Partcipatory Socialism

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Jerome Roos interviews Michael Albert of Parecon:

"ROAR: The past year has seen numerous interesting developments in the social, economic and political domains. As the crisis of capitalism deepened, popular uprisings rocked the world from Cairo to Athens and from Santiago to New York. How would you explain these developments from the perspective of ‘participatory socialism’, and how do you think the Occupy movement ties in with your thought? Is this ‘participatory socialism’ in practice?

You are using the term participatory socialism now to cover, I think, participatory economy, polity, culture, and community, for which I sometimes use that term and sometimes use the term participatory society. If so, I would say the developments are what they appear. Some people — still all too small a number, yet growing and substantial — are thoroughly pissed off at the gigantic injustices we all see all around us. And, for various reasons, and prodded by various events, they are beginning to lash out in struggle.

Sometimes this is highly ill informed, in my opinion, and can be quite reactionary — as in the Tea Party trend in the US. But at its best, as in the Occupy projects, I think these developments tie closely into pareconish and parsocish thought in many ways. For example, they tend to address all sides of life without prioritizing any one over the rest. They tend to desire real equity and have an emerging understanding of it that is moving toward parecon’s own equitable remuneration conceptions. They tend to be militantly suspicious of and hostile to authoritarian trends and choices, and even to favor real democracy and even self-management. And they tend to be hostile, as well, to market competition, and of course top down command, and so naturally inclined toward, I think and hope, participatory planning.

That said, there is a also a serious problem. Movements have, at their base, and in their broadest desires, often had these admirable aspirations — including going all the way back to Russian revolutionary movements, for example. Yet, just as often, despite the desires of their members, movements have often arrive at outcomes horribly different than what their mass aspirations would have wanted. This has a lot to do, I think, with their having had structures, and thus leadership, that was, in fact, never seeking institutions consistent with the members’ libertarian aspirations, but, instead, seeking coordinatorish outcomes.

For the Occupy movements, and for other projects and movements which are rousing and continuing all around the world, to all together merge into a massive project that is truly oriented to engender a classless, feminist, intercommunalist, participatory future — I think their membership will have to be in command, not some elite at the helm. And I think those memberships will have to know the broad defining attributes of where they are trying to go, so they use tactics and strategies consistent with getting there. My own belief is that parecon and parsoc can provide a lot of insight, perhaps a lot of social glue, for just such a trend." (