Chapter Seven: Participatory World
This is the chapter seven of Occupy Vision, which is the second volume of the three volume set titled Fanfare for the Future. You can find out more about Occupy Theory, Occupy Vision, and Occupy Strategy, as well as how to purchase the books in print or for ebook reading, at Z’s book page for them – which is at: https://zcomm.org/the-fanfare-series/
Section One: Internationalism
Parsoc and the World
“War does not determine who is right, only who is left.”
– Bertrand Russell
Current international market trading overwhelmingly benefits those who enter today’s exchanges already possessing the most assets. When trade occurs between a U.S. multinational and a local entity in Guatemala, Kenya, or Thailand, the benefits do not go more to the weaker party with fewer assets, nor are they divided equally – they go disproportionately to the stronger traders who, thereby, increase their relative dominance.
Opportunist rhetoric aside, capitalist globalizers try to disempower the poor and already weak and to further empower the rich and already strong. The result: of the 100 largest economies in the world, over half aren’t countries, they are corporations, and tens of millions throughout the world not only live in abysmal poverty, but starve to death each year.
Similarly, international market competition for resources, revenues, and audience is most often a zero sum game. To advance, each market participant preys off the defeat of others so that capitalist globalization promotes a me-first attitude that generates hostility and destroys solidarity between individuals, corporations, industries, and states. Public and social goods are downplayed, private ones are elevated. Businesses, industries, and nations augment their own profits while imposing losses on other countries – and even on most citizens of their own country. Human well being is not a guiding precept.
Capitalist globalization swamps quality with quantity. It creates cultural homogenization, not diversity. Not only does Starbucks proliferate, so do Hollywood images of women and minorities and Madison Avenue styles elevating greed and self centeredness – not to mention violence. What is indigenous, non-commercial, gender equitable – much less feminist – must struggle to even survive. Diversity declines.
In the halls of the capitalist globalizers, only political and corporate elites are welcome. Indeed, the point of capitalist globalization is precisely to reduce the influence of whole populations, and even of state leaderships, save for the most powerful elements of Western corporate and political rule. Capitalist globalization imposes corporatist hierarchy not only in economics, but also in politics and culture – and because it carries the seeds of patriarchy, in gender relations as well. Authoritarian and even fascistic state structures proliferate. The number of voices with even marginal say declines.
As the financiers in corporate headquarters extend stockholders’ influence, the earth beneath is dug, drowned, and paved without attention to other species, to by-products, to ecology, or even to humanity. Only profit and power drive the calculations.
Anti-globalization activists oppose capitalist globalization because capitalist globalization violates the equity, diversity, solidarity, self-management, and ecological balance that activists pursue.
Capitalist globalization also establishes norms and expectations of international dominance and subordination. To establish, enforce, defend, and punish violations of those norms, the strong will often use violence against the weak. Domestically this means growing police state apparatuses and repression. Internationally it means local, regional, and international hostilities and war.
So the question naturally arises, what is the alternative to capitalist globalization?
Supporting Global Justice
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
What do anti-globalization activists propose to put in place instead of the institutions of capitalist globalization, including, most prominently, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization?
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank were established after World War II. The IMF was meant to provide means to combat financial disruptions adversely impacting countries and people around the world. It initially used negotiation and pressure to stabilize currencies and to help countries avoid economy-disrupting financial machinations and confusion.
The World Bank was meant to facilitate long-term investment in underdeveloped countries and to expand and strengthen their economies. It was set up to lend major investment money at low interest rates to correct for the lack of local capacity.
Within then-existing market relations, these limited IMF and World Bank goals were progressive. Over time, however, and accelerating dramatically in the 1980s, the agenda of these institutions changed. Instead of facilitating stable exchange rates and helping countries protect themselves against financial fluctuations, the IMF began bashing any and all obstacles to capital flow and unfettered profit seeking, despite being the opposite of its mandate.
Instead of facilitating investment on behalf of local poor economies, the World Bank became a tool of the IMF, providing and withholding loans as carrot or stick to compel open corporate access. It financed projects not with an eye to accruing benefits for the recipient country, but with far more attention to accruing benefits to major multinationals.
In addition, the World Trade Organization (WTO) that was first proposed in the early postwar period actually came into being only decades later, in the mid 1990s. Its agenda became to regulate trade on behalf of ever-greater advantages for the already rich and powerful.
Beyond imposing on third world countries low wages and high pollution, the idea emerged that the rich could also weaken all governments and agencies that might defend workers, consumers, or the environment – not only in the third world, but everywhere. Why not, wondered the truly powerful, remove any efforts to limit trade due to the implications of labor, ecology, social or cultural, or developmental – leaving as the only legal criteria of trade’s regulation whether there are immediate, short-term profits to be made? If national or local laws impede trade – say an environmental, health, or labor law – why not have a new organization of world trade to adjudicate disputes and render an entirely predictable pro-corporate verdict in all cases? The WTO was thus added to the IMF/World Bank team to trump governments and populations on behalf of corporate profits.
The full story about these three centrally important global institutions is longer than this brief synopsis can present, but improvements are not hard to conceive.
First, why not have – instead of the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO – an International Asset Agency, a Global Investment Assistance Agency, and a World Trade Agency. These three new (not merely reformed) institutions would work to attain equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance in international financial exchange, investment, development, trade, and cultural exchange.
They would try to ensure that the benefits of trade and investments accrue disproportionately to the weaker and poorer parties involved, not to the already rich and more powerful.
They would not prioritize commercial considerations over all other values, but would prioritize national aims, cultural identity, and equitable development.
They would not require domestic laws, rules, and regulations designed to further worker, consumer, environmental, health, safety, human rights, animal protection – or other non-profit centered interests – be reduced or eliminated, but they would work to enhance all these, rewarding those who attain such aims most successfully.
They would not undermine democracy by shrinking the choices available to democratically controlled governments, but would work to subordinate the desires of multinationals and large economies to the survival, growth, and diversification of smaller units.
They would not promote global trade at the expense of local economic development and policies, but vice versa.
They would not force Third World countries to open their markets to rich multinationals and abandon efforts to protect infant domestic industries, but would facilitate the reverse.
They would not block countries from acting in response to potential risks to human health or the environment, but would help identify health, environmental, and other risks, and assist countries in guarding against their ill effects.
Instead of downgrading international health, environmental, and other standards to a low level through a process called “downward harmonization,” they would work to upgrade standards by means of a new “upward equalization.”
The new institutions would not limit governments’ ability to use their purchasing dollars for human rights, environmental, worker rights, and other non-commercial purposes, but would advise and facilitate doing just that.
They would not disallow countries to treat products differently based on how they were produced – irrespective of whether they were made with brutalized child labor, with workers exposed to toxins, or with no regard for species protection – but would instead facilitate just such differentiations.
Instead of bankers and bureaucrats carrying out policies of presidents to affect the lives of the very many, these new institutions would be open, democratic, transparent, participatory, and bottom up, with local, popular, and democratic accountability.
These new institutions would promote and organize international cooperation to restrain out-of-control global corporations, capital, and markets by regulating them so people in local communities could control their own economic lives.
They would promote trade that reduces the threat of financial volatility and meltdown, expands democracy at every level from the local to the global, defends and enriches human rights for all people, respects and fosters environmental sustainability worldwide, and facilitates economic advancement of the most oppressed and exploited groups.
They would encourage domestic economic growth and development, not domestic austerity in the interest of export-led growth.
They would encourage the major industrial countries to coordinate their economic policies, currency exchange rates, and short-term capital flows in the public interest.
They would establish standards for the regulation of financial institutions by national and international regulatory authorities, encouraging the shift of financial resources from speculation to useful and sustainable development.
They would establish taxes on foreign currency transactions to reduce destabilizing, short-term, cross-border financial flows and to provide pools of funds for investment in long-term environmentally and socially sustainable development in poor communities and countries.
They would create public international investment funds to meet human and environmental needs and ensure adequate global demand by channeling funds into sustainable long-term investment.
And they would develop international institutions to perform functions of monetary regulation inadequately performed by national central banks, such as a system of internationally coordinated minimum reserve requirements on the consolidated global balance sheets of all financial firms.
These new institutions would also work to get wealthy countries to write off the debts of impoverished countries and to create a permanent insolvency mechanism for adjusting debts of highly indebted nations.
They would use regulatory institutions to help establish public control and citizen sovereignty over global corporations and to curtail corporate evasion of local, state, and national law, such as by establishing a binding Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations that includes regulation of labor, environmental, investment, and social behavior.
Beyond all the above, anti-globalization activists also advocate a recognition that international relations should not derive from centralized but rather from bottom-up institutions. The structures mentioned above should gain their credibility and power from an array of arrangements, structures, and ties enacted at the level of citizens, neighborhoods, states, nations and groups of nations on which they rest. And these more grassroots structures, alliances, and bodies defining debate and setting agendas should, like the three described earlier, also be transparent, participatory and democratic, and guided by a mandate that prioritizes equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological sustainability and balance.
The overall idea is simple. The problem isn’t international relations, per se. Anti-corporate globalization activists are, in fact, internationalist. The problem is that capitalist globalization alters international relations to further benefit the rich and powerful.
In contrast, activists want to alter relations to relatively weaken the rich and powerful and empower and improve the conditions of the poor and weak. Anti-corporate globalization activists know what we want internationally – global justice in place of capitalist globalization. But there is still a vision problem for anti-globalization activists, even after we describe alternative global economic institutions. Everyone knows that international norms and structures don’t drop from the sky. Once in existence they impose severe constraints on domestic arrangements and choices, but global relations sit on top of, and are propelled and enforced by, the dictates of domestic economies and institutions.
The IMF, World Bank, and WTO impose capitalist institutions such as markets and corporations on countries around the world, of course. But the existence of markets and corporations in countries around the world likewise propels capitalist globalization.
So when anti-globalization activists offer a vision for a people-serving and democracy-enhancing internationalism in place of capitalist globalization, we are proposing to place a very good International Asset Agency, Global Investment Assistance Agency, and Global Trade Agency – plus a foundation of more grassroots democratic and transparent institutions – on top of the very bad domestic economies we currently endure. The problem is that the persisting domestic structures inside our countries would continually work against the new international structures we construct on top of them. Persisting corporations and multinationals would not positively augment and enforce our preferred new international structures, but would, at best, temporarily succumb to pressures to install them and then perpetually exert pressures to return to their more rapacious ways.
So when people ask anti-globalization activists “what are you for?” They actually aren’t asking only what are we for internationally. They also mean, what are we for in place of capitalism?
If we have capitalism, they reason, there will inevitably be tremendous pressures for capitalist globalization and against anti-capitalist innovations. The new IAA, GIAA, and GTA sound nice, but even if we put them in place, the domestic economies of countries around the world would push to undo them.
Capitalist globalization is, after all, domestic markets, corporations, and class structure on a large scale. To really replace capitalist globalization and not just mitigate its effects, we would have to replace capitalism, too. Reducing or ameliorating corporate globalization via the proposed new international institutions shouldn’t be an end in itself, but should be part of a larger project to transform the underlying root capitalist structures as well.
If we have no alternative to markets and corporations, many feel, our gains would be temporary. This assessment is widely held and fuels the reactionary slogan that “there is no alternative.”
To combat this mentality and underlying reality we need an alternative vision regarding international agencies and global economics, such as the proposed new institutions discussed above, but also an alternative vision regarding markets, corporations, and domestic economies, which is, of course, participatory economics.
Section Two: Looking Outward
Parsoc and International Relations
“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding,
I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”
– Helen Keller?
What are parecon’s implications for international relations?
First, the pressure of capitalism to conquer ever-expanding market share and to scoop up ever-widening sources of resources and labor is removed. There is no drive to accumulate, per se, and there is no tendency to endlessly expand market share or to exploit international profit-making opportunities, because there is no profit-making. The sources of imperialism and neo colonialism, not merely some of their symptoms, are removed.
If the whole world has participatory economies, then nothing structural prevents treating countries like one might treat locales – neighborhoods, counties, states – within countries. And, likewise, there is no structural obstacle to approaching the production side similarly, seeing the world as one international system.
Whether this would occur or not, or at what pace, are matters for the future and also affected by other dimensions of social life. However, a participatory polity writ large into international relations, leads toward equitable and participatory international adjudication and legislation. Intercommunalism and feminism writ large, into international relations, tends to mitigate and remove the traffic in women and racial and ethnic bases for nation attacking nation. It certainly seems that the natural and logical international long-run extension of domestic advocacy of participatory economics, kinship, polity, and community would favor internationalism over imperialism. If balanced job complexes, self management, justice, feminist, and intercommunalist relations are morally, economically, and socially sound choices in one country, why not across countries? Likewise, if it makes sense to plan each country’s economic life in a participatory manner, and to govern its polity in a self managing way, why wouldn’t it make sense to do these things from country to country?
Of course, even with the structural obstacles emanating from capitalist relations of production gone, and even assuming cultural and political forms would also welcome internationalism and even extending the logic of domestic parecons and parsocs to a worldwide participatory economy, there remains the difficulty of the magnitude of the inter-nation gaps that would need to be overcome. Even if one wanted to, one simply cannot sanely equilibrate income and job quality between a developed and an underdeveloped society, short of massive and time-consuming campaigns of construction, development, and education. Moreover, if there are some parecons and some capitalist economies, the situation is still more difficult, with gaps existing in development and also in social relations.
So the real issue about parecon, parsoc, and international relations becomes: as countries adopt participatory economies and become participatory societies domestically, what happens to their trade and other policies with still capitalist countries?
No outcomes is inexorable. We can conceive, I suppose, of a country with a participatory economy that is rapacious regarding the rest of the world, or with a participatory polity that is authoritarian toward the rest of the world, or with feminist kinship that is sexist toward the rest of the world, or with intercommunalism that is racist toward the rest of the world. It is very difficult to imagine these things, yes, but is not utterly inconceivable. What we are assessing is a policy choice.
How should a parecon interact with other countries who do not share its logic of economic organization and practice?
A good answer seems to me to be implicit in the whole earlier discussion of international global policies. The idea ought to be to engage in trade and other relations in ways that diminish gaps of wealth and power while respecting cultural integrity and adjudicating and legislating in a self managing and just manner.
One obvious proposal is that the parecon trades with other countries at market prices or at parecon prices, depending on which choice does a better job of redressing wealth and power inequalities.
A second proposal would be that a parecon engage in a high degree of socially responsible aid to other countries less well off than itself.
A third proposal would be that a parecon supports movements seeking to attain participatory economic relations elsewhere.
There is every reason to think that the workers and consumers of a parecon would have the kind of social solidarity with other people that would drive them to embark on just these kinds of policies. But such actions would involve a choice, made in the future, not reflect an inexorable constraint that is imposed on society by a systemic economic pressure.
The long and short of this discussion is that seeking just international relations leads, rather inexorably, toward seeking just domestic relations and vice versa. A participatory society fulfills both agendas.
Parsoc and Revolutionary Strategy
“You may encounter many defeats, ?but you must not be defeated.”
– Maya Angeliou
What is the connection between having a vision – whether we call it participatory society or participatory socialism – and what we actually do to create social change?
First, why the term “revolutionary,” above? The answer is simple enough. Moving from a typical contemporary society to a parsoc is a revolution. It doesn’t matter how it transpires. If it happened by a vote, if it happened via an extended insurrections, strikes, by a more violent set of confrontations, or even an extended military struggle – in all cases, it is a revolution. This is because being a revolution means switching from one social system to another that is different in its defining features. And regardless of how the switch from capitalism to participatory socialism/society occurs, it is definitely a change in the defining features of society.
However, how does it happen? What do we do to make it happen? How do we get more people to desire and seek a new society? How do we organize so we can manifest our collective energies effectively? How do we avoid our choices leading us astray from what we want? How do we build the key features of the new society and ensure and preserve them?
Strategy is about amassing support, channelling its power into gains, solidifying gains into lasting structures, and building and utilizing the features of the new society. So, having a vision called parsoc should impact our strategy for activism by guiding all these components of our thinking. Strategy, however, is largely contextual. What works in one place may be foolhardy in another place. What works in one time period may be foolhardy later. Nonetheless, some strategic principles and concepts are pretty generally applicable. Using our understandings of existing society and parsoc we should hopefully be able to (a) generate general insights, and (b) develop methods applicable in cases that are more contextual and gain some operational insights into how such thinking might be done. Examples of trying to do that are the subject of the third and last volume of Fanfare.