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Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective

This is the blog for the Vancouver ParEcon Collective. Posts are made by collective members, regarding participatory economics, vision, strategy and related issues.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Albert's latest book, "Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism"

Below is an interview with Michale Albert about his latest book, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism. It was originally posted on ZNet:

1. Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism, is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Margartet Thatcher and every bully with a bomb shouts "TINA: There is No Alternative." Realizing Hope shouts back, you lie. There is an alternative. And we can win it.

Realizing Hope addresses vision and strategy for capitalist societies. It presents participatory economics, called parecon for short, in the first chapter, to set the scene. Then Realizing Hope discusses other spheres of social life like kinship, culture, ecology, international relations, and government as well as more specific parts of society like education, science, technology, crime, art, sports, and media.

In each case, Realizing Hope explores two issues:

-> First, what does having a desirable economy such as parecon imply for future relations in the domain considered? How do schools or home life or churches or labs or courts have to change to fit with a classless and equitable economy, and what will having liberated economics impose on society's other realms?

-> Reciprocally, second, what does having liberated relations in kinship, culture, polity, education, art, sports, science, etc., imply for the economy? How must an economy change to fit the requirements of liberated new relations in these other parts of society?

Even more, beyond exploring vision, Realizing Hope also examines old strategic approaches and offers diverse new strategic ideas.
A huge number of people feel two things. (1) That no better world is possible: There is no alternative. Suck it up and bear it. (2) That even if a better world is theoretically possible, we can't attain it. We can't fight and overcome the obstacles to change. Don't push rocks up hills, the hill is too damn big - they are coming back down.

Realizing Hope takes up vision and strategy precisely to overturn these two fears. It is a rally cry and a toolbox for social change.

2. Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

After publishing Parecon: Life After Capitalism a couple of years ago, I have spoken in many parts of the world about who gets how much income and why, who decides economic outcomes, what tasks and responsibilities people have in the division of labor, and how allocation occurs. Invariably, in addition to talking about these economic matters, I am asked questions about dealing with crime and disputes, legislating programs, household labor, socialization, sex, race relations, immigration, religion, the climate, imperialism, and especially activist strategy. The vision sounds great, but how do we win it? Strikingly, people's interests have been incredibly similar in the U.S., Turkey, Britain, Brazil, Australia, India, France, Italy, Venezuela, and Greece, where I have gone.
To encounter so many people in so many places repeatedly asking about more dimensions of social life than economics has forced me to confront such matters, both listening to what diverse people already had in mind and also working through some new ideas and implications stemming from parecon. The pressure to respond also sent me to study historical experiences from past generations, and to assess current struggles, too. To relate to the audiences I encountered, I had to revisit matters beyond economics. I began to write about those matters, and in time the book Realizing Hope took shape.

Most of the writing of Realizing Hope was like writing any other book. You think through your views and you set them down, trying from draft to draft to find engaging and clear ways to communicate. What was a little different about Realizing Hope however, was that I not only wanted Realizing Hope as a whole to be highly accessible, I wanted each chapter to stand on its own. That was not so easy, but I hope it worked out well.

3. What are your hopes for Realizing Hope? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

It is my feeling -- and I voice it every chance I get to the point of being boorish about it -- that lack of emphasis on vision and strategy is a very serious debit for social struggle. People constantly wonder - "what do you want, how are you going to get it?" We reply, "capitalism sucks."
I think we instead need to explain where we are trying to go, and that this means we need to explain not just values, but institutional goals.
I also think we need to explain how we are trying to get there, and that this means not just today's tactics, but organizational and strategic priorities that fit into a broad plan of moving forward.

More, I think we need to communicate all that vision and strategy compellingly to others because I think that short of both knowledgeably believing in a better future and also pragmatically believing that giving their time to activism will help reach that future, most people won't participate. That capitalism sucks won't cause people to rebel against it - if they lack hope.

Finally, it also seems to me that if we are to avoid elitism, almost everyone in the movement needs to make vision and strategy their own. Activists need to know what they are fighting for, why, and how. That's what real democracy, participation, and self management entail.

So for all these reasons I have this compulsion to urge people to address vision and strategy in accessible ways that continually seek new insights in pursuit of shared views. Naturally, I also feel the need to try to do that myself, and Realizing Hope is part of that process.

I therefore hope Realizing Hope prods much more work on gender vision, race vision, ecology vision, international relations vision, political vision, and vision bearing on particular sub parts of society such as education, art, science, and others. And I also hope Realizing Hope helps put the economic vision, parecon, before a wider audience who will in turn assess it, improve it, and either transcend or advocate it.

The book I did recently on economic vision, titled Parecon: Life After Capitalism, was indeed only about economics. I have learned from that experience that not everyone - not even everyone who wants a better world - wants to plow through a whole long book entirely about production, allocation, and consumption.

In Realizing Hope I have made the economics just one very accessible chapter. And the rest has something for everyone. Realizing Hope has religion and family. It has sustainability and foreign policy. It has government and eduction. It has science and art. Realizing Hope touches all bases and for all these reasons, I hope almost everyone who is concerned about poverty, racism, sexism, power, war, and ecological crises will find Realizing Hope engaging and provocative. I hope each chapter will help readers to see many possibilities regarding vision and strategy for that area. I hope it will prod people to contribute to moving movement comprehension and practice forward. That's the goal. Realizing Hope prods, seeks, calls for, and indeed literally begs for - as I do at every opportunity - participation in arriving at widely shared vision and strategy.

So what will make me happy or sad about having written Realizing Hope?
Realizing Hope will be a success if it stimulates and provokes wider concern with vision and strategy and contributes, as well, some ideas to that endeavor. At the opposite pole, I would doubt the wisdom of having spent lots of time writing Realizing Hope if it sits on the publisher's shelves, dormant, or if it is read here and there and has little impact beyond the moment of reading, or even if it is read very widely, for that matter, but there are no positive tangible results after the reading. A political book isn't written to momentarily individually entertain. Rather to be worthwhile, a political book has to have lasting collective benefit. And so I hope that will be true for Realizing Hope.
Ultimately, from my experience as both a publisher, reviewer, and author, I know the impact and worth of any book depends on many variables. My job, having written Realizing Hope, is to try to propel enough people to hear about the book, and get a feeling for what it is about, so that it at least has a chance of being considered for reading. That's a problem of reviews and promotion and the like - always a difficult path to traverse, especially for an author.
If people do hear about Realizing Hope, however, then I think we should all hope that people's interest in vision and strategy is great enough for many who learn of the book's existence to give it a try.

After that, if people do read Realizing Hope, then the ideas it offers will either in turn provoke other ideas and actions, or they won't. Whichever happens ought to influence next attempts - about vision and strategy.

TNS: Equal Pay, Balanced Job Complexes and Other Oddities

Here is a blog from The NewStandard's Brian Dominick which talks about their self-conscious efforts to work on the Parecon model. Check out the NewStandard to see what a fine quality news product they deliver:

A lot of people have commented that they appreciate glimpses into how the PeoplesNetWorks collective operates, and I think the most interesting aspect of our organizational structure is also the one our readers probably know the least about: the participatory economics model we use for staffing.
As a collective, every member has equal decision-making authority. There is absolutely no hierarchy.

In order to truly preclude hierarchy, everyone has to get equal pay for comparable work, regardless of specialty, seniority, education, race, sex, age or other factors taken for granted in modern workplaces. We remunerate ourselves -- as well as our freelance writers and editors -- according to effort and sacrifice, rather than these other factors designed to maintain hierarchies in our society. And while our pay might not compare to the corporate mainstream (even remotely), we're aiming for internal balance first. We'll challenge the big guys soon enough.

And in order for that pay arrangement to make sense, we can't just have a janitor, an office manager, a webmaster, a secretary, a reporter an editor and a publisher, or some such traditional structure. Instead, we need to distribute tasks fairly, in proportion to the total amount someone works. (At the moment, we have two collective members working 2/3-time until they leave their other jobs and become full-time.)

That does not mean that we all do an equal amount of webmastering and reporting, of course; there is a division of labor here. But we try our best to balance out different types of work, while still allowing people to specialize.
We have three basic categories of work at the moment: managerial, administrative and content-building. The managerial work is fairly easy to balance -- we meet together (mostly by telephone, since we're spread across the East Coast) as a collective, and we work on various committees carrying out specific projects and tasks.

Then there is the administrative work, which is perhaps the most varied. This includes managing the e-store, bookkeeping and accounting, answering the tons of e-mail we receive, tech support and site repairs, promoting the website, and so much more. We take these tasks, or chunks of them, and mix and match until everybody is doing a proportional share of something they can at least tolerate, if not enjoy.

Then there is the content-building work. Obviously, we have writers and editors. Most of us do some mix, but there are obvious specialties and tendencies. We have three levels of editorial work here: primary editing, secondary editing and copy editing. Also in this category is website development, as it is a surprisingly creative and empowering role at The NewStandard.

Anyway, as proud as we are of this structure, we can't claim to have invented it, or even to have been the first to use it. But that's good news for you, if the idea interests you. It is called "participatory economics," or "parecon" for short, and there is a whole website and many books devoted to the broader concept on which our workplace design is based. (I also just found the Wikipedia entry and a MySpace site, if those are more your style.)

But more importantly, we aren't the first to put this into practice. South End Press and Z Communications have been doing it for decades, and our friends at Mondragon bookstore/coffee house and G7 Welcoming Committee Records -- both in Winnipeg, Canada -- have formed great examples as well.

VPC Back in Action...

Any regular visitors to our website and blog may have noticed a very long absents of movement from our collective. Well, after taking a very long break, we've begun to regroup over the past few months and are now beginning another round of momentum of organizing efforts. 2006 should see the Vancouver Parecon Collective achieve new levels of Parecon education, advocacy and organizing. So, with that said, we hope you continue to check us out and maybe even take it to the next level and get involved! To stay up to date on our organizing and activities sign up to our mailing announcement list: https://lists.resist.ca/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/van-peg