By Michael Albert at Mar 17, 2009
I often do interview via email - the most recent was for Amanla Magzine in South Africa...
1. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of neoliberal capitalism by the 1990s in spreading its tentacles in each and every corner of the world, former British Prime Minister Thatcher’s famous saying that “There is No Alternative” – TINA – really did create a feeling of paralysis among activists struggling against predatory corporate capitalism. But activist struggles did not die, and the “Battle for Seattle” – the massive convergence of global justice activists on the streets of Seattle, Washington – the Latin American mobilizations against neoliberalism, and the formation of the World Social Forum, represented the continuing demand for a different world order. In the midst of the current deep and devastating global economic crisis, are there in fact serious alternatives to be considered to modern day capitalism? If so, briefly describe their features and differences from our current social and economic order.
The particular alternative I advocate is called Participatory Economics, or parecon for short. Parecon seeks, and I think it in fact generates and sustains classlessness. As such, parecon of course eliminates private ownership of productive assets. But beyond that well trod avenue for change, parecon also involves many additional features.
Parecon eliminates the corporate division of labor which gives about 20% of employees dominance over the other 80% based on the former controlling information, skills, decisions, etc.
Parecon also seeks and delivers equity and so in parecon one earns income for the duration, the intensity, and the harshness of conditions of one’s socially useful work, not for property, power, or even output per se.
Parecon delivers as well, council based self management, meaning that in parecon decisions are made by diverse methods which, however, apportion to each actor decision making influence in proportionate to effects on that actor, whether an individual or a group, organized in self managing worker or consumer councils.
Finally, you can’t have justice, equity, classlessness, etc., with an allocation system that systematically produces anti social greed, myopic individualism, ecological irresponsibility, a pursuit of profit rather than social benefit, and which imposes the old division of labor and associated class divisions, as well, and thus parecon necessarily opts for participatory planning, a mode of cooperative negotiation of economic outcomes by self managing councils, rather than for either markets or central planning.
There are other visions for post capitalist economics, than parecon, of course, but in my view they are typically either institutionally unspecified and therefore unconvincing as to viability or properties, for example various anarchist and libertarian socialist schools fit in this designation, and I think in most such cases their aims are quite consistent with and fulfilled by parecon – or the visions are well specified but are of the old sort having no owners but retaining the class division between those who I call the coordinator class above, and workers below. This is the type of economy I call market or centrally planned coordinatorism, but which calls itself, typically, socialism...despite being ruled by a relative small class who I call the coordinator class.
2. Having outlined some of the possible contours of an alternative to predatory corporate capitalism, how do you assess the possibilities of achieving these within the present political terrain? Do you see signs of serious challenges being posed to the heart of the capitalist system? Which strategies of confrontation seem to be working/not working?
When you say, by the way, predatory corporate capitalism – it is redundant. The only reason why one capitalism is, on the world stage, less predatory than another is that the former has less means, is weaker, or is more compromised in its logical by resistance from within. Capitalism is, by definition, predatory.
That said, we won’t implement a full blown new system that gets beyond capitalism to classlessness, whether parecon or some other, for some time, not least because it will take a lot of time to make the transition even after we are well along the path. But are there signs we are getting closer to that path? Of course there are.
These are most advanced in Latin America, for example, in Venezuela and Bolivia, but also exist in diverse forms in many other parts of the world, in local experiments, in organizing projects, in intellectual pursuits tied as well to practice, and so on.
The main problem, to my thinking, is that these incredibly diverse pursuits ranging from large movements to local experiments, are very vague and partial about their commitments rather than clear and open, and are therefore not as effective as they might be not only in seeking short term gains – an essential task – but particularly in building momentum and organization suitable to the longer struggle.
But yes, there are many signs that gains are being made not just in vaguely and disjointedly desiring a new world, but in overtly and self consciously seeking to contribute to attaining it. The growing support for parecon and eagerness to begin actively collectively organizing in associated ways in one sign, and there are others, too.
3. Are you hopeful that “another world is possible?” And if so, what gives you that hope?
Yes, I am very hopeful, actually, more than hopeful, I think it is happening, though admittedly slowly.
Many things contribute to that hope and belief.
The trajectory of liberation of various human potentials over a huge time span, moving always toward greater discovery of human possibility and implementation of it is the underlying basis, I suppose.
But my more proximate optimism comes from the current stepping beyond old classist notions and searching for truly classless ones that is occurring really all over the world. The progress of explicit visions and practice, particularly but not exclusively in the South, is evident, of course.
That there is much that is incredibly vile and barbaric occurring is also true, but that is, until after societies are transformed, like saying there is ignorance in a land without education, before there is education, or like saying there is polio or some other disease in a land without a vaccine or preventive practices, before those are in place. The ignorance and the disease in those lands is not evidence that there can’t be education, or health care there. The same goes for the widespread existence of greed, injustice, violence, etc. in our lands. They are the order imposed by our surroundings, not evidence that we cannot have new surroundings.
More, just as one good school or one little successful treatment of a disease off in some clinic are incredibly important evidence even among all the rampant ignorance and disease of what is to come in those examples, so too even small, but now actually growing experiments in justice and activism are powerful evidence for future possibilities, even amidst vast surrounding injustice.