16. Q&A: Getting There
If we are to consider ourselves revolutionaries, we must acknowledge that
we have an obligation to succeed in pursuing revolution. Here, we must
acknowledge not only the power of our enemies, but our own power as well.
Realizing the nature of our power, we must not deny ourselves the exercise
of the options available to us; we must utilize surprise, cunning and flexibility;
we must use the strength of the enemy to undo him, keeping him confused
and off-balance. We must organize with perfect clarity to be utterly unpredictable.
When our enemies expect
us to respond to provocation with violence,
we must react calmly and peacefully; just as they
anticipate our passivity, we must throw a grenade.
- Stokely Carmichael
You ask, suppose most citizens decide in favor of parecon, or militate in favor of it, and we win this transformation. Some still wont want the changein particular, rich people with lots of property. True enough. Indeed, capitalists will fight by any means they can usefully and self-servingly muster to prevent any new system that would take away their private property.
There is no parecon created in the U.S., say, alongside Ross Perot (the example you gave) still owning means of production. Creating a parecon means, among many other things, that the private holdings of economic infrastructure of the rich are taken from them...against their wills, no doubt, in most cases.
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Over time, increasingly the workers in GM become advocates of a new type of economy, even while GM is still privately owned and pursuing profit. And during this period the GM workers battle for better conditions, new job definitions, and all manner of other positive steps. But, when the GM workers and all others seeking a new economy win, there is a large change. No longer are they fighting against a class of owners seeking profit, or a class of coordinators maximizing their own relative advantages. Now, the prior owners no longer own, and the coordinator class is no more.
All historical progress, from the ending of feudalism and slavery through womens rights, the end of Jim Crow, inauguration of labor rights, and so on, is impossible if one cannot make progress against an initially richer and better armed opponentbut, of course, one can. This is what organizing and developing opposition movements is all about. But the main solution to the other side having lots of guns and being able to pay people to brandish them is to organize those people so they become unwilling to play such a rule. There is no such thing as out-shooting something like the U.S. army, or even its police forces, even if such a scenario wouldnt corrupt participants and have unacceptable casualtieswhich it would. What can be done instead is to build ever larger movements which incorporate ever more constituencies and use diverse tactics to essentially disarm elites by creating conditions in which elites cannot exploit what advantages they have, whether money, or communicative tools, or forces of repression, until finally winning the allegiance of their troops right out from under them.
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The best approach is the approach that works. Most likely this will involve, in part, winning a variety of reforms that make the existing system less painful for most folks. But one can do that, and still not create a launch pad for real change, so to speak, falling back, later, when capital becomes resurgent. Sweden is an example. Or one can win the needed gains, and at the same time create an ever stronger movement, able to aim for and win still more, in a trajectory that continues until the new economy is in place. Each gain is a reform. The former is a reformist approach to them. The latter is a non-reformist approach.
Parecon doesnt have to appear everywhere in the world all at once. While it is a system with a logic and with principles, and capitalism is a different system with a different logic and with different principles, and the logic and dynamics of each system are inconsistent with that of the otherand undermine the successful reproduction of the other system to the extent that they co-exist in the same time and spaceparts of parecon can exist and grow in a hostile capitalist framework. In fact, that is exactly what will have to happen. It is part of what we should call the transition from the economics of fear and greed, i.e. capitalism, to the economics of equitable cooperation, i.e. parecon and should recognize as a really important and difficult question. Thus establishing institutions in the present that embody some or even many features of a parecon is desirable partly as a means of learning, partly for inspiration, partly to fill needs.
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However, if a country adopted a parecon system, it could still trade and even borrow from or lend to countries using capitalist systems. With capitalist economies that were richer than the parecon, relations would be quite simple. Enter into trade and borrowing relations that benefit the parecon economyand bargain, maneuver, push, pull, manipulate to get the best terms of trade and credit terms possible for the pareconsince getting more than the lions share of the benefits of international economic relations for the poorer country is completely consistent with parecon principles.
If the other country is a poorer parecon economy, the trade and credit relations that are consistent with parecon principles would require the richer parecon economy to grant the poorer one more than half the benefits that result from the efficiency gain due to the trade or lending activity. If the other country is a poorer capitalist country, things are a little more complicated. Parecon principles would require that the parecon country NOT drive the hardest bargain it could getand appropriate the lions share of the benefits from trade and lendingbut instead to make sure that the poorer economy, even though it is capitalist, benefited equally if not more from the trade or international lending arrangements.
The exception to this is if such actions helped stabilize the capitalist ruling class in the poorer capitalist country. Then the parecon country should let the anti-capitalist movement in the poorer capitalist country decide if the parecon economy should drive a hard bargain, drive a hard bargain and give the liberation movement the financial gain, or boycott in order to help the liberation movement overthrow capitalism. Exporting revolution and international solidarity are admittedly tricky, tricky issues. But these are political, not economic subtleties.
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Well, what are the drastic things that change? Private ownership of means of production disappears. Production for profit or surplus and misspecification of exchange values disappears. Hierarchicalization of daily life economic functions disappears. And so on...
But these are all things that should disappear.
This is a goal. How we get to it is another question. It isnt going to be monopoly capital one day, and then parecon the next day, obviously.
There is one sense in which your question has a lot of weight, I think. One can seek changes in capitalism that do not bother capitalists much, or that even benefit them. These are easy to fight for and to win, relatively. One can fight for changes that reduce or even terminate the capitalists advantages, but benefit coordinators, and these are much harder to win because capitalists oppose these and have many resources with which to fight them. One can fight for changes that not only reduce and eventually eliminate capitalist advantage, but also coordinator advantagethe parecon path.
Is the parecon path hardest? Well, it comes up against two-pronged instead of one-pronged opposition. At the same time, however, it will better galvanize and motivate allies of changeworking people. So both sides are strengthened, potentially. The opponents of change move from primarily capitalists to including many coordinator class members. But the advocates of change while losing some coordinators, gain far greater allegiance from workers. Will it be easier or harder, once it gets going? I dont know. But I do believe that devoting ones life to attaining changes which leave capitalists as a ruling class, or which leave coordinators as a ruling class (as in the old Soviet system, or Yugoslav system) doesnt gain enough in probability of successful and irreversible innovation to make it the preferred option.
In fact, my inclination is to think that pursuing the road to parecon is probably the fastest way to win the kinds of innovations that a seriously concerned, pro-worker activist should want to win.
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I think there is nowhere in the country where anyone is anywhere near having a community that could function largely outside the market economy...because we dont have means of production, clearly. But establishing consumer councils that operate as much as they can along parecon-like norms, and, for that matter, councils in workplaces with similar agendas, or whole workplaces within the economy but utilizing parecon-like values and structures, are all, I think, worthwhile undertakings. But so is trying to win non- reformist reforms in existing structures.
That is, there are two broad ways to pursue a new type of economybuilding infrastructure that teaches its characteristics and prepares for it by literally creating elements of it in the present, on the one hand, and pushing existing institutions toward it, on the other. Each approach, if it is to make progress, needs to address meeting current needs and desires. Each approach, if it is to avoid pitfalls, needs to be tightly connected to the other, I think. The experimental and exemplary institutions need to retain touch with the real lives of normal citizens and their struggles. The movements within existing institutions need to retain touch with efforts to define and refine longer term goals to inform these immediate struggles. The two way exchange of ideas, energy, resources, time, and whatever else proves possible, is essential.
Creating pareconish institutions is a very positive thing to do. They are schools for the future. They display the values we favor in real settings and are exemplary and hopefully inspiring in that sense, They will presumably do many tasks better than using mainstream structures, insteadand certainly the type of tasks we are generally trying to accomplish.
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The same can be said, by the way, for trying to embody the aims/values we have for gender, race, and power in our efforts, though that is another matter.
But believing something is very valuable is not the same as thinking it is alone valuable. Yes, creating a bookstore,, food distribution center, publishing house, or production plant that embodies parecon values and structures is valuable. But so is organizing within existing institutions to make them (a) less painful to people and (b) more in tune with future aims.
If creating a pareconish project or co-op or is good on grounds that it is exemplary, that it educates, it trains, and it also liberates those involved, then surely all this can also be said for organizing a labor movement, for example, that begins to build council structures in existing workplaces and wins reforms that benefit folks and embody desired values.
This just isnt the way the world works. You cant even conceive that folks will in huge numbers separate from existing institutions and create counter ones, such that, for example, there is a sphere of food production and distribution that is pareconish next to one that is capitalist, and the former is comparable in size and scope to the latter.
Why? Well because long before you got anywhere near that stage there would be no capitalism. Parallel structures do not exist in isolation. If those are growing, it means the values of the new orientation are spreading, and that will be happening because there are movements fighting for changes and gains all over society, throughout its institutions, political, cultural, kinship, and economic. And long before half of the people working in various industries would pick up and leave them, they will, in effect, seize them.
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More, what does one use for property and capital in these parallel ventures? If one is taking that, too, then that is an immense struggle and if one can win that struggle, well then one has long since achieved the capacity to, again, transform the existing institutions.
The process by which parallel pareconish institutions grows is not some kind of isolated dynamic which occurs off by itself. It impacts and is fed by what is happening throughout society.
A more accurate formulation, I think, would be that a movement which attempted to transform (in this case) the economy, more or less by stealththat is, by simply building a whole new one step by step while not contesting inside the old one, would be totally doomed and misconceived. It just doesnt have anything to do with reality. It would have no means of gaining the resources, no means to defend against incursionsand, much more to the point, it would not have a process for recruiting support and participation.
On the other hand, if efforts to create parallel institutions are tied to and very aggressively support efforts within existing institutions to win changes there, that is another story. But in that case, long before the independent parallel institutions were so huge, we would have won.
Now, suppose we think of parallel institutions a bit more flexibly, a bit more in tune with what is in fact possible on a massive scale. Thus, we think of the formation of a workers council in a plant and in an industry as a parallel institution, just as much as we think of a pareconish publishing house or food center as one.
Now we are getting more real. We have these parallel efforts and projects and structures which take many forms in many venues and which are able to reach out to the whole population and to be entered by that population without enormous dislocation. And if those parallel structures (whether the publishing houses or the food coops or the councils inside workplaces, or, for that matter, the neighborhood or regional consumer councils, or whatever) in turn also support efforts to win valuable changes in the mainstreamchanges which improve peoples conditions and lives and which also empower people (and those dissident structures, too), we are on to something valuable, I agree.
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There are many. People with training and talent can often earn much more by following other paths. The near impossibility of getting financing impedes purchasing needed infrastructure.
You might like to try, some time, going to a bank for a loan if you are from a pareconish institution...it isnt a very lucrative way to spend ones time. On the other hand, if huge movements were emerging in unions that had pareconish norms and values, then yes, they might instruct that their pensions should be spent in productive ways, including in creating pareconish institutions, among other good uses. But again, you can see how that is a process that involves more than one leg, so to speak.
I think there is a prior questionwhat would give any such proposal teeth? If the law was passed tomorrow, virtually the entire economy would be transferrable, immediately, yet none of it would be transferred. A different way of saying this is that if you had movements strong enough to pass the above law, you would have movements strong enough to take over capital on the more positive grounds of desiring a new type of economy. You would also have built those movements over a long period of time, and they would have attained a high level of consciousness and organization already.
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But, okay, I will take the hypothesis at face value. Suppose there is a steady transfer, a bit at a time, of private holdings to the workers operating them, for whatever reasons. What additional things would have to occur for this to be a transition to a participatory economy? I think the answer is that (a) the workers would have to be organized locally and within industries into democratic councils. (b) There would have to be a very high consciousness of the need for balanced job complexes and, in general, an elimination of the structural basis for rule by what I call a coordinator class. (c) There would need to be a steady parallel development of a participatory planning apparatus and commitment.
For the transfer of property one needs a movement that is anti-capitalist and strong enough to impose its will against the desires of recalcitrant capitalists to retain their ownership of material assets. For the institution of real council democracy, balanced job complexes, new norms of remuneration, and participatory planning, one needs a movement that has a positive vision and is strong enough to impose its will against the desires of recalcitrant coordinators to retain their relative monopoly on decision making related knowledge, skills, and positions.