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Parecon as a New Path for the Balkans?


 

The following interview was prepared for ZMag Balkans, a new print magazine, produced by "Freedom Fight collective" for Balkan audiences, modeled on Z Magazine US and utilizing content from it as well as local content bearing more directly on the Balkans. The interview was done, more specifically, at the request of the workers in a pharmaceutical factory, "Jugoremedija," in Zrenjanin (Serbia) for an issue of ZMag Balkans focusing on participatory economics. The workers are running the plant, having taken it over, and are looking for information and ideas about how to rearrange their workplace to escape the ills of both capitalism and the market socialism they experienced in Yugoslavia. The interviewer was Andrej Grubacic, who is working with both the new magazine and the workers in the plant.

 

 

1.      What is participatory economics?

Many of its advocates call participatory economics parecon for short, and it is a vision of doing economics differently than under capitalism and what has been called socialism. Participatory economics elevates certain values, such as solidarity, equity, diversity, self management, and efficiency, to central organizing principles, and then proposes a set of institutions that can foster those values while accomplishing economic functions.

 

The key institutions of parecon are workers and consumers councils using self managing decision making procedures that put all influence into the hands of those who are affected by decisions; income for how hard people work, how long they work, and the onerousness or harshness of the conditions under which they work; a new division of labor called balanced job complexes that gives each participant a mix of responsibilities such that all people’s overall work allotments are comparably empowering in their implications for those involved; and a new way of determining economic inputs and outputs – or allocation – that allows the population to self manage without class divisions but that also completes economic functions consistently with people’s needs and capacities.

Succinctly: in capitalism, owners together with about a fifth of the population who have highly empowered work decide what is produced, by what means, and with what distribution. Of course the owners, but also the more empowered fifth of the workforce, get far more income than others, dominate choices and, in all critical respects, rule the economy. The latter group doesn’t monopolize property, like the owners do, but instead monopolizes the tasks, conditions, and circumstances that facilitate influencing outcomes. I call them the coordinator class. Nearly four fifths of the population, in contrast to owners and coordinators, monopolize neither property or empowering positions. These workers do largely rote labor, suffer inferior incomes, obey orders, and endure boredom, all imposed from above. As John Lennon put it, "As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all." This is the working class.

Capitalism destroys solidarity, reduces variety, obliterates equity, and imposes harsh hierarchy. It is top heavy in power and opportunity. It is bottom heavy in pain and constraint. Indeed, Capitalism imposes on workers a degree of economic obedience beyond what any dictator ever dreamed of imposing politically. Who ever heard of citizens asking governors permission to go to the bathroom, a commonplace occurrence for workers in many corporations.

Capitalism’s ills are not due, however, to antisocial people. Instead, capitalism’s institutions impose horrible behavior, even on its most social citizens. In capitalism, as a famous American baseball manager quipped, since you have to benefit at the expense of others and keep climbing oblivious to their pain and suffering, "nice guys finish last." More aggressively: "garbage rises." Witness Washington‘s White House.

Participatory economics, or parecon, is an alternative way to organize economic life.

Parecon has equitable incomes, circumstances, opportunities, and responsibilities for all participants. Each parecon participant has a fair share of control over their own life and over all shared social outcomes. Parecon eliminates class division.

Parecon produces solidarity. Even an antisocial individual in a parecon has to account for social well-being, if he or she wishes to prosper.

Parecon diversifies outcomes and generates equitable distribution that remunerates each participant for how long and for how hard they work, as well as for harsh conditions they may suffer at work.

Parecon conveys to each person a say in what is produced, what means are used, and how outputs are allocated, all in proportion to the degree he or she is affected by those decisions.

Parecon, in other words, has completely different values than capitalism and to further its different values parecon incorporates different institutions. For example, Parecon has workers and consumers councils where workers and consumers employ diverse modes of discussion, debate, and democratic determination to attain true self management. In parecon, there are no corporate owners and managers deciding outcomes from the top down.

Parecon has "balanced job complexes" in which each worker does a fair combination of empowering and rote labor, so that all participants have comparably empowering circumstances instead of 20% of the workforce monopolizing all the empowering tasks and 80% doing only subordinate labor. In a parecon there is still expertise. There is still coordination. Decisions still get made. But there is no minority monopolizing empowering information, activity, and access to decision making positions while a majority is made subservient by doing only deadening daily tasks with no decision making component.

In parecon each and every job, which means each and every person’s work, involves a mix calibrated so that each participant has comparably empowering conditions to all others. A parecon has no owning class. It has no technocratic, managerial, or coordinator class. A parecon has only workers and consumers cooperatively and creatively fulfilling their capacities consistently with each participant having a fair share of influence.

Parecon has remuneration for effort and sacrifice, which translates to remuneration for the duration, intensity, and harshness of the work people do. Parecon rejects remuneration for power, property, or even for output. Instead of gargantuan disparities of income and wealth, parecon has a just distribution of social product.

Parecon also does away with markets which pit each actor against all others, destroy solidarity, impose class division, mis-price all public goods, ignore collective effects beyond direct buyers and sellers, violate ecological balance and sustainability, and have many other faults as well. In place of markets, parecon utilizes a system of workers and consumers self managing councils cooperatively negotiating inputs and outputs for all firms and actors in accord with true and full social costs and benefits of economic activities.

In an interview like this, even with me abusing your patience with long answers, still, it is impossible to make a compelling case for an entirely different economic system. I can only offer a brief list of parecon’s values and institutions, as above. I know such brevity is vague and hard for unfamiliar readers to give substance to. But in an interview like this we have no room for detailed clarification, supporting argument, or discussion. My apologies.

What I hope, however, is that readers who know from their own experience that capitalist economies routinely cause us to fleece each other, deny us a say over our own lives, force us to dominate the lives of others, distribute massive outputs to those who do the most pleasurable or even who do little work at all and distribute meager outputs to those who do the least pleasurable and the overwhelming volume of work, will hope that parecon is a real alternative. I hope, in other words, that instead of quietly accepting rich people’s mantra that "there is no alternative," we will all seek something better, beyond capitalism, and that, moved by our aspirations we will carefully consider parecon on its merits. One place you might begin, if you don’t believe that humanity is forever doomed to suffer gross inequality and hierarchy via capitalist ownership, corporations, and markets, is at http://www.parecon.org.

 

2.      You seem to maintain that parecon is not only more just but also more efficient then capitalism. Is that your view?

 

Yes, but that is partly because of how I use the word efficiency. I suspect what you mean by your question is, if we have some resources and equipment, and a bunch of people to do work, will parecon generate outputs comparable or greater in volume in a given time as what capitalism would deliver with the same resources, people, and time. And assuming we mean outputs that benefit people – as compared to useless waste, redundancy, policing and cleaning ecological messes that were created needlessly, and so on – then yes, I think parecon would be more efficient, even in terms of just gross but useful output per hour, by quite a large margin.

 

Among other reasons, this is because in a parecon huge swaths of labor are no longer given to wasteful or destructive production – parecon avoids redundant output, much packaging and advertising, much control, cleaning up messes in the environment that won’t be created in the first place, war, and so on. So all that productivity is put to more socially beneficial outcomes and therefore output that is useful to humans, per hour of labor expended and per volume of resources used, will on these accounts be far greater than it is now. Additionally, there is every evidence, insofar as we have admittedly limited examples to judge, that increasing workers say over the activities they engage in, reducing alienation, etc., increases productive intents and capacities.

 

But, I would suggest an even more important step than seeing the above, is to think about what we actually mean by efficiency. The word means, in a dictionary, accomplishing what you seek without wasting assets that you value. Clearly, with that definition, only a lunatic would be against efficiency since that would mean either not accomplishing what you seek, or doing it in a way incurring unnecessary costs.

 

So why do so many of us, at least in my experience, get nervous when we hear the word efficiency intoned – as if it were a kind of prayer or mantra consistently employed right before kicking us in the head. I think we get nervous because in capitalism, in actual practice, efficiency means accomplishing what owners seek, not all of us, without wasting assets that owners value, no matter what the rest of us value. On other words, capitalist efficiency is about maximizing profits for the owners and if in the process a firm wastes resources, or trashes the environment, or subverts or restricts people’s lives, that is no problem, since the owners care only about themselves not about those who suffer those effects.

 

So with this larger understanding of efficiency, there is simply no comparison between capitalism and parecon. Capitalism is horrendously inefficient in that it wastes resources, energy, and human labor on vast quantities of inhumane output and doesn’t even try to meet needs and develop potentials as a high priority, much less to protect the rights and well being of workers. Parecon, in contrast, produces and allocates in light of full social costs and benefits of all citizen’s and in pursuit of all people’s well being and development. In capitalism to mess up the environment and then clean it up, if one is making profits while doing so, is efficient. Likewise, in capitalism, to use up the lives of workers while making profits, is again efficient. In a parecon, in contrast, the environment is valued, workers lives are valued, and messing up either is a cost to avoid. And this isn’t because people in a parecon are somehow biologically different in their preferences. It is because a parecon’s way of organizing work, making decisions, and apportioning benefits all foster these outcomes.

 

3. But isn’t your aim what we have already had to endure here, in the Balkans, under the name of "socialism"?

 

No. Socialism has come in two shapes, either with markets or with central planning. You had the former in Yugoslavia, but the latter also existed, of course, for example in the Soviet Union. This system that has called itself socialism has also included remunerating labor for its output and for its bargaining power. And it has included the familiar corporate division of labor in which about 20% of the workforce, who I call the coordinator class, had a monopoly on the empowering tasks and the rest were stuck doing only rote and obedient labor. As a result of these institutional commitments, socialism as you and others have known it, has been not a classless economy, but an economy in which about 20% ruled over the workers below. There have also been other flaws, including political, cultural, social – but the basic problem with what has been called socialist economics has been that it has eliminated one boss – the owning class or capitalist class – only to enshrine another boss, who I call it the coordinator class.

 

4.      So how exactly is this new system different from Yugoslav self management?

 

Yugoslav self management had markets, the old corporate division of labor, and remuneration for bargaining power and output. In place of these, parecon has participatory planning which is a kind of cooperative, horizontal, negotiation of inputs and outputs, balanced job complexes in which each worker gets a combination of responsibilities so their overall work load is comparably empowering to what other workers enjoy, and remuneration for how long people work, how hard people work, and the onerousness of the conditions under which people work.

 

These are not minor but are instead centrally important differences. They yield very different motivations, in turn generating very different outcomes. The core institutions of Yugoslav self management, with the exception of doing away with private ownership of workplaces, are rejected by parecon for being class biased and antithetical to equity, solidarity, and self management. In their place parecon adopts classless institutions favoring real self management, solidarity, equity, diversity, efficiency, etc.

 

5. Do you think that working people in Serbia, who used to live under state socialism, and now in transitional capitalism, would be able to find parecon attractive and persuasive?

 

I can’t see why not. Would working people in Serbia like to control their own destiny? Would they like a fair share, a truly fair share, of the social product? Would they like to have no rulers above, and no obedient passive people below? Would they like an economy that treats the environment – and people too – with respect and with dignity? I can understand why Serb citizens might be skeptical that an economy can deliver such benefits – but once a compelling case is made that parecon can do just that, even coming out of the disastrous experiences you have endured, I don’t see why advocacy wouldn’t follow.

 

The ills of market socialism that people in Serbia have experienced and rejected are what induced the design and advocacy of parecon. It is precisely because the market system was so flawed that a new vision was needed and created. Your distaste for that old system should not reduce interest in parecon, but should instead foster it.

 

6. What would a participatory workplace look like?

 

A participatory workplace will look different, in some respects, depending on the industry it is in, its size and technologies, the history and preferences of the workforce, etc. Most features of a workplace, that is, are contextual, worked out by workers in context of their own desires and consumer desires, and in context of relations with other workplaces, available technologies, etc. Some features, however, are central to what a participatory economy is. These are what make a workplace pareconish. These are what will recur in case after case.

 

So a participatory workplace has a workers council and also diverse sub components of that, including divisions, teams, little groups, etc. The workers council is the main venue of decision making. Within the workers council, and also the component divisions, teams, groups, etc., decisions are taken so as to foster and enact self management. How much discussion and preparation there is before any particular decision is reached, what the norms are for delaying or conducting a vote, or for reconsidering one later, and what the actual procedures of the votes are – for example, majority rule, or consensus, or perhaps a different total needed for a positive result – two thirds, etc. – or any other possibility, depends on what best conveys self management case by case. But the aim in all cases is the same, that each worker should have a say in workplace decisions in proportion to the degree the worker is affected by them, and likewise for consumers, for that matter, while also getting the jobs done.

 

A participatory workplace also has payment for labor that people do, of course. But the rate of payment is very different than under capitalism, or under what has been called socialism. No one gets income for owning property – that idea, the idea of profits, is simply gone. But also no one gets paid for credentials, or for bargaining power, or even for the volume or value of their output. Instead, each worker gets paid for how long they work, how hard they work, and how onerous their work is, so long as the work is socially useful and desired. You get more for working longer, harder, or under worse conditions. Pretty much the opposite of what you can see all around, now. You don’t get more for ownership, or for being strong enough to demand more, or even for producing something more valuable, or for being able to produce more quickly (as long as you are producing well enough to be socially valuable).

 

A participatory workplace also has what are called balanced job complexes. This takes a bit longer to explain.

 

Imagine a list of all the tasks done in a workplace, a very long list. The typical way to currently create jobs out of this long list of tasks is to combine a set of tasks that are rather similar in their "empowerment effects" and lump them into a job. Some jobs combine mostly empowering labor – labor that conveys information, skills, social habits, access to options, and even a degree of personal drive essential to participating in making decisions. Other jobs combine mostly rote, repetitive, disempowering labor – labor that diminishes overall awareness and knowledge, that reduces skills, that isolates and denigrates and exhausts the worker, leaving him or her poorly prepared to participate in decisions and even disinclined to do so. This is called a corporate division of labor and it yields a class difference between so that about 20% of the workforce is empowered and dominates choices, and 80% is disempowered and endures boredom while obeying orders. The former group I call the coordinator class, the latter group I call the working class. What follows immediately from this is the realization that in what have been called market socialist and centrally planned socialist economies it hasn’t only been horrible that the governments were authoritarian. Additionally, these economies elevated the coordinator class to ruling economic status. Out with the old boss- the capitalist owners – and in with the new boss – the coordinator decision maker. Parecon is about getting beyond that kind of trade off.

 

With balanced job complexes, in contrast to corporate divisions of labor, in a participatory workplace you still have a long list of tasks that need doing. The list changes quite a bit. You no longer seek to maximize the gains of a few owners, but now you seek to operate as an effective producer of items needed by society in light of the desires of both workers and consumers. Still, the list of all tasks nonetheless remains long. But in parecon, instead of combining tasks to impose jobs arrayed in a hierarchy of empowerment, we combine tasks to achieve a classless workforce. We combine tasks, that is, so that each worker has a fair (balanced) share of empowering and disempowering tasks composing their overall work responsibilities. It isn’t that everyone does everything. Not only is that ridiculous in that people don’t want to do everything and are not well suited or even suited at all to doing everything – but also everything is way too much in any case. There are hundreds, even thousands, of tasks done in a complex workplace. Any one person can do only a relatively small bunch of different things as part of their job. So the idea is we each do a mix of tasks we are able and suited to do, but the list is a mix of empowering and not so empowering and also disempowering work, so that on balance our workplace experience is like that of all our co-workers in this one crucial way: we are each comparably empowered and thus comparably prepared by our position in the economy to participate fully and effectively in the decision making life of the workplace.

 

7. You mean that with balanced jobs there would be no managers?

 

A managerial function remains, in many workplaces, in many aspects. Think of a symphony orchestra. Someone still conducts, but that person doesn’t only conduct. Rather, they also do some other functions, and the overall mix is such that their work is comparably empowering to the work others do. The same holds for the hospital, say. There is still brain surgery and there is still cleaning bed pans, but there are not people who do only the former or who do only the latter. And the same holds for the factory. Engineering still gets done. Design gets done. Maintaining good social relations also involves various tasks. And so does assembly, and so on. What no longer happens is for one person to be doing overwhelmingly empowering work and another person to be doing overwhelmingly disempowering work.

 

In a publishing house that was pareconish which I worked at – everyone did editorial work on the grounds that if you weren’t doing that, you weren’t really publishing. Everyone shared in the rote tasks like answering phones, taking mail, and cleaning the place. Everyone did production which in those days was overwhelmingly typesetting the books, then a very debilitating and exhausting kind of labor. Then each person also did some other work, maybe designing and producing catalogs, or working on keeping records, or whatever. Overall, however, we each had a fair mix of things to do. When we met to make decisions there was no one person or small group or people who were by their work better able and more attuned, over and over, to setting an agenda, providing key information, knowing overarching circumstances, having more access to skills or information or assets, and so on. We could thus have self management – with everyone able to have their fair share of informed influence over choices.

 

8. How would people measure each other’s effort to decide incomes?

 

There is no single right answer, as different workplaces would likely differ partly due to different conditions and types of work, and partly due to different choices by the workers council. What will recur, case to case, if the model proves valid, is that the workers council will settle on a way of determining how long people work, how hard they work, and how onerous their work is, compared to average. It is important to realize, however, that in the model it is critical that people are doing socially valued labor. I can’t work incredibly hard for long hours under harsh conditions, doing something that no one values, and expect to get paid for it. I can’t be a brain surgeon or a football goalie, because I am just not able to do those things well enough to provide socially valuable product.

 

So how might different workplaces choose to determine worker’s remuneration levels for jobs they are able to do? Some may feel that actual differences, averaged over time, will be rather modest and won’t matter too much so there is no point in constantly closely evaluating differences. I actually tend to think that. If a workplace had that view, it might have average pay, above average, extreme pay, below average, and low pay. Another workplace feeling instead that people will want to vary more often and more consistently and caring greatly about the differences, may prefer a much tighter set of levels, say, in 5% steps, or even 2% steps. So how does a workplace decide that I should get average, or above, or below, in some amount according to its pay levels?

 

The worker will report their time, their intensity. Most likely an evaluation will hear that self assessment and then include a look at a person’s output, to see if the person’s time is being productively spent. This is not remunerating output, by the way. If I do surgery for an hour, and I am dysfunctional, I won’t keep getting paid for it as if I was doing a socially valuable hour of labor. But if I do it acceptably well, then I will. The rate of the payment per hour has nothing to do with the volume or value of the output, but the volume of the output does tell us if time spent was spent well or frivolously and therefore if it should be remunerated at the going hourly rate. You can’t claim ten hours of above average high intensity labor for work that produced what ten hours of below average or average intensity labor, given your abilities, should have yielded, unless there is some good explanation for the discrepancy.

 

Workers may decide in a small workplace to have collective, periodic meetings about distribution of income. Or, more likely, in a larger workplace, evaluation will be by people with this evaluative task as part of their balanced job complexes – including collating claims about duration, intensity, and onerousness of work, reporting to the council, preparing for votes, etc. It is important to realize that no one has anything to gain by denying others their true incomes, nor to lose by doing so.

 

Mostly, all this and much more is the case because this is a new kind of workplace, with real participation, classlessness, and with motives that make sense, and because there are balanced job complexes that greatly diminish differences in overall onerousness of work or even eliminate them for all practical purposes, so that remuneration is just for duration – which is easy to assess – and for intensity, which is also pretty easy for workmates to evaluate.

 

Without going too far into details, it is important to note that in a full parecon a workplace agrees to certain outputs as part of the cooperatively negotiated social plan. It can’t fall short of that and yet claim that everyone is working well, socially usefully, etc., unless there is a good explanation for the shortfall, other than that people weren’t working well, or hard, etc. In other words, the workplace’s overall output has to match up, in terms of hours claimed and intensity claimed, with total remuneration for the workforce.

 

9. But how would this company, or a workplace, function outside of a market? How would they sell their products? Or relate to other, non parecon workplaces? Is "parecon in one factory" even possible?

 

I think the harder question is probably how would they operate within a market, assuming we set up a pareconish workplace though the rest of the economy is still capitalist. In a full parecon, to first answer your question as posed, the workplace functions without market allocation, which is replaced but with cooperative planning, or what I call participatory planning. There is much written about this new approach to allocation, but the essence is that it is a set of procedures and structures that allow workers and consumers councils to express their desires for both production and consumption, and to then refine and otherwise alter their preferences in light of options and possibilities revealed by others, until a plan is arrived at. It is self managing decision making applied to inputs and outputs throughout the economy. The pareconish motives and incentives generate output consistent, however, with meeting needs not only of consumers but also of workers. There is no drive to accumulate for the sake of competition, nor to sell things that aren’t needed, nor to dominate other workers or workplaces. There is a drive, consistent with conditions and options, to meet needs and develop potentials – which includes needs for free time, for learning, and so on. The problem with all this is getting there – but once there, the absence of markets is not a problem at all, it is instead a major achievement. In the old Yugoslavia the persistence of markets imposed on people motives contrary to their values, to get ahead at the expense of others, to produce for the sake of competitive advantage, to divide the workplace into coordinators and workers so that the former could impose cost cutting measures on the latter, and so on. That is all left behind, precisely by leaving behind market allocation.

 

But what about now, under capitalism? What about trying to have a pareconish workplace while having no choice but to operate in context of the still existing market?

 

I spent some time in Argentina meeting with a group of representatives from about thirty workplaces, each of which was taken over by its workforce, collectivized, and then run in accord with their desires but also within a capitalist context of market allocation. These representatives went around the room describing their experiences, before I was to speak. People became very forthright, and it was incredibly instructive. These were worker-run firms, typically called coops. They ranged in size from just a few workers to hundreds and it would not have been different had they gone larger, as well. The workers upon taking over first sought to make wages equitable – generally by making them all equal. They sought also to incorporate real democracy, even real self management, by creating a workers council and giving it decisive power. But they retained, in most cases, the old division of labor. And they also operated within the market context, which still persists in Argentina. Person after person described the great hopes and feelings of solidarity and accomplishment they shared at the outset of their factory occupations, but then also the steady deterioration of hopes and feelings of solidarity that they suffered over time. They reported, many of them crying while doing so, that though they were intent on establishing worthy workplaces, they felt their experiments were going bad, and more exactly, that they were falling back into old patterns. They wondered if maybe, despite their best intentions, there really was something about human nature or about social organization of all kinds that made it that there was no way other than the familiar – however debilitating – way of doing economics.

 

Then I spoke and talked about how their attachment to the old division of labor and their having to operate in a market context, were what was undoing their gains. These particular old institutions had implications, in this case imposing motives, behaviors, divisions of labor, and hierarchies of power and income that they didn’t want, and it only felt to them like these bad trends were coming from within themselves, but really they were coming from these institutional holdovers. The old  corporate division of labor guaranteed that about 20% would dominate meetings, decide results, and in time see themselves as more deserving and raise their own pay, while 80% would be alienated at meetings, have little to contribute, feel less valuable, and in time accept lower pay, even drifting away from decision making entirely. This is precisely what they had experienced. Other outfits that did alter the division of labor said, however, that they too were reverting to old ways, albeit more slowly, so it couldn’t only be due to the division of labor. I discussed with them how operating within a market context meant they had to cut costs, having to decide in essence to oppress themselves with speed up, with bad conditions, and to do alienated advertising, and to avoid cleaning up their pollution, thereby hurting others as well, all to outcompete other firms so as to maintain themselves in business, and therefore to maintain an income at all. The drive to make such horribly antisocial and alienating decisions, I offered by way of explanation of their depressing experience, leads to pressures to insulate a set of people from those decisions, a set who is well trained to decide outcomes that hurt others while not enduring the costs themselves. Thus ensues the hiring of managers and giving them air conditioned offices, better hours, etc., so they will make the cost-cutting decisions affecting other workers.

 

The answer to your questions about being pareconish while functioning in a market situation, in other words, is that we can set up workplaces with equitable remuneration and self managed decision making and balanced job complexes, but if they have to operate in a market setting those gains that we have fought to construct will be very unstable, constantly feeling heavy pressures to revert to more familiar old ways of doing things so as to be able to deal with banks and other old style institutions, and so as to be able to compete. So, yes, it can certainly be done, and is certainly a good thing to do, both to enjoy the benefits locally and to provide a model and explore its features, but it is a continuing struggle against outside pressures.

 

And finally, yes, one can also imagine that as there are a number of pareconish firms, they can begin to operate not solely inside the market’s dictates, but also as they choose, perhaps cooperatively negotiating their exchanges rather than settling for market prices. This is not unknown now in the world, even at the national level. Thus, when Venezuela and Bolivia trade, at least in some items, they don’t use market prices, but they instead cooperatively negotiate the terms of the exchange. The idea is that the poor nation, in this case Bolivia, should garner more of the benefits of the exchange so that the wealth gap between the countries diminishes, rather than the richer nation getting still richer at the expense of the poorer nation, as, say, occurs with neoliberal market trade relations.

 

10. Here, in the "transitional" countries of the European East, local "experts" usually claim that "there is no alternative" to the rule of free market capitalism. Is this really true? Is neoliberal capitalism, which our experts call inevitable, different then past capitalisms? And are there any other examples of alternative economies, outside and against capitalism in the world today?

 

No, the depressing claim isn’t true at all. It is a bit like a dictator saying there is no alternative to dictatorship. Or like a criminal mob saying that only they can patrol the streets. Participatory economics is not just a workable alternative, however, it is a workable alternative that eliminates class rule and generates equity and self management, among other virtues. In other words, it is workable and it is also worthy. Neoliberal capitalism, in contrast, is overwhelmingly just capitalism with the owners powerful enough to reduce concessions that were previously won by working people. In the same way that social democracy is just capitalism with workers more powerful and thereby able to moderate the harshest features, neoliberalism is just capitalism with capitalists more powerful and able to intensify the harshest features.

 

But as to your other query, no, I am afraid at the moment there are no participatory economic economies in the world. There are many experiments and efforts, however, that are either explicitly or implicitly consistent with trying to attain parecon and classlessness. The fact that such an economy doesn’t yet exist in full, however, is in no way an argument that one can never exist. This would be like saying, just a few decades ago, that the fact that there was no country that wasn’t grotesquely patriarchal meant there never could be one. Such entreaties to retain horrible relations are nonsense expounded by those who benefit from those relations.

 

Put differently, a real argument that there is no alternative other than capitalism would have to show that there could be no institutions other than corporate divisions of labor, markets, and private ownership of resources and equipment that could accomplish production and consumption at all. No one has ever even tried to offer such an argument, though many claim it is the case. A more plausible argument might say that there is no alternative other than capitalism that is worth our attention, because there is no alternative that is more worthy. Someone proposing that would have to show that there were no other institutions that could do economics more justly, more equitably, more socially, more democratically, etc., than capitalism. But parecon can do all that and much more, putting the lie to the claims, which, again, are only trumpeted, but not soberly argued.

 

The reason, by the way, your "experts" call neoliberal capitalism inevitable despite having zero evidence or argument for the claim, is because they work for capitalism, are paid by capitalism, enjoy capitalism’s perks and benefits, see themselves as deserving of those perks and benefits, see others as inferior, etc. It is not due to their having great wisdom or knowledge, however, as you probably know well from your own direct understanding of the situation.

 

11. Another catchword is the European Union. There is something of a mystical promise in the air, according to which every social problem will be solved upon the entry in this supra national structure. Do you find EU to be historically "progressive" and useful for the people in the Balkan countries?

 

I don’t know much about the EU. But based on general understanding, I doubt it is of any significant consequence, beyond very modest implications, that is. It may change some things a bit for the better, or a bit for the worse, of course. But my intuition would be that it has absolutely zero to do with overcoming the most basic defining problems of current societies. Quite the contrary, my intuition would be it presupposes their continuation. The reasons for my having these expectations are because the EU is a product of the interests of owning and empowered elites, not of working people.

 

12. What would a hypothetical "participatory strategy", for the working people in a country like Serbia, be like?

 

I can’t really answer specifically, not knowing nearly enough about Serbia. I can answer more generally, however, at least up to a point.

 

I think a strategy for attaining a parecon would have a few key components. It would involve building workers and consumers councils in existing workplaces and through those participatory structures fighting for short term gains in both workplaces and communities which, however, would be sought in ways leading toward further gains. It would involve, as well, seeking diverse kinds of more general societal gains, such as laws for higher wages or better conditions, or the government and citizens doing participatory budgeting, and much else of that sort.

 

In essence, movements would fight for improvements in people’s lives now, but in ways developing consciousness, desires, and means of fighting for still more gains in the future, all on a path leading to classlessness. If a pareconish movement fights for higher wages, it does so while developing awareness of remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work. If a pareconish movement fights for workers having more say, or for restraints on pollution, etc. it does so while developing awareness of the meaning and merits of self management and participatory planning. And so on, for gain after gain.

 

A strategy to win a parecon, I think, would also be highly attuned to the three class rather than two class view of both capitalism and possible ways of going beyond capitalism. In wanting to incorporate into present activity values and means of operating that reflect and move us toward our future goals it follows that with a three class conception, we would not have our movement elevate coordinator class folks to rule. On the contrary, our movement would be classless and would incorporate equitable remuneration, balanced job complexes, and self management for decision making. We won’t want movements that lead toward coordinator class dominated economics, like what Yugoslavia had in the past, so we will need movements that elevate working people and foreshadow and develop the means for introducing a new division of labor.

 

There is much else to say, of course, but it is all rather general – because serious strategy, beyond generalities, is so specific to particular contexts. But I guess the key summary insight, at least in my view, is that we need movements that are aimed at classlessness and that operate with methods, values, goals, and structures leading toward true self management and classlessness, not just by their caring and enlightened rhetoric, but by the very choices they make about their own organization and campaigns both now and into the future. Indeed, parecon’s main value for the moment is probably the twofold one of overcoming cynicism about what is possible, on the one hand, and providing guidance to avoid making movement choices that would attain something other than what we desire, on the other hand.

 

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