[Press interview preparatory to arriving in Argentina for a trip there, to Venezuela, and Mexico, to learn about events unfolding throughout Latin America.]
– Please summarize Parecon’s argument?
Economic institutions by their implications for producers and consumers contour and constrain our actions and possibilities. Workplaces, acts of consumption, and transactions of exchange produce or deny values we aspire to. Economic institutions impose or eliminate differences that elevate some people and denigrate others.
If we favor that people should care for one another rather than nice guys finishing last, that people should have a wide range of choice rather than suffer cultural homogenization, that people should have a fair share of social output rather than some being richer than kings and others poorer than paupers, and that people should collectively control their own lives rather than being bossed and burdened and should have all these benefits in a world that respects ecological dictates rather than violating survivability – then we have to opt for means of production, consumption, and allocation that further our positive aspirations, rather than institutions, such as we endure now, that sunder our aspirations.
Building on that logic, parecon is a vision for a new economy in place of capitalism. It rejects private ownership of productive assets, hierarchical decision making, corporate divisions of labor, remuneration for power or output, and market allocation. It offers instead collective responsibility and people having a self managing say in decisions in proportion as they are affected by them, balanced job complexes in which we all have comparably empowering work tasks, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work, and a cooperative negotiation of economic agendas called participatory planning.
Parecon replaces class rule with classlessness. It advances rather than obliterates solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, and sustainability.
-Why do you think it is strategic to find a method for collective, democratic decision making?
To me being strategic means being part of attaining our long run aims. If that is our meaning for being strategic, then seeking full collective democracy is strategic because our long run aims include that people should have decision making influence in proportion, case by case, as they are affected by outcomes. To attain that optimal goal parecon calls self management, we need to incorporate ever greater approximation to full collective, democratic participation in our present endeavors because we need to learn self management’s meaning and contours, we need to become adept at it, and we need to show that it works to help inspire desire for it.
Put the opposite way, to instead have decision making in our projects that reproduces authoritarian hierarchies ensures that even if we win change it will only move us toward new systems of domination, not the classless self-managing liberation we seek.
-Are there any positive lessons to be learnt from the tradition of union and student organizing?
All lessons are positive, even if they are of the form avoid this set of choices as compared to being of the form seek that set of options. Of course there are major lessons of all kinds in all past efforts, from the importance of both labor and youth for the strength, creativity, and militance of resistance, to the efficacy or lack of efficacy of various approaches.
Perhaps the largest lesson of this latter sort, in accord with your last question, is of the need to embody in our current actions seeds of the future – both in demeanor, and in views, values, and actual organizational structure and roles. For example, if we want classlessness in the future, our movements should not elevate some economic actors – who I call a coordinator class – above others, who are rightly known as workers.
-What do you know about Argentine social movements?
Very little. I am coming to learn. I know some, however, about the U.S. and its movements, about its economy and social movements, about its foreign policy and anti war movements, about its media and alternative media, about its leaders and populace. I also think I know something about economic vision and related implications for strategy.
-Please share with us some thoughts on the situation of the antiglobalization movements in the US?
There are in my view severe problems and potentials in the U.S. Problems include not only a growing and quite effective right wing movement – literally fundamentalist – but also young people who are quiescent, and a deadening cynicism in society and also among progressives themselves. What is missing, I think, is compelling vision and strategy.
The more optimistic potentials have to do with means at our disposal, on the one hand, and with receptivity of quite large portions of the population if we could bring to them a message worth hearing. Progress in the U.S. therefore depends, tremendously, on overcoming movement inadequacies, I believe. Our movements, anti coporate globalization among others, don’t inspire continued involvement. They do not retain members and deepen their comittment and resolve. I think this is, in fact, an international problem, afflicting almost every country, in considerable part for similar reasons. That is my experience travelling rather widely, at any rate.
It isn’t, in short, that people are ignorant of oppression. People know, sometimes quite explicitly and self consciously, often deep down in their bones and souls, that our societies are a god awful mess. It is that people doubt that anything systemically better is possible, or that there is any avenue to attain better. Social ills are regarded as more or less like aging or gravity. They are seen as inevitable. To fight them is seen as a fool’s errand, like rolling rocks uphill only to be crushed when those rocks finally roll back down.
People don’t doubt social ills are there. People know poverty, racism, sexism, alienation, profit seeking, and imperial wars at the very least limit lives and at most squander them visciously. But people doubt the efficacy of resistance much less of positive aspirations.
For most people injustice is regarded more or less like old age. It limits us, it kills us, but we have to get on with our lives as best we can. We don’t build movements to ward off aging and most people feel it is just as hopeless to build movements to ward off social injustice.
They know aging hurts. They think, rightly, that movements have no bearing on aging and cannot demand its moderation or implement its elmination. If you say, come join in a movement against aging, they just laugh at you and go back to their lives. They know social injustice hurts. They think, wrongly, that movements have no bearing on social injustice and cannot demand it moderation or implement its elimination.
If you say come join me in a social movement against poverty, war, sexism, racism, much less capitalism, they just laugh at you and go back to their lives. Movements inadequately address this central problem in people’s consciousness. We tell people what they know, everything is broken and the system is hugely powerful. We do not tell them what better system is possible and how their acts might help attain it. This brew ironically helps cement cynicism, not overcome it.
-What is the relationship between Z Net and those movements (in the past, and currently)?
ZNet provides information and to the degree we can ellicit it from our writers – many of whom are deeply involved in all kinds of movements all around the world – vision and strategy, as well. ZNet isn’t an official arm or agency of any particular movement but we try to relate, hearing needs and to the extent we can, and that media messages are relevant, providing responses. We try to help with organizing by all means at our disposal.
-We know that you are writing your Memoires. Regarding your activism in the sixties, What was your role, and how do you asses the experience of those years? In those days I was first a student at MIT, very deeply involved in what was called the student movement. It was, of course, students as part of civil rights, antiwar, feminist, and other efforts. I retained involvement in all the efforts when I was no longer a student – having been thrown out of MIT. Later I became involved as well in media work, helping to found and operate a left publishing house, South End Press, and then a left magazine, Z Magazine, and then a left web site, ZNet, among other projects and institutions.
The Sixties – really from the late fifties through the mid seventies, was a tumultuous period worldwide. It transformed minds all over, and policies in many places, but in very few places did it touch basic defining institutions of society. It was a heroic project but flawed in numerous and deep ways. It is our task now and in years ahead to create a new heroic project, but without all the flaws.