My Reimaging Society Interview
By Tom Wetzel at Dec 04, 2009
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what you are for? What institutions do you want that you think will be better than what we have, for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you think is central to have vision for?
I advocate direct worker self-management of industry. There can be no liberation of the working class from class domination and exploitation without this.
I see this as rooted in assemblies in workplaces where workers make decisions through face-to-face discussion and majority vote. Coordinating councils are elected, rotated and accountable and continue to do work alongside colleagues. I believe that worker mastery in social production, and liberation from subordination to dominating classes also would require a different educational system and democratization of expertise so that there is what Kropotkin called "integration of labor," that is, integration of the conceptual and decision-making tasks with the physical doing of the work so that these things are not separated out into separate classes.
I also believe that the governance of a society needs to be rooted in assemblies of the entire adult population, starting with assemblies of residents in neighborhoods. I think that direct popular control over governance can be extended from the base assemblies in neighborhoods and workplaces to congresses of delegates for large urban areas and regions. I think liberation means getting rid of the modern hierarchical state, with its massive hierarchical armed forces and bureaucracies presided over by members of the techno-managerial class.
The concept of self-management both as method of organizing and struggle now, as well as for new institutions under socialism, is a major contribution of the libertarian socialist tradition to the project of human liberation.
I think that the economy needs to be based on production for direct human benefit, that is, production for use, not production for private profit. I see this as having two aspects. First, the asseemblies in neighborhoods and the regional congresses can provide a means through which to articulate and develop plans for provision of public goods, such as environmental defense, free health care, free education, free child care. I think social supports for child-rearing and other forms of caring are needed as part of a strategy to bring an end to structural inequality between the sexes.
Second, I favor the concept of participatory planning through society wide negotiation between people as producers and as consumers as the way to have an effective economy without the greed and inequality generated by market economies.
The society needs to be rebuilt to provide a roughly equal access to the means to develop one's skills and potential and protect one's health as well as self-management in the various spheres of decision-making. Ensuring that there are equal resources for personal development may require "reparations" in some cases, that is, where particular regions or
communities have been systematically starved of resources.
However, I believe that our conception or program for social reorganization shouldn't be separated from our strategic conception of how to work for this, and our understanding of the process of self-liberation. I believe that the liberation of the oppressed and exploited majority can only be brought about through mass social movements of the oppressed and exploited themselves. In other words, I think a libertarian socialist society can only be created "from below." It can't be created top-down through the state because the state itself is an institution to protect a system in which workers are subordinate. This is reflected in the way the state itself is built. Although I agree with participatory economics as a model, I have found that I disagree with some of its advocates because of our different views about the process of social change.
Thus I believe that workers management of production is only likely to be created through a kind of mass strike situation where workers take over the control of the industries where they work. I don't think it is possible for the working class to be somehow in "political power" if it is subordinated and exploited in social production.
2. Next, someone at the same event asks, "Why do you do what you do? That is, you are speaking to us, and I know you write, and maybe you organize, but why do you do it? What do you think it accomplishes? What is your goal for your coming year, or for your next ten years?"
I continue to oppose, and organize and write against, the prevailing social order because it is a system of oppression and exploitation. When I participate in organizing that wins some things, this helps me to sustain the sense that we can change the society. I do writing and try to keep my hand in with organizing in order to also encourage others and to help build a movement to change the society fundamentally.
3. You are at home and you get an email that says a new organization is trying to form, internationally, federating national chapters, etc. It asks you to join the effort. Can you imagine plausible conditions under which you would say, yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with the rest of you who are already involved? If so, what are those conditions? Or - do you think instead that regardless of the content of the agenda and make up of the participants, the idea can't be worthy, now,or perhaps ever. If so, why?
I believe that the kind of political organization needed has to be developed first and foremost on a national basis. When we have organizations locally and nationally we need to develop links internationally, especially in situations where solidarity is involved and struggles are coordinated across borders. But I believe that these international links need to develop organically.
I'm a member of a libertarian socialist organization in the USA, Workers Solidarity Alliance, which has existed for 25 years. This organization also has participated in the two Class Struggle Anarchist Conferences in North America this year and last. These are intended to share experiences, further learning, and develop a more coordinated libertarian socialist/social anarchist movement in North America. This year's conference also began the discussion of possibilities of regroupment into a larger national libertarian socialist organization in the USA.
I believe in the necessity of well-coordinated political organization for a number of reasons: to share experiences among people from different backgrounds and different experiences, to bring people together to build organizing projects, to pool resources for more visible publishing of ideas critical of the system.
I also believe in the form of concerted activity called "social insertion" by the South American social anarchists. This means activists being focused on activity within, and helping to build, mass organizations and mass struggles, in communities and neighborhoods, in the various spheres of social struggle. I believe that active involvement in mass organizations and movements is necessary if libertarian socialist ideas are to have an influence on the course of events. This does not mean people from outside the working class intervening in struggles of working people, but is about the focus of organic radicals within the working class communities.
In regard to the formation of an "international" of political organizations, I would only favor involvement of WSA in a political international if it were a libertarian socialist alliance, consistent with our own politics.
I also believe that a liberatory social change needs to be driven by mass social movements and mass working class organizations. I think it's a mistake to think in terms of a political organization gaining political power and then reconfiguring society through the hierarchies of the state. Thus I think it's a mistake to put too much emphasis on the role of a political organization or party in the process of social liberation.
4. Do you think efforts to organize movements, projects, and our own organizations should embody the seeds of the future in the present? If not, why? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
Yes, we should try to build these organizations without the kind of internal hierarchy characteristic of class domination. This means we should try to build organizations where the members self-manage them. This means an emphasis on the direct democracy of member assembies and accountability of people elected to do things. I think we should work to overcome dependency on those with more education or more skills through programs of popular education that work to build skills, confidence and knowledge in the rank and file of social movements. Capitalist society limits the resources available to working class people, but we should try to pursue skill sharing and democratic participation to the extent we can.
This means, for example, that we should try to replace the staff-dominated, top-down American business unions with mass worker-controlled organizations that work on the basis of worker activity in workplaces and direct member control. This is where the libertarian syndicalist labor tradition points in the right direction.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
I think we need to talk more directly about where we want to go and how we should be organizing to get there.