Concluding Comments for Exchange with Wayne Price

Wayne and I agree on the need to address all dimensions of life, though I perhaps regard kinship, culture, and polity more on a par with economy and class than Wayne does – a difference that didn’t get emphasized in the exchange.


We agree on rejecting capitalism, but while I emphasize the role of the coordinator class, Wayne essentially ignored my words about this. Indeed, I still wonder, does he doubt, or do other anarchists doubt, that regardless of eliminating private property retaining a corporate division of labor yields class division and rule? If so, then isn’t overcoming a corporate division of labor central to attain classlessness? If so, can we agree on advocating balanced job complexes?  


Wayne and I both reject what has been called market and centrally planned socialism, but whereas I see these economies elevating a new ruling economic “coordinator class” – I think Wayne sees them as either state capitalist or state socialist, which is to say politically deformed, not economically. This difference, which is an extension of the one we have about class, is to me paramount, yet it didn’t concern Wayne much in the exchange. Further, if we agree on rejecting systems with markets and/or central planning for allocation, don’t we have to offer an alternative method of allocation? Can we agree on advocating participatory planning?


Wayne and I differ, as well, on issues of vision most broadly. Wayne agrees with me that we need vision, but he has in mind that we should be unrelentingly open to institutional experimentation, which is to say we should be agnostic about specific institutional commitments (beyond those he commits to, at least), while clear about broad values. I agree on needing clear values and I also agree on the importance of experimentation (as well as diversity) in attaining those values, yet we do have real differences.


One is that Wayne celebrates self-sufficiency (rather than mutual dependency) and small scale (rather than large scale) while for me, these oppositions are to be decided case-by-case, depending on implications. For me, small is not beautiful per se, nor is self-sufficiency whereas Wayne elevates small scale and self-sufficiency to near necessities seeing them as preconditions for face to face engagement which he sees, in turn, as a precondition to having self-management. But this is just an assertion that as a matter of doctrine, not reason, overvalues face-to-face relations at the expense of others. I say this because I offer an approach to allocation that demonstrates that countrywide planning can be self-managed and I also make arguments for why sometimes large is better than small, yet Wayne repeatedly ignores these comments.


Additionally, celebrating self sufficiency and small scale as some kind of intrinsic virtues drastically underestimates the huge ecological and social benefits that often depend on adopting interconnected and larger scale options. Finally, ironically, I always thought we aspired to mutual aid, not to breaking links, and to diversity, not to simplicity.


Ultimately what I found troubling was not that Wayne felt we should bias heavily toward face to face options, but that he didn’t answer my arguments for why one could have self management along with countrywide planning and large scale, when these were desirable – which would likely be quite often.


Wayne also seemed to me, at least, to ignore that the real need for an economy was not to a priori decide issues, but to be able to facilitate workers and consumers self managing them. Can we agree that self-managing workers and consumers councils plus participatory planning convey this capacity? I still don’t know why Wayne disagrees, assuming he does.


Also regarding vision, Wayne and I disagree about how much vision we need if we are to inspire commitment, overcome cynicism, and inform our organizational and programmatic choices. Wayne thinks that an eloquent, insightful accounting of values such as self-management, justice, classlessness, etc., is sufficent, along with rejecting some offending institutions such as private ownership and markets. I think that taken alone such a list of values plus a few itemized rejections convince only the already convinced that a better world is possible. It seems to me that we instead need, for whatever domain we are talking about – economy, polity, culture, or kinship – not just inspiring values and clarity about what we reject, but also a description of institutions that will let future people make their values real. We need a broad institutional picture, that is, both to overcome the type cynicism that says no such institutions are possible, and also so we can incorporate the seeds of the future in present day program and strategy. I wish Wayne had replied to the examples I gave regarding the need to reconstruct our current movement institutions.


When I outline self-managing councils, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and participatory planning as the essence of parecon – it provides only a minimalist picture that is just barely sufficient if our aim is to be convincing and to inform current practice. Part of me wonder, if I called parecon libertarian socialism, would Wayne be fine with it? When he says we should evaluate and test alternatives, I quite agree. But I think we should do it not just for the sake of doing it, but rather to determine what works and what doesn’t. Saying that I favor parecon and not various other formulations isn’t saying everyone should immediately advocate parecon because I or anyone else says so, but only if we test it and it proves worthy. The issue is, does parecon have merit? And the same holds for other visionary proposals.


Our other key disagreement was about elections. This was where Wayne seemed most disturbed by my views, though I still don’t understand why.


Wayne rejects what he calls electoralism. I am not entirely sure what he means by this term. Possibilities include –


·      The belief that our current electoral system is a good one


·      The belief that social change comes about mainly through the wisdom and good will of elected officials


·      The belief that electoral activity will play a paramount or even just a quite large positive role in social   change


·      The belief that to vote in an election where the electoral system is horrendously flawed and the candidates are all agents of reaction, is, all other variables aside, always a sign of supporting the system and or supporting the candidate voted for.


My own view is that belief that our current electoral system is good is ludicrous. Likewise, the odds of change coming about mainly through the wisdom and good will of elected officials is so low as to be not worth thinking much about in the U.S., at least. On the other hand, the belief that electoral activity will or will not play a paramount or even just a large positive role in U.S. social change, or in any other country, is an open matter, it seems to me. It may do so, as it has in Venezuela. It may not do so, as was the case in 20th century socialist revolutions. Anyone who a priori denies either possibility is substituting desire or ideology for reality, I think.


And, finally, yes, I definitely do think the last observation about voting per se is at best confused. Yes, voting for a liberal can certainly be done because one believes in the system and really likes the candidate and or one of the parties, thus evidencing that one isn’t really committed to creating a new society. But voting for a liberal can also be done simply to avoid a worse candidate winning, even if one aggressively rejects the system as well as the candidate voted for and his or her party. This seems quite elementary and obvious, with the only non-doctrinaire reason for related disagreement being disputes about when such a vote is warranted and when it isn’t. Obviously, more reason is needed to work for a candidate than to just pull a lever in a voting booth, which is a minuscule act, and requires very little reason.


For Wayne, because I say that there are situations in which larger dislike for one candidate should cause one to vote for a second candidate even while being perfectly clear about one’s larger commitments, I am somehow not allowed to claim I am against electoralism in the more basic senses of the term mentioned above. It is hard to see what reasoning could lead Wayne to his universal dismissal of any leftist who votes. In fact, I have never voted for a mainstream candidate and I routinely rail against our electoral system and even offer alternatives in its place, but to Wayne it all irrelevant – I guess deception. In fact, since I say I think it makes sense to vote in contested states, I must support imperialists.


I should say, it isn’t advocating parecon or advocating a participatory society that informs the rather trivial belief in sometimes voting for a lesser evil. Rather it is plain common sense in a harsh and limited context. If in early November Wayne or any other anarchist isn’t wishing that Obama wins even while rightly feeling that Obama is a candidate of ruling imperial elites, then it is just doctrine trumping reason, I think.


Last, but maybe most important, Wayne thinks it is sectarian to advocate an economic vision that goes beyond a paragraph of vague values. To Wayne, specifying values more carefully than he does, in pages rather than a paragraph, and adding a few critical specific institutions, and doing all this openly while seeking to carefully justify each conclusion, discussing the issues only in plain language, inviting debate, and doing the same regarding other approaches including giving other approaches visibility, etc., all in hopes of having a movement which is full of equal participants rather than a movement that simply follows a few leaders, is sectarian. To me, and indeed this is a big difference, it seems, instead, the opposite of sectarian.


On the other hand, I have to say that I think it far more closely approximates sectarian behavior for Wayne to say that those who approach a particular election differently than he does must, on that basis, be deceiving themselves or others when they say they reject imperialism, reject bourgeois political systems, reject the imperial elites a supported candidate represents, etc. This approach dismisses voters with an ideological and unchallengeable assertion that voting means capitulating – instead of examining people’s actual words and acts in context, and then assessing the situation.

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