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.
Allocation should be determined by cooperative and informed negotiation in which all of 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.
Strategically, just as movements should foreshadow a future that is feminist and polycultural, so should movements foreshadow a future that is self-managing and classless, including incorporating the elements of participatory economics mentioned above.
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 augur and prepare for more changes tomorrow.
In battles around income, workplace conditions and decision-making, allocation, government spending, jobs, workday 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.
Other Contributions to the Forum
Barbara Ehrenreich & Bill Fletcher Jr., “Rising to the Occasion“
Immanuel Wallerstein, “Follow Brazil’s Example“
Bill McKibben, “Together, We Save the Planet“
Rebecca Solnit, “The Revolution Has Already Occurred“
Tariq Ali, “Capitalism’s Deadly Logic“
Robert Pollin, “Be Utopian: Demand the Realistic“
John Bellamy Foster, “Economy, Ecology, Empire“
Christian Parenti, “Limits and Horizons“
Doug Henwood, “A Post-Capitalist Future is Possible“
Mike Davis, “The Necessary Eloquence of Protest“
Lisa Duggan, “Imagine Otherwise“
Vijay Prashad, “The Dragons, Their Dragoons“
Kim Moody, “Socialists Need to Be Where the Struggle Is“
Saskia Sassen, “An Economic Platform That Is Ours“
Dan La Botz, “Militant Minorities“
Dave Zirin, “Socialists, Out and Proud”
Joanne Landy, “I Love Bill Moyers, but He’s Wrong About Socialism”
Hilary Wainwright, “I Love Bill Moyers, but He’s Wrong About Socialism”
George A. Papandreou, “The Challenge of Global Governance”