My Resoc Interview
By Conor Cradden at Nov 17, 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?
I would say that the precise form of institutional design is less important than the principles of extending democratic control to EVERY sphere in which decisions are taken that affect people's lives; and of ensuring that democracy is both appropriately direct -- sufficiently close to everyday life that it becomes a permanent feature of the social landscape -- and indirect or representative -- retaining a capacity to take a broader view or adopt a regional, national or international perspective, depending on the kind of issue in question. Crucially, the economy cannot be left out of this equation. If I could change one thing about the market capitalist society we live in it would be to introduce strong forms of democracy to business organisations and to the regulatory bodies that (in principle at least) control them. On the question of institutions, all I would say is that they need to be as informal and unregulated as is compatible with stability and accountability. Bureaucracy is not always bad, but overly bureaucratic procedures kill democracy.
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 try to write about how to improve and extend democracy because I think that extending and improving democracy is not only the right thing to do in itself (from a moral and political standpoint), but also because I think it is the only way to get truly effective forms of social and economic governance. I have some ideas about how this could be done that I think are worth talking about, so I talk about them. I believe in the power of ideas -- that in the final analysis ideas are more powerful than social and economic structures -- and so I believe that getting ideas into circulation is an accomplishment in itself. I'd like to think that in ten years more people will believe in the importance of economic democracy.
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?
As you might expect from the answer to question 2, I have rather more faith in ideas than in organisations. I'd have to be convinced that the organisation in question was mainly about ideas before I'd consider joining up. I wouldn't be interested if the idea was simply about accumulating sufficient political weight to 'fight' more effectively. I'm not naïve enough to think that just talking is enough, but I'd have to be really convinced that the organisation was sufficiently focused on thinking and learning to avoid becoming just another group more interested in getting power than in what they would do if they were to get it.
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?
If I follow you, then you're asking if social movements and organizations should somehow reflect their vision for the world and for social organization in their own structures. To be honest I don't see how they can be sure that they're doing this unless the institutional structures they envisage are already very clear. On the other hand it's clear that if an organisation is arguing for democracy and participation it would be ludicrous to have a highly centralised structure and strongly enforced 'party discipline'.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others
did not answer it?
I answered because I think it's a good idea and because you kept on asking. With other people, as with me, the reluctance to respond is probably no more than a question of time and opportunity costs.