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Organization

Then

[Murphy begin 12/8/17; based on DiEM_Left-Is-Dead.pdf] The historic defeat of the German Social-democratic Party (SPD) in the 2017 federal elections marked the end of the political framework that had shaped European societies since the end of World War II. Such a framework has rested on two pillars, i.e. a social-democratic and a bourgeois-liberal pole, which long competed for government, by articulating clearly distinct sets of policies, while agreeing on the basic tenets of liberal, capitalist democracy. As the social-democratic pillar crumbled, the way was opened for the rise of right-wing, national-populist, or even fascist-type parties. Those parties succeeded for a time in appealing to social and demographic groups that had historically supported not only the Social Democrats, but the Left in general, such as “blue collar” workers, students, public employees and young voters.

Thus the crisis of social-democratic parties was nothing but the tip of the iceberg, the base of which consisted in the crisis of the entire Left, ranging from classical Social Democracy, to green and post- or neo-communist parties. Second, such a crisis was not only political, since it impinged on the very social basis of progressive politics. What then needed to be done? To answer such a crucial question, it was necessary to grasp the nature of the relations between left-wing parties and their social base. Historically, social-democratic, communist and green parties had always risen as the political offshoots of vibrant social movements: trade unions, working class mutual aid associations, cooperative societies, religious communities, environmental protection organizations, anti-colonialist, feminist, civil rights and LGBTQ movements. Such movements not only provided progressive parties with electoral momentum, but they also built large networks that allowed the disenfranchised to socialize and to empower themselves.

The crisis of the political Left was thus nothing but the final act of a tragedy that started to unfold at the end of the 1970s, the deep sense of which was perfectly summarized by Margaret Thatcher’s notorious phrase, “There’s no such thing as society”. As the historian Tony Judt put it, what was unfolding was “the steady shift of public responsibility onto the private sector to no discernible collective advantage”, which caused, in turn, “an increased difficulty in comprehending what we have in common with others”. It followed that bringing back progressive politics meant bringing back society itself, understood as the common space where individuals could reclaim the capacity to flourish, through free collective association and with the support of public institutions. The question remained, which forces could possibly achieve such a goal? And how would they go about it?

Existing progressive forces seemed doomed to fall short of the mark. Western communist parties had already lost most of their social base even before they were buried by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and only became further marginalized. As for the Greens, they had embodied the hope for a renewal of progressive politics throughout the 1980s and the ‘90s, fueled by new forms of civic engagement. However, they steadily abandoned their “alternative” roots to fully integrate into existing institutions.

Social-democratic parties long presented themselves as a beacon for progressive politics in western Europe, by helping to craft the welfare state system in the 1950s and 60s. But by a strange irony of fate, those same parties were instrumental in dismantling that system in following decades. The demise of social-democratic parties could not, however, be reduced to the treachery of their élites. On the contrary, it was rooted in two structural weaknesses of the compromise between capital and labor that they helped to bring about. As Tony Judt remarked, social-democratic parties benefited from “a very particular combination of circumstances”, both from a political and an economic point of view, which were doomed to fade away. Moreover, they tied their political action to the framework of the nation-state, which was in crisis as globalization proceeded. [Murphy end]

How

Those seeking a way out of this impasse pointed to three key notions: The first was “grassroots”, since any new movement would need to establish the largest possible social base, while supporting all the other forces that shared its goals. The second was “communication”, since a new movement would also need to spread its values and policies as broadly as possible, by combining old and new media activism with street activism, canvassing and new forms of political action. The third was “electoral action”, which, in the context of a democratic state, constituted an essential tool for establishing and reversing power relations between social groups. Left-wing “electoral vehicles” had historically emerged as the culminating point of a long process of self-organization, promoted by social movements that shared the same long-term goals. It was therefore be argued by many that the grassroots and the communication phase should be prioritized over the electoral one.

Proponents of electoral activity cited Machiavelli's teaching that political action is nothing but the result of the struggle between the will of political subjects and ever-changing conditions which are not of their own choosing. In such a struggle, timing is essential, even more in times where opportunity windows open and close very rapidly. Thus they called for building electoral vehicles that were tightly connected with broader social and political movements, going well beyond traditional parties.

[by Richard] Voter suppression had long been the major electoral strategy of the racist right in the U.S., going back to the Federalist era, the tragedy of the post-Civil War Reconstruction of the slave-holding South with the nation-wide triumph of Jim Crow, and again in the 21st century with the the reversal of the Civil Rights era’s victories of the 1960’s. The usual voter suppression tactics were revived with renewed Gerrymandering, closing of polling places, strict voter ID laws and massive arbitrary purging of voter rolls all aimed at minorities and the poor.

Obviously, the way for the anti-racist left to counter this strategy was to mount a vigorous voter registration campaign. This had been the strategy of the Rainbow Coalition proposed by Jesse Jackson, but the national Democratic Party never endorsed it. The DNC, dominated by the millionaire donors and established politicians, was afraid of being challenged by an expanded base and apparently preferred losing elections to the Republicans (who won the presidency twice with a minority of the popular vote). The real scandal of the Democratic defeat of 2016 was not the largely ineffective Russian stealth propaganda campaign, but the illegal suppression of the populist Sanders challenge which left Donald Trump as the only populist in the field.

The amazing success of the grass-roots 2016 primary campaign of Sanders, an avowed socialist as well as several public opinion polls revealed that millions of Americans preferred socialism to capitalism. Socialism was no longer identified with totalitarian Communism as during the Red scare, and people were eager to learn more about it. And when the racist, misogynist, bully Trump was “elected,” many gave up on the existing political system altogether and began looking for alternatives.

Within less that two years, a more-or-less moribund organization with the attractive name of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) had 50,000 new members and counting. DSA was the latest incarnation of the historic U.S. Socialist Party/Social Democratic Federation. The SP’s perennial Presidential candidate was E.V. Debs, who was thrown into prison by Democrat Woodrow Wilson for his opposition to the U.S. entry into WWI (in 1920 Debs garnered a million votes from his cell in Leavenworth). The SP was decimated by the post-WWI Red scare and later was pushed aside by the more radical Communist Party. The post-WWII Red scare reduced both parties to mere shells.

In 1958 a Trotskyist splinter-group, the International Socialist League, whose leading theoretician was Max Schachtman, dissolved into the SP/SDF, whose leading lights were Michael Harrington and Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin. This merger dynamized the old SP through activity in the Civil Rights struggle and the growth of its youth wing, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), which foreshadowed the “new left” and educated a whole new radical generation, many of them still active a half-century later, in the fundamentals of socialism.

However, under Schachtman’s influence, the new SP strategy, “political realignment,” called for working within the Democratic Party to eliminate the Southern Dixiecrats and turn the Dems into a “labor-liberal party” – a strategy which eerily prefigured Nixon’s successful 1968 “Southern strategy,” winning the racist Dixiecrats over to the Republicans. In the 60s, the SP, loyal to the Dems, refused to condemn JFK’s Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and LBJ’s escalating Vietnam War, and it also opposed community control of NYC’s de-factor segregated public schools, as well as the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Delegation at the 1964 Democratic convention. The SP thus lost the support of the student movement, the Black movement, and the antiwar movement. However, the SP retained its influence in the establishment labor bureaucracy, where its members held leading positions which they used for despicable ends, doing their best to squash the antiwar movement and the burgeoning labor rank-and-file movement of the later 1960s.

The SP soon lost the support of YPSL’s anti-racist, anti-imperialist youth, whom the SP leadership expelled. YPSL members dispersed into SDS, the International Socialists, the Young Socialist Alliance, News and Letters, and other radical groups. Disgraced and isolated, the SP shrank to a marginalized splinter group called the Social Democratic Federation and spun off a more leftwing group led by Michael Harrington called initially the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which later fused with an SDS remnant, the New American Movement, to form the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) which persisted as a tiny group for many years until 2016, when they were rapidly revitalized by a new generation activated by Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and #NoDAPL, inspired by Bernie Sanders, and outraged by Donald Trump, who were seeking a socialist home. DSA rapidly became “the only game in town” for socialist youth.

The revitalized DSA rapidly broke with its past, resigning from the neoliberal Socialist International (which included France’s François Holland and Greece’s Papandreou) and repudiating Harrington’s subservience to the Democratic Party, while struggling with the issue of what kind of electoral strategy to pursue without falling into the same trap. [RG]

[This section improvised on line Oct. 21st meeting]

As the label “the left” ceased to have substantive meaning - encompassing everyone from Hillary Clinton to Bob Avakian - a new terminology gradually emerged: [Sam Fassbinder on Utopians vs. Conformists]

Branch here to 3 scenarios in 2024: [by Sam Friedman]

  • The election is annulled, the people revolt
  • The social democrats win the election but do their usual thing, and then the people revolt
  • The social democrats win and succeed in reforming the economy but run up against the environmental crisis
    • Friedman scenario: then the people revolt
    • Schwartzmann scenario: solar communism is achieved

Candidate X [choose among Bernie Sanders, Michelle Alexander, Rev. William Barber, Barbara Lee…] won the presidency in 2024 along with 312 DSA members elected to the House of Representatives and 53 who joined the US Senate. Hopes and fantasies bloomed among the Utopians and their supporters. In the daily operation of government, the new DSA regime and its officers were soon confronted by capital flight: The rich and their corporations moved bank accounts to the banks of other countries, cut back on investments and on opening new facilities in the USA, and sped up their transfer of portable operations to other countries. The FBI claimed to have found evidence that bots supporting Bernie had been organized and financed by billionaires in Abu Dhabi and party hacks in Venezuela. Bernie and the DSA members of Congress spent months defending themselves from these accusations and finding ways to give corporations subsidies to bring jobs back to America. The fascists among Trump's supporters did their best to organize racist reaction against Sanders and his ilk, all of whom they claimed had African-American blood in their genomes, one part in 12,000.

[Friedman updates from here, 10/31/18]

Meanwhile, millions of working women, working and unemployed Blacks, immigrants, and large parts of the 90% were disappointed and pissed off. Their lives were not improving. The environment continued to go to hell. They got poorer and poorer, and the cops continued to run amok in their communities, even as 1/4 of the cops and their families were on food stamps due to cutbacks. As the Utopians had long expected, all hell broke loose.

The movement to create decent lives for ordinary people, to constrain the growing police state, and to prevent climate change disaster, had begun to grow itself a head to go with its heart—kind of an inverse of what happened to the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. So as they saw their hopes beginning to be betrayed once again, a remarkable thing happened. In a local Starbucks on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, the store manager forced a barista to have sex with him and then described her as a dirty slut to some of the other workers. They walked out and formed a picket line. Other retail workers joined in the picket lines, and also struck their own employers over ways they had been coerced into sex or had their dignity attacked.

And then it spread. Walmarts. Insurance companies. The Federal Reserve Bank. The mass of warehouses and truck-related workers who served New York City.

Then Chicago. Fort Worth. Pocatello, Idaho.

And of course, many of these companies were international. And managerial behavior was too. So it spread to Tokyo, Durban, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Kampala, Cairo, Kyiv, and beyond. And in all of these places, the workers were talking with each other and thinking.

And they had collectively learned the lessons of the failures of the preceding decades. They formed neighborhood councils, workplace councils, city councils (and, yes, in some places they even called them soviets—but with some understanding of what NOT to do this time.

And they wooed the police and the armies and the air forces enough, in most places, so the armed forces of the States split or, in some cases, went over overwhelmingly to the side of the movement.

And the Councils dismissed the Parliaments, the Presidents and the government bureaus, told them to go home—the people and the workers would fix up what capital and its State had messed up..

And then the real work began as we tried to fix a broken world whose climate was going berserk and whose oceans were dying. And of course, although the revolution had built many solidarities as it took place, the muck of ages in the form of racism, looking down on the peoples of the Global South, and subordination of women still remained as somewhat-weakened problems—problems which we could address better because the need for capitalist profitability and the need for a divided-against-itself working class had been resolved.

But in many ways, our ancestors faced an impossible situation. So much greenhouse gas had been released that utter devastation was unavoidable in many locations. Hundreds of millions would have to re-locate. Humanity would be lucky if the death toll was only in the tens of millions, and if world war could be prevented.

So what did they do?

In explaining how they managed to minimize these disasters and to build the good world we have today, we really need to understand the problems, complexities and hopeful possibilities of the situation “the day after” the working class took power. In retrospect, we were very lucky in how the revolution took place. It could have been so much less favorable! Most important, the revolution was truly global. It only failed to come to power in a few of the smaller countries—and over time, they joined the new society too. Furthermore, although by no means peaceful (in spite of the wishes of the movement), the revolution and ensuing revolts by the old ruling groups and their supporters were not so destructive as to destroy civilization. This good luck let us avoid untold problems that might have destroyed humanity. As it was, our ancestors could concentrate on the contradictions and difficulties implicit in the notion of workers’ revolution per se—that is, what do we could do with our power—rather than on problems of maintaining power in case of a geographically-limited victory or coping with a devastating nuclear war.

So, on the day after the revolution, problems and positive possibilities both were plentiful and confusing. On the positive side, the very fact that we were strong enough to win meant that we had gone through enough revolutionary experience, and had set up strong enough and democratic enough organizations, that we had organization, consciousness, and considerable unity as a shared resource. This let us go from being the done-upon and manipulated of history to being the new ruling class. It also was essential that we had not merely conquered state power but also had taken control over most workplaces and many community institutions. Thus, workers’ power and discussions could be implemented in many different parts of the social order. That is, we could figure out what to do—and then make our decisions actually happen and, critically, learn through our own experience where and how to modify our plans.

Of course, workers and other people had many different views on why they made the revolution, whose actions had been key to winning, what structures needed to be set up, what looming disasters to prioritize, and what kind of world we wanted to build. This proved once and for all the folly of one section of the pre-revolutionary left which thought that workers could only come to power through the leadership of a single united party and that they would thus have a unified consciousness when they won. The people who thought that clearly had never understood even the movements they had been part of, with their constant arguments, different views of what should be done, and so forth. They did not realize that a monolithic working class revolution had never happened, nor had revolutionary situations and near-revolutionary situations ever had any semblance of such unity—whether in Russia in 1917-21, Italy, Germany or Hungary in this same period, Catalonia in 1936, Hungary in 1956, France in 1968 [in spite of the presence of a strong Communist Party—which, indeed, did what it could to defeat the revolutionary upsurge], Portugal in 1976, Iran in 1979, Poland in 1980-82, or South Africa in the early 1990s. And they did not realize that out of the arguments and battles of revolutionaries we could build mutual love, mutual respect, and mutual solidarity. As the pre-revolutionary and almost-unknown poet Sam Friedman put it:

Conferences

(Dedicated to the attendees of the 1995 North American Syringe Exchange Convention)

What I see is love around me
love in action, love in deeds
love among the hundreds of trench-fighters
impatient doers who keep at it,
preventing new infections
while suffering sneers
every day
every week
every year
love in action
love in deeds
love, sometimes twisted
into spiteful words
resentment
envy
greed
aspiration for fame,
desire for respect,
twisting love
into griping distrust.

Sometimes,
what looks like conflict
is really love,
when two or more people face off
across the faces
of a silent meeting room
to show each the other
why the other is wrong,
why the mistakes can cost hundreds
of new infections.
These words may be bitter
but they embody love
and after the session
these battlers go out for a chat
or to plan new ways
to battle the hated virus
and the powers that support it.

Beneath the honest conflicts
beneath the painful shyness
the envy
resentment
backbiting
and occasional spite
what I see is love around me
total support among the bickerers
when the shit hits the plan
when the friends of the virus
or the care-less careerists
besiege one of the battlers
total support
love in action
love in deeds
love among the trench-fighters
love—
and we need it.

What our ancestors discovered was that the period when workers came to power was indeed a moment of maximum working class unity and solidarity, though not of agreement. But this moment of unity brought the working class and indeed all of humanity face to face both with the problems that needed to be resolved, and also with our structured-in disunity—i.e., that we ourselves were in some ways the Other. We had to produce and distribute myriad necessities —at a time when workers were striving to go beyond necessity. At every workplace, authority was in the hands of workers’ elected delegates and/or a general assembly of the workers. Issues of re-organization had to be confronted at the workplace in terms of improving safety, making jobs less inhuman, pay, fairness, and a host of other issues. This had been shown, for example, in Poland after Solidarity won the strike which established it as an independent union and a large-scale social movement: the workers were able to take action on and win many improvements in their lives (cite Jack Bloom book). Even though they had not won state power–and thus were less able to act than was true after our ancestors took power–they nonetheless were able to begin to construct new housing for the needy, to reduce many safety and health threats in the coal mines and factories, to increase the comfort level of conditions in many workplaces, and to reduce the extent of alcohol abuse on the job. In the process, they also changed the nature of social relationships within the working class. They built self-confidence, a sense of an integral community, a culture of voluntary sharing in order to help each other, and produced patterns of friendly interaction in streets, trams, and queues instead of jostling and snarling.

Polish workers also organized theaters, cabarets, and lecture series by intellectuals and workers at their workplaces; wrote articles and poems–and read them in public. Many workplaces established lending libraries, and workers used them to get a wide variety of books to feed their newborn hunger for a wide range of knowledge. Finally, they engaged in long and sometimes contentious discussions and meetings to set up ever-more-democratic institutions of workers’ power and action. Thus, even though they lacked decisive power in the economy and the state, the extent of mobilization and power they had built enabled them to show something of what a post-revolutionary society might look like.

After our ancestors took over effective command of the world, they had to address all of these issues, and other issues that touched upon other forms of social reorganization such as education and health care. These issues had to be resolved at every level—the world as a whole, the nation, the city, the workplace, the neighborhood, the family, the friendship group, and the individual, and required learning new skills and ways to think. All stratifications were under challenge as all workers, and humanity generally, saw this as their opportunity for a better, fairer, and more dignified life. But at every step, the need for production and distribution, and the pre-existing means of production, distribution, and communication that were built around relationships of authority and alienation, were the Other to the momentum for immediate change.

As you can imagine, this led to billions of people talking to each other in new ways, with new ideas, with new possibilities—and, literally, with the fate of the world depending on what they did. And, terrifyingly, for once they did not have the freedom just to gripe. They had to act. If they did not, people would starve, and later hurricanes and droughts would devastate the lives of the survivors.

The prior disasters that capitalism had caused—and their lasting effects, as with global climate change—were part of what had precipitated the revolutionary transformation. Such disasters raised the contradictions to matters of life and death—but did so differentially. Many workers and farmers were facing immediate starvation, disease, and/or life-threatening weather or drought—and some lacked housing to provide even a minimum of protection. This level of need was usually greatest in the underdeveloped countries, but was also present in the ghettoes and reservations of the United States, and in similar places in some other developed countries—particularly where the pre-existing crisis, austerity politics of right wing regimes, and/or damage from the revolution itself was most severe. Other workers were much better off, and these were often eager to move onwards to re-organize workplace relations at once even if this reduced production for a while—which, of course, could rebound on the poor and desperate in devastating ways.

All these needs had to be accommodated, since all were backed by the political power of sections of the revolutionary populace. All needs were in competition, and perhaps in conflict. All authority was new. All authority was challenged. Solidarity confronted disunity. There was a world of joy to create—but total collapse and barbarism could also emerge and eclipse the living possibilities of socialism.

We had another magnificent and crucial gain to draw upon, however, as well as our new-won solidarity. The iron necessities of capitalism for profit, for producing value to sell (and ignoring socially-relevant use values), for a divided working class (and thus for racism and patriarchy), and for environmental degradation, had been negated. But the divisions, the lifetimes of superiority of some workers over others and of others' being degraded, and the muck of ages remained, as did the necessity to find ways to maintain adequate access to goods and services while reorganizing production and distribution while avoiding falling back into bureaucratic or exploitative social relationships of production. The specter of what had happened in Russia kept dancing like rotted sugar plums in our ancestors’ heads.

In this situation where workers’ needs stood in stark internal contradiction, there was much to hope for and much to work with. The dissolution of the capitalist state, and the destruction of capitalist power over investment, the media, and, in general, over property, meant that the working class could change social and property relations in many ways. (For example, even in Russia, with all the devastation from the First World War, and with all the demographic weaknesses of a minority working class, the workers’ councils were able to allocate space in the houses of the rich to workers in the first months after taking power–a period in which the councils still retained their nature as democratic workers’ institutions for debate, decision, and action.) The new organizations of workers, the workers’ councils, the mobilized primary work groups at every workplace, the neighborhood committees of various kinds, and the organizations of racial/ethnic minorities, women, and other long-oppressed groups, provided the basis for action to eliminate obstacles and venues for making decisions.

And we had the experience of the revolution itself. Billions, of workers had individually and collectively learned how to struggle for power and had as a result discovered new needs for knowledge and new opportunities to use what they had learned—and thus our ancestors knew how to build coalitions, how to run meetings, how to resolve differences, how to postpone decisions that could be postponed, how to recognize decisions that could not be postponed, and how to mobilize goodwill and solidarity. Such learning was needed for successfully taking power—but such learning would of course be put to use in behalf of conflicting desires, conflicting needs, conflicting agendas.

Our billions of ancestors were collectively were in charge—but they discovered that they needed to invent new ways of doing things and new values and ethics, in the face of crises, disagreements, and internal battles. This was not a question of “overcoming false consciousness,” but rather of building a world anew without any pre-existing sources of the “right” answers. Marxism provided some useful guides, particularly in its critiques of past revolutionary failures, but different parts of our movements had different needs, different conceptions of their (and our) interests, and different ideas about how to proceed. Sometimes, these differences were embodied in political parties or other organizations, but sometimes they just took form in the spectral atmosphere of the internet, television, or printed media.

The Immediate Tasks They Faced

Depending on how you think about it, they faced three or four immediate tasks once they took power. Each took decades to resolve, and they went through many struggles over which took priority in different concrete situations. One common theme in these struggles was disagreements over localism versus centralism of decision-making. This theme was not so much an “immediate task,” however, as a central part of the dialectical process that structured and at times energized the resolution of these tasks.

Three tasks were: (1) resolving the divisions that history had created among humanity; (2) resolving the ecological crisis and the alienation of humanity and nature; and (3) reorganizing production and distribution of physical and mental goods and ending the Law of Value. A fourth task, of a somewhat different kind, was doing all this while maintaining the massively democratic and participatory nature of decision making and of working together. These are discussed in the following sections of this history.

Now

From Improvisation to ‘Planning Factories'

Once peace was re-established on the planet, the Internet revealed itself as a horizontal networking and sharing tool as useful now as during the period of revolutionary emergence. The first order of the day was to make a rapid assessment of the state of the planet and its population so as to address the most urgent needs, the first wounds to treat.The Net facilitated first the gathering of information and then the matching up of needs and resources around the planet.

During the period of capitalist collapse and revolutionary emergence, networks of anti-capitalist scientists and other specialists formed in every country to exchange data on agriculture, ecology, migration, refugees, famine, drought. Global data bases were established. Statistics brought together in the data bases permitted specialists working with the popular assemblies to simplify choices by permitting discussion of alternatives, their advantages and disadvantages. This whole system, if you want to call it that, was improvised in haste. There was a planet to heal, with its human, animal and vegetable inhabitants.

As reconstruction progressed, the network system was refined and elaborated. Research Centers were created on the regional, national and planetary levels to bring together all the economic data transmitted by collectives of producers and consumers and by the local assemblies. These centers also had the task of classifying and analyzing this data, then transmitting the results to the regional and local Assemblies in a form readily accessible to ordinary workers.

The researchers were also responsible for producing a range of alternative plans in every domain: different plans each with their own forecasts about the costs in human effort, the time it would take to complete, its environmental impact and the benefits it would bring to individuals and collectivities. These ‘Planning Factories’1) as the centers were commonly called, provided the kind of information about alternatives which made possible truly democratic and popular debates all on essential questions of social and economic life.

The Internet also permitted great planetary debates and referendums on certain fundamental questions: ecology, health, human rights. There were competing global plans for limiting the extraction and use of fuels emitting CO2 and other gases dangerous to the ozone and the atmosphere. There were proposals for the creation and coordination of sources of alternative energy. There were also plans for saving plants, animals, seas. The different choices proposed by the ‘planning factories’ and their likely consequences were clear and comprehensible to every voter.

The researchers were also responsible for producing a range of alternative plans in every domain: different plans each with their own forecasts about the costs in human effort, the time it would take to complete, its environmental impact and the benefits it would bring to individuals and collectivities. These ‘Planning Factories’1) as the centers were commonly called, provided the kind of information about alternatives which made possible truly democratic and popular debates all on essential questions of social and economic life.

The Internet also permitted great planetary debates and referendums on certain fundamental questions: ecology, health, human rights. There were competing global plans for limiting the extraction and use of fuels emitting CO2 and other gases dangerous to the ozone and the atmosphere. There were proposals for the creation and coordination of sources of alternative energy. There were also plans for saving plants, animals, seas. The different choices proposed by the ‘planning factories’ and their likely consequences were clear and comprehensible to every voter.

Reconstruction

Ironically, thanks to the technology inherited from capitalist barbarism, reconstruction was less difficult than had been feared. The dismantling of the armaments industry freed immense industrial resources that could now be put to the service of the people and the planet. As in the ancient prophecies, people literally “beat their swords into plowshares.” The enormous bulldozers that had once served to demolish Palestinian houses now served to make water available to the Palestinians. Factories for war planes were being transformed into factories for agro-economic transport. Near Hartford, Connecticut (USA) a former tank factory was now producing mini-tractors and trams.

How had theses transformations come about? At the end of the global general strike, the strikers occupying factories, mines and refineries had taken stock and begun little by little to restart production of goods and materials needed for immediate consumption and to keep other industries supplied. The practice of making decisions democratically acquired during the strikes and occupations now carried over into an improvised forms of cooperative self-management by assemblies and workers’ councils. Internet links enabled these cooperatives to ‘advertise’ for the materials they needed and trade them for finished goods they produced. Thanks to this global ‘E-Bay’ system, goods were exchanged through an intricate system of barter.

These forms of economic self government operated smoothly. They had evolved quite naturally out of the various types of organisation that had been thrown up to meet the needs of the strikers during the struggle. The common principles among them were these. Leaders were elected and subject to recall by their constituents. Terms of office were kept short to prevent the creation of a professional political class and to keep representatives in touch with their base. ‘Officials’ were paid normal workers’ wages, and members of a collective more or less rotated in office. There was no firewall between the executive and legislative functions of self-government. Those who voted measures were also responsible for carrying them out. Thus the ecotopians had revived the ancient Greek ideal of participatory democracy – but no longer restricted to free native-born males.

Development vs Simplicity

As various projects were discussed in neighborhood assemblies and collectives, the debates generally turned around the choice between plans considered “productivist” and more conservative plans that put the emphasis on the reduction of work time and minimal environmental impact. Some Utopians argued in favor of a greater immediate effort to construct infrastructures that would make life easier or safer in the future. For example a crash program using carbon-based production methods to rapidly construct wind, solar and other sustainable energy sources that would replace them permanently. Others opted for a slower rate of accumulation, a simpler life, the least impact on nature, the liberty to dispose of their own time.

Groups of citizens with projects to propose could also ask the 'plan factories' to prepare estimates and technically feasible plans. By this process, each consumer, each worker, each local community could clearly see the choices that suited them best. In practice, the great diversity of societies simplified things. Certain regions opted for greater productivity, others for greater simplicity. As long as the basic needs of the environment and the rights of neighbors were respected, there was no problem. The dissatisfied always had the option joining other communities better suited to their ideals and their lifestyles.

Participatory democracy was not limited to geographical conscriptions. People were also associated in networks and assemblies as consumers, parents, workers, and in all aspect of their multiple identities. Assemblies tried to come to conclusions by consensus, but if a consensus could not be reached, a majority decision might be called for. Even then, if the minority were large and resolute, the decision might be put off or imposed for a limited period only. In any case, all decisions were periodically reviewed. If a plan caused negative or unforeseen results, it could be changed or even withdrawn.

1) Foreshadowed by Cornelius Castoriadis in On the Content of Socialism, published in Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1957 and in English as a Solidarity pamphlet.
organization.txt · Last modified: 2018/11/04 13:29 by admin