avatar
Imagine and then Act


        [Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]

Introduction

Imagine twenty tentative claims about vision and strategy for a participatory society.

Imagine each tentative claim is massaged and refined, altered or augmented, made more eloquent, compelling, and clear, or even replaced in full, until the remaining list is valid and important enough that 40 countries each send from 5 to 50 activists to a five day gathering of roughly 1,000 activists who further refine and then broadly agree on the massaged, refined, augmented or replaced claims.

Imagine that that conference in turn conceives and promotes a proposal for an International Organization for a Participatory Society (or, if you think it communicates the intent more effectively, an International Organization for Participatory Socialism), including an interim structure, program, and methods of recruitment and action based on starting with 40 national chapters and proceeding from there.

Imagine that a year later 3,000 – 5,000 delegates from 60 countries representing 75,000 – 125,000 members, or more, gather to finalize and celebrate the broadly shared vision, structure, process, broad strategy, and initial program of the now firmly established and rapidly growing International Organization.

It’s a nice image. Can the Reimagining Society Project actualize the first steps? Can its members participate with diverse partners and proceed together?

I hope so, but I am not going to offer twenty claims. Instead, I particularly appreciate the work of Stephen Shalom and Julio Chavez regarding participatory politics, of Cynthia Peters and Lydia Sargent regarding participatory kinship, and of Justin Podur and Mandisi Majavu regarding participatory culture, among many others contributing to the Reimagining Society Project around domains such as ecology and international relations.

I only offer the above image of possible future gains in hopes that the whole project can generate the needed twenty, or however many, shared claims. For myself, I want to offer ten tentative claims – mostly about participatory economics.

Claim 1: Elevate Vision

Escaping the mainstream view that "there is no alternative" and transcending the left view that even if an alternative is possible, clearly describing it is not a priority, requires working hard to produce a convincing practical vision. Only substance can counter cynicism. Only by knowing aspects of the future can we embody its seeds in our present structures. Finally, only by knowing where we want to arrive can we take steps able to take us there.

People who reject developing and sharing vision of a better society do not rebut the above arguments but instead rightly argue that vision might inflexibly fuel sectarianism, might over extend our knowledge, might divert attention from important concerns, and – worst – might be monopolized by an elite using knowledge to accrue power.

Nonetheless, Claim 1 is that we should not jettison vision, nor leave vision to narrow academic groups or other elite formations. These ways of dealing would virtually ensure the above listed bad outcomes. We should instead develop, advocate, and use vision flexibly and widely. We should welcome constructive criticism and seek continual innovation.

Our antidote to stultifying, misleading, and elitist vision must be inspiring, confident popularly shared vision shared welcoming continual innovation, and rejecting jargon or posturing.

Claim 1 advocates vision that is widely shared by many advocates able to judge, assess, refine, and utilize it without elite guidance. Claim 1 rejects vision that is monopolized by a few, no matter how intelligent and plausible it may be, because narrowly held vision will centralize confidence and authority and obstruct participatory aspirations.

Claim 2: Elevate Ethics

To compellingly favor a new society we must describe the key institutional features that make it libratory. But before settling on institutional aims comes settling on values.
 
Institutions are worthy if they attain our values but are not worthy if they don’t. Our values therefore provide a measuring stick. They guide us when we initially conceive, then carefully assess, and finally flexibly advocate new institutions. So our values come before institutions, as a moral and intellectual foundation.
 
Additionally, social life is endlessly diverse and complex. While we can sensibly and morally seek core institutions to constitute the foundation of new society – we cannot sensibly or morally seek a detailed map of all features of a new society. To try to specify details that transcend basic essentials would exceed what we can reasonably know. More, it would create a single cookie cutter image of the future though we should be acknowledging a kaleidoscopic variation of features among desirable future societies as well as within each.
 
In other words, most decisions about policies and structures in a better future, beyond the most basic essential features, are for future people to determine in future times in light of their evolving circumstances and preferences. It would overstep what we can now know, and also overstep our rights and responsibilities, to propose, much less to demand, too much for tomorrow. Getting too detailed about the future we desire would impose uniformity on it rather than welcoming diversity to it. It would determine future outcomes based on current insights and preferences, not on the likely far more mature and insightful insights and preferences of future citizens.
 
All that we need, therefore, is a reasonably clear picture of essential structures – but then the question arises, what makes an aspect of future society essential?

The features we need to conceive, test, and then advocate are those that will guarantee that future citizens are free to decide as they desire, not to live as we decide in advance.

And why do we need to advocate even those essential institutions now? Why can’t they too be decided later?

Because, only if we attain institutions essential to freedom, will future citizens be free to determine their own destiny. And before that, only if we envision essential institutions to guide movements, will movements attain them, or even attract sufficient support to win change at all.
 
Even essential core institutions, however, which is to say only those needed to establish the minimum necessary conditions of future freedom, shouldn’t be conceived and advocated inflexibly. It is not just that we may have to refine our understanding as we learn more, though that is certainly true. Rather, it is also that even when our images of future essential institutions are overwhelmingly excellent, there will nonetheless likely be situations and occurrences that violate our general prevalent priorities and expectations and call for exceptional options. In those cases we will, in a better future, sometimes have to refine, bend, alter, augment or even substitute for what we quite sensibly most often advocate and maintain, our favored core institutions.
 
We therefore need clear values to inform not just our initial advocacy of sought essential institutions, and not just our continuing refinement of our views of those institutions as we learn more about their practical implications, and not just to guide our constant renovations and innovations regarding the kaleidoscope of variations in the multitude of social venues and relations that surround any society’s core institutions, but also to inform our actions when core institutions don’t work as hoped so they need to be temporarily amended or abridged.
 
Okay, so we need values to provide a moral foundation, a basis for logical conception and assessment of core institutions, a guide for correction of those core institutions when they require adaptation, and a guide for massive design activity beyond those institutions. But what values can help us with all this? And how do we get a list of desirable values down to a workable length?
 
Each person has dozens, maybe even hundreds of values he or she favors. Some of these not all people agree on. Even more often, not all people prioritize lists similarly. Everything from broad aspirations for justice or self-management may be on people’s lists, to more narrow aspirations for, say, patience or even sobriety. If movements are going to utilize some manageable number of desirable values to guide vision and then also practice, then what should that manageable list include?
 
Undoubtedly there is no single answer to picking among all values a manageable subset that adroitly encompasses the depth and breath of our central desires. Different short lists can each establish worthy choices. In fact different lists can even have the same social implications, rather than only one list being "correct," so movements and organizations could arrive at the same final destination starting with different prioritized values in the forefront. 
 
Still, the need for coherence in thought and communication does militate for having a shared set of guiding values, even though many possible sets might fulfill this function – so we ought to try and agree. It is a bit like a group working together on anything. It could favor working in one pattern or in another or a third, all equally able to succeed. It needs to settle on one, however, so there is coherence. Luckily, the history of struggles for liberation, both in the past and more recently, does pose some obvious choices for entries on such a list.
 
Would any leftist deny that people should have control of their lives up to the point of diminishing the same level of influence for others? We should have influence over the decisions that affect us, proportionate to the effect on us,
 
Would any leftist contest that societies should deliver a fair allocation of the benefits and costs of social life, including just resolution of disputes and effective use of assets to meet needs and develop potentials?
 
Would any leftist deny the central importance of mutual aid and solidarity, of diversity in outcomes and methods including ideas, lifestyles, life choices, etc.?
 
Would any leftist deny the need for ecological balance and wisdom, even beyond the rather timid desire for sustainability?
 
And at least in our modern times, once it is stated and clarified, would any leftist deny the importance of horizontal and welcoming participatory relations in place of hierarchical and top down elitist relations in all spheres of social life so as to remove institutionally created and maintained groups or sectors or classes of people arrayed in hierarchies of social reward, influence, and status?
 
Of course people in different countries, with different histories and different backgrounds, may use different words than those that appear above, but as advocates of freedom and liberty they will likely have in mind very nearly the same themes.
 
Similarly, people might prepare a list of values based on the above sentiments in one order or another, and altered to be more precise as it bears on different sides of life, but Claim 2 says that the above list, no doubt modified, augmented, and refined as well as made more compelling in its language, can provide a good taking off point. It is unlikely that there are many critics of injustice and advocates of liberation who would reject any of the indicated values and, in addition, it does seem clear that together the values listed closely summarize our highest aspirations.

Claim 3: Be Multi-Focused

A new and better world will include new and better production, consumption and allocation; new and better law, adjudication, and collective action; new and better relations of kin, family, sexuality, and nurturing; new and better relations of community religion, race, and culture; new and better ecological relations and practices; and new and better international relations; as well as, of course, new relations in more specific parts of life such as innovations specific to science, art, sports, education, health, and so on.

Given that we need social vision to rebut cynicism, learn, inspire, and guide practice, and given the importance of all sides of life, it follows that we need vision for economics, kin relations and socializing, cultural and community relations, political legislative and juridical relations, ecology, and international relations, not just for one or another of these.

Claim 3 not only says all these realms are centrally important, but that there is nothing to be gained by trying to prioritize them. Our vision and strategy for each of these aspects of life will inevitably provide a context that successful vision and strategy regarding other aspects must abide and augment.

For example, our economic vision and strategy will provide a context that feminist vision and strategy, cultural vision and strategy, political vision and strategy, ecological vision and strategy, and global relations vision and strategy must abide and augment, but so too, the same will hold in reverse. Feminist, cultural, political, ecological, and global relations vision and strategy will each provide a context that economic vision and strategy, and the other focuses too, must abide and augment, for all permutations.

In every case, to have a desirable and stable new society new arrangements in one realm will have to fit compatibly with new arrangements in other realms. Movements serious about attaining a new world will therefore combine vision and strategy across spheres of social life. They will not prioritize one focus above the rest because that would be both morally bankrupt and strategically suicidal. The same urgency and standards that we apply to developing vision, strategy, and then program for any one key area of life we must apply as well, to the other key areas. It is not, however, that each person must address all relations all the time – an impossibility – it is that our overall movement must by summing all its components, address all sides of life, even as it does indeed have components prioritizing attention to one focus or another, as well. In that way movements can generate compatible activism in all key areas and welcome and elevate key sectors of population to leadership regarding their priorities even as those sectors are moved primarily (though not exclusively) by one or another (gender, race, class, war and peace, ecology) concern.

Claim 3 is thus that a worthy movement for a new society will address all centrally important spheres of social life, each in their own right as well as together in their mutual interactions, with movement components highlighting and taking the lead in one area or another, but overall without elevating any one area above the rest, instead merging them in a movement of movements addressing all sides of life. Thus, the Reimagining Society Project as a whole, as but one example, but not each individual participant in it in every personal allocation of his or her energies, has to accomplish this degree of multi-focus attention.

Claim 4: Win Classlessness

To have classes means to have groups that by their position in the economy have different access to income and influence, benefiting at one another’s expense.

Attaining classlessness means establishing an economy in which everyone by their economic position is equally able to participate, utilize capacities, and accrue income, and in which no one can accrue excessive income or influence at the expense of others.

We cannot eliminate the distinction between those who own means of production and those who do not own means of production, unless no one owns means of production, or, conversely, unless everyone owns means of production equally. That much is an obvious tenet of advocating a classless economy beyond capitalism.

But class division can also arise from a division of labor that affords some producers, who I call the coordinator class, far greater influence and income than other producers, who I call the working class. Taking for granted the obvious need to eliminate private ownership of the means of production; Claim 4 focuses on this latter point that even many socialists fail to accept.

A modern capitalist economy has owners who we call capitalists as well as people who have no economically structurally built-in power other than owning their own ability to do work. These people must sell that ability, and are called workers.

The controversial and important thing about Claim 4 is that it notices that capitalism also has a third class, the coordinator class, who, though they sell their ability to do work like workers, unlike workers have great power and status built into their structural position in the economic division of labor.

These coordinator class members, including lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, accountants, elite professors, and so on, work at overwhelmingly empowering tasks. Their position in the economic division of labor gives them information, skills, confidence, energy, and access to means of influencing daily outcomes. They largely control their own tasks and largely define, design, control, or constrain the tasks of workers below. They utilize their empowering conditions to enhance their income and decision making influence at the expense of workers below and, as well, when they can manage it, at the expense of capitalists above.

Capitalism is by this pareconish account a three-class system. Seeking classlessness therefore means not just eliminating capitalist class rule, but also eliminating coordinator class rule.

To eliminate private ownership but retain the distinction between the coordinator class and the working class ensures, by the structure of the coordinator/worker relationship, that the coordinator class will rule the working class. This change can end capitalism, and has done so on occasion, but this change cannot attain classlessness, and it has not done so, not even on one occasion.

Claim 4 says by way of rejection that our economic aims must take us beyond 20th century "market socialism" and "centrally planned socialism" (which systems have in fact been what we might more accurately call "market coordinatorism" and "centrally planned coordinatorism").

Claim 4 says by way of assertion that our movements and projects must not only be anti-capitalist, they must also be pro-classlessness. They must prioritize both eliminating the monopoly of capitalists on productive property and also the monopoly of coordinators on empowering work.

Claim 5: New Economic Values

Beyond getting rid of economic classes, we also ought to seek positive economic values including, at least in the parecon perspective, equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, ecological balance, and economic efficiency in utilizing assets to meet needs and develop potentials.

To be against something bad – such as class division and class rule – is desirable. But rejecting bad features does not generate clear and inspiring positive goals. To transcend dissent and become constructive requires positive values that we can measure new institutions against. Claim 5 is about positive economic values.

To massage the broad values noted earlier into the economic realm means looking at the key things economics does, and asking what our aims are for those key functions.

First, economics affects how much we each get from what we all produce. So what do we favor for remuneration? What is our value regarding distribution of income?

We want equitable distribution and in a pareconish perspective what’s equitable is that each person who is able to work receives back from society in proportion to what he or she expends at a cost to him or her self in production.

We should be remunerated, that is, for the duration, intensity, and, when it varies from person to person, the onerousness of conditions of our socially valued work – and not for our property, our bargaining power, or even for our personal output. Of course, if we cannot work, or we have special medical needs, then we get product simply to provide for our well being.

To favor a value such as equitable remuneration is a matter of preference, not proof, of course, but this particular conception of what constitutes equitable distribution is certainly consistent with the most morally enlightened left practice.

In enlightened moral logic, luck in the parent lottery (as in having property owning parents), luck in the genetic lottery (as in being born with particularly productive talents and capacities), or luck in having better tools or even more productive workmates or in happening to be producing items of greater value than others are producing, should not accrue to one, on top of the lucky condition, excess income. Morally, instead, what we should be remunerated for is just our duration, intensity, and the harshness of our situation at socially valued labor.

Moreover, remunerating people’s duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor also provides appropriate incentives to elicit what each individual has the ability to withhold or to provide: his or her socially valuable time, intensity of action, and willingness to endure unavoidable hardship while contributing to the social product.

Thus our first economic value is equitable remuneration.

Second, economies affect not just income, but also relations among people. So what is our value for economic ties among people?

Anyone who isn’t pathological would presumably prefer to have people concerned with and caring about one another in a cooperative social partnership – rather than seeking to fleece one another in an anti social competitive shoot out. No further case needs to be made because no leftist would deny this aspiration.

Our second economic value is therefore uncontroversially solidarity and mutual aid.

Third, economies also affect our range of available options. So what do we value vis a vis this function?

Humans are limited beings who have neither time nor means to each do everything. Humans are also social beings who can enjoy vicariously what others do that we cannot. And finally humans are thinking and pragmatic beings who can benefit from avoiding over-dependence on narrow options that leave us stranded if those narrow options are flawed. Homogeneity of options delimits possibilities and risks over dependence on flawed scenarios. Diversity of options enriches possibilities and protects against errors.

Our third value, also uncontroversial, is therefore diversity.

Fourth, economies also affect how much say we each have over what is produced, in what quantities, by what methods, with what apportionment of people to tasks, and what product allotted to people. So what do we value vis a vis decision making?

Economic decisions determine outcomes that affect us. For that matter, the act of decision making itself also affects us by influencing our mood, our sense of involvement and efficacy, and our sense of personal worth. What norms governing decision making will make most likely that decisions and the processes of arriving at those decisions will accord with our desires for a new society?

Save in exceptional cases, there is no moral or operational reason for any one person to have excessive say compared to how much they are affected, nor is there any moral or operational reason for any one person to have insufficient say compared to how much they are affected.

Following that observation, it turns out that one decision-making norm can apply to all people equally, exceptional cases aside, yet can also respect the variation of specific operational needs from case to case, even while incorporating expert knowledge, careful deliberations, etc. Parecon’s fourth value is called self-management. It means we should each have a say in decisions in proportion as those decisions affect us.

Clearly means of developing, discussing, debating, tallying, and acting on preferences are context dependent. No single approach such as dictatorship, majority vote, two-thirds vote, consensus, as well as various methods of information dissemination and deliberation, will apply optimally to all situations. Sometimes one of these approaches will be desirable, sometimes another. These are "tactical" means to some end. Describing them as matters of "principle" confuses rather than reveals. What will however suit all cases, as a principle, is the overarching norm by which we choose among possible means of decision making in each instance, sometimes choosing majority rule, sometimes, consensus, and so on, which is to agree on the degree of influence that we in principle think our modes of decision making should convey to each participant.

Thus, our fourth value is self-management, people having a say in decisions in proportion as they are affected by them.

Fifth, economies also affect relations to our natural surroundings. What is our value for economics and ecology?

An economy should not compel us to destroy our natural habitat leaving ourselves a decrepit environment to endure. But nor should an economy compel us to so protect the natural habitat that we are left no means with which to fulfill ourselves in its embrace.

What an economy should instead do is reveal the full and true social costs and benefits of contending economic choices, including accounting for their impact on ecology, and convey to workers and consumers control over what choices to finally implement. In that way in the future we can cooperatively care for both our environment and ourselves, in relative proportions that we freely choose.
 
Our fifth value is therefore ecological balance or perhaps husbandry is the proper word, which of course goes way beyond "sustainability," and is understood in this broad manner of incorporating ecological attentiveness into economic decisions.

Sixth, economics finally of course also affects the social output we have available for people to enjoy. Indeed, this is the reason economies exist. So what is our value for generating social product?

If an economy honors the above preferred values but wastes our energy and resources by producing output that fails to meet needs and develop potentials, by producing harmful byproducts that offset the benefits of intended products, or by splurging what is valuable in inefficient methods thereby wasting assets needlessly, it unnecessarily diminishes our prospects. Even as an economy operates in accord with equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance, it should also efficiently utilize available natural, social, and personal assets to meet needs and develop potentials without undo waste, avoidable byproduct problems, or misdirection of purpose.

So our sixth value is efficiency, understood as meaning meeting needs and developing potentials in accord with self managed choices without wasting assets or incurring avoidable costs along the way.

These six values together require classlessness ala Claim 4, since having class rule would violate these values, but the values also go beyond seeking classlessness to provide positive guidelines for institutional choices.

Claim 5 is that other things equal, in any economy more equity, solidarity, diversity, self management, ecological husbandry, and productive efficiency at meeting needs and developing potentials is good – and less of any or all of these qualities is bad. Economic institutions should by their operations as well as their outcomes advance these qualities, not violate much less obliterate them.

Claim 6: Reject Capitalism and 20th Century Socialism

Seeking classlessness and our other core values of participatory economy, as well as accommodating economic relations to gains in other spheres of social life and vice versa, compels us to reject private ownership of productive property, corporate divisions of labor, top down decision making, markets, and central planning.

Without belaboring the obvious, each of these institutional possibilities is ubiquitous in the world around us yet intrinsically violates one or more (and usually all) of the norms set forth above.

For example, noting just the most obvious violations, private ownership produces capitalist class rule over coordinators and workers. It obliterates equity by remunerating property and power. It obliterates self-management by vesting primary power in the hands of owners.

Corporate divisions of labor produce coordinator class rule over workers. This negates self-management by disempowering some and aggrandizing power to others, as does top-down decision making.

Markets obscure true social costs and benefits of all items that involve positive or negative effects transcending immediate buyers and sellers. Markets misallocate assets, particularly ecological, not to mention orienting output to maximizing surpluses rather than enhancing human well-being. Markets also impose anti social behavior. In market relations nice guys finish last. Finally, markets also produce class division between coordinators and workers even if owners aren’t present. Elevating coordinator class rule, which the only subtle assertion about markets, occurs because firms must compete by cutting costs and because to cut costs, firms will hire an elite trained to that purpose and will free that elite from the implications of their cost cutting choices so they can remain callous to the immediate human implications of their choices.

Central planning also intrinsically violates self-management and imposes coordinator class rule to ensure obedience and in so doing typically also aggrandizes the ruling coordinator class at the expense of workers below, including centralizing control in ways that yield ecological imbalance.

For all these economic institutions, the propensity to produce class division in turn homogenizes options within classes thereby violating diversity, and creates a war of class against class thereby violating solidarity.

Claim 7: Win Self-Managing Workers and Consumers Councils, Equitable Remuneration, Balanced Job Complexes, and Participatory Planning

Rejecting capitalist and otherwise oppressive economic structures leaves us needing to advocate new economic institutions that will become the defining structures of participatory economics. These include self managing workers and consumers councils, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning.

First, for workers and consumers to influence decisions in proportion as the decisions affect them requires venues through which they can express and tally their preferences. We call these venues self-managing councils, the first defining institutional component of participatory economics, and familiar throughout the history of anti capitalist movements and, as a result, not particularly controversial, I suspect, for reimagining society participants.

Second, equity requires equitable remuneration under workers and consumers own auspices and in accord with accurate valuations. Equitable remuneration has two primary purposes. On the one hand, ethically, workers are compensated for the personal contribution of their participation in time, intensity of effort, and harshness of conditions. On the other hand, economically, remunerated work must be socially useful, which ensures that income provides workers and workplaces incentives consistent with eliciting fulfilling output. Equitable remuneration is parecon’s second defining institutional component, also probably not very controversial among reimagining society participants.

Third, self-managed decisions require confident preparation, relevant capacity, and ample participation. Self-managed decisions therefore require parecon’s third defining institutional feature, balanced job complexes, in which each actor has a fair share of empowering work so that no sector of actors monopolizes empowering work while others are left disempowered and unable to even arrive at, much less manifest, a will of their own. Balanced job complexes eliminate the monopoly on empowering labor that differentiates coordinators from workers. Balanced job complexes ensure that all workers are enabled by their work related conditions to participate in self-management.

But what does this entail, in practice? It isn’t complicated, though it may be controversial. If we consider all the tasks that compose the work of a society, currently in capitalism and also in 20th century socialist workplaces, about 20% of the work is more or less empowering – conveying to those who do it a degree of self control, control of others, confidence, social skills, knowledge of the work situation, etc. The other 80% is rote, repetitious, and otherwise disempowering, diminishing confidence, social skills, knowledge of the work situation, etc. If we allot the empowering work to one group and the disempowering work to another, as occurs in both capitalism and 20th century socialism, the first group will have a different economic situation than the second – that will guarantee the first group’s relative dominance over the second, and if there is no capitalist class above, their ruling status.

If, however, we divide up labor with each participant getting a mix of empowering and disempowering tasks, so that each participant is comparably empowered and thus comparably prepared to participate in self-management as the rest, the division of labor basis for class division is removed.

The worry some may have that the approach will lose some productivity from folks who might have done only empowering tasks is true. However the approach gains more than offsetting productivity from folks freed from learning to endure boredom and take orders rather than developing their capacities, who then do empowered tasks, as well as fostering real self management and classlessness. This approach, that we call balanced job complexes, is thus the third key feature of participatory economics.

All the economic values of Claim 7 plus classlessness together imply that allocation should be accomplished in accord with the freely expressed will of self managing workers and consumers councils and that it should be undertaken not to competitively aggrandize a ruling class against its subordinates, but by cooperative and informed negotiation in which all people’s wills are proportionately actualized and in which operations, mindsets, and structures further the logic of self managing councils, balanced job complexes, and equitable remuneration rather than violating each.

All this implies the fourth and last defining institutional feature of participatory economics, participatory planning. Workers and consumers councils cooperatively negotiate compatible inputs and outputs, without a center and periphery, or a top and bottom, and also without destructive competition. Full descriptions of this fourth feature, and of all others as well, are available many places online and in print – please see the parecon section of ZNet, for example, where there are full books, instructionals, interviews, videos, question and answer essays, and much more.

Insofar as workers and consumers self managing councils, equitable remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning, treat all actors economically identically, they counter any for material hierarchies among actors that may be generated outside the economy, and insofar as they properly value ecological effects and convey decision making power to those affected by outcomes, and insofar as writ large, internationally, they steadily eliminate inequality of wealth and power between nations, parecon also seems well oriented to accommodate and even augment aims sought in other spheres of social life, though this is a determination which can only be fully evaluated when vision and strategy for those other domains exists in sufficient detail to permit evaluation of mutual compatibility.

Claim 8: Revolutionary Organization and Strategy

Insofar as the above noted claims are found valid, requirements for our own projects, organizations, and movements ought to include patiently incorporating the seeds of the envisioned future in present practice, including, when possible, using self managed decision making, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and cooperative negotiated planning, as well as central features of other features characterizing the new world we seek.

Creating institutions in the present that incorporate seeds of the future makes sense partly as an experiment to learn more about our aims, partly as a model to inspire hope and support, partly as a way to do the best possible job of fulfilling participants now, and partly to begin developing tomorrow’s infrastructure today.

Of course, we need to recognize that we cannot have perfect future structures now, both because of surrounding pressures and because of our own emotional and behavioral baggage. But the fact that we need a sense of proportion about what future seeds we can experimentally harvest now is not the same as calling for entirely rejecting immediate harvesting.

Just as movements should foreshadow a future that is feminist, poly cultural, and politically free and just lest they are internally compromised in these aspects and incapable of inspiring diverse constituencies or even prone to alienate them, while also being incapable of overcoming cynicism, and weak in their comprehension even of current flaws and potentials – so should movements for the same reasons foreshadow a future that is classless, including incorporating council organization, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and self management.

Put strategically, if we construct movements that embody coordinator class assumptions, mannerisms, and aspirations, our procedures will violate our aims and cripple our prospects just as horrifically as if we constructed movements that embody sexist, racist, or authoritarian assumptions, mannerisms, and aspirations.

Our movements should no more slavishly reproduce the features of a class divided economy, than they should slavishly reproduce racist, sexist, or authoritarian contemporary relations. They should instead patiently and carefully adopt the features of classlessness.


Claim 9: Programs for Today

Seeking participatory economic institutions requires that we not only create in the present experimental and exemplary pareconish institutions as described earlier, but that we also fight for changes in capitalist institutions. Demands made against existing institutions ought to enhance people’s lives, advance the likelihood of further successful struggle, and advance the consciousness and organizational capacity to pursue those further aims. These aims together provide a yardstick for measuring success.

As valuable as experiments in creating pareconish (or gender, race, or politically inspired) organization in the present are, if we were to only prioritize creating forward oriented experiments in our present activism we would be consigning those who work in existing institutions to peripheral observer status as well as callously ignoring pressing needs of the moment. The path to a better future includes creating experiments embodying its features in the present, yes, but it also includes a long march through existing institutions, battling for changes there that improve people’s lives today even as the immediate victories auger and prepare for more fundamental changes tomorrow.

Changes in existing institutions that do not replace those institutions down to their defining core features are by definition reforms, however the effort to win reforms need not accept that only reforms are possible. On the contrary, efforts to win reforms can be premised on seeking desired immediate economic changes always as part of a process to win a new economy. Efforts to win reforms can choose demands, language, organization, and methods, in accord not only with winning sought short term gains that improve people’s lives in the present, but also with increasing the inclination and capacity of people to seek still more victories in the future, up to winning a new economic order.

Rather than presuming system maintenance, battles around income, work conditions, the division of labor, decision-making, allocation, and other facets of economic life should be undertaken to enlarge and empower future-oriented desires and capacities. The rhetoric employed should advance comprehension of ultimate values. The organization employed should embody future based norms and it should persist after new gain to fight for the next.

The same should hold for economics as for other spheres of life, and vice versa. Win change now not only to enjoy the benefits today, but also to win more change in the future. This is a non-reformist approach to winning reforms.

Claim 10: Today’s Tasks

At some point in the future vast movements will have features such as those noted above, however refined, improved, and augmented by new lessons they may be, and will, based on their merits, become vehicles toward winning gains and also conceiving and then winning the infrastructure of a new world. This will not happen, however, until people self-consciously make it happen.

This last claim is, to me, a truism, but it is also arguably the most powerful claim of all. Change will not come via an unfolding inevitable tendency in current relations that sweeps us, uncomprehending, into a better future. Change will come, instead, only via self conscious actions by huge numbers of people bringing to bear their creativity and energy in a largely unified and coherent manner that will incorporate continuous and lively internal debate, of course, but will also develop overarching shared aims and steadfast purpose.

If we travel into the future in our minds, and if we imagine looking into the past, we will see a relatively brief period, at some point, during which people in one nation or another, or perhaps in many at once, formed projects, organizations, and movements, that thereafter persisted to become centrally important vehicles for fighting for, constructing, and finally merging into a new world.

Whether we look forward or we imagine looking back, we can reasonably ask what attributes such a lasting project, organization, or movement would incorporate at its outset and thereafter. We can also reasonably act on our answers, once we feel we have them more or less in hand, to try to create such vehicles of change. Might we get these efforts wrong? Yes, we might. But if we don’t try, then we have no chance of getting it right. And if we do get it wrong, we can take lessons from our mistakes, and try again.

The implication is that building such vehicles not just of current opposition, but also for self-conscious long-term creation of a new world, must become our agenda. We should act without exaggerated images of instant success, of course, but we should also refuse to succumb to cynical or excessively patient delay.

When a capable and caring group agrees on claims more or less like those enunciated above, Claim 10 is that it becomes incumbent on them to collectively seek wider agreement from a still larger group, to add additional dimensions bearing on other spheres of social life, and to solidify their inspiring intellectual unity into a more practical organizational and programmatic unity, in accord with their shared views.
 

Leave a comment