Project for a Participatory Society - UK
Project for a Participatory Society - UK
Doherty: What is the Project for a Participatory Society - UK? How did it come about?
Evans: The Project for a Participatory Society is a
When I say "started in 2006" I mean that this was when a conscious commitment to try to set something up was made. Since the initial conception there was of course a lot of work to be done trying to make the idea real. We have made slow but steady progress over the past year or so putting the basics for the organisation into place.
After making the initial commitment the first thing that needed to be done was to establish "Our Basic Organising Framework". This document lays out, amongst other things, our purpose, our values, our internal culture and structure without which no serious organisation can take place. This document was then sent out to various people who have been working on participatory vision and strategy for feed back.
We then compiled a list of
Doherty: PPS-UK seems to take its principle inspiration from the writings of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel in particular the theory of "complementary holism" first put forward in 'Liberating Theory' what is it about their approach you find so useful? How has their work informed the founding of PPS-UK?
Evans: Like a lot of people out there I feel very unhappy with the way in which society is organised and managed. I wanted to try and do something about this and so over many years I got involved in various campaigns with different organisations. This was a real learning experience - but mostly in the negative sense of how not to do things. I very soon became aware of the shortfalls of single issue campaign work, of the difficulties of working in traditional coalitions and perhaps most of all of the dogmatic culture of the old left which seems to lead to stagnation and factions (interestingly the opposite to what they claim to be about).
This dissatisfaction with existing options led me to search for a conceptual framework for organising that addressed these problems. It seemed to me that a failure to find, develop and implement a new radical-progressive organising framework would condemn the left to a future of continued decline. That framework turned out to be what is sometime refered to as "complimentary holism" which as you say was first put forward in "Liberating Theory".
This framework is relatively easily to understand, which is important if you are interested in working towards a participatory society - as I am. It is also a framework that developed out of both a practical and theoretical understanding of the history of the left. I should also say that this framework is more than just a framework for organising - it is also proposed as a means of understanding historical continuity and changes as well as contemporary social dynamics.
It identifies four social spheres that go to make up society - kinship, community, economic and political. One of the basic insights presented in 'Liberating Theory' is that none of these spheres should be seen as more important than the other. Typically the various constituencies that go to make up the left take the opposite position, organising as though one of the spheres is of prime concern. For example anarchists tend to prioritise the political sphere over the other three; feminists tend to prioritise the kinship sphere; Nationalists tend to prioritise the community sphere and Marxists tend to prioritise the economic sphere. This is what is called a monist theory and whilst all four constituents may feel that they have a genuine commitment to solidarity it's not hard to see how this approach leads to factions within the movement.
A slightly more sophisticated approach comes with what is called a pluralistic approach where by say an anarcho-syndicalist prioritises both the political and economic spheres or where by a socialist-feminist prioritises the economic and kinship spheres. However this approach still prioritises some spheres over others which again leads to tensions within the movement.
In line with the framework proposed in 'Liberating Theory' PPS-UK organises around all four social spheres in a conscious effort to overcome these problems and hopefully to contribute to the building of a much healthier culture of solidarity within the left and therefore a much more effective movement.
Doherty: Can you tell us about the projects PPS-UK is involved in?
Evans: Well first of all, projects and other activities are initiated and run by PPS-UK activists - there is no leadership spoon-feeding activists campaign ideas or delegating tasks. Activists who initiate and/or participate in projects and other activities that go under the "banner" of PPS-UK must respect and operate within Our Basic Organising Framework.
At the present we have five projects posted on the site -'Solidarity Works' is a simple but important project that provides links to organisations that PPS-UK activists want to express a feeling of solidarity with and to encourage others to work with.
'Intellectual Self-defence' is an on line resource that introduces the notion of a "propaganda managed democracy". This project includes a recommended reading list plus links to appropriate organisations. 'Project for a Participatory Trade Union Movement' facilitates the coming together of trade union activists who want to join forces to promote and organise for a participatory economy. 'Project for a Participatory Credit Union' has been set up to investigate the possibility of establishing a credit union as a means of creating a financing system to fund ParEcon Businesses. We are also looking at organising a PPS-UK Forum which will include talks and debates on participatory vision and strategy, project development sessions, courses on intellectual self-defence and media production workshops.
Doherty: PPS-UK advocate the development of relatively detailed blue-prints for models of a future society - for instance the Particpatory Economic model, is there not a danger in developing such definite aims? Are diverse movements likely to be able to agree to such specific aims? Moreover is there not a danger that people living within a debilitating social reality that undermines rationality and compassion will come to advocate goals that will perpetuate the various maladies of contemporary society?
Evans: Many people on the left become concerned about the development of vision and some people become very hostile towards any attempts at proposing what the social justice movement might adopt as its long term objectives. Whilst I think that the concern is entirely valid I think that the hostility is unwarranted. The concern is valid for the obvious reason that we might get our vision wrong and therefore in this sense there is a very real danger. But this danger is not specific to the development of vision, it is also true of strategy and every other activity that we get involved in. Recognising this danger should not lead us to abandon our efforts but should instead lead us to be more careful about what we advocate and how we organise.
Furthermore some people seem to think that developing vision is somehow undemocratic and elitist. I dont understand this at all - what they are basically saying is that if, for example, someone has an idea for an alternative to the corporate divsion of labour or markets, for example, then they are not allowed to discuss it. It is a very strange position. You can't help but ask who's being undemocratic?
There are two basic ways forward - one is to organise using broad principles as guidance, the other is to consider possible alternative institutional features. Despite the concerns of developing more detailed alternative institutions (as with ParEcon) the problem with the broad principles approach is that it's hard to inspire people with such vague notion such as freedom and justice alone. I think given the history of the left (which hardly inspires confidence) and in today's world of spin (which renders words like freedom and democracy virtually meaningless) people require more than vague notions. They need compelling vision that is discussed and agreed upon - but always open to further refinement.
Whether people can agree on such specific aims only time will tell. But it's worth mentioning that we don't really have that much to choose from. Take the economic sphere for instance - what are the actual options for the anti-capitalist movement? What are our options for an alternative to private ownership? To top-down management? To the corporate division of labour? To markets? To rewarding ownership? As it turns out our basic options are quite limited. I feel quite confident that if we clearly identify our basic options and simply ask which of these options best reflects our values then a lot of agreement can be reached. If we can get this far then I think we are more than half way to building a popular movement. It's a lot of hard work, but pretty straight forward.
As for "people living in debilitating social reality that undermines rationality" in my experience most people aren't anywhere near as irrational as the left generally seems to think. Most people make perfectly rational choices given their circumstances and based on the information they have. Personally I think that people know that things aren't right, they know that they are being lied to, they know that they are being exploited. The point is that they don't see an alternative - this is why developing compelling vision is so important. Yes we live in a debilitating social reality - but one that principally undermines hope.