[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
Table of Contents
Current Economic Models
Feudalism in many variations
Socialism or attempts thereof
Natural Economic Order
Reaching The Mainstream
History has witnessed many revolutions all over the world. There have been many different ways of how these revolutions came about. The differences between the French Revolution of 1789 and the German Revolution of 1989 are just two examples showing the diversity of both goals and means for social change brought about by the people. Many readers will have a plethora of other examples on their minds. Important and common in all social revolutions are rapid changes in political power structures.
While these social changes that were accomplished by past revolutions were rapid, they were not necessarily fundamental in nature. Some may point out that the French Revolution ended the era of feudalism and began the formal era of capitalism. Others may claim that we still have a feudalistic system today. Capitalism is but a modern name for feudalism. The term meudalism – modern feudalism – has already been coined and books have been published on this concept. An analysis of political power structures will therefore at worst indicate, at best prove, that the fundamental economic order of the world, an thus the fundamental world order, has essentially not changed over the past several centuries.
The main societal areas are culture, economy and politics. While politics also influences both culture and economy and thus legislation and work in and through political parties is seen by many as the most legitimate and productive means of changing the economic foundation and principles that the world is built upon, it is also true that culture influences both economy and politics. For this reason there are also quite a number of people who prefer changing the world through activities in non-government organizations. Analyzing the development of power structures over the past several centuries around the globe clearly indicates, however, that neither of the above two means of influencing societal areas has been able to fundamentally change the power structures. The reason for this is the fact that the three main societal areas culture, economy and politics are not equal in influence on world structures. The major influence on world structure lies with the economy. Economic changes can more drastically and more rapidly produce changes in others areas of society than is the case vice versa. Those who want to control how power structures change in this world, if at all, must therefore claim control over the economy. Thus, the answer to question of how fundamental changes can be accomplished lies in changing the economic system by becoming an influential player in global economic decision making. Which brings up the logical problem of finding means to do exactly that: changing the economic system. Who has the power to change the economic system and how can people not in power gain momentum? Is there a logical solution to this problem?
Current Economic Models
Feudalism in many variations
We are all embedded in the greater world economic order, which is dominated by the USA and the US-Dollar. Regardless of which books one may read, be they books about capitalism, about macro-economic studies, or about political power structures or discrimination in the educational system. All of these issues always clearly point to the existence of power hierarchies based on economic power. Gone are the times when power simply meant body strength. The natural need for power, which arises when a group of animals, in this case humans, can not survive without using force and consequently either kill for food or kill for access to food – both cases of killing for subsistence, this natural need for power has been pushed aside and is seldomly witnessed in public today, although it still exists in those parts of the world, that have not yet been completely covered by the US-Dollar. Instead money, predominantly the US-Dollar, because all other currencies are greatly dependent on and influenced by the US-Dollar, has taken up the role of what used to be muscle strength or tactical wit.
While there may be many different definitions of feudalism, we will use this one:
The social and economic system which characterized most European societies in the Middle Ages goes by the name of feudalism. The system, in its most basic essence, is the granting of land in return for military service1.
This is essentially what the world economic system still does today. People are granted land, or rather the opportunity to rent an apartment and purchase groceries at the store, in exchange for military service, which in some cases is an outright military service, and in many other cases an indirect support of military service by the payment of taxes to a militaristic government and the support of military action by purchasing products, which are based on the exploitation of Africa and other poor areas on this globe. The majority of the 6 billion people on this planet are not free at all. And the African continent is still enslaved, even though this economic slavery is less evident and therefore less accepted in public.
Feudalism, or capitalism, as it is now generally called, has many different faces. The USA approaches feudalism still much more openly than do Germany or Sweden for that matter. Nevertheless, all of the different variations are minute and irrelevant when it comes to the global power structure and the dominance of the economy over both culture and politics.
Socialism or attempts thereof
What are the big names, that are generally associated with socialism today? For the majority the names associated with socialism are Josef Stalin in Russia, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Mao Zedong in China and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Some may even associate the former eastern Germany or early Ghana or even current Brazil with socialism, although few people in the general public will recognize the names of the (former) leaders Erich Honecker, Kwame Nkrumah2 and Luiz Lula, respectively. Now what do the associations with these names bring about in most people´s minds? Stalin: dictatorship. Castro: dictatorship. Mao: dictatorship. The more positive examples of Chavez and Nkrumah are not so well known, and in the cases of Chavez and Lula too fresh and undefined to give a positive outlook to the general population. There is one aspect that all of these examples have in common: the direct opposition to the economic system of the US-Dollar and its dependent countries.
One promising vision of a future economic world order that would be fundamentally different from the current feudalistic system has been outlined under the name of Participatory Economics3. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, among others, present strategies of organizing society in such a way, that economy would no longer dominate culture and politics. One reasons this is true, is the fact that in participatory economics the power structures would be quite different. If hierarchies exist only on a limited basis and if people in higher hierarchical positions are there to represent grassroots ideas through imperative mandates rather than representing a pool if people without any connection to them, power will be distributed rather differently than today. Many other aspects of PARECON would also represent a significant change to the current economic system. One of those other aspects is the compensation structure. Unlike today, where the compensation for jobs is generally contrary to the societal benefit of the job (low paid teachers compared to highly paid tax experts), the compensation would be based on sacrifice and effort. This economic model also criticizes markets that do not account for non-market participant considerations (e.g. nature) as well as private ownership of institutions that would result in hierarchies of power and monopolies.
Natural Economic Order
Another promising vision of a future economic world order that would be fundamentally different from the current feudalistic system has been outlined under the name of Natural Economic Order4. Silvio Gesell and other scholars present strategies of changing the ground rules for money distribution, money generation, land ownership and market monopolies in such a way, that economy would no longer dominate culture and politics in society. The natural economic order, while allowing private ownership of factories, does not allow private ownership of land. Land is, just as air and water, the absolute essential ingredient in providing life. Land is also not reproducible – at least not until we have learned to live anywhere in space. Therefore, land can only be leased. Land is owned by the cooperative of the people (not the state – as the state as we know it today shall be abolished in the long run). The lease that people have to pay for land is then redistributed among the people instead of going into the pockets of the landowner. The very basic idea of feudalism is therefore undone: making profits by owning land. In addition, using economic measures, money will be reduced to only serve as a means of exchange and can no longer be used in and by itself to increase wealth, for people to become richer by generating interest on their wealth. Also, personal motivation and egoistic behavior shall be channeled, by the way the economy is structured, so that nature and natural resources will be preserved not primarily due to laws and regulations, but rather through self-interest. This economic model also criticizes monopolies and therefore does not allow patents and other means of knowledge control and thus power control.
Reaching The Mainstream
Education is without question the key to long-term changes in power structures. Knowledge is king – this fact has been known for millennia. And the control of knowledge, that is the design of the educational system, is the breeding stock for feudalism. For those who believe in Darwinism, it would be the knowledge about getting ahead of others that would foster possibilities of power structure changes. However, those changes may not even change the power structures, but rather only the people in power within the same hierarchical structures. Opponents of Darwinism may believe in the possibility of equality among people. Teachings based on this ideology may then allow people to take both participatory social structures and solidarity with "others" for granted, allowing people to overcome hierarchical power structures and paving the way for powerless and cooperative hierarchies or even non-hierarchical modes of organization as society.
In the short term the best we can do is being open to other alternative ideas and strategies and not rejecting or even fighting those who choose different means for reaching the same goals that we have in mind. The Brazilian president Luiz Lula moved from being a union leader to being a president by changing his language and clothes to reach mainstream support. His ideas and goals are still part of him. And as soon as opportunity presents itself, he may look even more like a socialist. Using power, i.e. money, to make political changes, as does Hugo Chavez, is certainly just as good a means. This method, however, is neither available to the mainstream nor to the political movements. Networking and increasing knowledge about alternatives is therefore the best short-term strategy for reaching the mainstream. In the short-term it is more important to reach out to the existing political movements and keep each other informed and open to new ideas than it is trying to convince the general public of necessities, such as an economic revolution, that are not yet broadly accepted as such, as the mainstream has not yet lost all hope.
When do revolutions come about? This question may very well also be asked with different words: When would I kick my own mother in the face in order to get by her into the kitchen for a loaf of bread? This may sound trivial, but is essentially the same motivation. People are not willing to harm their own mothers, generally. Even if hungry, people would beg their mothers, kiss their mothers, plead and even scream and yell at their mothers, if necessary. The yelling and screaming part will also only be considered, if there is sufficient hope, that such drastic methods could yield the desired result – otherwise one would certainly refrain from such aggressive and exhausting methods. And after all of these attempts prove to fail on the way to get to the food in the kitchen, people would then prefer to move on and try their luck elsewhere, as long as they can avoid kicking their own mothers in the face.
The very same situation is true when it comes to social revolutions. Whether or not this is a fortunate or an unfortunate fact, can only be decided after the consequences of a (late) revolution will have been assessed. The mainstream population in any given country will only be willing to scream and yell at their governments, when the people have both hope of change and a feeling of a very strong need for a change in order to ensure their personal well being. People will be more readily willing to scream and yell at cultural structures than they would be willing to attack politics and those in power in politics, just as we would much quicker disrespect our friends than we would our own mothers. The most troubling fact remains, however, that even if people start screaming and yelling at politics, this by itself will never produce a fundamental change in society. Such a fundamental change can only be achieved if the economy is fundamentally changed. Since, however, those in power in the economy also hold power in politics, politics, at least those in power around the globe today, will generally not be interested in any such changes. The mainstream, in order to achieve the required changes, would therefore have to ensure that those who run politics are not the same as those who run the economy. As this is going to be unrealistic due to the power structure of society, a mainstream revolution, one that would actually fundamentally change society, could only be achieved, if the people were to directly attack the economy. This, however, would mean attacking one’s own basis for subsistence. When would anyone be willing to attack one’s own basis for subsistence? Only if there is no hope for a better means.
A mainstream revolution, a revolution carried by the masses, one that may be initiated by a few, but supported by many, one that would bring about radical fundamental changes, which would reflect the ideals of the few million people today, who believe in and hope for such a revolutionary world order, can only come about if the mainstream does not have any hope for a better means to secure subsistence. The key for the people of the so-called "left" or "progressive" or "natural economy" movements today does therefore not lie in finding ways to mobilize or convince people of their noble and important visions, but rather to prepare for the days, when billions of people have lost hope in subsistence, when those billions of people will be willing to kick their own mothers in the face in order to get a loaf of bread. At that moment we have to be ready. We have to have both visions and structures prepared, which will then allow us to channel the revolutionary energy into alternative economic models. With the ideas and variations of Participatory Economics and the Natural Economic Order we have two alternatives fundamentally different from the current feudalistic system. Important to notice is that these two ideas are not rivals, but rather like a pair of shoes. Even though one might fear that the apparent contradictions in the approaches to markets prohibits a junction, we shall look closely at joining these two ideas. They would work together quite perfectly in shaping a new humane economy. Both ideas are routed in anarchist tradition of avoidance of power and monopolies. Both seek to increase liberties of individuals as well as solidarity and cooperative responsibility for society.
Let’s make sure we keep both our friends and foes (current foes will be future friends!) informed about these alternatives, so that we may start when the time comes. And let´s also make sure that we keep ourselves informed about alternatives! We all know the typical political paradox: we feel as if we have great ideas and solutions and expect others to listen to us, at least to pay attention when we propose our views, even though we are fully aware that our views are so very different from the other views, that listening to us is surely no easy task – and on the other hand we ourselves are too often unwilling and unable to pay attention and listen when others propose their apparently unrealistic ideas to us. If you have not yet read both books "PARECON – Life After Capitalism" by Michal Albert5 and "Natural Economic Order" by Silvio Gesell6, this is the time to do it! This is the time to learn about new visions and prepare for the hopeless times of the near future. Let´s be open, let´s learn, let´s be prepared. We shall overcome – some hopeless day!