring aims, over and over, coming from many activists in

many venues, all more or less synchronizing what they say for mutual

reinforcement. In other words, to become active typical citizens need to

repeatedly encounter inspiring organizers with shared vision and strategy.

And

it isn’t only that activists lacking shared vision won’t inspire and sustain

motivation. Sensibly choosing tactics and usefully stringing together campaigns

to reach sought goals also requires shared vision. Vision provides hope and

motivates effort, yes, but it also organizes our criticisms and orients our

struggles. Vision motivates participation and it informs strategy. Strategy in

turn prevents reactive and dysfunctional politics. Yet amazingly, even though

there is lack of motivation, reactive organizing, and dysfunctional politics all

around us, there is not only little agreement in our movements about either

vision or strategy, there is also little effort to rectify the confusion.

For

example, ZMI is a school that Z holds each summer. Some folks arrive very new to

left thought and activity, of course, but many others arrive with an amazing

wealth of practical experience. Nonetheless, even in its congenial atmosphere

and with its highly motivated constituency, very few who come to ZMI can

confidently present an economic (or kinship or cultural or political) vision and

strategy. And the same holds true of organizers I meet when I go out to speak

with local community groups or on campuses. Many have well formulated

understandings of the oppressive dynamics of current institutions, to be sure,

but few are clear about what they want in place of current institutions and

about how to attain it.

Is

all this a problem? Is it part of why our movements are weak? Is attaining

shared vision and strategy at least as important as enumerating for the fourteen

thousandth time that corporations are authoritarian, that poverty hurts, and

that profit shouldn’t go before people? Or are clear and compelling vision and

strategy irrelevant, so that we only need to describe more perfectly how current

injustices operate and what our immediate targets should be, and then watch the

barricades go up?

Parecon

itself may or may not be a compelling economic vision, and likewise for the

strategic insights I have offered over these past few weeks. But what seems

absolutely certain is that if parecon isn’t worthy then we need to figure out

something else that is. And whether we start with parecon or with something

different and better, we need to collectively refine, enhance, and learn how to

argue for a vision, as well as how to extrapolate strategy from it.

In

short, to succeed our movement needs economic vision and related long and

short-term program. For that matter, it also needs kinship, cultural, and

political vision and program. Of course, not everyone has to be working on

developing all this vision and program every minute of every day. But don’t

quite a few of us have to put some serious energy into that creative task? And

at the very least, once visions are enunciated and refined, don’t we all have to

understand them and make them our own and become good at explaining what we want

and how we are going to collectively go about getting it?

 

 

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