A viable and desirable strategy for transcending capitalism will certainly include leaving capitalism behind. Capitalism is despicable.
It will also include, however, attaining something worthwhile in capitalism’s place. What we win must be desirable.
Leaving capitalism behind will entail in each country arousing a large portion of the population to struggle.
Winning something worthwhile in capitalism’s place will entail that the large portion of the population seeking change are all equal and active participants, defining what they are seeking and their methods. Something desirable is not imposed from above, but is created from below.
To gain sufficient support to win a new economy will involve, therefore, many battles for better conditions, better circumstances, more income and more say for those who are worst off.
More, all these battles will have to be fought in ways that lead to ever enlarging further struggle for still more gains, rather than in ways that assume that capitalism will last forever and that cause people to settle for less than revolution as the end goal.
In other words, each component of our work, by its logic and by its implications, should lead toward our long run aims. You don’t get where you want to go by running in the wrong direction.
We don’t have much time here today, so I am going to just suggest a few long run aims I want to run toward, and a few of the implications I think those aims have for our strategy in the present.
The first aim that I want to briefly address is Workers and Consumers Self Management.
Beyond capitalism we want an economy in which workers and consumers, organized in councils, or you may call them assemblies, determine what is produced, in what manner, to what ends.
More, we want this done with each person having a say in each decision in proportion as the decision affects them, rather than most people being subordinate to a few. Escaping hierarchy entails attaining self management.
What affects you more, you should have more say over. What affects you less, you should have less say over. The same norm should apply to me too, and to everyone.
Power is not absent. Power, which is another name for influence over decisions, is distributed appropriately. We all become self managing cooperating partners in the economy and in the society.
The desire that in a good economy workers and consumers determine outcomes not just democratically, but with self managing say for all, and that they do so through their workers and consumers councils, implies that our movements should
(1) incorporate self management by their members to the extent that we possibly can, and
(2) seek to build and utilize councils as part of the process of building the infrastructure of the future.
So, here in Venezuela efforts to organize communities into assemblies to partake of economic life collectively, or to have workers have their own councils in occupied factories, accord with this strategic logic.
To subordinate workers in plants, or consumers in their neighborhoods, however, utilizing institutions that were not leading toward self management would be contrary to strategic logic.
Pretty much the same holds in my country, the U.S. U.S. movements should also be working to create workers councils in plants and consumers councils or assemblies in neighborhoods.
We should be working to have them collectively begin administering as much of life as they can seize hold of. Likewise, our movements themselves should try to steadily incorporate self management in their own operations, and should certainly not celebrate remnants of or new forms of top down control, for example.
The second aim that I want to briefly address is equitable remuneration.
Beyond capitalism I don’t want people to earn income by virtue of owning productive property. No profits, no owners.
But I also don’t want people earning more because they have better tools, or they have talents that are more valued in society.
These are controversial matters, they deserve discussion, but we don’t have time to go into detail here. So I am just going to baldly state that I would like people who are healthy and able to work based on how long they work, how hard they work, and how onerous their work is – with the rest getting income by virtue of their need, of course.
You work longer you get more. You work harder, you get more. You do more onerous, tedious, boring, debilitating work, you get more. And contrary wise, you work less long, less hard, or at more pleasant tasks, you get less.
Favoring this way of organizing income has many implications for movement strategy.
For example, first, if we have income positions in our movements or in our projects or institutions, to the extent that we can attain it, they should be paid according to these new norms of remuneration.
And second, when we fight for higher wages for workers, or for new taxes for redistribution, or for other income related gains, our language should always point toward our long-term goal – payment only for the duration, intensity, and for the onerousness of socially valued work.
As an example, here in Venezuela when salaries are made more equal or even totally equal in occupied plants or in new institutions or in the government or missions, or when income is redistributed by taxes or payments, these steps accord with this strategic inclination, but they will do so even more if
(1) the accompanying discussion makes clear the long term goal of remuneration only for duration, intensity, and onerousness, and
(2) the changes are seen as part of a continuing project of attaining that level of full equity.
The same holds in the U.S. too. Campaigns there for higher minimum wage, or better wages in some industry, or for welfare payments, or to distribute oil or food less expensively to the poor, should all seek the short term goal but should also build consciousness and desire for full equity, not stopping at being modest steps in a better direction.
The third aim that I want to briefly address is Classlessness
Beyond capitalism I do not want to have all my efforts and other people’s efforts lead us to a new economy that just has a new and different kind of bosses above workers.
I want classlessness, which means I want all the people to have conditions of work and economic life such that no one group is economically elevated over the rest.
Of course this means we have to be against people owning workplaces as capitalists. Part of anti-capitalist strategy – a part that is very much about leaving capitalism behind – is about challenging property rights and developing a consciousness and militance against profit seeking. But, that isn’t the end of class.
Again, these are controversial matters, but I believe that there is another potential ruling class able to dominate economics, above workers. I call it the coordinator class.
This additional class is, in our current societies, doctors, lawyers, managers, engineers, and others whose work is highly empowering and who have lots of say over the conditions or circumstances of working class – rote workers – below.
Indeed, I think the economies that have been historically called socialist have not in fact been classless, regrettably, but have instead elevated this coordinator class to ruling status.
They have had what we might call coordinator economies, named for their economic ruling class.
Socialism has actually been coordinatorism, and anti capitalism has most often degenerated into coordinator class agenda.
Since I want classlessness, I need an approach to fighting capitalism that doesn’t usher in an economy ruled by only about 20% of its population who monopolize empowering work positions and roles, the coordinator class. I want a movement that avoids coordinatorism.
In a new classless economy – and I have in mind something called participatory economics, or parecon – I think each worker, each producer, will have to have a set of responsibilities that is comparably empowering to everyone else’s.
There won’t be some people who do only empowering labor, and other people who do only rote and repetitive labor.
Conceptual tasks still must get done. But the surgeon and engineer don’t do only surgery and engineering. They will do a balanced mix – just like everyone else, including those who only previously, in the old division of labor, cleaned or worked on an assembly line.
Everyone in a classless economy will have a fair share of empowering tasks and conditions so that we can each participate fully in self management.
Indeed, if that isn’t the case then about a fifth of the population will monopolize all the information, skills, confidence, and positions to dominate decisions. Clearly we can’t have that, if we want classlessness.
I call the new division of labor in which we each have a comparably empowering work situation due to our balanced mix of responsibilities and tasks “balanced job complexes.” It provides fair work allocation and it makes possible self management.
The implications for strategy of seeking balanced job complexes – classlessness – are profound.
It is not enough, it turns out, to be anti-capitalist.
Whether intentionally or not, being anti capitalist can include being pro coordinator rule. We need to be anti capitalist and pro classlessness – in my view, we need to be pro parecon.
What is necessary to attain classlessness is firstly to be for classlessness, not coordinatorism.
Strategically this means taking seriously working class conditions and culture, winning continually better conditions and more empowerment for workers, and especially having in our movements balanced job complexes rather than hierarchies that mimic those in society. None of this is easy. But it is all essential, I believe.
So our movement organizations should not have old style divisions of labor. Nor should our projects. They should all instead steadily and more comprehensively incorporate balanced job complexes.
In the U.S. our most radical left movements lack serious working class participation. This is true in many other parts of the world, as well. This is an immense obstacle to comprehensive change.
I think it has occurred in considerable part because our movements significantly incorporate and aspire to coordinator class values and culture.
Our movements say by their demeanor and policies to workers this is not about you being on top, it is about you being – again – below.
We need movements that really are for classlessness and that reflect and convincingly convey that aspiration in their structures and policies.
Here in Venezuela strategy in accord with this logic would include steadily eroding and replacing old style hierarchies of empowerment in workplaces and in the government too, with new more self managing forms.
When workers take over a plant, say, and they seek to implement workers control, it is in this view critical that they not only seek equitable income for all, but that they begin to redefine work into balanced job complexes.
That’s the only way to prevent about 20% from structurally – not malevolently but just by their position – monopolizing greater information and knowledge and then dominating others in decision making due to their positional advantages.
Without balanced job complexes as part of our strategy, gains toward workers control will always erode and become instead coordinator rule.
In the U.S., similarly, our movement organizations, media institutions, and other projects and campaigns should work to incorporate balanced job complexes, and we should seek changes in capitalist workplaces that move in the same direction and that induce desires for this form of justice.
Without this, and so far we have certainly not had it, we will not really be planting the seeds of the future in the present.
The fourth aim that I want to briefly address is
Production for fulfillment and development, not accumulation
Beyond capitalism we don’t want markets. Markets are incredibly destructive not only of the environment, but of people. Markets prevent self management, impose coordinator class rule, and get pricing all wrong, also. But central planning is hardly better. It is authoritarian.
So, again, stating a conclusion with insufficient time for full justification, we want a new kind of participatory planning by our workers and consumers councils.
We want councils to cooperatively negotiate economic inputs and outputs with full knowledge of the true and full social costs and benefits of options, and with self managing say for all actors. A vehicle for this, I believe, is what I call participatory planning.
Even without getting into the details of such a system, aspiring to it has many strategic implications.
We shouldn’t celebrate or utilize market competition without great care, if at all.
We should try to develop means in our movements and in society for actors – not just workers and consumers – to collectively and cooperatively negotiate outcomes, rather than having them imposed by dictate or competitively arrived at.
In Venezuela and in the U.S., this means both fighting against the logic of markets and trying to create fledgling forms of participatory collective planning or negotiation of economic outcomes including government budgets, as with participatory budgets, and also regarding the production and allocation of products of all kinds.
In Brazil, the experiment of participatory budgets, for example, should be extended and enlarged and the logic should begin to inform relations to private firms, as well.
There is of course much more to be said, about the economy that we want beyond capitalism and attaining it, and also about gender, race, and the political realm, all of which have to be simultaneously addressed, in my view, to achieve truly lasting and profound gains in any of them.
I can’t address all that, even briefly, here, so to close, about the last mentioned realm, politics, let me just say that presumably we favor political self management – which we used to call, in the Sixties where I got radicalized – power to the people.
We know that a good future society will need to have legislation, implementation of shared projects, and adjudication of disputes, among other political functions.
Whether we call what does this a government or a participatory polity isn’t so crucial now, though I favor the latter label.
The point is, if we win a participatory polity, or parpolity, we won’t have eliminated power, we will have attained a condition in which power – which is to say influence over decisions – is vested in a population which self manages.
Power isn’t gone, it is properly distributed to the whole population.
But what about on the way to this future?
Part of what we do when we try to make conditions better is struggle with states, or governments. Sometimes we even try to win positions in them or to even run them, as here in Venezuela.
All of this is made problematic by desires for political self management – because governments are so typically authoritarian – and participating in them, or even just pushing them, can convey disproportionate influence to small numbers of people – but it is not ruled out by such concerns, in my mind, by any means, on the way to a better world.
The issue isn’t to avoid interacting with political or economic or any other kind of power. The issue is to return it, or rather win it, into the hands of an organized, aroused, aware, population.
To my thinking that includes not only creating new institutions but in certain cases battling over the behavior of old ones, and also trying to alter them or even win control of them.
In short, we have to address the political realm as it is, and move it toward what we wish it to be.
What we do with or against a government ought to be aimed at:
(1) winning improvements in peoples lives,
(2) diminishing the sway of institutions that are above the populace, and
(3) empowering the populace and its own direct institutions.
Winning the state isn’t the goal. Eliminating the state isn’t the goal.
Turning the state, or polity, into what we desire partly by transforming it and partly by creating new structures that will replace it, is our goal – or it should be.
In this last case the Venezuelan example, the Bolivarian Revolution, throws up incredible hope and also some worry.
That Venezuela has embarked on creating institutions of direct self management is inspiring and I think hopeful for the whole world.
That this is being initiated not so much from the bottom up, but rather at the initiative and with the full force of the existing government – which is in some sense trying to build its own replacement – is both remarkable, I think pretty much unprecedented, and certainly very hopeful, but it is also a little worrying.
It is what should be done by a revolutionary government, I think.
But the sooner the initiative and energy of popular movements in local communities and institutions throughout Venezuela starts being the driving force, the better, I also think.
So let me summarize.
I think wanting workers and consumers self management, economic equity, classlessness, fulfilling distribution, and anti authoritarian political self management, together entail a great many strategic priorities for us all, such as building councils, elevating self management, incorporating balanced job complexes, avoiding coordinatorism, opposing markets, and reapportioning power.
John, I am hoping you will agree with a lot of this, but whatever you find questionable or wrong, we will have a chance to discuss.
In Venezuela you are much further along such a path than my country mates and I are in the U.S. That means one of our responsibilities is to try to hold our government back from interfering in your efforts.
But another responsibility we have is that the revolutionary path, both Bolivarian and Pareconista, needs to get clearer, wider, and better traveled, more effectively traveled, and more self consciously traveled, by us all.