More on Decentralism, Communism, and Electoralism

In his response, Michael asks further questions.  To keep my further response manageable, I will focus on three issues: decentralization, libertarian communism, and anti-electoralism.  But first, I have to clear up one point.  I did not, and do not, call Michael a “sectarian” or an “opportunist” (or “reformist”).  I do believe that certain of his political opinions are sectarian or opportunist, which is different from judging the whole of his politics, let alone his person.




In Kropotkin’s famous essay on “Anarchism” for the Encyclopedia Britannica, he wrote that, under socialist anarchism, “True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound….”


Parecon has decentralist aspects, in its roots in workplace and consumer councils.  But economically, it proposes a series of back-and-forth responses among the councils of the U.S., guided by facilitators, to result in a single plan which will be accepted for a period.  This single, overriding, plan covers the whole country, which in our case includes most of a continent.  Not surprisingly, in your Parecon: Life After Capitalism, you have a section rejecting “Green Bioregionalism” (hc, p. 80f).  Similarly, Robin Hahnel, has a section in his book, Economic Justice and Democracy, which rejects “Community-Based Economics” (trade pb, p. 181f).  So, if Parecon is not centralist, as such, neither is it decentralist.


This limits direct democracy.  Instead of a local council having a significant say in the economic (and other) factors that directly affect its people, the council has only a tiny voice, being one out of a zillion councils in the whole country, making a tiny impact on the whole plan.  Most of those deciding on the plan (the 330 million other people) are not you or your workmates or neighbors.  Once the overall plan is decided on, the local workplace may decide how to carry it out, and the local community may make local decisions, but only within the framework of the overall national plan.   (Or am I missing something?  If you conceive of the plan as more regional and decentralized, please explain this or give references.)


I do not insist that everything be decentralized, but I do have a bias in favor of decentralization.  Social institutions should be as decentralized as possible, as much in human scale as possible, with only as much centralization and big institutions and buildings as absolutely necessary.  This makes it possible for people to directly control their lives and to make decisions whose outcomes they can foresee, without power being in the hands of distant authorities.  But if some industries can only function with big factories in a few central places, so be it.  Big universities might need to be supported by several regions.  “Representation” may be needed, but it can only be democratic if  people experience self-rule locally in day-to-day decision-making.


Regions encourage social, economic, and political experimentation, different ways of handling similar problems.  Since I share most of your values, I can hardly object that you have attempted to make a clear model of how they might be realized; nor do I object that you have sought to spread your ideas.  But would you be willing to join a libertarian socialist organization which included both Pareconists and anarchist-communists (assuming we agreed on immediate issues otherwise)?  I would, because it is the day-to-day immediate issues and policies which are the most important, once we agree on a general vision of freedom.


Libertarian Communism


You seem to think that I advocate (small-c) communism (not statism, as you know, but as a method of  motivating workers and sharing society’s wealth).  First, I do not really advocate any of a range of possibilities; I am open to several possibilities being tried out indifferent regions (Parecon, full communism, Takis Fotopoulis’ model, etc.).  However, I have a personal preference, which is not to go immediately into full communism, where income is completely disconnected from work.  Instead there needs to be some form of reward for work, as in the Parecon program or otherwise.  But, I believe, the long term goal should be full communism (what Marx called the higher phase of communism): “From each according to their ability to each according to their needs.”  Anything short of this still has some necessary inequalities.  You write, “In parecon I get income for working longer and harder.”  But some people are able to work longer and harder than others.  And people have unequal and different needs and desires.  


Already, our technology is potentially so productive that it could (eventually) provide plenty for all with hardly any labor.  Unpleasant tasks could be rotated, with everyone expected to do their share.  We could become so productive that there would be more people wanting work than there would be needed jobs (as foretold in William Morris’ News from Nowhere). People would combine necessary labor, what little is left, with creative crafts.  I propose that a socialist-anarchist society (or Parecon) begin with a basic communist sector (according to what it can afford), such as health, and minimal food, clothing and shelter.  Over decades or generations, as productivity (and social consciousness) rise, this sector can be expanded until it covers everything.


In Realizing Hope, you yourself conclude that at some time after Parecon has been in place, “…Maybe a new aim will be removing the whole idea of measure regarding human traits, or even the whole idea of warranting rewards at all” (pb, p. 188). You refer to the wonderful anarchist-communist utopian novel,  Ursula LeGuin’s  The Dispossessed.  




This topic is an example of what I mean when I say that there needs to be connections among our vision, our analysis of society, and our immediate program. My analysis of the nature of the state is connected to my program of a stateless federation of councils and both are associated to my anti-electoralism and advocacy of mass direction action, including the general strike.


 As Kropotkin wrote (same), “Anarchists refuse to be a party to the present state organization and to support it by infusing fresh blood into it. They do not seek to constitute…political parties in the parliaments….They have endeavored…to induce [labor] unions to a direct struggle against capital, without placing their faith in parliamentary legislation.”  There have been exceptions, but anti- anti-electoralism is the mainsteam of anarchist politics and the basis of the original split with the Marxists.


You have never made a major strategy out of working inside the Democratic Party (unlike social democrats and Stalinists).  But you state that you would vote for Obama, if you were in a swing state, and that “we sometimes hold our noses and root for or even work for a lesser evil,” presumably meaning that you may support “work[ing] for” Obama, the lesser evil.  You do not see that the Democratic Party is a trap, to capture potential rebellion and channel it into the system.


Nor is this a momentary aberration on your part, only a response to this election.  According to your Stop the Killing Train, in 1988 you urged radicals to support the campaign of Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party.  “…Increased success for Jackson’s campaign can enhance the security and fulfillment of people all over the world precisely because Jackson’s campaign threatens the system the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee candidates legitimate” (pb, p. 199).


I cite this because it suggests that the problem is not just an immediate issue.  The person who wrote that sentence has a very different understanding of the state than I have.   Jackson’s campaign weakened working and oppressed people because it created illusions in the system and then corralled them into support for the system which the two parties legitimated. Support for Jackson by a revolutionary was opportunism, in the sense of capitulating to capitalist politics.


Now you criticize my nonvoting because voting is something that can be done while a general strike is not exactly around the corner. “Isn’t this advocacy a non sequitor to the issue whether you might, or might not, vote, in a few weeks – there not being a general strike on the horizon”?  This from someone who has spent a lifetime advocating an economic system which is even less “on the horizon”!  


We revolutionary anarchists seek to make our immediate behavior consistent with our goals, our means with our ends.  Voting for bourgeois, imperialist, candidates is against the interest of working people and, even at best, encourages passivity.  So we do not vote for bourgeois, imperialist, candidates and instead urge people to think in terms of mass nonelectoral actions.  I do not see a point in arguing with my liberal friends and family about voting, but I do make clear where I stand.  


After citing your warning against sectarianism, I asked if you also warn against opportunism.  You respond with, “Really?” I do not doubt that you oppose the right, but that is not the same thing.  For example, you write a great deal about the dangers of what you call “coordinatorism” inside the movement, which can lead to a “coordinatorist” economic system.  I would call this state capitalism, but I do not think we really disagree on this.  But there is an even greater threat to the left, which is its capitulation to capitalism.  (Actually Marxist-Leninists and others tend to capitulate to both.)  All forms of elitism and class domination have to be opposed.

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