A Reply / Contribution to Michael Albert's â€œImagine and then Actâ€
In the introduction to his ReSoc essay - Imagine and then Act - Michael Albert dreams about the possibility of an international gathering of activists intent on establishing a new international organisation. According to Albert the purpose of the gathering should be to "conceive and promote" a proposal for "interim structure, program, and methods of recruitment and action". What follows is my attempt to help make this dream come true.
Social Transformation in Six Stage
Another world is possible - but what does this other world look like, and how do we get there?
Below I present my answers to these questions in a six-stage program for radical-progressive social transformation. I have laid the program out in such a way as to accommodate and encourage refinement and further development. The basic intention is to describe a complete transition of society from beginning to end where each stage builds on the next in such a way as to build a robust, popular and participatory international movement with real focus, direction and intent. Complete social transformation is an ambitious project that can overwhelm even the most enthusiastic of activists. So a second objective in presenting this program is to make radical social transformation manageable. The idea is to replace any feelings of being overwhelmed with a sense of sustained hope.
My answers represent an alternative to the revolutionary programs that dominated left-wing organisation throughout the twentieth century - i.e. Marxism-Leninism and anarcho-syndicalism. I formulated this new program because I think both of these old left programs are, to a greater or lesser degree, flawed. For example, the structure of democratic-centralism, employed by Marxist-Leninists in their revolutionary organisation, has a dangerous internal dynamic with a tendency towards elitism and authoritarianism. I have to reject Marxist-Leninists revolutionary program because they never explain, as part of their strategy, how we get from a society that is run primarily by a central committee (the class-conscious vanguard) to a system of equals functioning along participatory democratic lines. As for anarcho-syndicalism my concern is that the strategy of organising workers into revolutionary unions for a general strike naturally increases the level of class tension within society and with it the level of violence. This increase in violence coupled with a lack of clear vision for a post-general strike society leads many people to conclude that anarchists are in fact advocating chaos, and I tend to agree.
That is not to say that I haven't learned a lot from these traditions and I am sure that readers familiar with these old left programs will detect influences from both the Marxist and anarchist traditions.
Stage 0: First Thoughts
Before we can begin to formulate a program for social transformation we first need a theoretical framework that helps us to understand social dynamics and historical continuities and changes. Developing a good understanding of how society works is important because unless we know what the problems are we can not propose solutions to them.
Complementary holism offers such a theoretical framework with easily understandable conceptual tools that aid understanding of the current system as well as the development of vision and strategy for an alternative society - http://www.zmag.org/blog/view/2237
0:2 Refine Knowledge.
Of course this framework should be open to refinement and further development. Our understanding of society should be constantly improving within a lively intellectual culture driven by constructive criticism.
Stage 1: Look to the Future
1:1 Develop shared vision.
Working within the complementary holist framework we should develop vision for our future society. At present we have (in varying degrees of development) vision for the following institutions -
political councils - http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/3854
economic councils - http://www.zcommunications.org/zparecon/pareconintro.htm
kinship councils - http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/3853
community councils - http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16621
1:2 Refine shared vision and strategy.
The refinement of our vision and strategy is an on-going process. This approach ensures that we have an open and participatory attitude to developing vision and strategy which in turn protects against dogmatism and stagnation.
Stage 2: Sow the Seeds
2:1 Establish Chapters.
When our vision is developed to a satisfactory degree and has gained sufficient international support we should set-up a network of National chapters that together would constitute the launch of a new international organisation. Then, as membership grows, initiate regional and local chapters.
Chapters should be open to all people regardless of class, race, gender, age etc...and should strive to have a diverse membership.
Chapters should be understood as "seeds" of the future society. It therefore follows that chapters, at all levels, should be run along participatory democratic lines. This means -
A) Members have a say in decisions in proportion to how much they are affected by the outcome of that decision.
B) That empowering and desirable tasks are shared out equally amongst members.
2:2 Popularise shared vision and strategy.
A primary function of the local chapters is the popularisation of our vision and strategy. This is one of the main ways in which we attract new members. Members of local chapters may go about this activity in a number of ways. For example, they may give talks, write articles / books, make videos, etc.
2:3 Reform Campaigns.
In time, and as resources permit, chapters may also initiate reform campaigns that move us closer to our vision and gain us popular support amongst the general public.
2:4 Seek Support.
Another important function of the international organisation would be to seek support for our program from well known progressive organisations and individuals.
2:5 Solidarity Works
In parallel with these activities members may also join coalitions with other organisations that address issues of shared interest and concern. For example, anti-war, pro-human rights, stop global warming campaigns, etc.
Chapter members may also consider organising social events within their area. These events may include music, food and drink (maybe four events per year?). The objective would be to raise funds and consciousness amongst the community within a friendly environment that is not overtly political. So basically, people have some fun, maybe make a financial contribution and find-out about the organisation and our overall objectives.
Stage 3: Winning Hearts and Minds
3:1 Form Mass Media Working Group.
Once a sufficient number of local chapters are up-and-running each chapter will give a percentage of its funds to help finance a mass media working group. The group will be made-up of professional and aspiring journalists plus an editorial board of members from different local chapters. Together these groups will produce media (free newspaper?) that challenges the state / corporate world view and that focuses on exposing how the current system functions in the interest of elites plus debates around campaigns on social reforms and long-term vision. In turn, local chapters will help distribute / popularise the media to the general public throughout the country.
3:2 Special Forces.
It is very important that our program reduces the level of violence within society and that the transition is as peaceful as possible. Particularly important target audiences for the media group to reach-out to are therefore the police and military forces. It is very important that we sufficiently undermine the ideological hold the current system has on these groups if we are to minimise conflict during the transitional period. .
Stage 4: Reap the Harvest
4:1 Chapters "grow" into Councils.
As our vision and strategy becomes more popularly supported and more people join local chapters we will reach a point where it becomes possible for these local chapters to begin to function as local political councils.
4:2 Establish Nested Council Structure
At such a point it also becomes possible to establish a formal nested council structure as laid out in our parpolity vision.
4:3 Write Social Justice Constitution.
The newly formed National council drafts a new constitution for social justice.
4:4 Seek Support from Police and Army.
The National council would enter into dialogue with Chief of Police and Military Generals in the hope of seeking support for the New Constitution. Meanwhile local chapter members should engage with local police and military contacts for support.
Stage 5: Assume Power
5:1 New Constitutions.
Once we have established a functioning nested council structure, with the support of the majority of the people, the National political council will assume power. The first act of the National council will be to introduce the new constitution.
5:2 Implement Reforms.
In addition to introducing the new constitution the National council will implement a series of reforms designed to move us closer to our long-term vision. One possible option would be to out-law corporate tyranny.
Stage 6: Off Shoots
6:1 Establish economic, kinship and community councils.
The new constitution and series of reforms introduced by the National council will create an environment conducive to the formation of economic, kinship and community councils that maximises a peaceful transition from the old institutions to the new council structures.
6:2 Implement Reforms.
The formation of the councils within the economic, kinship and community spheres would empower the people to implement reforms that move them towards their respective visions.
For example, workers within the economic sphere could redesign jobs so that they become ever more balanced for empowerment and desirability. Or they could create new jobs where workers would facilitate the participatory planning process.
Today we are born into a "social contract" with the State - with all of its authoritarian, elitist and alienating institutions. Such a system primarily functions in the interests of those who own and control it. This social arrangement is at the root of many of the horrors of contemporary society - war, starvation, environmental destruction etc - as well as many of the lesser undesirable realities we all have to endure. The program above is proposed as a radical solution to these root problems.
By the end of this program, instead of being born into a social contract with the State people will be born into a network of nested councils - each with a particular function - in which they can participate fully and interact with each other as equals, allowing them to live a rich and meaningful life.