Parecon as Anarcho Snake Pit: Scene Setting
By Michael Albert at Jun 22, 2011
Anarchism says, in all life's dimensions, reduce the exercise of power of one person or group over other people or groups to a minimum. Reject all hierarchies of power and reward whether are based on position in the economy, culture, polity, or kinship. Favor free association of informed actors exercising a self managing say over decisions that affect them.
We ask, what is the broad view of this type liberatory, anti authoritarian, free association anarchism toward participatory economics? In reply some liberatory anarchists aggressively favor parecon as a vision. They pal around with parecon. And we pareconists are happy about that. However, other liberatory anarchists see in parecon a quicksand snake pit of deadly deceit. They reject and even revile parecon. And we pareconists are sad about that.
The anarchist parecon proponents don't understand the anarchist parecon critics' funeral dirges. The anarchist parecon critics, in return, don't understand the anarchist proponents' advocacy. The critics reason that if parecon was buried, surely no one should pal around with it. The advocates reason, if parecon was buried, shouldn't a public autopsy have sealed the deal?
We ask, can we all reason further about these matters, and perhaps wind up on one side or the other of this question?
The institutions that parecon includes on grounds that are necessary for a fulfilling, free, and informed, self managing association of workers and consumers, are workers and consumers self managing councils, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning.
If we all think through those parecon institutions and decide parecon is a quicksand snake pit of deadly deceit, it will be due to snakelike properties of the institutions. If, instead, we all think through parecon institutions and decide parecon is a worthy and viable anarchist economy, it will be due to the liberating properties of the institutions. So which view is correct?
Immediately below I list anarchist criticisms I have often heard leveled at parecon. If you know any more, please add them, by all means, in comments you append to this essay. Then, with the list in hand, part two, next week, will address all the initial and the added concerns and hopefully kick off a discussion. Perhaps it will even lead to resolution.
Anarchism's Diverse Criticisms of Parecon
All Vision Is Problematic and Authoritarian
1. People do not possess the knowledge or intelligence to predict the future with much confidence. Proposing visionary blueprints exceeds what we can know. It saddles us with likely wrong commitments, on the one hand, and usurps the rights of people in the future to decide their own lives, on the other hand. Blueprinting tomorrow will make serious errors and even worse, it is authoritarian toward our successors. Parecon is too detailed.
2. Vision distracts us from the present. It at least wanders into utopian abstraction and at worst slip slides into sectarianism that curtails thought and creativity. We do not need a utopia. We need to feel the new world in our daily acts and to create it in practice and action, and above all through experiment. Parecon, however, is offered from above, emphasizing logic, but with little respect for organic processes and on-going struggles and campaigns. Parecon violates spontaneity.
3. Vision irresponsibly expects working people to sacrifice time and energy they can apply to surviving the hostile present in pursuit of something they have never experienced at best available only in the future. There are no convincing working examples of Parecon. Parecon neglects prefiguration.
Vision from Pareconists Is Problematic
4. How can anyone possibly think a vision first offered by two American white guys deserves the slightest attention. They 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.
5. Parecon is presented in a new lefty americano centric, culturally insensitive language and cultural framework. These ills compromise its substance rendering support undesirable.
6. Parecon is detached from history displaying a curious disregard for like minded voices from the past. It is presented in a form that looks more like a mathematical equation than a real life process of social change and construction. Parecon is ahistorical and boring.
Vision Tied to the Past is Problematic
7. Parecon takes for granted the continuation of industrial civilization. It reasons from a foundation that includes work and workplaces, inputs and outputs, production and allocation. It is not a truly radical anti-capitalist vision.
8. Wages imply wage slavery. Remunerating for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work is capitalistic and thus morally decrepit. An anarchist economy would implement, instead, the maxim from each according to ability, to each according to need. Parecon with its incomes and budgets is capitalism in disguise, not a system that elaborates mutual aid.
9. Parecon retains money and prices. But money and prices carry with them the ills of competitive allocation and preserve the ecological and interpersonal failings of familiar economies, whatever other gains may be attained. Parecon retains the war of all against all. Parecon trumpets solidarity but preserves a rat race.
10. Parecon does seek to implement the anarchist ideal that anything goes. Parecon involves too many limits and constraints. Parecon is disciplinarian.
11. Parecon is productivist and assumes the idea of civilization and progress. It is therefore anti nature. Whatever parecon's other merits may be, parecon would do little or nothing to slow the slip slide of society toward ecological disaster. Parecon is like the Titanic. It might provide some nice food and entertainment for a time, but it would sink.
12. Parecon uses dubious language that talks about sacrifice and other activity that sounds very old left. Parecon gives me the willies. I think there is baggage hidden in it that will trump good results.
Parecon Is Intellectually Confused
13. People having a say in decisions proportionate to the extent they are affected by those decisions violates personal prerogative and prevents radical solidarity. Parecon ghettoizes us off from relations that are distant from us. It thus sunders mutual connectivity.
14. Parecon fetishizes the idea of a third class. It worries way too much about a socialism that isn't really socialism. Its commitment to balanced job complexes generates sectarian negativity about potential allies. Parecon gets class wrong.
15. Parecon gets incentives upside down. It will lead to people not doing what they are good at, and instead doing what they find onerous. It would lead to people choosing, under pressure, to work longer and longer hours. Parecon will distort human potential into income grabbing ignorance.
16. Parecon is too into institutions, failing to understand that they inevitably restrict human potential. Parecon will weigh us down by regimenting existence with structures.
Parecon Is Strategically Compromised
17. Parecon is economistic in putting too much emphasis on the economy and too little on everything else. Parecon will sublimate or violate needs and potentials born outside the economy.
18. Parecon is too divorced from a path forward, from where we are to a better future. It is insufficiently strategic.
18. Parecon is gradualist. It does not advocate an essential break in the here and now. Parecon is not revolutionary but will lead to a never ending limited pursuit ultimately going nowhere significant. Parecon is reformist.
Please, again, to make the coming response comprehensive, if the above list is incomplete or if any entry needs to be refined or enhanced, please append a comment saying so. For example, if you have heard other anarchist concerns, or if you have other concerns yourself, please comment to that effect. After some days, say early next week, whatever the response has been, I will offer reactions to the concerns above and any that are added. Hopefully, a discussion will follow.