My Resoc Interview
By Mark Evans at Oct 28, 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 like to see a society made-up of a network of nested councils where each council has specific functions that complement each other. So, for example, I would like –
• Economic councils for production, consumption and allocation of goods and services.
• Political councils for the creation of new laws, upholding existing laws and.
• Kinship councils for issues relating to child-rearing, intergenerational relationships, socialising and care giving.
• Community councils for issues relating to identity, ethnicity, race, religion, and spirituality.
These councils would be run along participatory democratic lines, by which I mean –
• Empowering and desirable tasks are shared out equally.
• Everyone has a say in decisions in proportion to how much they are affected by the outcome of that decision.
So instead of people being born into a social contract with the State – with all of its elitist, authoritarian and alienating institutions – people would be born into a system of councils in which they could fully participate as equals and in which they could all enjoy a rich and meaningful life.
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?
For a long time I acted as though I occupied a neutral position. I believed that my actions were not connected to the greater social system and all of the terrible things that entails. But of course there is no neutral position. We either passively conform to the negative patterns of the system or we actively try to change them.
When I became aware of this choice it became impossible for me to see how I could choose to conform and maintain any self-respect. So one reason I write, give talks and organise is because I need to, so that I can live with myself.
Another reason is, of course, because I want to change the system. Although (for reasons already mentioned) I need to be actively engaged in organising, I’m not interested in what we might call "activism for activists sake". That kind of activism is only, or mostly, about making ourselves feel better and has little, if anything, to do with serious organising for social transformation. So, the second reason I’m involved in these kinds of activities is to change the system.
To transform the system in the way I would like to see it change requires a popular and participatory movement. So when I write, give talks, organise events, I do so with the objective of encouraging people to become active, but also active in ways that can actually change society for the better. More specifically this involves working with others, based in the UK, to establish a network of self-managed local chapters. My hope is that these local chapters will form the basis for a National organisation that will, in time, federate with other similar National organisation and therefore be part of an international movement with real direction and capability.
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 very much like to be part of an international organisation. The problems we face can only be addressed at the international level and I don’t think that an international organisation capable of addressing the problems created by corporate lead globalisation exists at the moment.
Such an organisation would need to have a genuine commitment to building a popular and participatory movement – which, to my mind means rejecting democratic centralism and Bolshevik strategy more generally. Instead the kind of organisation I would favour would focus on developing shared vision. The organisations strategy would be informed by this vision. The idea being that such an approach would generate unity of action without any need to resort to authoritarianism.
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?
I do think that our projects, organisations and movements should embody the seeds of the future in the present. For example, I think we should see the creation of local chapters - as part of an international organisation – as "seeds" that will "grow" into local councils. My feeling is that viewing chapters as embryonic councils will prove very attractive to activists and has the obvious implication that we should run these chapters as close as possible to how we intend to run our councils – i.e. along participatory democratic lines (see my answer to Q1 for my definition of participatory democracy).
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others
did not answer it?
One of the reasons some people might not have answered this interview is because they don’t feel that it is a good use of their time. They may think that if they are going to engage in activities for social justice they will prioritise things that have an immediate and positive impact on the world, like say writing a letter on behalf of Amnesty International.
Now, whilst I can see the appeal of this immediate action and the importance of Amnesty’s work, such activities don’t result in the kind of radical change we need if we are to move to a good and just global society. Such activities simply do not address the problem at the root cause. In this sense they are akin to giving a patient pain killers for a headache that is caused by a brain tumour. The painkillers may well help but unless we operate the headaches will all most definitely get worse.
To address the injustices that exist within society at their root level we need to build an international movement with a shared vision of what a just society would look like and a good plan of how to get there.
I answered this interview because I see it, and the Reimagining Society Project more generally, as a step towards building such a movement.