By Michael Albert at Feb 04, 2006
I have a new book, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism, coming out in about a week from Zed Press. I just completed the ZNet book author interview, and I thought I would post it here, as a draft for reaction, and also to use the new facility. So...
ZNet Book Interview
1. Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism, is about? What is it trying to communicate?
Realizing Hope addresses issues of vision and strategy for capitalist societies. It presents participatory economics, called parecon for short, in the first chapter, to set the scene. Then the book discusses other spheres of social life like kinship, culture, ecology, international relations, and government, and smaller parts too, like education, science, technology, crime, art, sports, and media.
In each case, the book explores two issues:
First, what does having a desirable economy such as parecon imply for future relations in the domain considered? For example, what must change about schools or home life to fit with a good economy, and what will having desirable economics impose, in any event, on these other realms.
Reciprocally, second, what does having desirable relations in kinship, culture, polity, education, art, sports, science, etc., imply for the economy? How must the economy change to fit the requirements of desirable new relations in these other parts of society?
This focus means the book covers lots of ground, but it is also relatively short and quite succinct and I hope very readable.
Significantly, Realizing Hope assumes no prior background, yet also goes deeply into the issues of what kinds of institutions can meet needs and develop potentials in diverse parts of social life. More, beyond exploring vision, the book also addresses strategy including examining old approaches and offering diverse new ideas.
Realizing Hope responds to the question, if we want equity, diversity, solidarity, self management, sustainability, cultural intercommunalism, internationalism, feminism, and social justice, what must we do programmatically, organizationally, and tactically to get them.
Why does the book address such matters?
In my experience a huge number of people, even on the left and certainly throughout society, feel two things. (1) That no better world is possible: There is no alternative. (2) That even if a better world is theoretically possible, we can't attain it. We can't fight and overcome the obstacles to change.
Realizing Hope takes up vision and strategy precisely to overturn these fears and thereby facilitate a new and more positive approach to winning social change.
2. Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
After publishing Parecon: Life After Capitalism a couple of years ago, I have spoken in many parts of the world about economic issues such as income distribution, decision making, the division of labor, markets, participatory planning, and the like. Invariably, in addition to talking about economics, I am repeatedly asked questions about government, gender, race, religion, ecology, global relations, and activist strategy. Strikingly, people's interests have been incredibly similar from the U.S. to Turkey, Britain, Brazil, Australia, India, Venezuela, Greece, and so on.
So many people repeatedly asking about vision regarding more dimensions of social life than economics, and about strategy in general, both of which compulsions I also feel, forced me to confront such matters, both listening to what diverse people already had in mind and also working through some new ideas and implications stemming from parecon, too. The pressure to expand my focus also sent me to study historical experiences from past generations, and current struggles going on now, too, of course. All this wasn't entirely new, rather, the questions people asked pushed me into a renewed focus on broader social matters and movement issues. To relate to the audiences I encountered, I had to revisit and rethink matters well beyond economics. So, I began to write about those matters, and in time the book took shape.
Most of the writing of Realizing Hope was like writing any other book. You think through your views and you set them down, trying from draft to draft to find engaging and clear ways to communicate them. Along the way, due to the pressure to communicate clearly and simply and the time spent cogitating about your views, some change significantly, others are only refined.
What was a little different about this book, however, was that I wanted each chapter to stand on its own. I have never had that priority before. I felt like some artists, for example, who were not yet so avid about movement building as to tackle a whole book right off on vision and strategy, might, however, read only the chapter on art, and likewise that a teacher not yet movement-oriented might focus largely or even exclusively on a chapter on education, or likewise a journalist, athlete, scientist, engineer, or maybe someone highly concerned about culture, race, or ecology, might pick or encounter another single chapter to key on. So I wanted each chapter about each part of life to deal with the issues of vision and strategy bearing on that part in a way that would flow well in the whole book, of course, and even motivate paying attention to the whole book, but also in a way that could also stand alone if it was approached outside the whole book. That was not so easy, but I hope it worked out well.
3. What are your hopes for Realizing Hope? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
It is my feeling -- and I voice it every chance I get to the point of being boorish about it -- that lack of emphasis on vision and strategy is a very serious debit for social struggle. I think we need to know where we are trying to go, and that this means we need to know not just values, but institutional goals. I also think we need to know how we are trying to get there, and that this means not just today's tactics, but organizational and strategic priorities that fit into a broad plan of moving forward. More, I think we need to be able to communicate all that compellingly, too, because I think that short of both knowledgeably believing in a better future and also pragmatically believing that giving their time to movement activism will help reach that future, most people won't participate. And finally, it seems to me that if we are to avoid an elite dominating our agendas, almost everyone in the movement needs to make vision and strategy their own. Activists need to know what we are fighting for, why, and how. That's what real democracy, real participation, and even further, real self management entails.
So for all these reasons I have this compulsion to urge others to address vision and strategy in accessible ways that continually seek new insights in pursuit of shared views, and also to do that myself, and this book is part of that process.
I therefore hope Realizing Hope prods much more work on gender vision, race vision, ecology vision, international relations vision, political vision, and vision bearing on particular sub parts of society such as education, art, science, and others. And I also hope it helps put parecon before a wider audience, who will in turn assess it, improve it, and either transcend it or advocate it.
The book titled Parecon was only about economics. But not everyone has such a taste for economics that they want to plow through a whole long book on it. So in Realizing Hope I have made the economics just one chapter. And the rest has something for everyone. Indeed, I hope almost everyone will find almost every chapter of Realizing Hope engaging and provocative. I hope each chapter will enable a reader to see many of the issues and possibilities regarding vision and strategy for that area, and especially to contribute themselves to moving further forward. That's the goal - participation in arriving at widely shared vision and strategy.
In my view, at least, it follows that Realizing Hope will be a success if it stimulates and provokes wider concern with vision and strategy. It will be even more valuable if it actually contributes significantly to the emerging shared vision and strategy. At the opposite pole, I would doubt the wisdom of having spent lots of time writing Realizing Hope if it sits on the publisher's shelves, dormant, or if it is read here and there and has little impact beyond the moment of reading, or even if it is read very widely, for that matter, but there are no positive tangible results after the reading. A political book isn't written to momentarily entertain. Rather to be worthwhile, a political book has to have lasting collective benefit. And so I hope that will be true for Realizing Hope.
Ultimately, however, the impact and worth of any book depends on readers more than authors. I just have to hope - and try to contribute to realizing my hope as best I can - that enough people hear about the book, and get a feeling for what it is about, for it to at least have a chance of being considered for reading. That's a problem of reviews and the like - always a difficult path to traverse. If people do hear about it, however, then I have to hope interest in vision and strategy is great enough for people to give it a try. After that, if people do read it, then the ideas either fly or not.