Planning for a New, Better Future

Review of No Bosses

As the world prepares to depart 2021 and head into 2022, it is clear that the United States is a declining economic power and that China continues its rapid upward trajectory. While homelessness and poverty sully the debt-laden US, China has eliminated extreme poverty. What is the American response to economic disparities domestically? Institute a guaranteed minimum income? Andrew Wang who trumpeted such an income was rejected as a candidate by the Democratic Party. The Dems also pulled the rug out from under the social-democratic candidate Bernie Sanders who had promised medical care for all and to alleviate student debt. Instead the party apparatchiks anointed Joe Biden from the haggard old guard. So terrified was the business-led faction of the Dems to any progressivism seeping into the party, that they turned to a controllable candidate despite his appearing brain addled and often veering off script into rambling, incoherent speech. Biden campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15 nationwide. He failed to follow through; but he managed to bump the minimum wage of federal contractors to $15.

To fund a $2 trillion economic-stimulus plan, Biden had counted on an increase in the corporate tax rate, which now seems off the table. Instead an asset tax was proposed for the very richest of the billionaire class. But as the Grayzone‘s Ben Norton tweeted, it appears to have fallen through the political cracks, and it is back to the White House as the reverse Robin Hood.

And while rank-and-file workers have been saddled with lockdowns and layoffs because of COVID-19, the 1%-ers have been siphoning up an ever increasing slice of the economic pie.

This is how capitalism continues doggedly apace in the US. Meanwhile the economically fast-developing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics sails onwards and upwards; the envious US oligarchy, in puerile response, sails its warships through the South China Sea. Dismally so. On one passage, its nuclear submarine smacked into an underwater mountain.

The specter of being supplanted as the number one economy has caused the top-dog capitalist to become ever more petulant and ever more roguish at being deposed from its position; and to rub salt into wound, by a communist nation.

Capitalism is not a complete failure. It works plenty fine for the billionaire class and its coordinator class. However, capitalism is unkind to the masses.

People of conscience know what they are against: capitalism, its warring, its racism, its inequity, and its callousness to humans outside the capitalist class. They also know what they are for — at least in general terms — a fairer economic model.

However, an economic model that aims to achieve core values such as solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management requires a vision and a plan for how it would work. Michael Albert, in particular, has been writing many years about a vision for such a humanistic economy. The vision is called participatory economics — parecon for short.

Albert’s latest book on parecon is titled No Bosses: A New Economy for a Better World. The title might lead one to assume that the book would focus more on dismantling permanent, unjustifiable hierarchies that disempower the workers. While No Bosses does discuss the situation of workers under capitalism and how empowering work under parecon would be, most of the text lays out how a parecon reality would look like.

Empowerment for workers requires their participation in decision-making. The decision-making is weighted according to how impactful a decision is individually and collectively within a workplace.

A consensus is sought in amiable negotiations. “As much as possible economic interactions should not be antagonistic. They should not be a rat race. They should not be a zero-sum game. I should not benefit more only if you benefit less.” (p 27)

Parecon will mean no private ownership of productive assets and no authoritarian control. Albert envisions a collective self-management which seeks, as closely as possible, to achieve balanced job complexes where …

all able to work would have responsibility for some sensible sequence of tasks for which they would be well trained, but also such that no one would enjoy excessive elevation by the empowerment effects of their work. (p 54)

Remuneration will be equitable — based on effort and sacrifice. Markets and central planning are replaced with “participatory planning.” This “participatory planning must include individual workers and consumers, and also workers and consumers councils and federations of councils as both self-managing conceivers and enactors of plans.” (p 115-116)

How to allocate goods in a parecon can appear quite dry and complex. This section of No Bosses becomes quite dense with many examples and reasoned responses to possible objections, but it is necessary to get at the nitty-gritty of what is entailed in a parecon society.

How to Achieve a Parecon?

There is a need to have a vision of a better world, a morally based society for all peoples. But to achieve that vision, there must also be a plan for implementing such a vision. No Bosses does not go deeply into this.

One possible solution: take immediate small possible steps and work towards serially implementing such steps until the vision is realized. Albert sees such a strategy as doomed. A wage increase obtained, for example, will lead to battle fatigue and enjoying a battle won while the war continues. (p 188)

A second solution is to only fight for the big prize: implementation of the parecon, and accept no partial victories on the way. Albert does not foresee an overnight, outright victory. Without tangible signs of success, hope diminishes. “We build nothing lasting. We win nothing lasting,” writes Albert. (p 189)

A third solution, the one favored by Albert, is to take whatever successes are achieved, keep up the pressure, and maintain solidarity until parecon is realized. “We build ties, connections, and means to exercise pressure that can win now. We also foreshadow, prepare for, and facilitate winning more later.” (p 189-190) Does it really differ from the first approach, besides a commitment to continue the good fight?

Of course, a movement to establish a better economic model requires committed organizing and solidarizing. But a question lingers: once a tipping point is achieved, then how best to proceed to win a victory for the masses?

This writer envisions a revolution in the form of a sustained general strike. To succeed, it cannot be limited to a one-day strike or a two-week strike or a one-year strike. The general strike must endure until victory is grasped. There will be immense hardships for the masses because the capitalists will not concede their power. They will dig in for the long haul, and they have their immense wealth to sustain this. Nonetheless, spread among the multitude of the masses are the skills and the means that, in totality, surpass that of the oligarchs. Solidarity requires that the masses must share and care for each other. In a parecon, everyone will be remunerated equitably, and there is no more meaningful place to begin the sharing than during a revolution. It is expected that strike-breaking Pinkertons cannot operate as ruthlessly today for their bosses, but assuredly, the oligarchs will seek to enact new laws as needed and to mobilize the police, military, and other security branches to try and crush a general strike. Therefore, the revolution calls for a steadfastness of purpose by the strikers.

Where to start?

Education is a must. Sadly, in societies where the monopoly media denigrates socialism, communism, and anarchism, it is difficult to bring such visions before the wider public. Also, few schools and universities entertain curricula discussing such “radical” models, often derided as “utopian,” asserting that they are unobtainable.

Workers must also be at the forefront of promulgating a vision of betterment for workers, families, and the wider society. Unions and worker organizations need to inform and hold discussions with the workers and other interested groups.

The parecon vision is not claimed to be perfect. And neither is that a compelling criticism since it is obvious that capitalism is far from perfect. Anyway, parecon is not set in stone; it is flexible; changes and tweaks are expected along the way and would be implemented as needed.

People must contemplate alternative models to fetid capitalism — one of which should be the parecon vision. Albert has written several books on parecon. Read and consider No Bosses and other books such as Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism and Parecon: Life After Capitalism.

Tomorrow’s youth deserve a better future than capitalism. Parecon is one vision that could lead to a better world. Why wait?

Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be emailed at: kimohp@gmail. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.