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[The following is a somewhat edited version of the 134th episode of the podcast RevolutionZ. The session was titled Possible Program.]
Around the world powerful and diverse possibilities face off in struggle. Reactionary right, Moribund Center, and a growing but still atomized Left.
How can the left atomization in “siloed movements” transform into a powerful unified force for change? Perhaps the easy part of an answer is it can happen in parts by having shared program plus sincere solidarity. This is relative easy to conceive. It may be hard to achieve.
Here I offer some familiar programmatic ideas rooted in diverse movements. I don’t prioritize them. I instead bundle them. I suspect radicals would share far more support for each aspect than many fear, especially if each aspect undergoes further improvement. I therefore wonder, could we have one big movement, with admittedly many parts, where the big movement has a big multifaceted program owing to the many contributions from the many parts?
Of course, to share program won’t be alone sufficient. Also helpful would be to share vision that the program could lead toward and to share strategy for winning program. And then there is what might be called movement culture and views regarding internal movement attributes. How should we make decisions? How should we explore differences? And especially how should we treat each other. Sharing attitudes and methods regarding all that would be profoundly important to overcoming atomization as well. But, even though all that may be essential, surely shared program would be part of a successful unification. So, what can we cull from experiences regarding possible program?
We have to start somewhere, so how about if we consider some possible economic programmatic Ideas as a first step?
A left agenda might, for example, pursue four central economic goals –
- better quality of daily economic experience
- more fairness
- better production priorities
- and increased mutual compassion
For example, to pursue such ends, new economic program might seek a law that forbids capital export and relocation without community and worker agreement, plus a law that delineates punishments for employers who impede nationally mandated economic reforms.
Likewise, economic program could seek controls on work day and work week length – for example seeking 30 hours of work for 40 hours pay. It might simultaneously demand that the maximum penalty for owners violating the spirit and intent of such laws would be nationalization of their businesses under the management of currently employed workers. In other words, the program would be serious business.
To organize itself, new economic program might propose reducing inequality, reorienting productive potentials to meet social needs, and enlarging economic democracy. For example, new economic program might propose sharply progressive property, asset, and income taxes, with no loopholes, as well as a dramatically-increased minimum wage, say $25 – $30 an hour, and perhaps a guaranteed income for all. And it might couple all that with a new profit tax that would be proportional to inequities in each firm’s pay scale. The more oppressive the pay scale, the higher the profit tax.
Due to a new minimum wage law, minimum pay would rise dramatically. Due to a new pay equity tax, industries with a more equitable pay scale would have more after-tax resources. More equitably structured firms could use these extra funds to further improve work conditions and increase their social contribution. New property and asset taxes could dramatically diminish differences in wealth. New economic program might usefully and proudly label all these innovations redistributive and might repeatedly explain why redistribution from the rich to the poor is both morally justified and socially essential. Perhaps this part of a new program could be called “reclamation of stolen riches.”
New economic program might also seek a comprehensive full employment policy arising from campaigns to rebuild infrastructure and, in particular, to attain sustainable energy policies, as well as via the shift to a shorter work week. It might include comprehensive adult education and job training, and a comprehensive social support system for those unable to work, whatever the reason.
Moreover, beyond material equity, new economic program might also advocate that all workers should have work conditions and responsibilities suitable to personal development and to workers’ responsibility to contribute to society’s well being. Why should some people endure boring, dangerous, subordinate, and rote conditions, a new movement might ask, while other people enjoy challenging, fulfilling, and varied conditions?
New program might emphasize that fairness is not only attaining equitable wealth and pay, but also equitable conditions of work and life. Using this principle as a long term touchstone, new program might seek to build and support workers’ councils oriented to conceive, demand, and work to implement job redefinition as well as to win increasing say over the pace, goal, and organization of work for the workers who do it. Such a program might emphasize that work can and should be a demanding but rewarding part of people’s lives, rather than an alienating, debilitating, energy and dignity sapping affront to people’s life potentials.
Regarding investment priorities, new economic program might propose tax incentives for socially useful production and tax disincentives and legal prosecution for wasteful and socially harmful production. This would help foster production to meet real needs and potentials. Indeed, such a new program might indicate precisely how to successfully regulate, punish, and even nationalize under workers control any business or industry deemed by an independent citizens bureau and public plebiscite to be destructive of the public good. While this might initially point at Walmart-scale businesses, in time it would get at capitalist institutions per se.
Of course, major change in economic priorities that a new program might emphasize would include a massive cut in military spending. Further, new program might propose that existing military bases be converted to centers for ecological and residential clean-up, to new schools for local communities, to new workplaces for developing low income housing, or to new centers of clean transportation or energy production. Funding for the new centers of social creativity could simply be the old military funding instead put to desirable ends. Indeed, resident GIs or others seeking new employment might be retrained on site, to work in the converted bases.
Regarding economic democracy and participation, new program might work for the formation of consumer and worker organizations to watchdog product quality, guard against excessive pricing, advise about product redefinition, and participate in plant, industry, and community collective consumption decisions with open books and full investigative rights. Beyond these first steps, new program might clarify that the ultimate goal is the full democratization of economic decision making and the initiation of a national public project to develop new institutions for work, consumption, and allocation.
In short, new economic program might ratify the public’s suspicion that the basic problem with our economy is that capitalist institutions make capitalists prefer war production, persistent unemployment, and homelessness to a working class able to demand a bigger piece of the pie and steadily increasing control over what kind of pie is baked. And it might propose uncompromising changes that redress existing grievances, create more just and humane conditions, and establish a new balance of power conducive to winning still more fundamental changes, including new defining institutions in the future.
Possible Education Program
A new education program could note that existing schools create subservient and exploitable future workers by providing roughly eighty percent of all students minimal literacy, virtually no dignity, virtually no sense of self worth, plus maximum training in enduring boredom and obeying orders., while roughly twenty percent are prepared to rule albeit with competitive and dismissive or paternalistic attitudes toward others.
New education program could explain that schools accomplish all this destruction and distortion by incorporating differences in teacher-student ratios, in resources per student, and in teacher expectations and training—all on top of different conditions of home life, community relations, access to information and comfortable learning conditions, that simply multiply the injustice.
To foster educational change new program might highlight the need to overcome corporate agendas and existing institutional pressures with new alternatives. It might reveal that to have good education for all we must have a society promising full employment at jobs that require and utilize all people’s full capabilities, including facility at decision-making, ample knowledge about society, and expectations of success and participation. New education program might also pressure for specific pedagogic changes in how schools and classes are conducted both during school hours, and also for surrounding communities in off hours. To enumerate these changes, new program might advocate a national debate about curriculum reform, improved teaching methods, enriched teacher-student relations, improved resources for schools, and increased community involvement and benefit.
New education program might also seek specific goals for education. For example, to reduce class size to a maximum of 20 students per teacher in all schools and to equalize resources per student across all schools, including architecture, computers, books, and food, and, of course, to guarantee free education (through college) for anyone who wants it.
New education program might also seek specific funds to staff all schools at night for community meetings and for remedial and adult education. Space to meet and engage with others is a huge factor in successful community organizing, and perhaps public schools, at night, could become that space. And finally, new education program might seek that funding for education comes from corporate profit taxes and from personal progressive income and property taxes collected at the national level to guarantee that regions attain educational parity.
Possible Race Programm
Continuing not from silo to silo, but along a sequence of interconnected issues, new program that addresses the pivotal problem of race in the U.S. and in societies around the world might seek to ensure that people can freely have multiple cultural and social backgrounds and commitments, even as they have the space and resources necessary to positively express their views, celebrations, languages, and values.
New program to address race might explicitly recognize that rights and values exist regardless of race, religion, or cultural allegiances, so that while society protects all people’s right to affiliate freely, its core values apply universally for every community.
New program that addresses race might also guarantee free entry and exit to and from all cultural communities and might affirm that communities that do have free entry and exit can be under the complete self determination of their members, so long as their policies and actions don’t conflict with society’s broader norms of equity and justice. This might include amnesty for immigrants and open borders for all refugees. But, mainly, new program addressing race might prioritize directly redressing violations of race equity and justice.
For example, new program might emphasize confronting the institutions of racist and national oppression, might seek community control of police, might end mass incarceration, and might seek to reverse the legacies of these same phenomena by way of reparations for Black and Native American communities.
New program might also categorically reject the notion that “…a rising tide raises all boats…” and the notion that broad and progressive economic reforms such as those supported elsewhere in this call, ipso facto resolve racist and national oppression. New Program addressing race might therefore go beyond universal aims to highlight specific measures needed to repair the damage of hundreds of years of oppression to racial and cultural communities. This would highlight economy, education, healthcare, politics, and law enforcement, in each case seeking to determine innovations required beyond those that are universal for all, precisely to avoid bias that leaves historically denied communities with less than universally acclaimed and sought benefits.
Possible Gender/Kinship Program
New program addressing the pivotal problems of gender and kinship might emphasize the need to not privilege certain types of family formation and sexuality over others but instead to actively support all types of families and lifestyles consistent with society’s other broad equitable norms and practices.
It might promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all its children, including affirming the right of diverse types of families to have children and to provide them with love and a sense of rootedness and belonging. It might seek to minimize or eliminate age-based permissions, preferring non-arbitrary means for determining when an individual is too old or too young to participate in economic, political or other activities, or to receive benefits/privileges.
It might respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but reject marriage as a way to gain financial benefits or social status. It might respect care-giving as a critically valuable function including making care-giving a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities, or pursue other worthy means to ensure equitable burdens and benefits.
It might affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, and mutual intimacy while ensuring that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others. It might seek to provide diverse, empowering sex education, including legal prohibitions against all non-consensual sex.
And mainly, given the world we now live in, new program that addresses gender and kinship could fight to reverse the effects of decades of discrimination. It could protect the rights of women to control their own bodies and to enjoy equal benefits and responsibilities throughout all parts of society. It could seek abortion rights, universal day care, and equal payment requirements.
Possible International Relations Program
Today’s policy makers view foreign policy as a way to maintain a flow of riches and wealth out of other countries into one’s own while ensuring fealty and obedience and curtailing efforts to establish new relations of true national independence, much less social renovation, to avoid such innovations having a showcase effect.
In contrast, a proper foreign policy for any country would respect the integrity of other nations and simultaneously seek a human-serving society at home. New foreign policy program might emphasize:
- Cessation of all arms shipments abroad.
- Cessation of any aid abroad intended for the police or other potentially repressive agencies, such as occupying armies.
- Elimination of all U.S. or other nations’s overseas military bases with half the funds saved from such closings returned to the Home country for solving domestic problems and half applied to aid to poor countries in the form of no-strings attached infrastructure improvements, job and skills training, equipment grants, food aid, and privileged buyer status for many goods on the international market.
- An end to the use of military force as an instrument of national policy.
- Use of aid, trade, and foreign policy in general, to demonstrate and provide solidarity with struggles for social justice, democracy, and self determination everywhere in the world to benefit all parties, but mostly those who are weaker and poorer.
Possible Health Program
A new health program might emphasize that civilized health policy for our society must involve three main components: prevention, universal care for the ill, and cost cutting.
At a minimum a new health program might seek:
- Improved preventive medicine, including increased public education about health risks and prevention, a massive campaign around diet, legal penalties for corporate activity that subverts health in employees, consumers, or neighbors, and provision for community centers for exercise and public health education.
- Universal health care for the ill, including a single-payer system with the government providing comprehensive and equally fine coverage for all citizens.
- Reassessment of training programs for doctors and nurses to expand the number of qualified health workers and to better utilize the talents of those already trained rather than to simply aggrandize those at the top of the pyramid.
- And, as well, civilian review over drug company policies including price controls and severe penalties for profit seeking at the expense of public health, up to and including nationalization under civilian control and workers self management, plus similar attention to the medical impact of all institutions in society—for example, the health effects of work conditions and product definitions and components.
Such a campaign might point out that the single-payer system would save tens of billions on billing, collection, and bureaucracy, but, perhaps even more important, would improve the quality of care for all and move us toward a caring and mutual aid conception of life, rather than a me-first mentality.
It might also advocate saving billions more, to be allotted to preventive medicine and treatment, by establishing limits on the incomes of health professionals and the profits pharmaceutical and other medical companies can earn. If additional funding was required, it might be sought from punitive taxes on unhealthful products such as cigarettes, alcohol, and unsafe automobiles, etc.
The overall guideline for health program might be that illness should be reduced as much as possible, the quality of health care should be raised as much as possible, and the costs of these improvements should be paid by those who have gotten rich at others’ expense.
Possible Ecology Program
A new ecological program might establish a department of ecological balance to develop a list of necessary clean-up steps, energy innovations, and steps to reduce global warming and mitigate its impact, and, in general, policy to preserve the ecology. Beyond that, new ecology program might argue that clean-up funds should come from a reparations tax on current polluters and prior beneficiaries of unclean industrial operations.
The critical innovation in a new program’s approach to ecological sanity, however, might be to open a national public debate about the relation between our basic economic and social institutions and the environment.
For example, new program might begin the process of clarifying that we need institutions attuned to ecological costs and benefits and that we must experiment with non-market approaches to allocation, rather than trying to police the inevitable ecological ill-effects that markets routinely produce. And a new ecology program that was sane, much less highly worthy, would of course have to seek a truly massive campaign to turn the tide against global warming, water depletion, and other life threatening trends.
Obviously the above list of programmatic possibilities, culled from projects and endeavors around the world, could and should be enlarged to include, for example, more comprehensive immigration program, drug program, infrastructure program, diversity program, arts and culture program, science program, and so on.
In addition, the ideas offered could and should be refined, improved, and altered as grassroots experiences require.
Recent progressive electoral efforts and mass campaigns around the world have revealed a huge reservoir of desire and of creative willingness on the parts of large sectors of populations, and very especially young people, to seek change.
Many people newly participating in progressive activity are already within reach of supporting these and additional programmatic ideas however such ideas might be refined and augmented by grassroots voices.
Ultimately, attaining worthy new program will entail thinking outside the box, as many emerging struggles around the world have urged, noting that the box is capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and authoritarianism. The box is the imposed mental straitjacket of thought and practice so typical of contemporary political life.
For example, why couldn’t the kind of energy generated during Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president in the U.S., during Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as opposition party leader in the UK, or during Podemos’ earlier electoral attempts in Spain, or Syriza’s in Greece, and the mass movements battling racism, sexism, inequality, and ecological nightmare around the world be renovated, refined, and aligned so as to together become a sustained, militant movement of movements that advocates suitably refined and improved programmatic ideas of the sort we here cull from each?
Campaigns need money, often a serious stumbling block, but Sanders, for example in the U.S. case, reached 5 million donors giving an average of over $25 each. Why couldn’t a program like what is offered above, but adapted and improved, attract all those 5 million people and many more, in the U.S., and do comparably well elsewhere in the world, attracting aroused constituencies to contribute creatively to plans for on-going mass activism, with components that take the lead regarding their focused issues, with diversity but without silos, with focusses and also with solidarity?
In the U.S., Sanders suffered immeasurably at the hands of rigged electoral processes, as have others here and elsewhere, and another general problem, even beyond the structure of elections, is the corporately organized, profit seeking, and horribly motivated media that operates in country after country. Why couldn’t a prominent campaign built around new program highlight the need to renovate both electoral practices and communications in countries around the world? These would certainly be desirable programmatic aims in their own right, as well as bedrock steps on the path to other programmatic successes.
Despite current progressive energy and, in some places, significant movement gains, we have a long way to go to win lasting fundamental change. Partly vile institutions at the core of our societies manipulatively and coercively twist our motives and awareness. Partly a right wing surge seeks to render us helpless and entrench reaction. And partly, even more so, the public has still not thrown off cynicism, confusion, and a trembling fear of enduring even worse outcomes if we try to seek better.
However, it is not impossible for people to take the crucial step from defeatism to activism. And as organizing helps that happen, the massive support many popular projects have lately revealed could become a foundation upon which to go collectively go much further in the coming period.
The many programmatic possibilities summarized above from already existing practices around the world hope to encourage a wide and deep discussion of where we want to go and what we want to stand for as we all attempt to counter the forces of darkness and irrationality and of stasis and moderation with light, hope, and vision.
It is no accident that such programmatic aims, writ larger, pursued vigorously, and joined with overarching visionary values and structure, would inexorably point toward not just attaining each gain and settling for that gain only to see it rolled back later—but toward attaining each gain to then seek still more gains in a trajectory of changes leading to revolutionized institutions in a participatory new world of justice, equity, self management, diversity, and ecological sustainability.
It is no longer apocalyptic exaggeration to insist that we have no choice. We have to get it together or we will all suffer too immeasurably to even contemplate.