Albert Reply to Monbiot 2





I think we have in many respects similar international aims. Our differences have mostly to do with our methods and what other goals we seek.




I think you (at least for the moment) assume that markets, private ownership, and corporations will persist. You seek international changes to reduce capitalism’s negative effects but not as part of a project to replace capitalism.




In contrast, I think markets, private ownership, and corporations are replaceable. I seek not only a new international framework, but also new domestic relations.




I also think that we win reforms that hurt the prerogatives of elites only when elites decide that the cost of not giving in to us is worse than the cost of meeting our demands. Moreover — and this is another difference we may have – I think the only risk that would cause elites to agree to serious international changes is a fear that our opposition could, if not appeased, move from demanding international changes to overthrowing domestic arrangements.




I think your aims, or anything close to them, will only be won by massive anti-capitalist movements which elites fear and seek to buy off with concessions such as implementing the structures you describe. Shortly thereafter, if the movements are in fact bought off by those concessions as elites hope, the new structures will be defanged or even entirely replaced. If the movements aren’t bought off, however, but grow ever stronger, then the new structures will serve as beachheads for further gains.




When you say “I am seeking to recruit the system we contest – in this case capitalism, albeit in a modified form – to change the way the world works,” I am not sure what you mean. You could be saying, I am trying to find ways to rationally and morally convince enough owners and political leaders of the efficacy of some changes, that the changes occur. Or you could be saying, I am trying to conceive how to operate even while capitalism temporarily persists to win gains that will help us prosper in the present and that will also, later, help us replace capitalism. I am fine with the latter formulation – but I think the former one is a recipe for failure.




When you say, “The reason I take this route is that we have to start from where we are, rather than from where we would like to be, and we have to use the opportunities the world offers right now, rather than those we would like it to offer,” I reply, but of course we must start from where we are, where else? The point is, we must also attain goals in ways that are immune to rollback and in ways that aim to arrive where we want to wind up.




When you suggest that a world-wide movement – including the leaders of scores of third world countries – is more likely to win important reforms than a movement within a single country – I reply, yes, I agree. But I wonder, do you think these movements throughout all these countries will grow from modest to very powerful simultaneously? Won’t some of them develop well ahead of others? And won’t the experience of those early bloomers impact the morale of those that follow? Indeed, won’t whether the earlier-to-grow movements win changes in their own countries have a powerful impact on whether other movements develop and grow into a united international force or instead fall into disarray? The idea that movements in each country will emerge, grow, and hold themselves in check waiting for scores of others to gain similar stature, seems unreal. Organizationally and psychologically, movements can’t just struggle on the international front, I suspect, staying dormant regarding domestic relations, even if doing so might yield better results, which I doubt.




You say I am right that “gains made internationally can be undone by persistent domestic relations.” Okay, shouldn’t that lead you to feel that worthy changes in international relations should be parlayed as quickly as possible into equally worthy and lasting changes in domestic relations lest we lose our international gains? And doesn’t that imply that the international gains should be sought in ways that have that continuing domestic trajectory in mind, just as vice versa?




I asked who you had in mind, governments or populations, when you discussed poor nations fighting for new relations. You reply that you agree “the governing elites of the poor world gain as much from the poverty of their people as the governing elites of the rich world do,” but add, “but we are learning that this needn’t be so.” If you are saying that movements within third world nations can become so strong that they force their governments to comply with them…I agree. But isn’t that just saying, again, that international change depends on massive popular power?




If political elites from the third world function within the logic of international and domestic corporate relations, they will not seek the changes you advocate. If they are compelled by or are even representatives of massive self-conscious movements, that is very different, and very promising, of course.




You say, “an agenda which relies upon seizing political power in order to force economic change is far more likely to succeed than an agenda which relies upon seizing economic power in order to force political change.” I don’t think either approach often operates without the other. In Argentina, it was the threat of the economic uprising of workers and consumers that propelled activity in the political realm, just as it was political organizing and aspirations that fueled many workers and consumers in their economic efforts. I don’t see an either/or distinction being useful.




It seems to me that movements will only grow sufficiently large and committed to win truly major victories if they are both political and economic – as well as gender and culture focussed. I think even to be strong enough to win major reforms, much less to win a whole new society, movements will have to scare elites into believing that they might grow to seek and win much more, if not placated – and the most obvious way to induce that fear is, of course, to be overtly seeking much more. In other words, the strategic irony is that a movement with revolutionary aspirations is not only better for making a revolution, but it is also better for winning major reforms such as reconstructed international relations.




Regarding the world parliament idea…I remain unclear. One scenario says we ought to create small groups of 50 people in local assemblies who elect representatives from themselves. One member of each assembly of fifty is thus elected “up a tier,” and each of those representatives elected from a first tier assembly, with 49 others from other first-level assemblies, now constitute a second tier assembly. Each second tier assembly is again fifty people, but now addresses matters affecting 2500 people. The third tier, arrived at in the same fashion, is in sum total again a great many fifty person assemblies, each of which now represents 125,000 people. And so on, with each person in the fourth level representing 6.25 million people, and each person in the fifth about 300 million people, and the sixth level representing the whole world. Because we are working in powers of fifty, it only takes six levels to get to one body with about 20-25 representatives each of whom has been chosen six times. Of course there are other ways of doing it.




With this general apparatus it is easy for any issue to be projected from the highest level body to whatever tier is the appropriate one for deliberations and decision making. This convenience holds in the opposite direction as well. Any issue that arises in a lower tier can easily be propelled upward. You don’t have to undertake huge horribly expensive elections, in which you must vote for people you don’t know and whose stated views you have no way to test or verify. Every vote in this system is fifty people choosing one representative. Everyone at any level, including the top, must be responsive to assemblies at all lower levels. And each member of any assembly is also recallable by the one he or she was elected from.




It may be right, in other words, that “the only possible answer to this problem is to create a less-than-ideal model of representative democracy, and to temper it with participatory democracy” but if so, isn’t that more or less what the above formulation does? I don’t know if it makes sense or not. But it is a shot.




At any rate, I agree with you that we should develop our own political aims and then seek to construct and/or to win them, and I think we should do it not only internationally but also domestically.

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