Socialism’s all the rage. “We Are All Socialists Now,” Newsweek declares. As the right wing tells it, we’re already living in the USSA. But what do self-identified socialists (and their progressive friends) have to say about the global economic crisis? In the March 23 issue, we published Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.’s “Rising to the Occasion” as the opening essay in a forum on “Reimagining Socialism.” TheNation.com will feature new replies to their essay over the coming weeks, fostering what we hope will be a spirited dialogue.
Ehrenreich and Fletcher ask : “do we have a [shared] plan?” and forthrightly answer that we don’t, and that 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 longer essay, “Taking Up The Task,” available on the ZNet website.
Our goal ought to be a classless economy. In such an economy, everyone would be equally able to participate, utilize their 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 others.
By their position in the economy, lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, etc., accrue information, skills, confidence, energy and influence on daily outcomes sufficient to largely control their own tasks and those of workers below. These “coordinator class” members operate subordinate to capital but above workers.
“Out with the old boss, in with the new boss” is not a strategy that ends bosses. To retain the distinction between the coordinator class and the working class would ensure coordinator class rule. 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 moral and economic reasons, each person who is able to work should be remunerated for the duration, intensity and onerousness of their socially valued effort.
Economic relations should produce a social partnership of mutual aid, rather than people fleecing one another in an antisocial shootout. Each person should enjoy a self-managing say over the decisions that affect them.
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 to the degree they are affected by them requires self-managing councils through which they can express and tally their preferences.
Equitable distribution requires that workers be remunerated for the duration and intensity of their effort and the harshness of conditions. Remunerated effort must also be socially useful so that workers have incentives that elicit 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 jobs for empowerment eliminates the division between coordinators and workers by ensuring all workers are enabled to participate fully in self-management.