In “Remembering Tomorrow” Albert outlines his career as an activist since the time of the Vietnam War until he turnes sixty. (He has actually turned seventy two. The book, available as most of his work in Amazon and downloadable in a Kindle edition, was published twelve years ago.).
Albert recalls his first political action took place when he realized that the Jewish fraternity in which he had been integrated upon entering MIT had selected its members through an espionage process that included wiretapping; his ethical sense rebelled against what he deemed an abuse and, from a car parked in front of the entrance, he shouted alert to new freshmen as they entered the building next year.
The book details the founding process, in conjunction with Lydia Sargent, of South End Press, Albert’s first publishing project, and, later, in the 1990s, at the dawn of the Internet, when the SEP was already channeled, and he felt the urge to undertake something new, of ZNet and ZMagazine. It is worth mentioning his almost obsessive care in order that, both the SEP and Znet, while constituting communication companies giving voice to leftist ideas, operate according to principles that transcend the rules the capitalist system imposes on private companies, wage inequality, and a rigid division of tasks among workers. Albert believes that following these rules will eventually corrupt the project. The means put into practice for obtaining an end shape also the end.
His first books dealt with Marxism, towards which he adopts a critical stand. He argues that Marxism works with a too limited vision of human life, a vision according to which human activities are limited to work, rest and sustenance, leaves untreated problems posed by race and gender, and does not take into account the existence, as a mediator between workers and owners, of a third class of “coordinators,” “administrators,” or “managers,” (lawyers, architects, doctors, teachers) whose interests would continue to be opposed to those of the workers, even once the property problem was solved.
Another theoretical issue he is concerned about is whether the left should have an overarching ideological program to guide the changes activists wish to implement, or should act flexibly, according to each particular situation. For Albert, an ideological program, (he uses throughout the book the term “vision”), is unavoidable. The vision of the future which activists aspire to arrive to should not be dogmatic, should be based on the principles activists want to see fulfilled in the new society, and should be open to debate and discussion, but is necessary.
As an economist, Albert has expressed his economical “vision” in his theory of “Participatory Economics,” (Parecon), on which he has written several books, and has given talks throughout the world. This theory of “Participatory Economics” outlines the path, through companies governed by “workers councils,” where workers would have equal pay and share all of them “coordinating, empowering, activities” and “purely routine work,” and a system of meetings and agreements between workers and consumers that would ultimately lead to replacing markets, to a classless society. Albert has presented this economic theory both in popular books and in academic publications with a profusion of technical data, (his most technical work on “Participative economics” has been published by Princeton). There is even a graphic publication about it.
The whole book exemplifies a Yiddish concept much loved by him, that of chutzpah, (“shameless audacity; impudence; brass.” “If you say that someone has chutzpah, you mean that you admire the fact that they are not afraid or embarrassing to do or say things that shock, surprise, or annoy other people,” according to the Collins Dictionary; a combination of “intelligence” and “skill”, according to Albert himself.)
The account of his efforts to raise funds for Znet is hilarious. The mixture of indifference and resignation with which he describes his vision problems, a deformation of the cornea that alters his capacity for spatial vision, for which he has undergone several operations and that has not prevented him from working as a full-time editor, touching.
At the end of the book there’s a lucid reflection about the relationship between what is personal and what is political. Albert states that our personal lives are largely imposed on us by society and, as a consequence, we can change our lives only through collective action against unjust social relations.
“Remembering tomorrow” is an easy to read introduction to Michael Albert’s work, which is essential to understand the trajectory of the American left from the middle of the last century to the present.