In the same spirit as the last message — this is an interview done for a major Pakistani periodical and for translation to Urdu, as well…again on parecon, and other matters too…
1. What has been the attitude and role of American civil society towards President Bush’s counter terrorism policies at home and abroad since 9/11?
Of course it is very diverse. There are many who are horrified and have been opposing the attempts to parlay fear over 9/11 into reactionary policies in the U.S. and around the world. These are the social movements of activists working to raise consciousness and organize dissent. They are still a small minority. There are those who are disturbed, worried, concerned – sometimes morally, but also sometimes only because they fear that Bush is overplaying his hand with the possibility of repercussions harmful to elite interests. The former group is large but not committed. The latter group makes for divisions among those who rule the U.S., which are beginning to be serious, in my view. And then there are people who are elated with the trajectory toward repression, seeing Bush’s machinations as part and parcel of the gigantic flow of profits and assets he has engineered for them. They will try to ensure his reelection by way of media manipulation.
2. Why is there a need for alternate media? How far has American alternative media succeeded in imparting alternative perspectives to the masses on issues such Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine?
The need for alternative media is simply the need for honest and relevant information, analysis, vision, etc. Since little to none of that is provided by mainstream media institutions, other channels are required. A population cannot pursue just outcomes for all, or even its own interests, without knowing what is going on with what implications.
As to the success of U.S. alternative media, I think it is mixed, but very hard to gauge. Much of the achievement is second hand – the alternative media helps educate and empower people who in turn affect others.
3. Does ZNet have as much credibility as mainstream media institutions such as The New York Times and Washington Post?
Credibility with whom? With people of good will who are very well informed about world and U.S. affairs and who have a radical perspective – meaning they feel justice ought to extend to all? Yes…but in the U.S. that is still a small sector. The institutions you mention service the mainstream of society. Alternative media instead services people who are outside and largely arrayed against the mainstream. If the constituency that respected ZNet was larger than that which respects the NY Times, the world would be a very different place.
4. What is the core of your vision of Participatory Economics or Parecon: Life after capitalism as you call it?
The heart of the vision is a set of institutions to replace those of capitalist economies. These include workers and consumers councils at various levels in the economy. Self managed decision making procedures. What are called balanced job complexes which is a new way of dividing up labor so that people have comparably empowering work and there is no class division. Remuneration for the duration, intensity, and onerousness of work – not for output or bargaining power or property. And participatory planning, which is a kind of horizontal cooperative approach to allocation that replaces markets and/or central planning. My claim for parecon is that these institutions permit economies to efficiently meet needs and develop potentials for all workers and consumers consistent with classlessness and with equity, solidarity, diversity, and self management.
5. Participatory Economics visualizes limited hierarchical structures ‘possibly none at all;’ where do you fix knowledge-hierarchy in its structure?
This confuses apples and oranges, I think. What parecon eliminates is fixed hierarchies of wealth and power. It is still true that you may know more biology and I may know more physics and someone else knows more wood working and another person knows more tennis, and so on. There is no leveling of specialties or talents or knowledge in a parecon. There is, however, a leveling of decision-making influence over economic outcomes. We all have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree we are affected by them. And there is a leveling of income, as well. If you work longer or harder or at worse conditions than I do, you earn more to that extent, but not beyond.
6. Your new book Trajectory of Change is a collection of your essays. If you are to point and explain the most potent essay in it; which one would you like to single out and why?
In all honesty, I don’t even remember what essays, in particular, are in that book. I do know that it deals with issues of movement building, to a considerable extent, and I think the discussions of what the obstacles to enlarging and strengthening our movements are – the obstacles that are due to our own inadequacies and which we could overcome by our own choices and actions – are probably most important.
7. How have you supported yourself and your activities in all these years?
Aside from some teaching and odd jobs a long time ago – and minor income from writing — I have worked at South End Press, then Z Magazine, and then ZNet. This work has been paid, not volunteer. I am on salary and have been all along, at movement wages. In these respects I am very lucky, of course – being able to do work I find worthy, without having to obey bosses, and with a comfortable income.
8. What kind of life do you see once your vision of ‘Life after Capitalism, is realized?
It seems like too large a question to answer beyond generalities in an interview. The book provides many graphic descriptions of conditions and circumstances of the sort I think might exist. I guess, in brief, I see people pursuing their talents and interests, contributing to society by socially useful labors, administering with others their circumstances and society’s policies and directions, all without class hierarchies, and also without other odious differences that subjugate some people to the advantage of others.
It will not be nirvana or utopia – those are fiction. It will be a situation in which, however, there is justice of circumstance, equity of income, a real diversity in accord with human potentials, solidarity among actors, and a condition of collective self management. There will still be instances of unrequited love. We won’t always get to do precisely what we want. There will be anger and dispute. There will even likely be crime. But there will be a lot less of all that than now – and there will be no class division and class rule, no poverty and no indignity of circumstance or labor, no bosses and bossed, no commanders and commanded.
9. Between the ‘anti-globalists’ and the ‘reformers’, which group do you perceive as closer to help you reach your vision of a world free of exploitative globalisation?
I am not sure who you have in mind with those labels. Reforms are changes in existing relations that don’t alter the underlying fundamental relations of society. Getting rid of the IMF and World Bank would be reforms. So would ending the war/occupation in Iraq, and so on and so forth. Winning parecon for the economy and comparably new relations for other parts of society such as home life, culture, and political relations, would in contrast be revolutions.
We have to fight for reforms now – in order to improve people’s lives now, to raise consciousness now, to develop organization now, and so on. The trick is to do all this in ways that leave those involved not only better off, but also continually wanting still more gains, and especially better able to win them. That can produce a trajectory of change leading all the way to a truly new society. Thus, we seek reforms now, but in a non-reformist manner leading to another world, in the future.
So, I think those fighting against corporate globalization in a non reformist manner – or against corporate power domestically, or against authoritarianism, or sexism, or racism – again in a non reformist, way are closer in their desires to my own, than are folks who seek immediate gains as final ends in themselves.