[This is the nineteenth essay in a multipart series addressing the surge in interest in and support for socialism, what the surge means, what it seeks or will seek, where it might extend, and how it might unfold.]
We now have some of the key components of a vision for new, desirable institutions for a new, desirable society. What do we call it? Many will call it participatory society. Many others will call it participatory socialism. Why two names?
Our vision fulfills the stated aspirations of socialists, anarchists, feminists, intercommunalists and, really, everyone who stands for justice and freedom. Grassroots socialists typically want justice, people controlling their own lives, classlessness, feminism, cultural diversity, and so on. So our vision suits them. Why not call it socialism?
Well, that name has historically been claimed for a specific mix of institutions lumped under the terms Twentieth Century Socialism, market socialism, centrally planned, socialism, really existing socialism, and so on. The terms refer to the old Soviet Union, China, etc. These systems, however, no more fulfill the values we have put forth than the U.S. system fulfills the values its advocates say they favor: diversity, freedom, democracy, fairness, and so on. The systems that have usurped the name socialism have not been very feminist, not at all intercommunalist (almost the opposite), not self managing (but at best harshly authoritarian), and not classless (but ruled by a coordinator class).
Take the economy – which is what socialists mainly emphasize. Currently socialism in practice and even in well formulated descriptions has included, at best, powerless councils (often after real ones have been destroyed from above), remuneration for output and power, a corporate division of labor, allocation by markets, central planning, or a combination of the two – and, due to all that, coordinator class rule. To my perception, these critical assertions are only denied for psychological reasons of wanting to be part of a heritage or identifying with its stated but not implemented imputed. The material reality or “facts on the ground” of what has been called socialism, regardless of the intent of most socialists, has been irrefutably class ruled, sexist, racist/homogenized, and authoritarian – albeit sometimes more or less so.
In contrast, participatory economics has self-managing worker and consumer councils as the vehicles of decision making, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor as the basis of income, balanced job complexes for work definitions, and allocation by participatory planning – and, due to all that, classlessness. This difference between what has gone under the name socialism and what we have advocated is not apples and oranges. It is more like arsenic and nutrition.
Okay, so we might not want to call our vision “socialism” for fear of wrongly implying it has anything in common with the old Soviet Union. However, most grass-roots socialists around the world also reject – at least in theory – the same failings. And they also typically favor essentially the same values we do. And many have already even indicated support for participatory institutions. However, even among that set, some still want to keep touch with the heritage of socialism – not out of loyalty to horrendous institutional choices of the past, but out of allegiance to the memory of all the grassroots activists who had their dreams subverted rather than fulfilled.
Can we accommodate that desire? Maybe. Perhaps calling our economic vision participatory economics – not market or centrally planned socialism – while calling our kinship, cultural, and political visions, participatory kinship, intercommunalism, and participatory polity – plus calling the amalgamation of it all participatory socialism – is enough to retain ties but make the distinction. For those who think it is, and who want to continue the legacy not of one party states, class rule, incomplete feminism, and cultural homogenization, but of truly socialist values, calling the vision participatory socialism will make sense. For those who worry about confusing differences with the past, and who don’t want any potential for doubt about their commitments, calling it participatory society will make sense. Which name will emerge as most prevelant, time will tell. In either case, the system in mind is the same. Another world by any other name is still another world.