Note: This is the second entry in an ongoing debate
between Michael Albert and Yanis Varoufakis titled:
Envisioning a postcapitalism worth striving for.
Each entry will be 500 words or less.
Each will appear as a stand alone ZNet article, but each will link
as well to a cumulative essay containing all the submissions at ZNet’s
Cumulative document and at Meta’s Cumulative Document
At the very heart of a heartless (and distinctly irrational) capitalist world lies the curious idea that the crushing majority who work in the corporations do not own them while the minuscule minority who own them can very easily not even know where they are located, let alone work in them. This gross asymmetry is the source of exorbitant power in the hands of the few to wreck the lives of the many, as well as of the planet. And it is not just a matter of unfairness. It is more a matter of wholesale alienation, as even the capitalists are condemned to live like sad bastards resembling guinea pigs running faster and faster on a treadmill, going nowhere.
So, it is a great relief that, here, I do not to have to argue about the need to terminate capitalism. That Michael and I are embarking from a common belief that capitalism must end in order to debate the type of feasible postcapitalism we want.
Michael traces the source of illiberty, inequality and inefficiency in the private ownership of productive means, which lies behind the elevation of profit to the only motive and begets the soul-crushing division of labour within a company as well as within society at large. Spot on! He is also right to propose a ‘productive commons’ and to point to the importance of a decentralised system of decision-making (extending beyond the workplace to the community, the neighbourhood etc.). Lastly, I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of participatory planning as a replacement of the power of bosses (capitalists or any type of ‘coordinator class’) to decide “who does what to whom”, to quote Lenin’s famous words.
But here begin our differences. Michael employs two words that ring alarm bells in my head: “equitable”, which he links to the remuneration of work (especially of ugly or dirty tasks); and “negotiation”, which he proposes as the basis for consumers and producers to decide, together, what must be produced and in what quality/quantity. My alarm is due to a deep conviction that both words are wolves in sheep’s clothing, hiding the prospect of new forms of domination and oppression.
Take “equitable”. Who decides what it is fair to pay you to go down the sewers, to maintain them? I suppose the answer is: the collective. Does the collective have the right to specify that you must go down the sewers for that wage without your consent? I hope not. But, if your consent is required, then the wage setting is not much different to a market mechanism, where the collective is your employer.
Take “negotiation”. This implies consensus. Which implies huge social pressure on a dissident to acquiesce to the majority’s view; e.g., to their rejection of a weird but potentially wonderful idea that the majority cannot wrap its mind around.
Personally speaking, I find suffocating the prospect of having to reach via negotiation a common understanding of what I must do and of what an equitable reward is for me to do it.
Before I suggest an alternative to negotiations, I felt the need to express, early on, this feeling of suffocation. And to ask our readers: Am I alone in feeling that authentic freedom requires not just the end of capitalism but also a degree of autonomy from the collective?