Reimagining Society Interview
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "Okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what you are for? What institutions do you want that you think will be better than what we have, for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you think is central to have vision for?"
I want a self-managed, solidaristic, decentralized, sustainable, and participatory economy. I think this means that we need an economy with:
- A decentralized and participatory planning process.
- Remuneration (payment) for effort and sacrifice (and need for children, the elderly/retired, the injured and disabled, and those on maternity/paternity leave or vacation).
- Social ownership of productive property, democratically controlled by the people most effected by them.
- The organization of workplaces into democratic/self-managed federations of workers and consumers’/community councils.
- Self-managed workplaces and councils where people have a say in the decisions which affect them and resources on which they are dependent, in proportion to the degree to which they are affected by the decisions and dependent on the resources.
- Jobs balanced within and across workplace and industry, with each person having a relatively equal share of onerous work and empowering/managerial tasks.
- A process of wealth equalization and sustainable development across the world, directly controlled by the people.
- An end to “planned obsolesce” – the process by which capitalist companies make products that are designed to break after a short period of time so that they can sell consumers more of the same. Products in the future must be made to last – and last, and last, and last!
I want feminism, queer liberation, and liberatory kinship. I want a system of kinship, love, family, and friendship which includes:
- Sexuality without fear;
- The freedom to express one’s own gender and sexual identity without fear of hatred, violence, or discrimination;
- Diverse forms of living and family relations (for this goal, see the great marriage and beyond statement herehttp://www.beyondmarriage.org/full_statement.html).
- Full healthcare for children and the elderly.
- The equitable sharing of all processes of care-giving (child care giving, care of the elderly, care of the sick and disabled).
- Equitable divisions of labor in regards to sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
I want intercommunalism and global justice and equality. I think this means, at a minimum:
- The attainment of a post-racial society. By this I mean that arbitrary racial categories which give some people (white people, Americans, Europeans) power and privilege, while other people (immigrants, Jews, people of color, immigrants, third-world people, indigenous people), oppression, exploitation, violence, and death.
- The attainment of an ethnically and culturally diverse society where all communities are encouraged towards egalitarian practices, and are provided with the resources and space needed for their cultural, religious, and ethnic survival.
- Open inter-communal and intra-communal dialogue to promote understanding and cooperation towards unified ends (see “Solidarity within Autonomy” under question three of this interview).
- For the United States, this will surely mean a gigantic process of Truth and Reconciliation, and massive, long-term processes of cultural and monetary reparations. It will require processes of wealth equalisation both within first-world countries, and from first world countries to third world countries and indigenous nations within first world countries.
- 6. Equitable divisions of labor in regards to ethnicity, culture, community, geographical region, and religion.
I want a system of participatory and liberatory education. For more on this, see Yotam Marom’s great Reimagining Society Project essay on the topic: “Reimagining the School: A Glimpse at Participatory Education”.
I want a system of global media which stems from local communities of power.
I’m sure we can and will include many other things in our vision of the future, but these things are what come to mind in a preliminary exploration for myself.
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?"
The system attempts to control or destroy everything I love. It murders millions of people. It starves them, bombs them, rapes them. It robs them of their potentialities and of the wealth that they create themselves. It denies people access to empowering work and empowering situations. It commodifies love, and pits men, women and gender non-conforming people against each other. It limits sexuality and soaks it in fear and violence. It forces us into limiting notions of what it means to be this or that gender – and punishes those who don’t comply. It creates arbitrary notions of who is deserving, who is criminal, who is good and who is evil – calling the good people “white”, “straight”, “male”, “American”, and so on. It makes us insecure, anxious, depressed, suicidal, violent – it tries (and often succeeds at) bringing out the worst in all of us in its narrow pursuit of profit and power.
I fight because this system kills millions of people. Because it has put our climate in jeopardy; because it kills millions of species of animals while putting the ecosystems of the world in fatal peril.
This system – or rather, a “system of systems – (patriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism, the authoritarian state, etc…) is my enemy. I work every day in an attempt to destroy it and replace it with something better – something good.
So I fight because all of this is bad, but more so, because something good is so very possible.
I fight because I have a personal stake in our end goal – a participatory, sustainable, feminist, intercommunalist, participatory economic and participatory democratic society – and because I understand that while I might not be able to comprehend completely why others fight for revolution, I understand that they fight for similar reasons as me.
Growing up gay in a heterosexist society, I experienced tremendous fear, self-loathing, anxiety, depression, and worse. You feel out of place, alone, wrong, damned even. You hear homophobic comments intended to enforce a rigid and narrow notion of masculinity and male sexuality.
I remember having constant anxiety. I remember watching what I said – and how I said it; what I wore – and how I wore it; what I thought – and how I thought it. When I was still “closeted” everything I did had to be self-regulated in an attempt to keep from being “outted”. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on the worst of my enemies. So I oppose the system because of what I went through – but also because I understand that billions of people have had to go through, much, much worse – infinitely worse – than I did (and do). I fight this system because it is a death system. It is a system which spreads its evil everywhere in pursuit of its horrific goals, and through horrific means.
I fight because I dream of a day when I could hear my children say, “dad, what was capitalism?”, “dad, what was racism?”, “dad, what was patriarchy?”, “dad, what was the state?”. I fight because I believe in the ability of ordinary people to organize their lives free of outside interference. I fight because I believe that a nonviolent and peaceful society is possible – free of war or needless conflict. I fight because I believe that religion, ethnicity, and geography need not divide us. I fight because sexuality free from fear is possible. I fight because a participatory and sustainable economy is possible.
I fight for many more reasons, but in short, I fight because I believe we can institutionalize and spread a culture of good, which I believe can triumph over the evil we see today. Another world is possible!
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?
Yes, of course. Anyone who received such an e-mail would have to consider it very seriously and consider signing on if certain conditions are met. Here would be things I would want such a project to consider, and if it had enough of them, I would probably consider getting involved and fighting for the realization of the others.
- Shared Vision: Any organization which aims to help build a revolutionary movement is going to need to develop a vision of what a participatory society would look like. To get involved in an organization, it would have to take seriously the need for a shared and flexible democratic vision.
- A Complementary and Holistic Conceptual Framework: Our problems don’t just stem from capitalism. Patriarchy, white supremacy, and the authoritarian state – as well as the systems of imperialism and environmental unsustainability – must all be confronted. We must have a framework which sees the need to unite against all our enemies and against all systems of oppression and exploitation. We can’t win without doing this – as we’ve seen all too clearly in the past.
- Dual Power: Our organizing and organization has the goal of reaching what is called a dual power situation. A point which puts the current system into a state of crisis where millions of people shift their allegiances from the old system to the new. The institutions and movements of the people reach a point where the revolutionary movement can take power throughout all levels of society. We must organize toward this end.
Counter Hegemony: in addition to institutions, the system has what we call cultural hegemony. We can’t just focus on new institutions. A new left must also take seriously the task of building a counter culture. It must promote new narratives of self-rule. Narratives of liberated gender and sexuality, of a post-racial and ethnically diverse society, of religion beyond oppression, of participatory democracy, and participatory economics, of ecological sanity and environmental sustainability. To summarize this point, I turn to the words of Arundhati Roy:
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we are being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling: their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
- Institutions and Culture, Not People: while individuals participate, represent, and carry out the will of systems of domination and hegemony, our enemy is the systems themselves. Our goal should always be to reach new hearts and minds, and win new people to revolution. While systems need to be overthrow, dismantled, and replaced by new ones, people must be won over. We must fight against bad institutions (and institutional roles) and culture (and cultural roles) but not against the people themselves people. We must build a beloved community.
- Maximal nonviolence: A left which is serious about its values must necessarily despise violence. It must understand that like hierarchy, violence changes our psyches. It leaves a trace on our souls which is difficult, if not impossible to remove. We can look to soldiers who return to war scarred and riddled with wounds that aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye: PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and self-loathing. Violence is wrong. A left movement, therefore, should commit itself to opposing violence wherever possible.
- The Purpose of Action is Power: We take action to build our power and win more power. We should judge our actions by how they expand our ability to win further reforms, how they increase our power and ability to self-govern ourselves, and how they advance our goals. Action without a plan and vision will almost always leads us down bad paths. We must be goal- and vision- oriented, and use our actions to build our power.
- Seeds of the Future in the Present: Like our commitment to maximal nonviolence, any new left must commit itself to egalitarian practices and strategies. We can’t use undemocratic means to achieve democratic ends. We can’t, in the words of Martin Buber, “expect a tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves.” This means that in our theories, analyses, strategies, practices, and visions, we must ensure that our values are implemented to the highest degree possible. We must ask ourselves “what can we do today, so that tomorrow we can practice our values even more?”
- Communalism: We must live together, share our wealth, practice new diverse forms of living and loving. We can’t win a new world by merely through fighting the old system – even if we are organized into movements. We must actually begin to build the new world in the here-and-now – while dismantling the old system, with its authoritarian institutions and culture, and reforming them in a manner which sets us on a path to greater power and control over our own lives. (For more on this see “Revolutionary Communalism: Where Vision and Strategy Meet” by Yotam Marom)
- Collective Liberation: None who were born under the system can say they are yet liberated. All of us are deeply scarred. Oppressed people must free themselves from the notions of identity and community which the system has heaped upon us, and groups who are doing the oppressing must confront and reject their privileges – using them for the goals of revolution. We must actively work to confront inequalities and injustices in the here-and-now – both within our organizations and in the world at large. We must pass the finish line together. We call this collective liberation.
- Solidarity within Autonomy: Each community of oppressed and exploited people knows what’s best for them. This isn’t to say that needs and desires within each constituency – workers for example – is identical. But it does mean that workers should be at the lead for issues of labor, class, and economics. Similarly, women and queers should take the lead on issues of gender, sex, and sexuality; people of color and immigrants should take the lead on issues of race, ethnicity, community, and culture; and so on. We should have solidarity across our movements, and self-managed autonomy for issues that affect mostly our constituency.
- Local Power, Regional/National/International Unity: We must build local power in our communities – both institutionally and hegemonically – while striving to unite those communities into regional, national, and international blocs. We can’t substitute national organizations for the slow and patient work of liberating entire communities from the grasp of the system – and we can’t ignore the enormous size and complexity of the system by falling into the trap of localism. Both are needed. National, regional, and international unity must be rooted in strong, organized, and powerful fighting communities.
- A Rejection of Substitutionalism: Pat Korte put this well in his RSP interview. We can’t liberate people for them – they must do it themselves. Our organizations must be aimed at putting control of society directly into the hands of the organized people’s movement. Anything else is a fool’s errand and will result in failure. We’ve seen this time and time again. It is indisputable. If we take state power, the role of the state must be to dismantle itself – to pass ever increasing power directly to the self-organized institutions of the people.
- Within the Oppressed: Our revolutionary organizations must make their home directly within oppressed communities. It’s the only way to win. Winning organizations will have organized entire communities and put oppressed people – queers, workers, people of color, women, gender-nonconforming, immigrants, alternatively abled, and the like, directly at the helm of our movement.
- An Open-minded view of State Power: The state is an oppressive institution. It is more than an institution of class rule – it also enforces a political order, a gender order, a sexual order, a national order, and a racial order. For these reasons it must eventually be destroyed and replaced with an authentic and participatory democratic system of governance. But we can’t ignore that the system is something that exists. Like our workplaces, if we are able to take it, that should be something we think very long and hard about. And if we do ever take state power, it can’t be like revolutionaries have taken it in the past. The primarily goals of a people’s state must be to dismantle itself while actively dismantling the old order. A state which continues to centralize power despite its stated progressive values is an enemy state – it has nothing to do with authentic democracy or egalitarianism. That being said, our primary goal must always be to build and strengthen the self-managed institutions and culture of the people –nothing can replace that.
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? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
We can’t win (at least win anything desirable or holistic) if we don’t embody the seeds of the future in the present. If we continue to use the old ways – the ways that the death system has designed to maintain its power – it will be impossible to win. We can only win if we practice our highest values and aspirations right now in the present, to the highest degree possible.
I think the implications are far reaching. It means that we must engender a culture within our organization that is welcoming and empowering to oppressed constituencies. We must practice internal democracy, anti-sexism/feminism, anti-racism/intercommunalism, and, if we have paid positions within our organizations, balanced jobs, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and workplace self-management. We must think about the implications of this norm (practicing our values in the present to the highest degree possible) in everything we do.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
I hope others will answer it soon. I know I took a very long time. Partly it was because I am a busy person, and partly its because it takes a while to get my thoughts down on paper. I encourage others who have signed up to participate but haven’t yet to take a chance and get something down on paper!
It’s the first step to developing shared unity on vision, strategy, and analysis – and organization!