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Parecon’s First Steps in Finland


On Monday July 19th YLE (the Finnish Broadcasting Company) published a story [1] on how municipal democracy and possibilities of democratic planning in Finland are continuously narrowed in the face of growing status of budgetary advisors and "economic facts." According to Ph.D of political science Anne Luomala [2], the main characteristics of this are growing, undemocratic power of even singular financial advisors, whose proposals pass through parliamentary councils unquestioned as "financially sound" calculations. The elected members have very little say over, or competence on, these abstractly and authoritatively written summary reports, which then shape and frame the municipal budget and through that, most of the decisions in the municipality.

As to be expected, the Minister of Public Administration and Local Government Tapani Tölli downplays [1] the significance of this development, saying that during harsh economic times democratic planning in municipalities is simply "a matter of attitude" and "personal responsibility" of representatives and citizens. Anne Luomala disagrees, stating, "The challenge of local democracy does not lie in the citizens’ lack of participation, but in the interaction and flow of information between the citizens and their representatives." Meanwhile, income inequality is increasing rapidly in Finnish society as the rich are "faring much better than low-income families," according to a report by OECD [3]. And it’s not just the poor that are lagging behind. "The rich also gained ground on middle-earners."
 
Many readers of ZNet are familiar with Michael Albert’s and Robin Hahnel’s proposal for a participatory economy, or parecon, that lays out a structured, well defined and attainable vision for an alternative economy based on the values of equity, solidarity, diversity, workers’ self-management and efficiency. We were first introduced to parecon in 2002 through ZNet, researching it further by attending Michael Albert’s lectures in the European Social Forum the following year and working as volunteers for the translation of the book "Parecon – Life After Capitalism" into Finnish [4]. In the years since, we’ve brought those basic ideas forward in our activism at the University of Helsinki, struggling for more participatory decision-making structures for students and workers in our University.
 
We are three students of education from Helsinki with different kinds of backgrounds in "political activism", brought together via friendship and common values and ideas on how an ideal or better society would be like. While being active in different projects, our goals and activities have been quite limited and shortsighted in many ways. We’ve been challenging power and status quo with well laid out arguments and actions, drawing from various "anarchist" egalitarian sources and traditions. While sometimes this has worked tremendously well locally and in the short-term, we have often encountered indignation, resistance and intolerance to our writings and activities – as if we pushed people towards a cliff while they would struggle not to fall. This probably is a result largely of our lack of effort to properly frame and explain our aims and our activities, and thus people simply have had no idea what we’ve been so adamantly struggling for. To put it simply, it’s easy to say what we’re against, but really – what are we for?
 
Albert and Hahnel’s model of participatory society is a serious, credible effort to answer this question in a useful, applicable way. In the least, it should be available as a point of consideration for everyone, and in our view, it should be the direction towards which the Finnish society should reorient itself.
 
That definitely being the long term goal for us in our fledgling activities, we began assessing our resources and short term strategies. We aim to steadily grow our ambitions and activities with parecon in the coming year, and we believe it is important that all of us strategically use facilities like ZNet to organize and coordinate our activities everywhere. This is the reason why we write here, and we will welcome all input, help and commentary from abroad with open arms.
 
Our first experience of promoting parecon in Finland came through a youth camp/seminar [5] put together by an ambitious, young and politically conscious group willing to find serious alternatives to current capitalist politics and culture. Participants were 15-21 years old, some already active in different projects, some simply curious and worried about the state of the society. For us, the invitation to speak there was an opportunity to present the idea of parecon and get feedback from a non-sectarian, open and curious audience. 
 
Structuring our presentation into two parts, we first addressed the current situation of the world and how capitalism is one central component in shaping it. We then discussed our experiences as activists and underlined the need for focused and real, dedicated long-term strategic work free from creating subcultures and playing identity games.
 
After discussing examples, we proceeded to annihilate the TINA-complex [6] with presenting parecon as a truly credible alternative. Our presentation of parecon concentrated on its values, remuneration and the concepts of balanced job complexes and participatory planning. We also handed out a small flyer we made summarizing the key points of parecon and our presentation so that they would have something to help them follow the discussion.
 
Our experiences were extremely positive. The students of the camp had many insightful questions and were willing to engage in serious discussion on different aspects of the participatory economy. We truly felt that the participatory vision of parecon created genuine hope and inspiration, helping them to counter the cynicism and lack of real direction underlining much of left movement. Giving the presentation offered us a lot of feedback and ideas with which to refine and improve our presentation for the next stage. In the future we hope to start giving this speech in our local, public libraries and activist cafes and seminars (if they accept us), promoting parecon with it in a gradual and continuous way, translating and producing more and more material as we go on.
 
Writers are founders of Parecon Finland, a group focused on making participatory economics widely known in the Finnish society.
 
Notes
 
[1] YLE News. "Talousahdinko rapauttaa kuntademokratiaa; (transl.) Financial Predicament Is Eating Away Democracy In The Municipalities." July 19, 2010.  http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/talous_ja_politiikka/2010/07/talousahdinko_rapauttaa_kuntademokratiaa_1834424.html
[2] Anne Luomala. "On The Possibility Of Politics In The Local Council Budget  Meeting". Summary of Luomala’s study in English. April 9, 2010. https://www.jyu.fi/ajankohtaista/arkisto/2010/03/tiedote-2010-03-24-12-19-37-061308
[3] OECD (2008): Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries.
[4] Michael Albert. "Parecon – Kapitalismin jälkeinen elämä." 2004. Sammakko.
[5] Mundus Socialis – Camp for young people interested in politics and social change. 
[6] Michael Albert. "TINA!? And Getting There". January 30, 2004.
 

 

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