Fighting For Reforms Without Becoming Reformist
Fighting For Reforms Without Becoming Reformist
For the National Conference on Organized Resistance, held in
What To Avoid
We need look no further than to the history of twentieth century social democracy to see how fighting for reforms can make a movement reformist. Social democrats began the twentieth century determined to replace capitalism with socialism -- which they understood to be a system of equitable cooperation based on democratic planning by workers, consumers, and citizens. Long before the century was over social democratic parties and movements throughout the world had renounced the necessity of replacing private enterprise and markets with fundamentally different economic institutions, and pledged themselves only to pursue reforms geared toward making a system based on competition and greed which they accepted as inevitable more humane. As a result social democrats were doomed to grappled with two dilemmas: (1) What to do when leaving the system intact makes it impossible to further promote economic justice and democracy, much less environmental sustainability. (2) What to do when further reforms destabilize a system one has agreed to accept while the system constantly threatens to undermine hard won gains. Social democrats struggled unsuccessfully with these dilemmas, all too often abandoning important components of economic justice and democracy and denouncing political tendencies to their left whose programs they considered politically or economically destabilizing.
We need look no further than to the history of twentieth century libertarian socialism to see how failing to embrace reform struggles can isolate a movement and make it irrelevant. The principle failure of libertarian socialists during the twentieth century was their inability to understand the necessity and importance of reform organizing. When it turned out that anti-capitalist uprisings were few and far between, and libertarian socialists proved incapable of sustaining the few that did occur early in the twentieth century, their reticence to throw themselves into reform campaigns, and ineptness when they did, doomed libertarian socialists to more than a half century of decline after their devastating defeat during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. What too many libertarian socialists failed to realize was that any transition to a democratic and equitable economy has no choice but to pass through reform campaigns, organizations, and institutions however tainted and corrupting they may be. The new left tried to exorcise the dilemma that reform work is necessary but corrupting with the concept of non-reformist reforms. According to this theory the solution to the dilemma was for activists to work on non-reformist reforms, i.e. reforms that improve people's lives while undermining the material, social, or ideological underpinnings of the capitalist system. There is nothing wrong with the notion of winning reforms while undermining capitalism. As a matter of fact, that is a concise description of pecisely what we must be about! What was misleading was the notion that there are particular reforms that are like silver bullets and accomplish this because of something special about the nature of those reforms themselves.
The Myth of the Non-Reformist Reform
There is no such thing as a non-reformist reform. Social democrats and libertarian socialists did not err because they somehow failed to find and campaign for this miraculous kind of reform. Nor would new leftists prove successful where others had failed before them because new leftists found a special kind of reform different from those social democrats championed and libertarian socialists shied away from. Some reforms improve peoples lives more, and some less. Some reforms are easier to win, and some are harder to win. Some reforms are easier to defend, and some are less so. And of course, different reforms benefit different groups of people. Those are ways reforms, themselves, differ. On the other hand, there are also crucial differences in how reforms are fought for. Reforms can be fought for by reformers preaching the virtues of capitalism. Or reforms can be fought for by anti-capitalists pointing out that only by replacing capitalism will it be possible to fully achieve what reformers want. Reforms can be fought for while leaving institutions of repression intact. Or a reform struggle can at least weaken repressive institutions, if not destroy them. Reforms can be fought for by hierarchical organizations that reinforce authoritarian, racist, and sexist dynamics and thereby weaken the overall movement for progressive change. Or reforms can be fought for by democratic organizations that uproot counter productive patterns of behavior and empower people to become masters and mistresses of their fates. Reforms can be fought for in ways that leave no new organizations or institutions in their aftermath. Or reforms can be fought for in ways that create new organizations and institutions that fortify progressive forces in the next battle. Reforms can be fought for through alliances that obstruct possibilities for further gains. Or the alliances forged to win a reform can establish the basis for winning more reforms. Reforms can be fought for in ways that provide tempting possibilities for participants, and particularly leaders, to take unfair personal advantage of group success. Or they can be fought for in ways that minimize the likelihood of corrupting influences. Finally, reform organizing can be the entire program of organizations and movements. Or, recognizing that reform organizing within capitalism is prone to weaken the personal and political resolve of participants to pursue a full system of equitable cooperation, reform work can be combined with other kinds of activities, programs, and institutions that rejuvenate the battle weary and prevent burn out and sell out.
In sum, any reform can be fought for in ways that diminish the chances of further gains and limit progressive change in other areas, or fought for in ways that make further progress more likely and facilitate other progressive changes as well. But if reforms are successful they will make capitalism less harmful to some extent. There is no way around this, and even if there were such a thing as a non-reformist reform, it would not change this fact. However, the fact that every reform success makes capitalism less harmful does not mean successful reforms necessarily prolong the life of capitalism -- although it might, and this is something anti-capitalists must simply learn to accept. But if winning a reform further empowers the reformers, and whets their appetite for more democracy, more economic justice, and more environmental protection than capitalism can provide, it can hasten the fall of capitalism.
In any case, it turns out we are a more cautious and social species than twentieth century libertarian socialists realized. And it turns out that capitalism is far more resilient than libertarian socialists expected it to be. More than a half century of libertarian socialist failures belie the myth that it is possible for social revolutionaries committed to democracy to eschew reform work without becoming socially isolated. Avoidance of participation in reform work is simply not a viable option and only guarantees defeat for any who opt out. Moreover, no miraculous non-reformist reform is going to come riding to our rescue. Though many twentieth century libertarian socialists failed to realize it, their only hope was to throw themselves wholeheartedly into reform struggles while searching for ways to minimize the corrupting pressures that inevitably are brought to bear on them as a result.
Combine Reform Work with Experiments in Equitable Cooperation
If the answer does not lie in finding a special kind of reform, how are we to prevent reform work from weakening our rejection of capitalism and sabotaging our efforts to eventually replace it with a system of equitable cooperation? Beside working for reforms in ways that lead to demands for further progress, and besides working in ways that strengthen progressive movements and progressive voices within movements, I believe the answer lies in combining reform work with building what I call imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation.
Before we will be able to replace competition and greed with equitable cooperation, before we can replace private enterprise and markets with worker and consumer councils and participatory planning, we will have to devise intermediate means to prevent backsliding and regenerate forward momentum. For the foreseeable future most of this must be done by combining reform work with work to establish and expand imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation. Both kinds of work are necessary. Neither strategy is effective by itself.
Reforms alone cannot achieve equitable cooperation because as long as the institutions of private enterprise and markets are left in place to reinforce anti-social behavior based on greed and fear, progress toward equitable cooperation will be limited, and the danger of retrogression will be ever present. Moreover, reform campaigns undermine their leaders' commitment to full economic justice and democracy in a number of ways, and do little to demonstrate that equitable cooperation is possible, or establish new norms and expectations. On the other hand, concentrating exclusively on organizing alternative economic institutions within capitalist economies also cannot be successful. First and foremost, exclusive focus on building alternatives to capitalism is too isolating. Until the non-capitalist sector is large, the livelihoods of most people will depend on winning reforms in the capitalist sector, and therefore that is where most people will become engaged. But concentrating exclusively on experiments in equitable cooperation will also not work because the rules of capitalism put alternative institutions at a disadvantage compared to capitalist firms they must compete against, and because market forces drive non-capitalist institutions to abandon cooperative principles. Unlike liberated territories in third-world countries, in the advanced economies we will have to build our experiments in equitable cooperation inside our capitalist economies. So our experiments will always be fully exposed to competitive pressures and the culture of capitalism. Maintaining cooperative principles in alternative experiments under these conditions requires high levels of political commitment, which it is reasonable to expect from activists committed to building "a new world," but not reasonable to expect from everyone. Therefore, concentrating exclusively on reforms, and focusing only on building alternatives within capitalism are both roads that lead to dead ends. Only in combination will reform campaigns and imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation successfully challenge the economics of competition and greed in the decades ahead.
Since both reform work and building alternatives within capitalism are necessary, neither is inherently more crucial nor strategic than the other. Campaigns to reform capitalism and building alternative institutions within capitalism are both integral parts of a successful strategy to accomplish in this century what we failed to accomplish in the past century -- namely, making this century capitalism's last! Unfortunately, saying we need stronger reform movements and stronger experiments in equitable cooperation does not do justice to the magnitude of the tasks. Particularly in the
Reform Campaigns and Reform Movements
So, unless anti-capitalists throw themselves heart and soul into reform movements we will continue to be marginalized. At least for the foreseeable future most victims of capitalism will seek redress through various reform campaigns fighting to ameliorate the damage capitalism causes, and these victims have every right to consider us AWOL if we do not work to make reform campaigns as successful as possible. Moreover, we must work enthusiastically in reform movements knowing full well that we will usually not rise to leadership positions in these movements because our beliefs will not be supported by a majority of those who are attracted to these movements for many years to come. Working in reform campaigns and reform movements means working with others who still accept capitalism. Most who are initially attracted to reform campaigns will be neither anti-capitalist nor advocates of replacing capitalism with a wholly new system of equitable cooperation. And most of the leadership of reform campaigns and movements will be even more likely to defend capitalism as a system, and argue that correcting a particular abuse is all that is required. But we must never allow others to decide how we work in reform movements, or permit others to dictate our politics. We do know something most others at this point do not -- that capitalism must eventually be replaced altogether with a system of equitable cooperation.
Taming Finance: Because the financial sector is particularly dysfunctional due to so-called neoliberal "reforms" pushed through over the past two decades by the financial sector and sympathetic politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties -- with an assist from mainstream economists -- there is a very large margin for improvement in the performance of both the domestic and international financial sectors. Anti-reforms like the repeal of the Glass-Steagall regulatory system in the US in 1999 and various measures that go under the label of international capital liberalization orchestrated by the US Department of theTreasury and the IMF, have eliminated minimal protections and safeguards imposed by legislation and international practices dating back to the New Deal and the Bretton Woods Conference. Not since the roaring twenties have national economies and the global economy been as subject to the destructive effects of financial bubbles and crashes as we are today. Consequently, there is a great deal that can be accomplished to improve the lives of capitalism's victims through financial reform, both domestic and international. Moreover, many of these reforms are not a radical departure from past policies.
While reforms that should be relatively easy to sell can make substantial improvements, unfortunately campaigns for financial reform are particularly difficult for popular progressive forces to work in effectively. Unlike "peace, not war," financial reform is more technically complicated, and therefore harder to educate and mobilize ordinary citizens around. Unlike campaigns against polluters that can often be fought locally, to a great extent financial reform must proceed at the national and international levels through organizations and coalitions that are many steps removed from local constituencies and invariably led by people who are no friends of the economics of equitable cooperation. These are important liabilities to bear in mind for groups deciding whether or not to prioritize this kind of reform work. There are some exceptions. Anti-red lining and community reinvestment campaigns can be fought at the local level. The Financial Markets Center even has a campaign to increase the influence of ordinary citizens over monetary policy by exploiting provisions in the enabling act that created the Federal Reserve Bank for representation of community groups on local boards of the Federal Reserve Bank. But unfortunately, taming domestic and international finance is largely an activity that will appear esoteric and distant to most citizen activists, as much as it affords attractive opportunities to point out how badly the capitalist financial sector miss serve the ordinary public.
Full Employment Macro Policies: There is no reason aggregate demand cannot be managed through fiscal and monetary policies to keep actual production close to potential GDP and cyclical unemployment to a minimum. And forcing governments to engage in effective stabilization policies not only makes the economy more efficient, but strengthens the broad movement struggling for equitable cooperation in other ways as well.
Wage increases and improvements in working conditions are easier to win in a full employment economy. Affirmative action programs designed to redress racial and gender discrimination are easier to win when the economic pie is growing rather than stagnant or shrinking. Union organizing drives are more likely to be successful when labor markets are tight than when unemployment rates are high. The reason privileged sectors in capitalism obstruct efforts to pursue full employment macro policies -- it diminishes their bargaining power -- is precisely the reason those fighting for equitable cooperation should campaign for it. For all these reasons it is crucial to win reforms that move us even closer to "full employment capitalism" than the Scandinavians achieved during the 1960s and 1970s. But it is important not to overestimate what this will accomplish. Even if everyone had a job, they would not have a job they could support a family on, much less one that paid them fairly for their sacrifices. Low wage jobs flipping burgers at MacDonalds is a poor substitute for better paid jobs producing farm machinery. Even if everyone had a job, they would not have personally rewarding, socially useful work since most jobs in capitalism are more personally distasteful than necessary, and much work in capitalism is socially useless. Jobs in telemarketing or temp services without benefits are poor substitutes for jobs with benefits teaching reasonably sized classes or cleaning up polluted rivers. A full employment economy through military Keynesianism and tax cuts for the wealthy is hardly the kind of full employment program progressives should support.
So when we fight for full employment stabilization policies we should never forget to point out that what every citizen deserves is a socially useful job with fair compensation. We should never tire of pointing out that while capitalism is incapable of delivering on this, it is just as possible as it is sensible. We must also work to expand opportunities for socially useful, self-managed work for which people are compensated fairly by increasing the number of jobs in worker owned and managed cooperatives so more and more people have an alternative to working for capitalists.
Tax Reform: Progressive taxes, i.e. taxes that require those with higher income or wealth to pay a higher percentage of their income or wealth in taxes, can reduce income and wealth inequality. There are a number of organizations with tax reform proposals that would replace regressive taxes with more progressive ones and make progressive taxes even more progressive. Citizens for Tax Justice (www.ctj.org) and United for a Fair Economy (www.ufenet.org) not only provide useful critiques of right wing tax initiatives, but present excellent progressive alternatives for tax reform as well. Unfortunately, we have been "progressing" rapidly in reverse in the United States over the past twenty-five years as the wealthy have used their growing influence with politicians they fund to shift the tax burden off themselves, where it belongs, onto the less fortunate, where it does not.
Beside making the tax system more progressive, we need to tax bad behavior not good behavior. Efficiency requires taxing pollution emissions an amount equal to the damage suffered by the victims of the pollution. Moreover, if governments did this they would raise a great deal of revenue. But even if the tax is collected from the firms who pollute, the cost of the tax will be distributed between the firms who pollute and the consumers of the products they produce. Studies of pollution tax incidence -- who ultimately bears what part of a tax on pollution -- have concluded that lower income people would bear a great deal of the burden of many pollution, or "green taxes." In other words, many pollution taxes would be highly regressive and therefore aggravate economic injustice. On the other hand, the federal, state, and local governments in the US already collect many taxes that are even more regressive than pollution taxes would be. In 1998 highly regressive social security taxes were the second greatest source of US federal tax revenues, responsible for more than a third of all federal revenues. If every dollar collected in new federal pollution taxes were paired with a dollar reduction in social security taxes we would substitute taxes on "bad behavior" -- pollution -- for taxes on "good behavior" -- productive work -- and make the federal tax system more progressive as well. At the state and local level there are even more regressive taxes to choose from that could be replaced with state and local green taxes making state and local taxes less regressive than the are currently. Redefining Progress (www.redefiningprogress.org) is one organization promoting sensible proposals for combining green taxes with reductions in more regressive taxes to achieve "accurate prices" that reflect environmental costs while making the tax system more, not less fair.
Living Wages: Contrary to popular opinion, raising the minimum wage not only promotes economic justice but makes the economy more efficient in the long run as well. In other words, it is good economics in every sense. Similarly, living wage campaigns in a number of American cities have been important initiatives to make US capitalism more equitable and efficient over the past ten years. Particularly where unions are weak and represent a small fraction of the labor force, minimum and living wage programs are important programs to steer capitalism toward the high road to growth.
As of June 2004 the number of cities that had passed living wage ordinances had risen to 121 and included New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Buffalo, Pittsburg, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Miami. The Living Wage Resource Center posts up-to-date information on the status of living wage campaigns on their web site: www.livingwagecampaign.org. United Students Against Sweatshops has made available on their web site, www.usasnet.org, data on a number of campus living wage campaigns in which they were involved, including campaigns at the University of California at San Diego, Valdosta State University in Georgia, Stanford University, Swarthmore College, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. As union power has diminished in the United States, living wage campaigns have become increasingly important ways for progressive communities to protect their working members against declining living standards.
Single-Payer Health Care: The US health care system is in shambles. From both a medical and financial perspective it has been a mushrooming disaster for well over two decades. In all reform campaigns there is always tension between those who want to hold out for more far reaching, significant changes and those who preach the practical necessity of a more incrementalist approach. Usually the debate reduces to how much better a far reaching solution is compared to how much more likely incremental changes are to be won. The struggle for health care reform in the United States over the past two decades is a rare case where the incremental approach is actually less practical than fighting for significant reform because there is simply no way to extend adequate coverage to all and control escalating costs through the private insurance industry. Other than expanding Medicare coverage -- for example, to cover those between 55 and 64 years old -- there is no way to even begin to set things right until we have universal coverage and single payer health insurance in place. At the national level HR676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Bill, introduced by Congressman John Conyers Jr. in 2003, is clearly the reform worth working for.
Only a single-payer, government insurance program can provide universal coverage while containing costs by eliminated the considerable administrative expenses of private insurance "cherry picking." Only a single-payer program can eliminate the paper work and confusion associated with administering multiple insurance plans -- all of which are worse deals than provided through single-payer systems in every other industrialized country in the world. A single-payer system is best suited to use monopsony power to control drug prices and hospital fees. And only a system separated from the workplace and employers' choices about providing insurance can end the strife caused when some companies in an industry who do provide healthcare benefits to their employees must compete against other companies who do not. The fact is that providing health care through private insurance and managed care organizations for profit is so inefficient that incremental reforms that leave those institutions in control of the health care system simply cannot succeed. Instead, there is a much better deal for health care recipients, health care professionals, taxpayers, and the business community as a whole -- single-payer, government insurance.
While there is a great deal to discuss about how best to run a health care system so it is effective, fair, responsive and efficient, there is no way a system in the hands of insurers and managed care organizations trying to maximize profits in a market environment is going to deliver anything other than the mess we have -- forty-three million uninsured Americans and counting, along with spiraling costs bankrupting families and businesses alike. In this reform struggle settling for anything less than universal, single-payer coverage is not only immoral, it is impractical as well. Once coverage is complete and a single-payer is controlling costs, progressives can move on to what we do best -- make suggestions about how to make health care services more user friendly and equitable through regulation of private providers and democratization of public providers -- until a fully public, patient-friendly, well-care system is finally achieved.
Community Development Initiatives: When employers, banks and developers withdraw from areas they consider less profitable than other alternatives, abandoned communities are left without jobs, adequate housing, or a tax base sufficient to provide basic social services. According to the logic of capitalism, when this occurs people should not waste time whining about their fates, but get with the program and move to where the action is. Capitalism tells people they should abandon the neighborhoods they grew up in before they are blighted and move to the suburbs. Capitalism tells people to leave their family and community roots in the "rust belt" and migrate to the "sun belt." According to the logic of capitalism any who fail to move in time are losers and deserve what they get. Community development initiatives are testimony to peoples' unwillingness or inability to follow capitalism's advice.
Many poverty stricken areas in the United States still have community economic development projects. Many others have had community development programs cut back or abandoned. Community development corporations (CDCs), community developoment banks (CDBs), and community land trusts (CLTs) can all be useful parts of reform efforts to revitalize blighted urban neighborhoods and combat urban unemployment, and should be revived and expanded. These projects also afford excellent opportunities for collaboration between economic reformers and organizations fighting against racism and for minority control over their own communities. Whenever the private economy fails to provide some useful good or service we should demand that the government step in to rectify matters. So when the financial sector fails to provide credit on reasonable terms for rebuilding poor neighborhoods in our cities, we should call for both regulation and intervention. We should insist that the government prevent redlining and require adequate reinvestment of savings from poor communities back into those communities by private banks. But we should also call on the government to create public, or semi-public financial institutions whose mandate is to finance renovation of deteriorated housing stock in city ghettos and help local businesses provide employment opportunities. Particularly when the boards of community development corporations and banks are dominated by strong community organizations, they are a better way to tackle market failures that create and maintain urban ghettos than free enterprise zones which buy little development at the cost of large tax breaks for businesses while weakening existing community organizations.
Community development projects reject the Faustian choice between economic abandonment and gentrification by trying instead to catalyze redevelopment that benefits current residents. Community development projects do this either by changing incentives to re-attract capitalist activity or by substituting non-capitalist means of employment and housing for the capitalist activity that departed. Community development initiatives that emphasize the latter course are important areas where people are busy meeting needs capitalism leaves unfulfilled. Community land trusts (CLTs) can play an important role in breaking several destructive aspects of capitalist housing markets. Over a hundred CLTs have been formed in communities in the USA in response to disinvestment and gentrification. The CLT acquires land for community use and takes it permanently off the market. A CLT may rehab existing buildings, build new houses or apartment buildings, or use the land in any other way the community wishes. Residents may own the buildings, but the CLT retains ownership of the land.
More institutional space exists in existing community development projects than progressives presently make good use of. When working in these projects progressives need to reaffirm the right of people to remain in historical communities of their choice, irrespective of the logic of profitability. We need to point out the inefficiency and waste inherent in abandoning perfectly good economic and social infrastructure in existing communities to build socially costly and environmentally damaging new infrastructure in new communities elsewhere. We need to point out the socially destructive effects of speculative real estate bubbles. We need to press for strategies based on non-capitalist employment and housing since this provides more worker, resident, and community security and control than relying on newly courted private capital. And where non-capitalist institutions are not possible or insufficient, progressives should work to maximize community control over employers and developers who benefit from incentives offered by community development initiatives.
Anti-sprawl Initiatives: The flip side of capitalist abandonment of poor, inner city neighborhoods, is environmentally destructive growth, or "sprawl" in outlying areas. But while it is more profitable for developers to spread new homes for upper and middle class families indiscriminately over farm land, this is not what is best for either people or the environment. It is an environmental disaster because it needlessly replaces more green space with concrete and asphalt than necessary. It is a fiscal disaster because for every new dollar in local taxes collected from new residents, because they are spread over a large area lacking in existing services, it costs local governments roughly a dollar and a half to provide new residents with the streets, schools, libraries, and utilities they are entitled to. And it has a disastrous effect on people's life styles as the "rural character of life" in outlying areas is destroyed for older residents, and those moving into bedroom communities spend more and more of their time on gridlocked roads commuting to work and driving to schools and strip malls at considerable distance from their homes. Nor does sprawl even address the nation's most pressing housing need -- a scandalous shortfall of "affordable" housing.
Instead what is called for is "in growth" and "smart growth." New housing should be built in old, abandoned neighborhoods whose infrastuctures are renovated, and concentrated in new areas that are environmentally less sensitive. Instead of construction patterns dictated by market forces and developers' bottom lines, what is called for is development planning through appropriate changes in zoning, combined with impact fees that distribute costs equitably. Instead of allowing developers to only build the kind of housing they find most profitable, they must be required to build a certain percentage of low cost units in exchange for permits to build high cost units. Instead of abandoning farms and green space to the ravishes of market forces, what is needed are preservation trusts, easements, and transfer development rights programs to preserve green space without doing it at farmers' expense.
The battle to replace sprawl with smart growth is a battle to replace the disastrous effects of market forces on local communities with democratic planning by the residents of those communities themselves. It requires democratic determination of community priorities. It requires challenging conservative defenses of individual property rights no matter how damaging to community interests. It requires clever strategies to win farmer approval for down zoning agricultural land so it cannot be developed, by giving farmers transfer development rights and requiring developers to purchase them in order to build in areas designated for concentrated development. It requires withholding construction permits for high income housing unless accompanied by a sufficient number of affordable units. It requires building coalitions of environmentalists, long-time residents, farmers, and those in need of affordable housing with a package of policies that serve their needs and shields them from shouldering a disproportionate share of the costs of in growth and smart growth, and politically isolating and defeating developers, banks, and wealthy newcomers who favor gentrification and sprawl because it serves their interests. It requires running in growth and smart growth candidates for local offices who spurn contributions from developers for their election campaigns, and who laugh at developer bluffs to boycott localities who insist on protecting community interests.
Of course the slogan "smart growth" can be misappropriated by clever developers, just as "sustainable development" has been misappropriated by clever corporations seeking to disguise their environmentally destructive growth objectives. What matters are the policies, not the labels put on them for salesmanship. And what matters are whose interests are served by those policies, and which groups and organizations dominate a coalition for smart growth. But anti-sprawl campaigns, campaigns for slow growth, in growth, and smart growth, and campaigns to protect disappearing "green space" that are already going on in every major metropolitan area and its surrounding communities afford progressives important organizing opportunities.
The Labor Movement: There is no substitute for a strong labor movement. Elaine Bernard, Executive Director of the Harvard Trade Union Program, argues it is essential to move beyond "bread and butter" unionism: "It is becoming increasingly clear in today's political environment that unions need to do both. Unions, like any organization, will not survive if they do not serve the needs of their members. But unions will not survive and grow, if they only serve the needs of their members. The experience of organized labor in the US demonstrates that simply delivering for their own members is not sufficient in the long run." Jobs with Justice is one organization that learned this lesson well. Founded in 1987, Jobs with Justice had organized coalition chapters in over forty cities by 2003 with impressive records of active support for a variety of labor causes. According to its mission statement Jobs with Justice exists "to improve working people's standard of living, fight for job security, and protect workers' right to organize. A core belief of Jobs with Justice is that in order to be successful, workers' rights struggles have to be part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice. To that end, Jobs with Justice has created a network of local coalitions that connect labor, faith-based, community, and student organizations to work together on workplace and community social justice campaigns." For those who are not fortunate enough to be represented by a union where they work, Jobs with Justice is an organization open to individual as well as organizational membership providing excellent opportunities for people seeking to build the labor movement. (www.jwj.org)
Unions must return to their mission of being the hammer for economic justice in capitalism. There is no good reason unions can't do a better job of educating their membership about economic justice. What union today teaches its members that nobody deserves to be paid more than them, unless someone works harder and makes greater personal sacrifices than they do? What union teaches its members that as long as wages are determined by the law of supply and demand in the market place, unions can only slightly and temporarily reduce the degree of economic injustice? Yet every union can teach these lessons, and grow larger and stronger by doing so.
All too often unions are even less democratic than mainstream politics. This is a disgrace for a movement that purports to stand for greater political and economic democracy. Prosecuting attorneys appointed by politicians in the pockets of corporations cannot be trusted to police unions against fraud and corruption. That is one reason progressives must lead reform movements of members to clean up their own unions and tell the government attorneys and judges to butt out. But that is only the beginning of what is necessary to make unions democratic. Electoral systems that stack the deck even more in favor of incumbent union officials than the deck is stacked in favor of incumbent US Congress people are an outrage. Yet this is what those who we expect to effectively promote industrial democracy have come up with for themselves. As in the case of economic justice, unions must practice what they preach about democracy.
Until unions greatly expand the percentage of the labor force they represent in the United States, what unions can hope to accomplish will remain severely restricted. Progressives working in unions must obviously press for a dramatic reallocation of union resources and energy toward organizing new workers. Union power will not increase until unions dramatically reallocate resources from legislative and political affairs, and from support for contract negotiation, to organizing the unorganized. These are difficult choices for unions. For the most part lobbying legislatures, get out the vote campaigns for lesser evil candidates, and support for contract negotiation does serve workers' interests. But union dollars spent on these activities are, on average, far less productive than union dollars spent on organizing drives. In this area the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute has turned over more than one new leaf since the late 1990s, and is busy providing valuable practical training for a new generation of union organizers. For young people aspiring to become labor activists, right now the Organizing Institute is an excellent place to start: www.aflcio.org/aboutunions/oi. Among the national unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is setting the best example in organizing drives, and has recently challenged the AFL-CIO to make organizing Walmart the number one priority of the union movement.
Neither Union Bureaucrat Nor Revolutionary Cadre: There are two traditional models for leftists going to work in the labor movement -- join the union establishment, or remain a rank and file activist. In the first case a person convinces herself that more can be accomplished by working within the union than against it. She runs for local union office, and tries to proceed up the union ladder in order to promote policies she regards as more effective more widely. The danger with this strategy lies in succumbing to pressure to tow the union line even when it is wrong. In the case where a labor activist steadfastly remains a rank and file worker in the factory, she avoids the corrupting temptations associated with union office and retains her independence to criticize union policy and union officials as well as capitalist employers. But in the twentieth century most who pursued this model found it necessary to join a revolutionary sect which provided the psychological and social support necessary to sustain a life of left activism fighting against capitalist exploiters and sell-out union officials alike -- all on behalf of fellow rank and file workers who were often less than appreciative. One danger in this approach lies in ceding power over issues essential to the labor movement to less principled and talented competitors who covet positions in the union hierarchy. The other danger is becoming isolated from one's fellow workers who do not share one's passion for discussing articles from the latest issue of a revolutionary newspaper.
There are unavoidable dilemmas associated with working either inside or outside any reformist organization, and deciding whether to accept or reject a compromise deal any reformist organization negotiates. Whether to work inside or outside unions, and whether to support or reject contracts are not exceptions to the rule, but cases in point. Unfortunately, the traditional models for leftist work in the labor movement exaggerate these dilemmas unnecessarily. Labor activists can begin to enjoy the fruits of living the economics of equitable cooperation even while capitalism denies people that opportunity in general by joining experiments in equitable cooperation. If activists who believe they can be more effective working as union officials commit to equitable living communities they will be less susceptible to the lure of perks from union office, less fearful of losing office and returning to the shop floor, and therefore more inclined to buck the union line when it is called for. Moreover, their primary peer group -- others living in their equitable living communities -- will consist of people who accord respect and esteem based on principled behavior rather than material status.
The Anti-Corporate Movement: The best thing about Ralph Nader's campaign for President in 2000 was that he never tired of talking about the biggest problem in the world today: unchecked corporate power run amok. Nader was a master at explaining how corporations deceive consumers and manipulate the political system. The best thing about the movement for corporate responsibility is that its campaigns publicize particularly egregious cases of corporate abuse, and provide people who become outraged something concrete to do about it. Corporate power and ideological hegemony has never been greater in the United States than it is today -- even surpassing the power of the great "trusts" during the era of the "Robber Barons" over a century ago. Moreover, multinational corporations in general, and US corporations in particular, have never held greater sway over the global economy than they do today. Exposing corporate abuse and fighting corporate power describes a great deal of what those fighting to replace competition and greed with equitable cooperation must do for the foreseeable future. Whereas the labor movement and unions fight corporate power primarily as it adversely affects employees, and the consumer movement seeks to protect consumers from corporate abuse, the anti-corporate movement opposes corporate abuse principally from the perspective of citizens. We need to build all three movements to bring corporate power to bay.
The Consumer Movement: There are a host of organizations in the United States today that seek to protect consumer interests and force government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration to protect consumers from corporate abuses. Three of the most important are the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the network of Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), and Center for the New American Dream (CNAD). Of course CFA, PIRGs, and CNAD do not run their campaigns to highlight anti-capitalist lessons. Nor do they tell consumers the only way they can really exert control over what they consume is to have consumer councils and federations who run their own R&D operations and play a powerful role in a participatory planning process. But when anti-capitalist activists committed to a full system of equitable cooperation work in the consumer movement we can draw those lessons. The dilemmas anti-capitalist activists face when working inside or outside reform organizations in the consumer movement are the same as those faced by activists working inside or outside reform organizations in the labor movement, and the anti-corporate movemen, and the best ways to deal with those dilemmas are similar as well.
The Poor People's Movement: Unfortunately, by the end of the twentieth century all of the progressive economic reform movements discussed above had become, to some degree, middle class movements. I say this not to condemn them, but because I believe this is an important "fact" activists need to recognize in order to deal with the problems it implies. Which is why a movement representing the interests of poor Americans is an absolute necessity, and should receive the highest priority from activists committed to economic justice. Moreover, it is critical to take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee that the leadership of this movement reflects its base.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the National Welfare Rights Organization, NWRO, was the prototype organization in a poor people's movement. But since so-called "welfare reform" replaced federal welfare programs (Aid to Families with Dependent Children, AFDC) with underfunded state workfare programs (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, TANF) in 1996, local grassroots organizations like Community Voices Heard (New York City), the Contact Center (Cincinnati), Oregon Action, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU, Philadelphia), and the Georgia Citizens Hunger Coalition have taken center stage in efforts to fight against cut backs. The demise of NWRO and the fragmentation of the welfare rights movement after 1996 has left the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN as the largest organization in what is a very beleaguered poor people's movement today.
Social justice activists need to prioritize work in organizations like ACORN, GROWL, and KWRU over the next decades to rebuild and expand the poor people's movement. We need to support their campaigns because presently they are the most effective ways to improve the situation for America's most desperate families. We need to support their claim that all who work should be paid not only a living wage with benefits, but a wage commensurate with the sacrifices they make, and that childcare is socially valuable work that deserves compensation like any other. We especially need to support efforts to develop and retain indigenous leadership in poor people's organizations and integrate activists into communities supporting equitable lifestyles. Instead of complaining that other progressive economic movements are "too white" and "too middle class," we need to work to build the poor people's movement into the most dynamic progressive economic movement of all, and make sure that other progressive economic movements support the campaigns of the poor people's movement more fully and consistently than they do at present.
The Movement for Global Justice: It is more important to build what is popularly known as the anti-globalization movement correctly than to have the â€œcorrectâ€ analysis or the â€œcorrectâ€ set of demands. Organizing opposition to corporate sponsored globalization â€œfrom the bottom upâ€ is the right approach. Organizing all constituencies negatively affected to fight for their own interests while they learn why their own success necessarily hinges on the successes of other constituencies against whom global corporations will constantly pit them is the right approach. Working closely with third world organizations in the campaign against the global â€œrace to the bottomâ€ is the right approach. Adopting the â€œLilliput strategy,â€ where each constituency struggles to tie its own string to contain the â€œGulliverâ€ of global capital knowing (correctly) how weak and vulnerable its own string is without the added strength of tens of thousands of other strings, is the right approach.
At this point it is also critical for the radical wing of the anti-globalization movement not to become isolated from the reform wing. What frightened corporate globalizers most about the demonstration in Seattle in 1999 was not its size but its composition. There were fewer than 50,000 participants in the permitted rallies, and no more than 10,000 activists who engaged in civil disobedience. I have been to dozens of larger demonstrations over the past thirty years that had far less impact. But the specter of people from mainstream environmental organizations dressed as sea turtles marching together with middle aged white men from the United Steelworkers, Teamsters, and Longshoremen's unions, as well as with elected officials from small cities and towns -- all joining in the chants and songs led by amazing groups of lesbian and anarchist cheerleaders -- was a scary sight to the pro-globalization establishment. But only if the constituencies of mainstream labor, environmental, and civic organizations remain active in the movement, and only if the radical message that a better world is possible continues to infect them can the anti-globalization movement grow enough in size and depth to finally force policy change as well as influence the tenor of public debate. This requires tolerance and patience. This requires respecting others who do not agree with everything we stand for. This requires remembering that we all need each other. Without the organizational skills, dedication, creativity, and courage of radical anti-globalization activists, reformist organizations would not have been nearly as successful as they have been in slowing the globalization juggernaut. Without large numbers of participants at demonstrations, and support from reformist organizations the radical wing of the anti-globalization movement will become isolated and vulnerable to ever more violent repression. In the aftermath of anti-globalization demonstrations in Quebec, Cancun, Winsor, Miami, and Savannah, the danger is that the reform and radical wings of the movement are drifting toward a counter productive division of labor, where the radical wing only demonstrates and the reformist wing only lobbies. We need to remember that is just how the neoliberal globalizers like to see us, not the specter that frightened them so much in Seattle five years ago.
How to Work for Reforms
In an era of increasing corporate power, much of our energies must be devoted to reform campaigns. But we must make clear that the reason we work in reform campaigns is that we believe everyone should control their own economic destiny, and everyone should receive economic benefits commensurate with their effort and sacrifice. It is also important for activists working in reform campaigns to make clear that victories can only be partial and temporary as long as economic power is unequally dispersed and economic decisions are based on private gain and market competition. Otherwise, reform efforts give way to disillusionment, and weaken, rather than strengthen the movement for progressive economic change when victories prove partial and erode over time. Not only must activists working for reforms explain why those reforms will be temporary as long as capitalism survives, they must also take time in their reform work to explain concretely how victories can be fuller and more permanent if capitalism is replaced by a system designed to promote equitable economic cooperation in the first place.
Working in reform movements does not mean we must abandon, or play down our politics. When we work in the labor movement we must teach not only that profit income is unfair, but that the salaries of highly paid professionals are unfair as well when they are paid many times more than ordinary workers while making fewer personal sacrifices. And we must be clear that workers in less developed countries deserve incomes commensurate with their efforts, just as workers in the United States do. In other words, when we work in the labor movement we must insist that the labor movement live up to its billing and become the hammer for justice in capitalism. When we work in the anti-corporate movement we must never tire of emphasizing that corporations and their unprecedented power are the major problem in the world today. We must make clear that every concession corporations make is because it is rung out of them by activists who convince them that the anti-corporate movement will inflict greater losses on their bottom line if they persist in their anti-social and environmentally destructive behavior than if they accede to our demands. When we promote programs like pollution taxes that modify incentives for private corporations in the market system, we must also make clear that production for profit and market forces are the worst enemies of the environment, and that the environment will never be adequately protected until those economic institutions are replaced. Even while we work to protect consumers from price gouging and defective products we must make clear how the market system inefficiently promotes excessive individual consumption at the expense of social consumption and leisure. And finally, even while anti-globalization activists work to stop the spread of corporate-sponsored, neoliberal globalization, we must explain how a different kind of globalization from below can improve people's lives rather than destroy their livelihoods.
But until these economic reform movements have attracted more supporters, until all these reform movements have become more politically powerful, until all these reform movements are more clear about what they are fighting for and how to go about it, the goal of replacing capitalism with a system of equitable cooperation will remain far beyond our reach. But while nothing can be accomplished unless these reform movemens have been greatly stengthened, and activists must therefore prioritize this task, it is not the only work that needs to be tackled. Strong economic reform movements are necessary -- and in the United States not one of the above movements is nearly strong enough at present. But strong economic reform movemens are not enough. Twenty-first century activists must also nurture, build, and begin to connect a variety of creative living experiments in equitable cooperation within capitalism if we want to avoid the fate of our twentieth century social democratic predecessors.
Build Experiments in Equitable Cooperation
The culture of capitalism is firmly rooted among citizens of the advanced economies. Most employees -- not just employers -- believe that hierarchy and competition are necessary for the economy to run effectively, and that those who contribute more should receive more irrespective of sacrifice. And why should people not believe this? Even if you feel you haven't gotten a fair shake, or that people born with a silver spoon in their mouth don't deserve what they get, few are likely to reject a major linchpin of capitalist culture all on their own. We should not fool ourselves that capitalism teaches people about its failings, or shows them how to live non-capitalistically -- quite the opposite. The only sense in which capitalism serves as midwife for its heir is by forcing people to learn to think and live non-capitalistically in order to meet needs it leaves unfulfilled. It falls to progressives to learn and teach others how to do this. And there can be no mistake about it, this is a monumental task. But where can the culture of equitable cooperation grow in modern capitalism? A variety of existing experiments in equitable cooperation need to be strengthened, new kinds of experiments must be created, and ways to link experiments together must be found -- to offer an increasingly attractive alterative to capitalism. Failure to find ways within advanced capitalist economies to build and sustain non-capitalist networks capable of accommodating the growing numbers who will be drawn to the economics of equitable cooperation can prove just as damaging to our cause as failure to wage successful economic reform campaigns and build mass economic reform movements.
Local Currency Systems: Activists working in local currency systems like Ithaca Hours and Time Dollars activists make valid criticisms of the capitalist monetary system and financial markets. They are correct to point out that local regions often remain in recession even when the national economy picks up, and that national and global financial markets often siphon savings out of poor communities to invest it elsewhere. Advocates for local currencies are also right when they sense that we can arrange a division of labor among ourselves that is more fair than the one capitalism arranges for us. On the other hand, local currency activists sometimes espouse misguided theories about money, and become overly enthusiastic about what their local currency systems can, and cannot accomplish. While local currencies can bring modest improvements, other reforms are frequently more effective. And while the spirit of anti-capitalist independence generated by local currency activists can be empowering, the focus on a new kind of money and market exchange as the antidote to capitalism is unfortunate. Local currency systems are useful to the extent that they reduce local unemployment, reward people for their labor more fairly than capitalist labor markets, and help people understand that they can -- and should -- manage their own division of labor equitably. Local currency systems are counterproductive when participants deceive themselves about how much can be accomplished and see nothing wrong with allowing the laws of supply and demand to determine the terms of their labor exchanges.
Producer Cooperatives: Roughly 10 million Americans are worker-owners in more than 10,000 employee-owned companies with assets of over $400 billion. The National Cooperative Business Association (www.ncba.coop) has served as a trade association for producer cooperatives in all sectors of the American economy since 1916. However, NCBA does not promote worker-ownership as an alternative to capitalism. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO), founded in 1988, actively promotes worker-ownership as an alternative to capitalism and has a radical perspective as its mission statement makes clear: "GEOs mission is to build a nation and worldwide movement for a cooperative, social economy based on democratic and responsible production, conscientious consumption, and use of capital to further social and economic justice."
Activists who work tirelessly to promote the growth of worker-ownership in capitalism should not expect their efforts to succeed in replacing capitalism incrementally. The vision of reversing who hires whom -- instead of capital hiring labor, labor hires capital -- by slowly expanding the employee-owned sector of modern capitalist economies is a utopian pipe dream. The deck is stacked against worker-owned firms, making it very difficult for them to survive, particularly in modern capitalist economies dominated by large multinational firms. And when forced to compete against capitalist firms in a market environment, even the most idealistic worker-owners find it difficult to retain their commitment to decision making according to human values. In short, incrementally increasing the number of worker-owned firms is not a feasible transition strategy from the economics of competition and greed to the economics of equitable cooperation.
However, this is not to say that creating employee-owned firms cannot be an important part of a feasible transition strategy. If we are to succeed in the century ahead, building, expanding, and improving imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation within capitalism must occur at the same time that capitalism is being rendered less harmful through various reform campaigns. Worker-owned firms are one kind of partial experiment in equitable cooperation. They afford workers important opportunities to participate in economic decision making unavailable to them in capitalist firms. They train workers to make decisions collectively, together with their co-workers. When they compete successfully against capitalist firms, worker-owned firms challenge the myth that workers cannot govern themselves effectively, and therefore require bosses to decide what they should do and compel them to do it. So the more worker-owned firms there are, and the more successful they are, the stronger the movement for equitable cooperation will become. But until worker-owned firms establish truly equitable systems of compensation, until producer cooperatives coordinate their activities democratically and equitably with other producer and consumer cooperatives, until worker-owned firms plan production priorities together with organizations representing consumers, until worker-owned firms embrace constraints on their use of the natural environment placed on them by organizations of citizens, they are only partial and imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation. So while they can play an important role in a transition to a self-managed system of equitable cooperation, expanding employee ownership in capitalism is no panacea.
Consumer Cooperatives: Nobody knows how many consumer cooperatives there are in the United States. A survey in the early 1990s counted more than 40,000, and consumer cooperatives have expanded rapidly since then. The problem is not so much lack of consumer cooperatives, but (1) failure to cultivate cooperative principles and practices within the consumer cooperatives that already exist, and (2) failure to develop cooperative relations between producer and consumer cooperatives, leaving individual cooperatives to interact instead with capitalist firms through the marketplace.
Progressives need to help sustain and expand self-management practices and develop more equitable wage structures in consumer cooperatives. We need to devise more creative procedures to help members participate in consumer cooperatives without heavy burdens on their time. We need to develop ways to take advantage of the energy of dedicated staff without the staff usurping member control over cooperative policy. Activists working in consumer cooperatives are already hard at work on these tasks, and are already sharing ideas and experiences with one another through organizations of consumer cooperatives and internet discussion forums. The Cooperative Grocers Information Network, CGIN (www.cgin.coop) maintains a discussion group for the National Cooperative Grocers Association, NCGA (www.ncga.coop). There is an active discussion group facilitated by Co-op Net (www.co-opnet.coop). And both the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, UWCC (www.wisc.edu/uwcc) and the International Co-operative Alliance (www.coop.org) provide educational materials on cooperative principles and sponsor information exchanges by topic areas. However, there is a great deal more educational work to be done inside consumer cooperatives by those who understand how pressure from the bottom line can undermine cooperative principles.
Linking Producer and Consumer Cooperatives: Members of producer and consumer cooperatives also need to learn and teach one another how the competitive market environment limits the capacities of their cooperatives to meet their stated goals. Activists in producer cooperatives need to teach their fellow workers how market relations limit their ability to transform the work process in desirable ways. Activists in consumer cooperatives need to teach their fellow members how market relations limit their ability to secure high quality, safe, environmentally friendly products. And activists in all cooperatives need to explain how market relations prevent them from developing democratic and equitable relations between cooperatives, and undermine economic democracy and justice within their organizations as well.
Once the difference between market and cooperative principles is more clearly understood by more cooperative members, progressives need to try to link cooperatives together in new ways. The first step is to try and help producer and consumer cooperatives buy and sell more from each other, and less from capitalist firms. This would cut down on ways in which relationships with capitalist suppliers and buyers undermine cooperative principles. There is now a major effort underway to link Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) with local food co-ops. Local Harvest, an organization supporting CSA, sponsors a program to link local farmers with food co-ops in nearby urban areas. (www.localharvest.org/food-coops/)
A second step could be to establish something like an "ebay" on the internet exclusively for producer and consumer cooperatives. Once cooperatives are trading with other cooperatives through a cooperative ebay, those exchanges could be transformed from purely commercial transactions toward a system of equitable interrelations. Just as the "fair trade movement" has recently introduced a moral element into international trade, this would bring the "cooperative market" more in line with the core principles of equitable cooperation. After "fair trade" between cooperatives became a familiar norm, cooperatives participating in the cooperative ebay market could move toward replacing fair trade exchanges with a rudimentary form of participatory planning, which would facilitate even fairer relationships and allow for greater economic democracy.
Egalitarian and Sustainable Intentional Communities: Besides religious communities like the Amish, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and the Bruderhoff who all live outside the capitalist mainstream to varying degrees, there are close to a thousand secular "intentional communities" in the United States where individuals and families live in ways that are self-consciously different from capitalist life styles. Some of these communities concentrate on living in ways that are environmentally sustainable, including pioneering new environmentally friendly technologies. Others are primarily concerned with building egalitarian relationships. Many intentional communities try to do both, and practice democratic decision making in various forms as well.
The Fellowship for Intentional Community dates back to 1948, but was revitalized in the 1980s, and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1986. The FIC today serves as both a membership organization for over 200 communities, and as a clearinghouse for information on more than 700 communities appearing in the FIC encyclopedic publication: Communities Directory: A Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living. A directory of "eco-villages," with links to each one can be found at http://www.ecobusinesslinks.com/sustainable_communities.htm. In 1976 more than a dozen communities focused primarily on changing people's relations with one another formed the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) to promote egalitarian life styles. Communities in the FEC cooperate on publications, conferences, and recruitment, engage in labor exchanges and skill sharing, and provide joint healthcare coverage. The FEC now has members and affiliate communities spread across North America, ranging in size and emphasis from small agricultural homesteads to village-like communities with over a hundred members, to urban group houses. The stated aim of these "egalitarian communities" is "not only to help each other, but to help more people discover the advantages of a communal alternative and to promote the evolution of a more egalitarian world." Each of the communities in the federation: (1) holds its land, labor, income and other resources in common, (2) assumes responsibility for the needs of its members, receiving the products of their labor and distributing these and all other goods equally, or according to need, (3) practices non-violence, ( 4) uses a form of decision making in which members have an equal opportunity to participate, either through consensus, direct vote or right of appeal or overrule, (5) works to establish the equality of all people and does not permit discrimination on the basis of race, class, creed, ethnic origin, age, sex or sexual orientation, (6) acts to conserve natural resources for present and future generations while striving to continually improve ecological awareness and practice, and (7) creates processes for group communication and participation and provides an environment which supports people's development. The FEC has accumulated a library of information they call "systems and structures" available without charge to any who are interested, containing advice on topics as varied as children, conflict resolution, economic planning and budgeting, and taxes.
The number of intentional communities in the United States committed to living in environmentally sustainable and egalitarian ways is truly impressive, as is the longevity and size of some of the communities. Unfortunately, these communities are virtually unknown to most Americans, including most who think of themselves as part of the left. While their lack of visibility in the mainstream is understandable, the disconnect between left activists and those living in intentional communities is surprising since many who live in intentional communities participate faithfully, year in and year out, in various environmental, anti-war, and social justice campaigns. But for the most part, left activists and theoreticians ignore the existence of these experiments in equitable cooperation as both valuable sources of information about how well our visions of alternatives to capitalism work in practice, and as opportunities to practice what they preach themselves. Overcoming this unfortunate "disconnect" is an important priority.
Collectives Practicing Participatory Economics: Last but not least, there are a handful of collectives in the United States and Canada who are not only owned and managed entirely by their members, but organized self-consciously according to the principles of participatory economics. These collectives practice balancing job complexes and remuneration according to effort, promote participatory economic goals, seek to relate to other progressive organizations on a cooperative rather than commercial basis, and explicitly agitate for replacing capitalism with a participatory economy. South End Press in Boston was the first self-conscious attempt to organize a workplace according to the principles of participatory economics, firstname.lastname@example.org. The A-Zone in Winnipeg was the first network of collectives operating according to participatory economic principles. The collectives in the network include a bookstore/restaurant (MondragÃ³n Bookstore & Coffee House, www.a-zone.org/mondragon/), a publishing house (Arbeiter Ring, www.arbeiterring.com/), a recording company (The G-7 Welcoming Committee, www.g7welcomingcommittee.com/), and a bicycle shop and courier service (Natural Cycle). The Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective does educational work promoting participatory economics and participatory budgeting throughout British Columbia (http://vanparecon.resist.ca.) And The New Standard in Syracuse is a professional, twenty-four hour, hard news source http://newstandardnews.net/.
It is important not to put any particular experiment in equitable cooperation on a pedestal and blind oneself to its limitations. It is also important not to focus exclusively on the limitations of a particular experiment and fail to recognize important ways in which it advances the cause of equitable cooperation. But it is most important not to under estimate the value of living experiments in equitable cooperation in general.
The glass will always be part full and part empty. All real world experiments in equitable cooperation in capitalist economies will not only be imperfect because human efforts are always imperfect, more importantly, they will be imperfect because they must survive within a capitalist economy and are subject to the serious limitations and pressures this entails. Of course it is important to evaluate how successfully any particular experiment advances the cause of equitable cooperation and resists pressures emanating from the capitalist economy to compromise principles of economic justice and democracy. But there is little point in either pretending experiments are flawless or vilifying those struggling to create something better. What is called for is to nurture and improve experiments that already exist, to build new ones that can reach out to people who continue to live in their traditional communities, and eventually to link experiments in cooperation together to form a visible alternative to capitalism in its midst.
Live Within the Movement
Finally, we need to begin to think differently about what "the movement" is and how it functions. By "the movement" I mean the community of progressive activists devoted to winning funamental social change, which in the case of the economy means replacing capitalism with a system of equitable cooperation. But whereas in the past anti-capitalist activists identified primarily as members of particular radical political organizations, i.e. organizations defined by a particular political ideology and strategic program, I suspect in the future activists will more often be identified by their work in particular reform struggles and by how they express their willingness to live according to the principles of equitable cooperation. In other words, I suspect movement activists will increasingly come to have two different organizational reference points, instead of a single, all embracing political sect, pre-party, party, or group. Which reform struggle, or anti-capitalist educational project I work on, and what organization or caucus I belong to when doing that work will be one point of reference. How I choose to live according to the principles of cooperation, and which experiment in equitable cooperation I belong to will be my second point of reference as a movement activist. Of course there will continue to be differences of opinion among activists about the best way to pursue both tasks -- anti-capitalist reform work and living according to cooperative principles. And since movement activists are human too, different "preferences" will enter into activists' choices of how and where they work. But I detect a change toward dual allegiances instead of single allegiances among movement activists, and I think this is a fortuitous trend. I think activists who orient and work with a dual orientation and allegiances not only will be more effective, they will be able to sustain themselves longer as activists and enjoy themselves more in the process. Since I have long been of the opinion that it is activists and organizers who make the world go round, anything that improves their effectiveness and enhances their numbers in my opinion greatly improves our chances of success.
In any case, movement activists need to preach what they practice. We must not only fight along side others for reforms that make capitalism more equitable and democratic and less environmentally destructive, we must prove by personal example that it is possible for people to live in ways that are more democratic, equitable, and sustainable than anything capitalism permits. We must commit to live according to the principles we espouse. We must go beyond arguing theoretically that equitable cooperation is possible and desirable, and begin to show by concrete example that participatory economic decision making and reward accord to sacrifice do not breed laziness or stifle initiative. We must demonstrate that environmentally friendly life styles are enjoyable, and that after economic security is assured, sacrificing excessive income for more leisure improves the quality of life. Quite simply, we must show that people will want to choose equitable cooperation when given the chance. When we begin to do this the difference between those who are committed to the cause of equitable cooperation and those who seek only limited reforms of capitalism will no longer be that the former espouse more militant strategies and tactics during reform campaigns than the latter. The measure of dedication to the cause of equitable cooperation will be willingness to enter into arrangements with others as they become available that better express the cooperative principles we espouse.
Participation by activists is also crucial to the success of non-capitalist experiments. Experiments must not only compete successfully to survive, they must also reject competitive principles and remain faithful to cooperative principles to be successful experiments in equitable cooperation. As an examination of experiments like the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain reveals, this is not easy, and requires a high level of political awareness and commitment by participants. Whereas religious convictions can provide the necessary ingredient in Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, and Bruderhoff intentional communities that co-exist with capitalism, political convictions about the superiority of cooperation to competition are necessary for the success of secular intentional communities. Without the presence of committed activists who share this conviction, experiments are less likely to succeed.
Remuneration based on effort, decision making power in proportion to the degree one is affected, making use of expertise while preventing experts from usurping power cannot be demonstrated as viable and desirable within the workings of capitalism. The fact that capitalism makes economic justice and democracy impossible is the reason it must be replaced! But sensible people do not endorse new ideas until they are sure they work. Especially in light of the history of failed alternatives to capitalism that is part of the legacy of the twentieth century, the progressive economic movement must respect people's skepticism. This means testing the principles of equitable cooperation and proving that they do work in living experiments in equitable cooperation. Since these experiments cannot succeed without committed activists, and since activists often find it difficult to sustain their commitment to the struggle without the kind of social support these experiments provide, it is important for activists not only to prioritize their work in reform struggles, but also to prioritize finding where and how to live with other like-minded people according to cooperative principles. That is how to "keep hope alive," and how the principles of economic justice and economic democracy can successfully challenge the hegemony of "might makes right."
The next century will prove no easy road for progressive organizers -- in any of the movements in any of the spheres of social life. Unfortunately for those of us working for progressive economic change, capitalism does not dig its own grave. Instead it charges us dearly for the shovels it sells us to dig our own graves. Only when enough of us come to our senses and put our shovels to better use will the increasing human misery and environmental destruction that marked the end of the century that should have been capitalism's last, give way to a sustainable economy of equitable cooperation. Unfortunately, "coming to our senses" is easier said than done. It will come to pass only after more sweat and tears have flowed in more reform campaigns than we can yet imagine. It will require countless lives devoted to building experiments in equitable cooperation that swim against the current in the increasingly global cauldron of competition and greed. Fortunately, pouring sweat and tears into the cause of justice and democracy are at the center of the human spirit and make our lives fuller.