There Is No Alternative!?
our website, ZNet, is helping to form Projects for a Participatory
Society, which will, for the moment, be an online discussion of
values and structures for this possible “other” world.
conjunction with this effort,
plans to include
more vision and strategy in these pages on a regular basis. To get
things rolling, we are publishing a condensed version of Michael
Albert’s online article, which addresses the often heard remark:
“There is no alternative.
all know lots of people who think, “There is no alternative”
(TINA) to capitalism. We all know that the left is currently emphasizing
the slogan, “Another world is possible.” Neither stance
is an argument, however. To be an argument, the anti-capitalist
stance needs either evidence of an alternative system or, short
of that, a description of an alternative with a compelling case
that it would be worthy and viable. The TINA argument goes like
(1) Whether innately
or due to systemic imprinting, people are greedy and determined
(2) A proposed social system that ignores this greediness is like
a proposed flying machine that ignores gravity. If it ever gets
to the test stage, it will either fail or, if attained, devolve
into more or less what we already have.
(3) The sensible
response is to refine the current system, which channels greed
to yield a degree of civilization and social progress.
problem with this argument is that, as most anti-capitalists read
it, it isn’t an argument at all. Point (3), which is TINA,
doesn’t follow from the rest, at least if we have the usual
understanding of the claim that people are greedy. What instead
follows from these observations is that any social system needs
to recognize that human beings want desirable living conditions
and material well-being and have energy and insight with which to
pursue these—and that they will do so.
get positive social outcomes —say, classlessness—a social
system must provide means for people to advance their own possibilities
using their own energies and insights. It must also ensure that
when people pursue their well being, the result will be increasing
solidarity, rather than increasing competitiveness and division.
claim that people are greedy provides no reason to think this is
impossible. It doesn’t put up a roadblock to revolution (which
would be TINA), but it instead says, quite reasonably, show me what
you have to offer that lets people improve their lives, but that
also generates just outcomes.
advocates for a better world encounter opponents, we should not
immediately assume stunted brains or malignant values. It can be
that they have an honest difference of opinion about what can be
accomplished. It is important for us to always make our case as
best we can as an important antidote to being sectarian, a trap
we can all easily fall into.
how do we attain this new world?
the biggest current strategic debate is between Leninists and non-Leninists.
The best Leninist will say, “I seek classlessness, participatory
democracy, an end to patriarchy, and an end to racism that still
allows enriched cultural diversity.” The best anti-Leninist
will say the same thing. Both will mean it. So far, there is no
best Leninist will continue, “Leninist methods can be grossly
abused with horrible outcomes. But we have no choice. We must find
a way to use these methods (van- guardism, coordinatorism, heir-
archies) if we are to win, but to constrain their tendencies to
induce horrible results.”
best anti-Leninist, in contrast, will say, “It isn’t only
that democratic centralism and manipulative mass politics foster
coordinator class rule, political authoritarianism, patriarchy,
and cultural homogenization. Leninist methods won’t attract
support. Pragmatically, they are doomed to fail. To be credible,
inspiring, and empowering, we need movements that embody the values,
social relations, and structures of the new world we seek.”
this dispute, as in the face-off between seeking revolution and
accepting capitalism as permanent, there can exist comparably enlightened
humane motivations on both sides. To enter every exchange presupposing
the worst is a breeding ground for continued sectarianism.
is no need to water down our feelings and our claims. But there
is a need to communicate respectfully and present real arguments,
not to just flail at one another.
is co-founder of
and staff of ZNet. He is
the author of numerous books including his most recent
Life After Capitalism