Replying to Ehrenreich/Fletcher
By Michael Albert at Mar 08, 2009
I entered the following as a comment appended to the Ehrenreich/Fletcher piece from the Nation, also posted on ZCom. II also sent it to the Nation, since they asked for responses. I am putting it here, in case anyone wants to discuss it, is may be easier this way..
Ehrenreich and Fletcher ask: "do we have a [shared] plan?" and forthrightly answer that we don't, and we need a "deliberative process for figuring out what to do."
I agree. We need shared vision to inspire hope, incorporate the seeds of the future in the present, and illuminate a path to where we want to wind up. Here is a summary of a much longer essay "Taking Up The Task," available on the ZNet website.
Classlessness ought to inform our economic goal.
To have a classless economy requires that everyone by their economic position be equally able to participate, utilize capacities, and accrue income. Private ownership of productive assets must be gone, but so too must a division of labor that affords some producers far greater influence and income than other producers.
By their position in the economy, lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, etc., accrue information, skills, confidence, energy, and access to means of influencing daily outcomes sufficient to largely control their own tasks and to define, design, determine, and control the tasks of workers below. These coordinator class members operate subordinate to capital, but above workers.
"Out with the old boss in with the new boss" does not end having bosses. To retain the distinction between the coordinator class and the working class would ensure coordinator class rule. This type change can end capitalism, but this type change will not attain classlessness. Thus, our movements and projects must eliminate the monopoly of capitalists on productive property, but also the monopoly of coordinators on empowering work. Indeed, this is what reimagining socialism is primarily about.
Beyond classlessness, we also ought to seek equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, ecological balance, and economic efficiency. For example...
- Each person who is able to work, both for moral and economic reasons, should be remunerated for the duration, intensity, and onerousness of their socially valued effort.
- Economic relations should produce a cooperative social partnership of mutual aid rather than people fleecing one another in an anti-social shoot out.
- Economics should convey to each person self-managing say over decisions in proportion as those decisions affect us.
- An economy should not compel us to destroy our natural habitat but should instead reveal the full and true social and ecological costs and benefits of contending choices, and convey to us control over the options.
Clearly, private ownership of productive property, corporate divisions of labor, top down decision-making, markets, and central planning violate all these aspirations.
- For workers and consumers to influence decisions in proportion as they are affected by those decisions requires self-managing councils through which workers and consumers express and tally their preferences.
- Equitable distribution requires workers be remunerated for their duration of effort, intensity of effort, and harshness of conditions, and that remunerated effort be socially useful so that workers have incentives consistent with eliciting fulfilling output.
- Self-managed decisions require confident preparation, relevant capacity, and appropriate participation. There can't be some actors who monopolize empowering work while others are left disempowered and unable to manifest a will of their own. Balancing of jobs for empowerment eliminates the division between coordinators and workers by ensuring that all economic actors are enabled by their conditions to participate fully in self-management.
- Allocation should be undertaken by cooperative and informed negotiation in which all people's freely expressed wills are proportionately actualized and in which operations, mindsets, and structures further the logic of self-managing councils, balanced job complexes, and equitable remuneration rather than violating each. To my thinking, this implies what has been called participatory planning.
If we were to agree on features like those noted above for economic vision, then requirements for current activist projects, organizations, and movements should patiently incorporate the seeds of the future in the present, including self-managed decision-making, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and cooperative negotiated planning.
Strategically, just as movements should foreshadow a future that is feminist, poly-cultural, and politically participatory to avoid being compromised in their values, incapable of inspiring diverse constituencies, incapable of overcoming cynicism, and weak in their comprehension of current relations, so should movements for the same reasons foreshadow a future that is classless, including incorporating self-managing council organization, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and participatory planning.
Seeking transformed economic institutions requires that we begin to create such institutions in the present but also that we fight for changes in capitalist institutions. Indeed, the path to a better future involves primarily a long march through existing institutions, battling for changes that improve people's lives today even as they auger and prepare for more changes tomorrow.
In battles around income, workplace conditions, decision-making, allocation, jobs, work-day length, and other facets of economic life, our rhetoric should advance comprehension of ultimate values. Our organizations should embody the norms we seek for the future. Our spirit should be full of optimism, but also clear about obstacles.