I recently put a Q/A on the site and in the mail about the Parecon paperback edition, the recent mailings re parecon, etc. I thought I would answer the same questions here, a bit less formally — a bit more personally — in accord with blog expectations. There is certainly some overlap, but some new tone and content, as well…
(1) Why have you sent messages about your book’s paperback release as ZNet Updates?
To prod people into reading it.
This seems necessary because there are no ads for the book and few reviews so without this prodding the paperback’s existence would be virtually unknown.
And, oddly, it works. The more you prod the more people in fact look up the book page and, in many instances, order it.
(2) If you want the book to get out widely, why don’t you make it available free?
We have. You can find Parecon: Life After Capitalism in its entirety at:
But people who can afford $11 or thereabouts for the paperback ought to buy it, to support Verso, among other reasons.
On the other hand, if you can’t afford it, or you want to check it out before deciding, well – that’s what the link is there for!
(3) What is “Parecon”?
Descriptions are all over the site…
“Parecon” is short for participatory economics which is the name of an economic system meant to replace capitalism. Parecon’s institutions enhance solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management, while they produce and distribute economic products to meet needs and develop potentials. Parecon is classless.
Parecon’s defining institutions are: (i) federations of workers and consumers councils; (ii) decision-making with each actor having a say proportional to the degree affected; (iii) income rewarded for duration and intensity of work as well as for hardship undergone while working; (iv) a division of labor that gives each participant a mix of responsibilities conferring comparable empowerment and quality of life while at work; and finally, (v) producers and consumers cooperatively negotiating economic inputs and outputs in light of true social costs and benefits.
(4) Why did you write the book?
Activists need shared economic vision to effectively combat the TINA view and help guide practice. Lots of people need to be involved in developing and defining such a vision. If they get out widely, descriptions of parecon can help that process.
(5) The participatory economic model has existed for thirteen years. Why isn’t it better known?
(a) It takes time for new perspectives to percolate to audiences and then still more time for the audiences to reach conclusions.
(b) There seems to be a widespread movement inclination to avoid issues of vision and long-term strategy. People don’t rush to produce or to read vision and don’t discuss it as a priority.
(6) Are there good reasons why people shy away from institutional vision?
They fear that vision can overstep what we know, elevate an elite rather than propel explorations by a whole movement, promote sectarianism rather than free and flexible innovations, and waste time on utopian impossibilities, with few implications for the present.
(7) That’s a compelling list. What’s your answer?
They are real dangers. The reaction to them , to avoid vision and strategy, is horribly counterproductive.
To not overstep what our current experience and knowledge justify we shouldn’t reject making proposals at all, but should make careful proposals and welcome their widest possible debate.
To not be elitist we shouldn’t avoid having vision or strategy, but should avoid being elitist.
To avoid being sectarian we shouldn’t forego shared vision and strategy but should share and explore vision and strategy in a non-sectarian manner.
To do better than propose vision that has no implications, we should develop vision that is usefully related to current needs and pressures.
Do these four claims seem trivial? Well, they are. And that’s why I don’t understand why so many people are so reticent about or even hostile to pursuing vision and strategy.
(8) Is there any bias against discussing specifically parecon?
Parecon rejects not only private ownership, but also the monopolization of empowering work in a relatively few hands. Those who like or who greatly benefit from capitalism will tend on average to dislike proposals for reducing their monopoly on productive property. We understand and expect that. Similarly, those who like or who greatly benefit from a corporate division of labor will tend on average to dislike proposals to reduce their monopoly on empowering work. We should understand and expect that too.
People who understand what class analysis is about should have no difficulty seeing the logic of the above paragraph. But does it apply in this case?
Well, many leftist publishing venues that we would expect to comment on an anti-capitalist vision, are not doing so. Why is that? Is it only reticence about vision per se. Or could it be that they find parecon particularly disturbing?
Parecon implies that these venues should adopt self-managed decision making procedures, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and balanced job complexes. People running these institutions may not want such a transformation or even for anyone to discuss it. If so, I think it is a defense of harmful class relations in our movement that is quite like the defense of race and gender hierarchies that went on in years past.
(9) Is headway being made?
Yes, quite a lot. Internationally parecon is taking off at a great clip. I do interviews and essays all over, as one indicator, and the book is being translated ten times as widely as my past work.
Oddly and surprisingly the vision seems to be making considerable progress among various Trotskyist and Leninist groups around the world. When you think about it it isn’t so odd – on what grounds would they reject a classless vision? Anarchist response seems mixed, with many anarchists having problems because parecon is vision period – and with others being critical because they find institutions and organization per se problematic, but the issues are getting addressed.
In the U.S., there is growing discussion in less ideological activist groups also, and among students, and so on. But there is also the continuing difficulty in getting public discussion in left media venues slowing things down. Hopefully that will turn around too.
(10) What do you think the response to the book should be? What are you hoping to accomplish?
For books on institutional vision I think everyone seeking a better world should be broadly interested. It isn’t that we should all try to produce proposals for visions of all sides of life, or even that we should all read and discuss at length every proposal to come along. But I do think it is incumbent on critics of existing relations taken as a collective group to learn about visionary proposals, to assess them, and if we feel comfortable with them to adopt them as goals or, if we don’t feel comfortable with them, to reject them for clear reasons. I think as a movement we need to do all this to ensure that our efforts are participatory, democratic, anti sectarian, and geared to attain worthy aims that we can clearly enunciate.
So – it may sound outrageous, but I think most of the ZNet audience (which in sum might be as many as half a million people or more) should be eager to personally assess parecon. And I find it hard to understand why they aren’t. It is a full anti capitalist proposal. It comes from a source that this audience respects. It has all kinds of other support, again from very trusted directions. It is accessible, requiring no prior background. It is cheap to even free. Every activist is continually asked what do you want. So what is the obstacle, is my query? Time is one, and I understand that, sure. But the point is, we need to be giving more time to trying to arrive at shared vision, not ruling it out on those grounds.
So, with these views, it turns out that even with the escalating distribution of the new book and with the even more widespread use of the online parecon resources, and even with the translations and the discussions in other venues and the 20,000 pages that now turn up in Google searches for parecon, I find myself frustrated with the seemingly endless slowness of it all. But then again, how could anyone feel other than frustrated at our progress, until we win a new world, that is?
I think the anti-capitalist left should either find parecon wanting and reject it due to being an unworthy vision for going beyond capitalism, or should find it worthy and then advocate it, and while I of course know that either result will take time, not least because the debate should be widespread, I am impatient for it to occur — just like I am impatient for there to be visions proposed and assessed and finally advocated for other domains than economy.
(11) What difference would it make to recruitment if leftists had a shared economic vision?
People lead hard lives, and don’t have a lot of free time. They don’t want to be on the side of the angels or to fight the good fight only to lose. They want to make their own lives and the lives of the people they love better – and, yes, when it is plausible, they also want to add to the prospects of peace and justice for all. But most people don’t think it is plausible for them to try to win a better world without knowing what would be better, how we can win it, and why their participation would be significant enough to be worth giving to the project.
So I think if our movements had shared positive vision as well as critique, and if we could enunciate where we are trying to go and why we believe we can get there, and if we could compellingly show people how and why actions they could take in the present will contribute to winning lasting change – many more people would be attracted.
(12) Do you really think having a vision would have such a large recruitment impact? Isn’t the reason people don’t join the left because they have confused images of reality and don’t see current conditions as unjust or oppressive?
If you think the welfare budget is bigger than the defense budget, and you think it is having no good effects, it will certainly skew your views on government spending. And if you think Iraq is about to nuke or gas you, it will certainly affect your views on war and peace. But, while this is true, and while it accounts for some resistance to movement involvement, honestly, no, I wouldn’t describe the overall situation as you do in this question.
I think instead that people who don’t act on behalf of justice will always have some explanation that claims reality is less unjust than it really is. What’s the alternative to their saying that? Are they going to say, hey, I see that society is horrible, unfair, oppressive, unjust, hypocritical, but I am not going to join you in activism anyway? And so, yes, we certainly have to counter the reasons people offer for why tings aren’t so bad or so unjust, sure. But I think these reasons are often largely rationalizations rather than deep-seated confusions. And I think that the additional very important obstacle to people becoming active that causes them to adopt these rationalizations is that people think that nothing better than what we now endure is possible.
Consider, as a bit of evidence for this rather unorthodox position, May 1968 in France.
France, in May of 1968, went into a gigantic turmoil in which large sectors of the population were acting in a revolutionary way. A few months before this truly stupendous upwelling of activity, France was comparatively quiet. A few months after the tumultuous events, France was relatively quiet again. What happened?
Was it that in March and April people learned all kinds of new things about reality and this corrected their confusions about oppressions so they suddenly saw injustice clearly and as a result rebelled, and that then in June and July they somehow lost all that new knowledge, somehow siphoned out of their minds, so they fell back into confusion and relative passivity?
Or was it that some mixture of events generated hope leading into May, which overcame cynicism and fueled the momentous upsurge, and that then, in June, the hope dissipated in turn dissipating the activism?
If we think the latter is a more compelling explanation of what occurred, that is that the obstacle that is banished when there is tumultuous activism is cynicism and doubt, then it seems to me that movements have to spend considerably more time addressing doubts about efficacy as compared to making a case that the world around us is unjust. That doesn’t mean we should do no critiques of the world we now endure, and provide no rebuttal of lies and confusions. But it does mean we should find a new ratio between analysis of current ills and presenting positive vision and strategy. We should increase the volume of the latter elements.
I hope readers will agree that vision and strategy need attention, and will for that reason consider getting a copy of Parecon to help evaluate the model, improve it, and finally reject or advocate what results. And that is why these mailings have gone out.