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Values, Visions, and Strategy


Alex,

 

I like that you start with values. I think creating vision requires a small set that covers our central aspirations while being specific and demanding enough to orient our analyses.

 

You start with justice. I am for justice too, but so is everyone left of Attila the Hun. You suggest it might mean equal access to the means of a good life – but what about outcomes? What if some people work harder or work less hard? Should they get the same income? Property owners think they have equal access but do more with it and likewise for people with above average or remarkable talents. If surgeons shouldn’t earn ten times assemblers and quarterbacks shouldn’t earn a hundred times postal workers, why shouldn’t they? I think by justice you have in mind how much we each get, but I don’t know what specifically you favor, and I don’t see how highlighting justice can help guide vision unless it’s meaning is more precise.

 

I think favoring efficiency, your second value, means we favor attaining our aims while conserving assets that we value. So I also favor efficiency, and meant this way, so does everyone else. The issue of dispute is about what ends are sought and what conditions are valued. For capitalists, profits are sought and means of attaining profits are valued, and the rest is peripheral. Coal baron profits, black lung for workers, and pollution for neighbors is capitalistically efficient. Capitalist efficiency means whatever else makes owners rich at our expense. So I favor efficiency in attaining our social values, not theirs. In other words, I think that if favoring efficiency to help us envision a better economy, it must be linked with other values.

 

You propose democracy as your third value. But again, what does it mean? Should everyone have equal say in everything economic and in other dimensions of life as well, with majority plus one ruling? I assume you don’t think that…but, if not, thenwhat is the principle that democracy connotes? Is your desired value for decision making something we can further describe for the economy? If we can’t, I don’t see how saying we are for democracy can guide us to institutional vision. If we can, I agree it can help us greatly.

 

Your fourth value, sustainability, I also find worthy. But the economic issue is how does an economy properly account for the ecological impacts of production and consumption – and how do decisions about what to do then get made. I agree that we need to reorient production and consumption to not run out of critical non-renewable resources and not pollute our environment to our detriment. But I think the issue specific to sustainability is respect for future generations, and I am not sure there is any way to have future citizens’ interests impact current economic decision making other than by current generations coming to care for their immediate and distant offspring more consciously, and having the information and decision-making influence to act on that commitment.

 

In sum, regarding the values you propose, I find them congenial, but I suspect they are too vague to effectively inform liberating alternatives.

 

Regarding capitalism you emphasize wage labor and a blind process of competitive accumulation. I agree on both counts. But in addition, for me capitalism is private ownership of productive assets, competitive markets, corporate divisions of labor, and remuneration for property and power. As a result, I think capitalism has three rather than two primary classes: capitalists and workers as you identify, but also, in between those two, what I call the coordinator class. It seems to me that somehow your (and Marxism’s) priority focus on the wage labor relation and on the accumulation process but not nearly as much on the implications for workers of their particular positions in the division of labor, fails to sufficiently highlight the third class that exists between labor and capital and that gains its advantages largely from having a relative monopoly on empowering work compared to workers who endure overwhelmingly rote and obedient labor.

 

Like you, I reject markets as a mode of allocation. Markets produce anti-sociality, misvalue labor and consumption that has impacts beyond the buyer and seller (with catastrophic implications for the environment), violate self-management, commodify and commercialize nearly everything, induce remuneration for bargaining power, and impose class division between coordinators and workers. And of course markets are even worse when coupled with private ownership of productive assets. So we agree about rejecting markets, and we also agree that central planning violates values having to do with apportionment of decision making power and class relations. We agree as well on the positive need to have “horizontal relations” by which economic actors cooperatively negotiate outcomes, presumably with appropriate levels of influence, but I think these relations need to be spelled out a good deal more than you attempt.

 

What I wonder, however, is why in talking about a new economy, even very broadly and briefly, you don’t address distribution and power more explicitly, both in the workplace and in the broader economy. Can’t we say more about the conditions that facilitate workers and consumers expressing their preferences? And about where and how they have their say, and also how much say they have? I wonder if you see workplace organization being another locus of needed change, and, if so, what kind? And ditto for norms of remuneration.

 

We disagree about the word “Socialism.” You note that the word has been devalued by a Stalinist disaster and you indicate that the fact of that disaster would no more warrant getting rid of the term socialism than the failure of an instance of democracy, or religion, or anarchism, or anything else would warrant saying all instances would have to be rejected. I think your point is right if we assume that Stalinism was a disastrous violation of what socialism was supposed to be. The trouble is, however, it isn’t just Stalinism that causes me to feel that while the word socialism is often meant to connote lots of fine values like equity and participation, institutionally it obstructs those very same values. Beyond Stalinism, what indicates this is the entire legacy of actually implemented socialist visions and even the entire library of socialist economic models (with, arguably, a very few exceptions). What has been enacted or described as socialism, whenever socialists have had power or have seriously put forth a full model, has virtually universally been public or state ownership, corporate divisions of labor, and markets or central planning. Since I reject all of that, not just the Stalinist state, I don’t see a reason for using the label socialism.

 

We agree that getting rid of capitalism will be a revolution – and I think the same holds for getting rid of patriarchy, racism, and authoritarian political structures.  We agree also that overcoming the power of the state and other centers of power depends on, in your words, “(1) the extent of its mass support; (2) how much that mass support is self-organized.” I hope we can also agree that it follows that there should be large movements with grass roots control, plus direct local vehicles of organization and struggle in workplaces and communities. You make no mention, however, of a political party, much less of a Leninist one, and I wonder why not.

 

I think you are right about the need of movements to relate to working class life and aspirations. But here I think we have another difference. I think the obstacle to movements making greater headway in reaching out to working people resides partly, as you indicate, in our program and issues – but I think that it resides more basically in movement social relations and structure. Our movements tend to be more congenial to and to reflect more in their structures, tone, preferences, and language the coordinator class’s structures, tone, preferences, and language. I think that what leads to this impasse is our relative paucity of attention to transcending coordinatorist inclinations and attaining in their place classless ones.

 

An analogy with racism or sexism can help explain, perhaps. When our conceptual toolboxes are weak on racism and sexism we have no guard against the weight of these oppressions in our lives and in society causing our movements to become racially and sexually off-putting to women and people of color. Similarly, the fact that our conceptual toolboxes are weak regarding the relations of the coordinator and working classes to one another leaves us largely unable to prevent the weight of classism in our lives and in society from making our movements uncongenial to workers. Tirelessly repeating that we are for the working class or for classlessness, absent real internal indications that it is the full truth, will rarely convince a working person who is put off by the real material evidence of the tilt toward coordinator attitudes, divisions of labor, and preferences evident our movements.

 

Another sentence would take me over 1500 words – I will stop here.

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