Perhaps these books about winning a better future deserve little review, comment, or reposting. On the other hand, given the laudatory pre-publication blurbs on their jackets and at the RPS book page, maybe discussion merely requires time to percolate, or perhaps more general obstacles exist. Whatever the cause, how might any author in my position improve the situation?
You may suggest such authors can review their own books . Who could better comment on a book than its author? But what about the psychological pitfalls of doing a selfie-review? What about being accused of overly serving your own interests? Risk that?
Practical Utopia, the first of my two new books, offers three treatments in one relatively short package.
The first part, offers concepts deemed useful for understanding society in order to change it. It argues that economic life involves not only an owning class and a working class, but also a class between owners and workers that is empowered by its position in the division of labor. It deduces that classlessness requires ending the monopolization of property and also the monopolization of empowering circumstances. It proposes refined tools for addressing race/culture, gender/kinship, power/politics, and class/economics that emphasize the institutional basis of each of these realms. It highlights their profound influences. It tracks their intertwined tenacity.
The second of Practical Utopia’s three parts proposes shared values and envisions and advocates participatory political, economic, kinship, and cultural institutions. It favors solidarity, diversity, equity, collective self management, ecological balance, and full classlessness.
The third part of Practical Utopia proposes strategies to accomplish its vision. It critiques undesirable reformism and it favors desirable non-reformist reform victories. It rejects self-defeating electoral missteps and it advocates productive electoral process. It castigates sectarianism and it describes anti-sectarian action and organization. It decries self-defeating violence and it advances self-augmenting non violence. It prioritizes militantly winning partial gains now in ways establishing means to militantly win a new society in the future.
Stylistically, Practical Utopia rejects dysfunctional obscurantism. It pursues accessibility. It emphasizes institutions and social relations but it glosses the personal part of the political whole. Some will like these choices, others will not. I won’t bore you with my positive assessment of the book’s intelligence or relevance, but I will urge that if Practical Utopia offers instructive insights, it certainly warrants comment. On the other hand, if Practical Utopia offers wrong, irrelevant, or redundant insights that say only what readers already widely accept or should promptly reject, it warrants criticism.
Noam Chomsky’s Foreword to Practical Utopia ends by saying: “It is true that the future cannot be born yet. But the forms it might assume will depend on actions taken now and the visions of a future society that animate them. Few have thought as long and hard about these matters as Michael Albert, along with constructive efforts at planting the ‘seeds of the future in the present.’ What he presents here is the distillation of a life of searching thought and dedicated activism that merits great respect and close attention.”
The second recent book, RPS/2044, covers similar ground as Practical Utopia but quite differently. It meshes imagined interviews of 18 future revolutionaries into an oral history of successful struggle for a future revolutionary participatory society. Like Practical Utopia, RPS/2044 features ideas, vision, and method, but now seen through participants’ eyes.
A union workplace organizer, a feminist community labor organizer, an assembly worker/cook electoral candidate, a sanctuary organizer, a housing and rights to the city activist, a Hollywood actor organizer electoral candidate, a nurse and a doctor health organizers, an athlete activist, a prison and legal activist, an organizer priest, a lawyer legal activist, a media worker, a feminist organization builder, an anti-war activist, a soldier organizer, a feminist anti-racist activist, a climate organizer, a student organizer, a workplace organizer, a community activist, and from among them a mayor, governor, and president report 28 years of key revolutionary events, feelings, choices, and social and human lessons leading to a next American revolution.
RPS/2044‘s protagonist is it’s process. No single hero saves society. Conflict isn’t narrowed to personal crises. Resolution is not the success or failure of a star. Diverse participants’ experiences take us from now to a better future, but the journey’s ideas and patterns, not its practitioners, are the message.
RPS/2044 avoids proposing an unsustainable or constrictive blueprint. RPS/2044’s future history does not outpace what we can now plausibly foresee. We don’t receive a linear story, but a collage impression with just enough plausible texture to demonstrate another world is possible.
On the other hand, while the interviewees have their own back stories, views, problems, and solutions, the book doesn’t provide them markedly different vocal patterns or recount more than a little of their own in-depth life histories. We see what one would see from interviews about a social process. Each interview and interviewee is believable unto itself. The interviewees are diverse in focus and background. However, all being members of one movement and one organization, they don’t themselves have markedly diverse accents, vocabularies, agendas, or tone.
RPS/2044’s interviewees describe and assess their experience with 27 years of boycotts, marches, sanctuaries, conventions, internal education, organizational decision making, strikes, occupations, violence and non violence, electoral work, and diverse types of dealing with differences and resolving conflicts. They recount a new world becoming our world. They live worthy lives we could live.
Again, I won’t bore you with my positive assessment. If I didn’t think RPS/2044’s mindsets and struggles were worthy as well as realistic, I wouldn’t have channeled them to our times. But I think I can confidently urge that if RPS/2044’s paths are plausible, then its emotive and personal aspect have potential to reach a wider than usual audience and to elicit a more personal than usual exploration of strategic possibilities. On the other hand, if RPS/2044’s ideas are too simple, if its participants choices are beyond human capacity, if its events contradict social dictates, or if it’s path is otherwise unimaginably unattainable, okay, then what other ideas, personal patterns, and events, should we have in mind to go forward?
Many blurbs for RPS/2044 ratify the idea that to assess, enlarge, or improve upon it makes sense. Here are four:
Writing in 1946, Albert Camus proposed that in the midst of a murderous would, wherein ‘we’re in history up to our necks,’ people could nevertheless decide to ‘give a chance for survival to later generations better equipped than we are’ by staking everything on what Camus termed a ‘formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.’ Michael Albert bravely takes a fictional leap into a future where survival is enabled and sanity prevails. He gambles on literature, in the form of meaningful fiction, to help readers puzzle through crucial ethical questions. Once he equips himself, and us, with the fanciful chance to look back on a developing history, he clearly delights in the kind of curiosity that has motivated his earlier writings. He takes time to dwell on interesting personalities who lived through the earlier, more desperate times. With Michael Albert’s capable guidance, we flip on the switch and discover ideas and even hopes that otherwise might have been hidden. Throughout this imaginative and needed novel, the essential ethical question persists: how can we learn to live together without killing one another?
– Kathy Kelly
Michael Albert has created the most unusual and intriguing combination of prophecy, manifesto, and movement-building manual that I have ever encountered. Using the sci-fi genre of ‘future as history,’ Albert introduces a journalistic format in order to draw out lessons and potential strategies in the fight for social transformation that should be considered by any serious Left or progressive activist. It is also a book that contains the reasonable and essential optimism that is so valuable for activists in times like these. Bravo, Michael!
– Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Mike Albert is attempting here something I wouldn’t dare – a description of a revolution in the future based on the mayhem of today. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell did something similar and provided us with ways of measuring our regression. In an era when the dominant propaganda attempts to convince us we are living in an “eternal present” (‘Time magazine’), this original and wonderfully ambitious project feels like a welcome antidote.
Basing himself on a lifetime of dedicated and highly productive activism and many years of detailed inquiry into the kind of society to which we should aspire, Mike Albert has now undertaken a novel and imaginative approach to leading us to think seriously about these fundamental issues and concerns – which may fade under the impact of immediate demands but should be prominent in our minds as we develop ways to deal with concerns of the moment. More than anyone I know, Mike has emphasized the need to relate long-term vision to devising practical strategies for today. This imaginative oral history from the future is a provocative and most welcome contribution to this urgent and ever-present task.
How many books – or articles – try to understand the world to fundamentally change it? How many advocate nice values to advance worthy institutions? How many not only address a part but the full social whole?
Perhaps the reason I know only a very few such works is many ambitious books have been given no public space. Or perhaps few such works exist. In either event, can we agree that current activism not only needs to fit our currently endured context, but to seek a desired future, so that not only a clear analysis of the present, but also a viable and worthy vision of a sought future should drive activism?
For decades, activists have had insightful and even reasonably widely-shared analysis of many aspects of our present. For decades, activists have had feeble and barely at all shared positive institutional vision. Now we have Trump. Analysis-spurred resistance grows. Without vision, where will it arrive?
So why am I either ignorant of or there really aren’t many other books or even articles that base their programmatic suggestions on both strategic analysis of the rejected present and clearly enunciated vision of a desired future?
It must be that among the many people who write for social change, few take up long-term vision and strategy. And it must be that for the works that do address long-term vision and strategy, among many avenues for becoming visible and many commentators able to provoke interest, few take note.
So we can reasonably ask, why do so few writers – whether highly established or just getting going – take on the task of addressing long-term vision and strategy? And regarding those few who do, why do so many other writers wax silent about visionary efforts and why do so few outlets provide visibility for the long-term vision and associated strategy such writers propose? Finally, why doesn’t a progressive/radical audience clamor for such works rather than reading and re-reading endless reiteration of complaints about current and even past injustices or about short-term programmatic proposals but without calling for long-term justification and implication?
Many factors undoubtedly impact these results, including academic pressures to fit a mold, not wishing to risk error or criticism, urgent need to address our immediate moment, unrelenting pressure of peoples’ many responsibilities, doubting that one has anything to add, and – my pick as most important – a deep bias that nothing more than modest change is possible, so why bother.
Emotionally, all these factors undoubtedly matter greatly. I have heard each indicted by many people I have directly queried. Logically, however, each of the factors is eminently dismissible.
For example, semester to semester academic pressure can feel overwhelming in its implications for careers, grades, etc., even if, logically, it should be ignored whenever it leads away from relevance. Similarly, while feeling disinclined to risk error and suffer denigrating criticism is eminently understandable (for writers and perhaps even for venues, though not for readers), logically this should be overcome by harder work, not by surrender. Urgency of the moment and general time pressures rightly cause writers, venues, and readers alike to feel they can only do some things, but logically this ought to promote our using our precious time to do what is in short supply, not to replicate what we already have in abundance. Feeling doubt that we have much to add is often a perfectly sensible and even an admirable reason to be mute about what others better understand, but it is logically irrelevant to our trying to provide what is needed and in short supply. And so we come to belief that “there is no alternative.” This belief, conscious or subterranean, curbs trying at all, but shouldn’t our logical and moral priority be trying to demonstrate its falseness – whether by writing, by giving visibility, or by reading/acting? To set the bar quite low, isn’t generating informed positive desire more needed than throwing another jab at carrot top?
There is another wrinkle. Writers not producing much long-term vision and strategy, venues and commentators not welcoming many efforts at offering long-term vision and strategy, and readers not clamoring for more long-term vision and strategy, together propel a mutually enforcing circle of avoidance.
That is, writers claim they want their writing to be read, so they incline away from long-term vision and strategy which won’t be reviewed or commented and isn’t sought. Venues claim they need to seek and promote what writers might deliver and what readers want to relate to, so they incline away from long-term vision and strategy that writers don’t want to provide and readers don’t want to read. Readers claim they want to seek what others will provide, promote, and read, not clamor for what will be unavailable. Each aspect enforces and is enforced by the other two.
Perhaps you have better explanations for why people write little long-term vision and strategy, or why venues solicit and feature little long-term vision and strategy, or why audiences actively seek, apply, evaluate, debate, promote, and share little long-term vision and strategy. But whatever is responsible, and however understandable and powerful those factors may be, shouldn’t writers nonetheless write, venues nonetheless solicit and emphasize, and readers nonetheless demand long-term vision and strategy so we can together share the results on the road to stronger activism and a new world?