By Michael Albert
Seven Stories Press, 2006, 452 pp
If the goal of a visionary writer is to inspire others, I believe that Remembering Tomorrow, by Michael Albert will be judged to have succeeded.
Albert is already well known for his numerous books on Marxism, economics, and particularly for his writings about what life after capitalism might look like. His earlier books like Parecon: Life after Capitalism, and Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism not only cover the economics of a more egalitarian society, but also develop how specific areas like politics, community, science, education, athletics, and kinship might look.
In Remembering Tomorrow he recounts his youth and the growth of his political awareness, and his nearly four decade long trajectory from SDS to his present day activism. He also brings alive the spirit and energy of the late sixties and early seventies. I could almost hear the music again, and feel the openness of so many young people towards each other. I could remember the indignity and anger towards a government that we knew was violating all the principles they said they believed in and that we still did believe in. Overall, I found the book to be entertaining and inspiring. I enjoyed the quotes that preceded each topic, and some of them made me laugh out loud. I also planned to listen to some of the music again. But most of all, I was impressed by his dedication; his efforts to understand and explicate, to put into practice, modify, organize, innovate, encourage, and relate in both visionary and practical ways.
While many authors have more introspection in their autobiographies, Albert contends that a memoir “should be about perceptions, insights, and lessons that the narrator happened to be positioned to relay”. We have his actions and experiences and his thought about them. This is how it was for him. I sense that Albert is connected to his values at some deep level, and that these guide his actions, making them clear and consistent. He is obviously a person that walks the talk.
Of interest to many will be the relationship between Albert and Noam Chomsky, first as Chomsky’s student, and later as colleagues. He also discusses his intense and long collaboration with Robin Hahnel, and, sadly, their eventual falling out. Together, he and his life partner, Lydia Sargent, founded South End Press, Z Magazine, and of ZNet. The ins-and-outs of these enterprises are an amazing story in themselves. I would have liked to know more about his day-to-day relationship with Lydia Sargent, and how they support each other emotionally and professionally. I am especially curious since my wife and I share the same occupation and often teach together. Albert does discuss how he maintains his motivation by envisioning highly desirable outcomes for writings and projects.
Albert often approaches questions and problems as scientists do, using what are called “thought experiments”, as Albert Einstein famously did. These are “what if” types of questions, like “What if we took seriously the idea that we could have a society based on solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management?” What would it be like to live in such a society? What would our work-life look like? How would people relate to each other? Time and again I found myself drifting thoughtfully into these questions, and one time I had the epiphany “ In a society like this, every time anyone, anywhere, learns to do something better, more easily, more efficiently, everyone else, everywhere, also benefits.”
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of what will be necessary to build and safeguard an egalitarian society will come from what Albert calls coordinatorism. Coordinators are the approximately 20% of the population, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, accountants, managers, etc., who manage the day-to-day activities for the owners. Albert, building on the work of Barbara and John Ehrenreich, sees this group as a class in itself, and differs from the Marxist view of there being only two classes, capitalists (owners) and workers (producers). Not only does the coordinator class have its own interests, separate from the other two classes, but in revolutionary situations it often comes to power in an authoritarian way. It is the strength and inevitable rise of this class, if left unchecked, that leads Marxism to be inherently Marxism Leninism, and produces the state capitalism that characterized the
Primarily though, the power of this book for activists and progressives will come from the provocative questions Albert poses and discusses. Why did so many young radicals not pursue their ideals in the way he has? Where are they now? What would reactivate their hopes and desires, and bring them back into a movement for an egalitarian society? How can we attract new people and get them to stay? How can all the active people now begin to come together in some “movement of movements”? How do we grow without replicating hierarchical, authoritarian structures so familiar under capitalism, but also under almost all socialist governments?
Remembering Tomorrow is inspiring and humbling, in the best sense of both. It is a call to activists and concerned citizens everywhere to rededicate themselves to changing society in line with our deepest hopes and desires. It is the only book I’ve ever read, that while reading it, I was so enlivened I planned to read it again immediately. (And I have.)
Joel Isaacs is a psychotherapist and teacher, and is engaged in the activist community in