Friday, April 03, 2009

A positive suggestion of where to go next w/U.S. and global socialism by Hilary Wainwright

From The Nation's socialism forum: There is an Alternative. I like this article because it breaks down the snotty tone of Ehrenreich's and Fletcher's article "Rising to the occasion", which ridicules socialists who have ideas about where society should go next and praises the endlessly self promoting Michael Albert and his ParEcon ®™ idea, which can be yours too for a low low price. Doug Henwood's article, which I'll get to in a second, is another good antidote to this kind of snobbery.

"What's certain, however, is that the credibility of the mantra "there is no alternative" is at its end. We now have an opening to generalize from the myriad experiments driven by socialist values, to develop a sense of direction that can persuade the majority to join. Some of these are national and continental, as in Latin America; but most are local. There must be a conscious effort to investigate these stories, reflect on them and promote them in the context of capitalism's disarray.

I'm thinking here of two kinds of examples. First, there is the phenomenon in countries with a developed public sector where public-service trade unionists, together with citizens' organizations, have successfully resisted privatization. They have combined militant action with collaboration with a chastened public sector management, demonstrating how a democratization of public administration, releasing the skills of its staff, can drive improvements in public service far more effectively than privatization. In Norway and in northern cities in the UK, for example, such experiences have renewed socialist values in a living way and built confidence that socialism is practical. This also applies to whole sectors, most notably water, where in vast parts of the globe the private sector has had to retreat in the face of successful public sector alternatives."

From Doug Henwood's A Post-Capitalist Future is Possible:

"I also want to dissent from another prescription: Rebecca Solnit's contention that the revolution is already happening, via "gardens and childcare co-ops and bicycle lanes and farmers' markets and countless ways of doing things differently and better." While many of these things are very nice, they're well short of a transformative vision. The package draws heavily on an ancient American fantasy of self-reliance and back-to-the land escapism. It's no model for running a complex industrial society. Such a system couldn't make computers or locomotives, and it probably couldn't feed 6 billion earthlings either. Maybe Solnit wants to give all that up. If so, she should tell us.

So, not to coin a phrase, what is to be done? I don't think off-the-shelf utopias like Parecon are very helpful; there's just no imaginable roadmap from here to there. We have to work with what we have rather than invent finished products de novo. If we don't have a model of how a socialist economy would work, we do have some principles, like a more egalitarian distribution of income, greater economic security, a friendlier relationship with the earth, more popular control over investment and technology, and worker control of the workplace."

I would suggest also looking at models that have the dreaded 'O' and 'C' words, the 'O' word being organizational, as in organizational anarchist, the type that set up liberated spaces during the Spanish Civil War, and the 'C' word being Communist, as in examples from Communist Yugoslavia and other socialist states that developed institutional innovations in their societies that we can take ideas from. Hungary and some socialist movements in Africa such as that associated with Amilcar Cabral. Current Cuban society is another candidate for this, as are also militant Social Democracies.


Finally, I'll leave off with Mike Davis' argument in The Necessary Eloquence of Protest:

"I realize that is not fashionable these days to praise the CPUSA in its sectarian heyday or to applaud highly confrontational tactics that provoke violent official responses. But if these are near-to-the-end times, when social change risks being "too late," as our new president repeatedly emphasized in a brilliant campaign speech that quoted Martin Luther King Jr. from 1967, then we must be as forthright about the need for disorder ("raise less corn and more hell") as were our populist and socialist ancestors.

From my point of view, this starts with the recognition that there are no realistic solutions to the current planetary crisis. None. A peaceful, just-in-time transition toward low-carbon, rationally regulated state capitalism is about as likely as a spontaneous connecting-the-dots of neighborhood anarchism across the world. Simply extrapolating from the present balance of forces, one most likely arrives at an equilibrium of triaged barbarism, founded on the extinction of the poorest part of humanity.

I believe that socialism/anarcho-communism--the rule of labor upon and for the earth--remains our only hope, but the necessary epistemological condition for serious strategic and programmatic debate on the left is a rising global temperature in the streets. Resistance alone will clear the conceptual space needed to synthesize the meaning of Rebecca Solnit's small, stateless utopias with the huge, confusing, soiled but heroic heritage bequeathed by two centuries of working-class and anticolonial struggles against the empire of capital."

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