My Resoc Interview
By Chris Spannos at Nov 18, 2009
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what are you for? What institutions do you favor that will be better than what we have for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you have vision for?
When I consider what kind of institutions the new society could be comprised of I think foremost of past and present high-water marks within the traditions of libertarian socialism, feminism, community and anti-racist movements, and anarchism -- their struggles and ideas.
In this century, the modern day movements that have inspired me, and that I think offer positive alternatives to past and present dominant social and material institutions, are the worker take-overs in Argentina, the occupations and social spaces in Greece, and the council organization of communal life in Venezuela. These contemporary struggles offer pieces of the same larger puzzle that I think, when put together offer a picture of what economic, political, social, and cultural life might look like, however with the addition of a few more innovations.
For example, in the economy I want self-managed council organization of production, consumption, and allocation of the material means of life. I think the participatory economics model (parecon) offers some key pieces of the economic puzzle for property relations, divisions of labor, remuneration, and allocation. Parecon proposes social or no ownership or productive assets, where everyone has decision-making input proportional to how they are affected by an outcome; balanced job complexes in the workplace and remuneration for oneroussness, duration and intensity of socially valued work; and decentralized workers' and consumers' councils for participatory allocation of goods and services.
For the polity I prefer some form of nested council or citizen assembly formations for crafting and carrying out law-making, adjudication, policy, and so on. These formations are where direct political democracy can occur and where people have self-managed and autonomous decision-making to the degree they are affected.
For social life we will need new relations in both kinship and community. I think a combination of shared child rearing between men and women along with socialized care giving for the young and elderly will contribute to non-sexist or oppressive relations across our generations.
Cultural life should be reorganized to facilitate autonomous inter-relations between individuals and communities where no group, no matter how big or small, can rule over another and each can determine their own beliefs about life, death, and celebration without overpowering or subjugation of anyone else.
Our economic and political institutions should not only facilitate a sane and sustainable interaction between societies and environment but should also offer protection against abuse of scarce and cherished plant and animal species.
As well, our regional and national economic and political structures should promote autonomy, self-management, classlessness, solidarity, and mutual-aid internationally. These needs will likely require formations of global councils to facilitate fair and equitable outcomes for international trade and adjudication.
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 do what I do, work and organize for a new world, for two reasons that are mutually dependant and equally important.
First are the unjust outcomes produced and re-produced by dominant relations between the empowered and the disempowered. These unequal relationships manifest themselves in all sorts of ways socially and materially whether through poverty and class, racism or sexism, or top down order-giving and order-taking, or unequal power and privilege in the political arena. All these things combined disfigure our daily lives.
Second, I do what I do because of the human potential that is possible for new relations based on our ability for self-conscious control over our lives -- in ways that are equitable, meaningful, caring, and compassionate, rewarding, and enriching. I narrow all this down to a few core values that I believe we can build a new society and social relations from: classlessness, self-management, autonomy, solidarity, mutual-aid, and diversity. I believe a new society with institutions embodying these social and material relations could be called a "Participatory Society."
The two combined motivations above inform me of what I am against but also what I am for.
What I am trying to accomplish with my effort is my own contribution in concert with others to realize the aspirations of past and present movements, their hopes and struggles, and adapted to our modern circumstances so as to get us closer to winning our objectives.
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 would be very happy to get such an email because I think many people nationally and internationally, aside from myself, are ready for this effort. I also think our worsening social and material crisis demand such an effort much sooner rather than later so there is a strong need for it.
The conditions that would prove promising to me would be if there were hundreds perhaps thousands of, and even more is better, people participating as members and in a proactive capacity. If at least a third of this membership were active, organizing or contributing in some way, I think it would help build momentum for the group. Perhaps everyone could pay some form of membership dues to help cover costs for materials and organizing. It would prove even more inspiring for me if the engagements of the organization were spread across many different types of activities ranging from grassroots activism, labor organizing, factory and social space occupations, theorizing, strategizing, media publicizing and propaganda, anti-war work, solidarity and internationalist work, ecological activism, and so on. I would like it if all the membership were able to meet once a year and local and regional assemblies met whenever was appropriate for their work on the ground. It would be even better to have a continuous yearly flow of interaction around strategy and vision (writing papers, interacting on the papers, polling, etc., overall perhaps a process much like the one we are engaged with now in Resoc but once a year) with the intention of developing and refining shared understanding about what we want and how to get it. An annual gathering of the entire organization could host and advance, face-to-face, these yearly interactions. I would be excited by this.
Overall the work on the ground would have to be useful to people in their everyday life while at the same time the over arching organizational work should offer grand vision and strategy with the explicit intention of building a national and international revolutionary movement to change the world.
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 not? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
Yes, of course we should incorporate the seeds of the future in our efforts today. However, as a universal principle that can be more or less sought after, because of differing social and material conditions from place to place, it has to be implemented in ways unique to each location yet somehow consistent with the overarching organizational objectives. I think that if we can all say what we want in the future society -- for example, I want institutions that deliver classlessness, autonomy, self-management, solidarity, mutual-aid, and diversity -- the problem of how we go about organizing in our day-to-day lives can be made in approximation of our long-term overall goals. On the one hand the self-organization of members as individuals and groups will allow different "seeds" to be planted in different ways. On the other hand the organizational orientation towards prioritizing vision and strategy should allow for our daily lives to be in close contact with our ideas about the future, and how to bring it in even closer contact with our daily practice and vice versa.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
Because I believe in the potential of the project and the important work of many of the people involved.
It is impossible to guess why each person who did not answer this questionnaire did not do so. As speculation, we can guess that some may think they have more important things to do so it either gets put at the bottom of their "to-do" list or doesn't even make the cut.
As for the latter group, who neglect to answer the questions all together, I think this is a mistake. From the hundreds of names of people involved in this project, perhaps some didn't think it was a realistic undertaking and so not worthy of their time. Since there are hundreds of people who have participated by contributing essays, replies, or by commenting, who are all doing very serious work both on their own projects and here, I think it is unfortunate that some have yet to interact if they don't think this project worthy. They should at least give the others who are participating the benefit of the doubt - that they have good reasons to participate - and either interact to find out why we think so or interact to convince us to not waste our time and save us from ourselves. But hopefully these folks are few.
The former group, folks who have not answered yet but may still, I assume have some reason for not doing so, but doing so late - like me. Because I take this project seriously, and am serious about prioritizing vision and strategy in all my work anyway, I wanted to put some thought and time into it. Yet, because I had a few other priorities like preparing for a couple conferences and working on ZNet renovations, and we were fundraising at the time, and other personal factors adding little bits of stress, gathering the time and energy - even if only for a short while - to answer these questions was hard, even if I was committed to doing it all along. Taking the time to do this has also pushed other things back, and I am now in the office later than I would like to be. So, with that said, I have other work to go do now and will close by urging those who haven't answered their Resoc interview questions yet, to please do so!
But in closing, for both groups of people, I think it is worth participating in the project and helping build momentum, because when this happens, well, more is more. The idea of having some kind of future face-to-face gathering would make a lot of sense if many show interest in that and participate in the lead up.