What if you got a book entitled "Anarchist Perspectives" and looking through it found that every essay was from a follower of Murray Bookchin's "Social Ecology"? True, they might come at it from different perspectives and, hey, in reality there may be one or two essays out of twenty that aren't totally from a Social Ecology point of view, but the book would certainly not be reflective of "Anarchist Perspectives" in general. To label it so would be to be dishonest. Enter "Real Utopia".
A "Participatory Economy for the 21st century". That sounds interesting, I wonder what it means? Looking at the back of the book I find this "What if we had direct control over our daily lives? What if society's defining institutions--those encompassing economics, politics, kinship, culture, community, and ecology--were based not on competition, individual ownership, and coercion, but on self-management, equity, solidarity, and diversity? Real Utopia identifies and obliterates the barriers to an egalitarian, bottom-up society, while convincingly outlining how to build it. " That sounds great! That's what a participatory society means then sign me up.
Looking inside the book, though, something different presents itself.
Some titles of the essays:
"Chapter 1: Parecon today by Michael Albert"
"Chapter 5: Participatory Economics and the Environment by Robin Hahnel"
"Chapter 6: A call to artists: support Parecon, by Jerry Fresia"
"Chapter 9: Participatory planning in life after Capitalism: Barbara Ehrenreich interviews Michael Albert"
"Chapter 13: Participatory Balkans: exchanges between Andrej Grubacic and Michael Albert"
"Chapter 17: Venezuela's path, by Michael Albert"
"Chapter 21: The Making of South End Press and Z, by Lydia Sargent"
"Chapter 22: Parecon and Workers' Self-Management: Reflections on Winnipeg's Mondragon Bookstore & Coffee House Collective, by Paul Burrows
"Chapter 23: The Newstandard: a Parecon workplace is possible, by Jessica Azulay"
"Chapter 24: Vancouver Parecon collective: Four Years of Organizing by Marla Renn"
"Chapter 32: From here to Parecon: Thoughts on Strategy for Economic Revolution, by Brian Dominick
"Chapter 33: Building a Pareconish Movement: by Michael Albert"
See a pattern? There are only 33 Chapters in the book and twelve of them either declare that they're directly about ParEcon, Michael Albert's ideology, or they're by Michael Albert, or they're about Z and South End Press, which Michael Albert cofounded and which published a lot of his earlier work, including his original ParEcon books.
So where does that leave our Participatory society? It looks like the book in fact isn't about general perspectives on what it would look like but is instead a commercial for ParEcon, the ideology that Michael Albert promotes on Z-Net, a website that gets close to a million hits a day. Here we have the parallel to Bookchin. What if Bookchin founded a progressive news service, with a nice looking website, and subtly injected Social Ecology into it....then when enough people had taken the bait and had tried out some of the ideas he collected their experience into a book and labeled it as "Anarchist Perspectives"?
That's the deal here.
It's not that it's a book focussing on ParEcon, where ParEcon forms the framework around which the whole book is based so much as that it doesn't come right out and say that that is what it is. It doesn't say that it's not impartial but is instead very partial to a certain ideology. And that's both not right and deceptive. You'd need to know about the plethora of Parecon books that Albert has written to realize that there's something more going on than just a book looking at possible avenues for creating a just society.
People will no doubt reproach me because a large section of the book focusses on the experience of people trying to make socially just ways of working a reality, therefore doing good in the real world. However, that's not the point. If a Participatory society means direct control over your life and the life of your community then a book about perspectives on a Participatory society would include essays by people running anarchist collectives that have little relationship to ParEcon, to consumer cooperatives, to non-profit community organizations. But none of that is present in the book. Instead, the section that deals directly with people implementing strategies for a just society is composed entirely of essays from people who either helped found ParEcon, are self consciously following the ParEcon model enough to label their project as that, or have been inspired by ParEcon but have taken their work in unique ways. More false advertising.
Maybe the problem was that the market has been glutted with so many ParEcon books that another one would have just produced groans and cynicism, so a new strategy had to be invented to get more ParEcon material out there.
No matter. In my humble opinion the only reason that ParEcon gets talked about is because Z-Net plugs it as its official ideology. If Z-Net wasn't doing that it would occupy a lonely little quarter of the net. It's not fair to people with other perspectives on what a just society is and what you need to do to get there to plug ParEcon constantly like that, and to even publish dialogues trying to justify ParEcon over other ideologies instead of just making room and publishing articles based on them as interesting fellow alternatives.
Save your money if you don't want to just get Michael Albert repackaged.
By the way, the whole idea of labeling this thing Participatory economics and a Participatory society is dishonest in and of itself.
What they're talking about is either a socialist society or an anarchist society but they don't want to take the responsibility and likely unpopularity that would come from using those terms, so they invent a new one that no one has used before them. Except possibly some authors in obscure New Left journals in the late sixties. Participatry Economics...why not label it Democratic Socialist Economics or Anarchist Economics? Participatory politics: Anarchist Politics, Democratic or Left Socialist Politics. Artists supporting ParEcon....artists supporting Anarchism and Socialism.
Take away the neologisms, it's clearer that way.
*on edit: if you want to contact me, e-mail me. The address is on the right hand of the screen.