"Another world is possible." Millions of people have come to believe in this motto in the last few years, as a wave of new movements sweeps the globe. Exactly what that world would look like, though, is something which many have difficulty articulating. Michael Albert seeks to remedy this shortcoming in his latest book, Parecon: Life After Capitalism.
The most recent periods of upheaval against capitalism have been marked by confusion about what exactly should replace that system.
In the ’60s, activists wrongly looked toward China as a model for their new world. In the ’30s, they mistakenly idealized Russia.
Our current period is fortunate that it has none of these grotesque models to lure us with the appeal of their actual existence.
With the death of that type of of socialism we may now dream of world where people truly are free and control their own affairs.
Albert has expertly sketched out this new world and he calls it Parecon or Participatory Economics.
The principles of Albert’s world are equity, diversity, solidarity, and self-management; principles that have no place in our capitalist world. In Parecon, councils of workers, rather than profit driven bosses, decide what is produced in order to meet the needs of their communities. Consumption decisions are made by councils, rather than by the individual logic of the market. Private property does not exist and people are paid according to their sacrifice and effort, not because of the privilege of their birth.
To preven the establishment of hierarchies, no one maintains a job with special expertise and knowledge.
Rather, people engage in a variety of work, some tasks more fulfilling than others, so that they do not become managers with interests separate from the general good. This idea of "balanced job complexes" keeps with th eideasl of equity and solidarity but allows for diverse economic options to better enrich people’s lives.
Of course, there is really nothing new Albert’s ideas.
His book is reminiscent of Edward Bellamy’s very popular (and probably more entertraining) 1888 utopian socialist novel, Looking Backward. And of course Marxists have been arguing for workers councils for a century now.
What is new and interesting about Parecon is that he doesn’t call his theory socialism or even admit that it is related to Marxism in any way. Albert confines Marxism to the market socialism of reformists and the top down socialism of Stalinism.
People who believe that socialism from below is possible might bristle at Albert’s blanket dismissal of the whole socialist tradition. However, in a world where truly nonhierarchical movements calling themselves Marxist or socialist are practically nonexistent, Albert’s approach may make sense. If the overwhelming majority of people calling themselves socialists do not advocate the ideas of cooperative selfmanagement and freedom expressed in this book, it might be best to call those ideals by another name.
With the effecitvely complete discrediting of the old left afte 1989, why not bring the old ideas to life to new people without the old negative baggage? Albert also mixes in some ideas that are stronger in the new movement than they had been in the past, like the importance of ecology. However, he is troublingly lacking anything to say about women or people of color.
For people who are new to the idea of what a different world may look like, I would highly recommend Parecon for the excellent description it gives of a possible better world. For those of you who think you are clear about what that other world would look like but aren’t sure what that makes you, I would suggest looking at the book and the debates around it at Parecon.com [sic]
You don’t have to become a Pareconist, but it helps open up the idea that some new belief or set of beliefs, though similar to those we already have, might be more effective than they have been in bringing about another world.