Origin and Style? Answering Anarchist Critics: Part 2
Origin and Style?
Addressing previously assembled anarchist concerns about participatory economics turned out to require too much space for one essay so I broke it into five parts. This is part 2. Please skip around however you like.
- Vision Per Se? - addresses concerns about having any institutional vision at all
- Origin and Style? - addresses doubts about the source and approach that generated Parecon
- Too Capitalist? - addresses concerns that pareconish remuneration and other features are capitalistic
- Intellectual, Structural, and Strategic Flaws? - addresses concerns about features anarchists find flawed or deficient and implications for strategy
The institutions parecon deems necessary for a fulfilling, free, informed, self managing and classless association of workers and consumers, are:
- workers and consumers self managing councils in place of private ownership and top down decision making
- remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work (plus need when medical or other reasons warrant) instead of remuneration for property, power, output, or only need
- balanced job complexes equalizing the empowerment effects of jobs instead of corporate divisions of labor that include monopolization of empowering positions by a few
- and participatory planning (or cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs) instead or markets, central planning, or combinations of the two, for allocation
Addressing Criticisms of Origin and Style
Criticism: How can anyone possibly think a vision first offered by two U.S. white guys deserves the slightest attention? Albert and Hahnel write as if they have invented parecon but, as with all insight, it was instead a product of a synthesis of many decades, if not centuries, of anti authoritarian struggle. Parecon violates our understanding of the source of wisdom in race, gender, and class ways. Parecon is elitist.
Response: This concern offers a real insight pushed, however, to a harmful conclusion. Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to suspect that an economic vision presented by, and most recently largely formulated by, a couple of white guys with lots of schooling in elite educational systems, and from the empire's home country, may carry baggage that compromises its content.
There is, however, another possibility. Perhaps the white guys were positively schooled by all the people from very diverse movements they have engaged with over decades, as well as by the movements they have been in, as well as by the studies they have undertaken, and are no longer carrying quite so much baggage. And the feedback from all those quarters to what they have offered has pared away remaining baggage.
The point is whether we are talking about race, gender, class, power or any other circumstance and background - while enduring the pains and complexities of being on the bottom of associated hierarchies can be a very important asset in understanding those hierarchies, it does not confer automatic insight or wisdom. And while being in higher positions vis a vis the various oppressive systems can be a horrible debit for understanding their dynamics - and even more so for having good values and insights about alternatives - that, too, does not follow automatically.
So when someone produces a vision, or an analysis, or anything else, it is okay to be suspicious based on the person’s lack of experiential, movement, or training credentials, particularly when first encountering the vision or analysis. But then one must look at the vision or analysis itself. If the suspicion is borne out, one will find all manner of insights that are important but were left out, or all manner of claims that are unimportant but were overemphasized, or all manner of relations and events that were misunderstood, or especially, all manner of agendas that are biased toward elite interests.
To point out the place of origin or the identity of authorship of current formulations and reject their claims purely on that basis is not only illogical, it is a slippery slope to horrendous behavior. Suspicion is warranted, but dismissal is not.
If Parecon is sexist, racist, classist, homophobic, etc., then that is a real and major criticism. If it is, instead, compatible with, and even conducive to the best possible innovations regarding kinship, culture and community, economy, and sexual relations, then the background of those supporting it doesn’t constitute reason for rejection.
Criticism: Parecon is presented in a new lefty americano-centric, culturally insensitive language and cultural framework. These ills compromise its substance - rendering support undesirable.
Response: What part of the language is insensitive or offensive? One might examine translations of the main book into Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Japanese, Portugese, Italian, and quite a large list of other languages to check and see if those parts didn’t fare well in the transition to other languages. If so, let's eliminate those expressions. Right now, there are pareconish efforts underway in many parts of the world. While writing this essay I received a translation into Albanian of the organizational description guiding what is arguably the most ambitious pareconish effort yet undertaken. One wonders if the translators were offended by “Americanisms.” If so, we need to fix that.
Suppose it is true that the language of at least of some pareconish texts is somehow obscure or difficult to comprehend outside the U.S., despite it not requiring extensive background, but instead simply due to it being written inside the U.S. in an americano-centric style. Fair enough. We would in that case need new formulations, written elsewhere, for other audiences, which we of course need in any case. But even if true, this is not a critique of the vision. It is only a sensible request for additional efforts to convey the vision.
Criticism: Parecon is detached from history, displaying a curious disregard for like-minded voices from the past. It is presented more like a mathematical equation than a real life process of social change and construction. Parecon is ahistorical and boring.
Response: We should like to offer a quibble and three points. The quibble first. It is not clear why the plain language formulation of a classless economic vision, even if it is written poorly and without exciting calls to action, would be boring, at least for someone eager for economic institutional vision. But if the style isn't up to the task in one or another presentation, okay, someone needs to do better.
First point. Let's assume the creation of parecon occurred with no regard for history. Once again, this would not constitute a criticism of the participatory economic vision. It would instead be an observation that would warrant suspicion the vision might be ill conceived. Then one would have to look to see if the vision is, indeed, ill conceived. Legitimate grounds for doubt warrant investigation, not rejection.
Second point. The observation that parecon is ahistorical is in fact false. What is true is that there are particular books and essays about parecon which don't talk much, or sometimes even at all, about historical predecessors. But that is a far cry from demonstrating that the vision was produced with no attention to history.
In fact, parecon was preceded by works by the same writers on Soviet, Chinese, and Cuban experiences, on movements in industrialized societies in modern times, on feminism and nationalism, and on pretty much all schools of left thought that one might care to name, with all the investigations of all those areas all oriented toward generating vision and strategy for a post capitalist economy and society. The actual pareconish, and then later parsocish institutional vision, emerged from all this analysis and from related discussion and debate - addressing history and past views, undertaken not only with allies, but also with many different and opposed schools of thought - involving many people, etc.
Given the above, the critic might reply, okay, then why not present it all, say, in the book Parecon - and in every other presentation as well? Fair enough, and this takes us to the most important part of our reply to being ahistorical.
Third Point. There are two reasons not to have all of the background and derivative content in all presentations. One reason is technical. There is not enough room in a publishable and readable book to do everything.
The second reason bears on not only not including all of it in every book, but on sometimes having very little of it. If each book about vision reasons primarily based on extensive discussions of past historical cases and past ideologies, it says to readers that wading through a ton of history and endless references to diverse people one never previously heard of is not only one route to comprehending and having opinions about long term aims, but that it is the only route to doing so. And that is not a message pareconists want to send, because it is both false and very harmful.
It is false because, as the presentations that utilize everyday life discussions and examples make evident, one can develop, explore, and arrive at viable and worthy vision without becoming a PhD historian, philosopher, economist, political scientist, women’s scholar, cultural scholar, or movement scholar. I routinely develop parecon and parsoc views at speaking events with audiences who have no left background. At the end of the presentation, their questions and observations are typically as insightful, or often more insightful, than those that come from folks familiar with all manner of historical and theoretical references.
Not only is it not necessary to require great background, it is harmful to imply that advanced left erudition is needed to relate to economic vision. To imply that one has to be versed in the language and knowledge of decades of left experience implies that developing and sharing vision and strategy is a pursuit open only for an elite with unlimited time for it. Luckily, there is no such need. A vision and strategy can emerge over time from the details of a broad range of historical experiences and analyses, yet also, when presented, make clear that one can participate without becoming an expert in recall of and reference to all those experiences. In other words, parecon presentation is taking the anarchist anti elitist route.
In any event, parecon actually emerged from an extensive and continuing examination and dialog with historical and contemporary events. Parecon regularly pays homage to its own lineage, both anarchist and otherwise, not least as a way to bring that lineage to more peoples’ attention. Parecon is not even a little bit ahistorical, whatever other failings it may have.