First Rejoinder to Callinicos

We seem to agree on the desirability of solidarity, diversity, and workers and consumers influencing decisions in proportion to the extent they are affected by them. Regarding remuneration, however, you note that rewarding for effort and sacrifice requires an addendum for those who can’t work. To have one norm that covers all cases, you propose: “people should have equal access to the resources they require in order to live the life they have reason to value.” But with your norm, what if I say that I value travel, fine food, and music, and therefore deserve consumption way over the average as well as to work well under the average? How does your norm rule this out? How does your norm differ from rewarding effort and sacrifice plus providing full income for those who can’t work?

You generally endorse parecon’s balanced job complexes, self management, councils, and even participatory planning, but worry that councils cooperatively negotiating outcomes may be “a bit atomistic.”

In a parecon we function sometimes as individuals, sometimes in small groups, sometimes as members of large and even very large collectives. At each level, we adopt means of decision-making consistent with self management.

Parecon doesn’t atomize but instead entwines everyone’s well being. We all have average job complexes that improve only for everyone. We all have the same pay rate per hour of balanced labor. And we all have an interest in innovations that best improve overall productivity or that best reduce hard and onerous labor. Parecon also provides knowledge of the conditions of those who produce what we consume and of the pleasures (and pains) of those who consume what we produce. In other words, parecon self consciously transcends isolation.

Economies face overarching issues like deciding the share of productive output that goes to investment, or deciding major long-term projects such as building a new damn or air traffic control system. These decisions (like all others) are mutually entwined. If everyone is going to have a self-managing say and if each decision is going to be made in light of its implications for all other decisions, it is ideal to decide everything in concert, so that each aspect is decided with an accurate knowledge of how every other aspect winds up.

Consumers and producers can’t know how much investment they want undertaken unless they can weigh off investment’s benefits against its costs. All this depends on the overall mix of choices throughout the economy which is why in a parecon the whole plan is decided by one encompassing process.

In fact, in the detailed implementation of participatory planning my guess is that first there will be a period of collective attention to past and potential future large-scale investments to set the broad parameters within which the rest of planning occurs. Each actor will weigh off preferences for income versus leisure and for consumption now versus investment to improve conditions later — both to inform their own workplace and personal consumption planning and to inform their choice of large-scale investment projects.

I can’t usefully fully describe parecon and particularly participatory planning here. I think the critical point for our exchange, however, is whether you agree that if participatory planning can efficiently handle not only short-term but also long-term economic choices without having to establish a power center other than the horizontal self-managing communication of councils, it would be good for it to do so.

About Marxism, you feel my “theoretical criticisms of Marxism are too general really to bite much.”

My first claim is that Marxism doesn’t conceptualize society and history with priorities meant to benefit not only workers but also women, the culturally oppressed, and the politically repressed. That’s why it is generally feminists not Marxists, and anti-racists not Marxists, and anarchists not Marxists who have the most liberatory insights regarding these other spheres of social life.

My second claim is that, even regarding the economy itself, Marxism doesn’t prioritize highlighting what is important for working people to gain control over their lives, but instead highlights what is important for the coordinator class to rally worker support to win a new coordinator ruled economy.

I think these two claims have considerable bite, if true.

You say “Of course, ‘sexism, racism, and authoritarianism are centrally important’. But we confront these issues in a social, political, and cultural environment decisively shaped by capitalism as a very distinctive kind of economic system.” I agree. But we also confront economic issues in a social, political, and cultural environment decisively shaped by patriarchy, racism, and authoritarianism.

In other words, not only economic but also patriarchal, racist, and authoritarian structures emanate powerful fields of influence that contour all sides of life, including economic relations. There is no reason to elevate economics above the rest.

Marxists focus on economy more than on kinship, culture, or polity. Indeed, when they focus on the latter realms, it is often with economic concepts or in light of economic implications. This occurs, I think, because of the conceptual toolbox Marxists utilize, and I think we need a replacement that has more diverse prioritizations.

You say Stalinism is a political/bureaucratic phenomenon that “took over” the Soviet economy and exploited workers. I think there is a lot of truth in that picture and in some respects it is like Nazism taking over the state and dominating capitalist economic activity. But capitalism still existed under the German and Italian fascist political structures, and under Russian Stalinism there was also an economy — but that Soviet economy wasn’t capitalist and also didn’t elevate workers to ruling power. The economy under Stalinism instead elevated the coordinator class. It had central planning, corporate divisions of labor, and remuneration for power, and as a result it violated values we prioritize.

I think Marxists don’t want to call the old Soviet economy “socialist” but the only other economic descriptor they have in their conceptual toolbox is “capitalist” – so they call it “deformed capitalism.” But the Soviet economy did not have private ownership and it did not have markets. So what sense can it make to call it capitalist? What it did have was institutions that elevate a coordinator class into ruling economic power, plus a Stalinist state. It is the absence of concepts highlighting a third critically important class that leads Marxists to call any economy that they don’t like “capitalist” — even if there are no capitalists in the economy.

You note that the growth of capitalism provided the impetus for capitalists having to hire managers, engineers, financial officers, and so on, which group composes, along with various other professionals, what I call the coordinator class. I agree. But having noted this, we still have to decide whether these are just workers with some new peripheral attributes, or whether they are a third class situated between labor and capital, and fundamentally different from each.

How do we make such a choice?

For me, we ask whether the group sees itself differently than rote workers and capitalists see themselves, whether the group has different tastes and preferences, whether the group has different relations to the economy and therefore different interests than rote workers and capitalists, and finally, whether the group can become a new ruling class.

I think that the fact that this group has vastly better income and conditions, different ways of improving its conditions, a different self-image than workers, and, especially the possibility of becoming a ruling class, makes it essential for us to give it serious priority. You seem to think, instead, that the “fundamental antagonism between capital and wage labor” ultimately swamps what I would call the (also present) fundamental antagonism between capital and coordinators on the one hand, and between coordinators and workers on the other hand. But it seems to me that far from being secondary, coordinator class agendas have been central to the history of socialist struggles and their coordinatorist (and authoritarian) results.

You switch from my terminology which emphasized monopolizing empowering labor, to another terminology summarized by the label “white collar.” That is, you say “the mass of routine white-collar workers are as much part of the working class as blue-collar workers – exploited, subject to managerial control, and so on.” But what has the situation of the bulk of routine white collar workers got do with discussing the coordinator class?

The sector who monopolize empowering tasks and who, as a result, have high income and high status and very importantly a great deal of control over their own lives and very often over the lives of others below, are not helpfully collapsed into the working class as if those differences weren’t crucial to highlight.

You note that now, in capitalism, the people I am pinpointing often work for owners for wages and therefore share some commonalities with folks on the assembly lines. That is true. But they get their power and status from maintaining a tight hold on information and on levers of daily influence, which is quite different than the workers below, who the coordinators have more income than and have decision making power over.

You say “it doesn’t follow that there aren’t circumstances when people in relatively subordinate white-collar jobs become a ruling class.” If you think this can happen, then presumably you would also think white-collar workers who are highly authoritative could become a ruling class as well.

Do you agree that roughly 20% of the workforce in advanced capitalist economies monopolize empowering conditions, tasks, etc., and, that by virtue of this, they enjoy far more control over their own circumstances and considerable control over those below, than holds for the bottom 80%?

And in an economy with central planning or markets, plus corporate divisions of labor, plus remuneration for power, do you agree that this 20% becomes the ruling class?

If the answers to both questions are yes, then whatever we call the 20%, we are agreeing on the reality beneath the words and surely we would then have to also agree that this group bears close attention.

As to why Marxist anti-capitalist movements yield anti-working class outcomes, it isn’t so much that people with coordinator class background hijack organizations. It is that the ideology and vision guiding the organizations and movements incorporate coordinator values and pursue coordinator aims.

The question regarding the economy is, in countries like yours and mine, (a) is there only one possible post capitalist future, one that has self management and classlessness, or (b) are there two broad possible post capitalist futures, one with that nice outcome and another with either market or centrally planned coordinatorism?

If the answer is (a), then anti-capitalist movements need only throw off capitalism and they will wind up where they wish to arrive, there being no other possible outcome.

But if the answer is (b), then in order to wind up where we wish to arrive, we have to not only throw off capitalism, we have to orient our projects toward the desired future economy.

In other words, in case (a) the only question we need to ask about strategies and tactics is will they oust capitalists and win us state power. Can they galvanize opposition and win change? In case (b) we have to ask not only if our strategies will oust capitalists, but what they will do to the relative wherewithal and position of coordinators and workers, since it is this which will thereafter determine which economic future we win.

In that light, and to close, one part of my opening statement that you didn’t respond to was my assertion of the importance of incorporating into our current progressive and movement institutions as many the structures that we seek for the future as possible. Thus in our media operations, think tanks, and movement organizations from unions to parties, we would try, patiently, to incorporate remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and self management. Do you agree with this being one current priority for our efforts?


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