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6 Ways We’re Already Leading an Economic Revolution


#1

6 Ways We’re Already Leading an Economic Revolution

Gar Alperovitz

Many years ago, while researching the history of the U.S. decision to use atomic weapons on the people of Japan, I came to understand something: There was something deep at work in the American political and economic system driving it toward relentless expansion and a dangerous, informal imperialism. I began thinking about how to fundamentally change America out of concern with what America was doing—and is still doing—to the rest of the world.


#2

Excellent work Gar, and i like the frame of "pluralist commonwealth."

i especially appreciate your insistence that our work at economic restructuring in no way absolves us of taking direct action to oppose and dismantle the military arm of US imperialism.


#3

Brief intro video to share on the Pluralist Commonwealth narrated by Alperovitz

Also the monthly program for August by Dr. Richard Wolf - very interesting first topic on the Brookings Institute, its major donor, the Brookings denigration of Bernie Sanders and ... ta da.... largest contributor to Clinton campaign


#4

The project i'm involved in here these days, Beacon Food Forest, is being grown on municipal land, of Seattle Public Utilities, a publicly-owned municipal corporation.

We (grassroots community volunteers) are planting and growing 7 acres of permaculture food forest in the heart of the city (phase I was 1.75 acres, now starting phase II which will take us to 3.5 acres). A small portion of the land is set aside for individual vegetable plots in the City of Seattle P-Patch program, but the vast majority is open-harvest: Anyone in the community can take the ripe fruits of our collective labor.


#5

Very impressive article. I completely agree with these points as I have long been a believer in cooperatives and state banks.
Encouraging but all through the reading I kept thinking about the TPP and what it will do to our efforts. So sad we have so many in government and the president ready to sell us out to the corporations and hamper our efforts to correct the ills of this country.


#6

A reductionist view of direct democracy:

A citizen suggests a law or revocation of one (online facilitated) at the level of town, city, state, country or globally and whoever is affected votes on it. Majorities involved make laws in a continuous process adapting to changing circumstances and sorting out any unfair laws.


#8

Wonderful work, Web!


#9

Most of these are already part of the Green platfom, ifaik, others may known more:
1. - Stein wants each state to have it's own bank, and a fed bank to partially replace the fed.
5. - see Green New Deal
6. - see Closing all overseas bases, and cutting military budget by 50%


#10

Thanks Bard,

Wanted to let you know i always appreciate your well-considered contributions here. Never the "first to post" but always thoughtful and well-grounded in good larger-system framework.


#11

Thanks. Speaking of larger-system framework, I think we're due to bring permaculture-related ideas to bear on a lot of these political questions.


#12

Gar Alperovitz is one of those people who believes that with the goodwill of the ruling class and the compliance of their State we can have a humane model of capitalism without exploitation and oppression.

I’ve criticized workers cooperatives particularly Richard Wolff’s Workers Self-Directed Enterprises as doomed to failure available if one wishes to conduct a search of the sites comments so I won’t repeat that argument.

Instead, this time, I’ll focus on Alperotitz’s ‘small is beautiful’ position.

We are presented with national autarchy disguised as localism.

Unlike the ‘localists’who openly favour small-scale capitalism (mom and pop small businesses). These pro-marketeers’ interests are based on the interests of the ‘middle class’ and small-business owners threatened by corporate competition
Alperovitz wishes to see small-scale alternative economic arrangements (cooperatives, LETS schemes, local currencies, credit unions) as a way of undermining capitalism and progressing towards a post-capitalist society. But the counter-argument is that while small-scale alternatives can survive and occasionally flourish, they won’t build a new, equitable society. Their prospects are severely limited by the power of capital. They may be ways for some people to survive under capitalism, but are no threat to it. Capitalist enterprises are driven by market forces to accumulate as, to stay in the race, they must continually invest in reducing their costs of production. Small businesses are not exempt from this pressure. Neither are the cooperatives favoured by anti-market localists.

We are faced with the impalatable conclusion that small alternatives won’t outcompete or destroy capitalism. By failing to understand how profit drives production, localism is blind to the pressures capitalism applies to its proposed remedies, which rely on the market or involve time and money that most working-class people don’t have.

Alperovitz confuses use value and exchange value, forgetting that capitalism prioritises profit (value) over human need (use value). By ignoring this question he leaves the question of exploitation unanswered and fails to root out the capitalist dynamic — accumulation for accumulation’s sake.

If national governments have been unable to delink their economies from the world market how can local communities be expected to? Ethical consumption can’t be effective because most people can’t afford it. LETS schemes and local currencies are less convenient than ordinary money and only survive because (and as long as) some activists are prepared to put in the extra work to keep them going. Community gardening in towns has to compete with other, rent-bringing uses of the land. Consumer goods, let alone mass public transit systems and high-speed internet, are impossible without a highly-developed capacity to source materials, process them into finished products and distribute them across large distances. For example, making solar panels involves advanced machinery and massive financing that would be impossible to muster locally.
Even localism’s direct democracy needs high-tech to reduce people’s workload and allow them time to participate.

Small-scale alternatives won’t change the world. Locally spent money doesn’t necessarily stay in a community. Business is reliant on tools and equipment made abroad. The cash register, computer, and industrial oven at your local bakery were probably not made down the road. Money might stay in the community for a cycle or two, but quickly moves on.

The real alternative is class struggle for a genuine socialist society, not some half-measures. Alperovitz’s proposals mean polite resistance, which is like a mosquito biting the hide of an elephant and will result in the same reaction, a flick the tail from capitalist oligarchs and plutocrats.


#13

If only Dr. Wolff was accessible to the millions who need to hear him

His weekly hour on Pacifica Radio is always the clearest, most informative show, yet is, unfortunately, broadcast to only a tiny, already sympathetic audience.


#14

Interesting post.

Not all of us who are localists are capitalists, however. Not almost all of us who are localists are capitalists, actually, nor even almost capitalists. Similarly, not all of us who are communists are in favor of central or monolithic government with lots of top-down authority.

The arguments for top-down authority and for strong central government are actually similar in communist and capitalist systems: in unity there may be some kinds of strength, mostly against assault by high-powered aggressors like other nations or the wealthy.

I won't deny the authenticity of your sources. The idea that a communist system must be instituted by violent revolution and ultimately over a very broad area goes right back to Marx. But the notion of the withering of the state in such a scenario seems to me suspect at best. As presented, it depends on the removal of the threat that necessitates that unity. The trouble is, even in a global system, that threat can as easily be internal as external. As it has happened, the withering of nominally communist states that did indeed have some socialist mechanisms has involved a return to capitalism--surely a disappointing result by any standard, particularly since the native governmental form of capitalist societies seems to be a sort of fascist plutarchy.

You are right on the key questions, though. First, there is no point imagining that a market system will simply allow itself to be replaced and do nothing untoward to protect its market share. But the question in this is whether there might not be enough solidarity between smaller units to defeat those forces. Given the alternatives, it seems there might.

The other question is that of capital pressure on the smaller economic unit. This is variable. Accomplishing this is just a matter of creating an independently self-servicing economic unit. There is no particular reason that such a unit cannot be as socially oriented, communist or communitarian, as the participants wish.

There is still the element of solidarity, however. Without a violent response, such systems could easily supplant current national and global economies because they could offer a far more pleasant life to their constituents. Sadly, that does make the violent response predictable.

The question is how to avoid or defeat the violent response. I suspect that central powers have to be starved out and become economically and culturally dependent on smaller constituent units. I would suggest that as global powers continue to invest in hydrocarbon and nuclear technologies that lend themselves to huge social units, there may be some opportunity as these collapse.


#15

"Economic revolution." What silliness. A nip and tuck here and there to benefit the middle class, and you call it a "revolution." Sort of like, say, a revolutionary new brand of breakfast cereal. Liberals still believe that the best response to our poverty crisis is to keep waiting for trickle-down economics to do its magic.

Think: The US looked at the policies and programs that took the country to its height of wealth and productivity from FDR to Reagan and CHOSE to do the opposite. The US shipped out a huge share of our jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s, and pretends there are no consequences. American has a poverty crisis that is sinking the economy/nation,and we pretend it doesn't exist.

So -- if we had a revolution of any sort, who would fight whom? We're rich vs. middle class vs. poor. Change would be possible only if we legitimately examined the problem. We don't want to.


#16

Disagree, because reality remains what it is. Figure out what you would do with those who can't work (health, etc.) and those for whom no jobs are available. The US raced backwards on these issues, and has only grown poorer, weaker, and more deeply divided. We've essentially returned to the 1920s, on the brink of the 1930s -- another Great Depression. The longer we have ignored poverty, the wider and deeper it has grown.


#17

Thanks for taking time to reply. We ourselves have to thrash out our ideas by debate and discussion and not leave it to academic professors. I think we do possess different interpretations of the past which determines our approach for the future.

I think you are right not to mistake a one-party controlled central-planning command economy for the socialist goal. I’m sure you have come across many Marxists describing government-ownership and nationalization of industry as state-capitalism and not socialism.
Perhaps we should return to other names given to socialism in the 19thC as the ‘cooperative commonwealth’ (no need for Alperovitz to invent another) or ‘industrial democracy’ as better description to differentiate our aim from economic systems that once claimed to be socialist.
Nor do I recall that Marx ever sought a minority to impose socialism by violent force other than self-defence for not only did he declare in the Communist Manifesto ‘The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority” but warned against elites usurping the will of the majority almost three decades later "The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves...’

Planning in socialism is essentially a question of industrial organisation, (By industrial organisation we mean the structure for organising the actual production and distribution of wealth) of organising productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption. What socialism would establish would be a rationalised network of planned links between users and suppliers; between final users and their immediate suppliers, between these latter and their suppliers, and so on down the line to those who extract the raw materials from nature. We would describe our option as a self-regulating, self-adjusting inter-linked and inter-dependent system. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level. In this sense, a socialist economy would be a polycentric, not a centrally planned economy.

Imagine a situation where human needs were in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilized at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. This has been called by some economists a 'steady-state economy'.

For sure, I believe there is an overlap of ideals between localist and socialist conceptions of society but at the core of localism remains capitalism, the exchange economy of buying and selling, of wage-labour, of private ownership (even if it is sectional). Alperovitz presents himself as a radical and revolutionary but only in the limits of capitalism. Pluralist Commonwealth is perfectly compatible with capitalism and operate under the law of value just like any other business which extracts surplus value and produces for exchange.

Gar Alperovitz proposals are what some call a non-reformist reform because it cannot be established in capitalism. So indeed it is equivalent to the overthrow of the capitalist system. But as such a revolution it cannot gradually be achieved through working class actions within the capitalist system. To assert that a gradual increase of a plural commonwealth agenda in capitalism is an actual possibility merely plays into the hands of the ruling classes to hide their absolute class-rule by false social reforms dressed in terms such as co-management and participation but where workers and communities workers remain without effective control over production and distribution.


#18

Reality changes as things change, but probably that's not exactly what you mean. Surely reality is not to be considered a thing apart from everything else. Correct me, but I assume that you mean to refer to some particular thing or circumstance that you imagine that I might doubt is real. These might be taken care of in particular ways, but I am not sure what or which you refer to.

One takes care of those who cannot work. I am not sure what you think suggests that this not be done. What is to be starved is large organizations that extract, mostly without giving. People are to be fed. Money does not grow on trees. Fortunately, though, food does. Fortunately, too, far more people can work than those who can hold jobs.

There is always work available if there is work to be done. Generally there is. If not, it is not needed. This business of "needing a job" comes from "needing money." It is an artifice of a capitalist system. People in agrarian systems worked plenty with no need of a job. People in horticultural systems worked less and did not need jobs. Those who could work still had to take care of those who could not.

I think that in many ways we have returned more to the 1890s. But I don't see that either gives us much reason to support systems that refuse to support people. I suspect still that this is not your objection. It does give me the impression that you might misread me, but at this point I am not sure what else to clarify.


#19

I am an academic professor, Alan, but I beg pardon and hope that I may yet be included. At least I am an English professor and not a professor of economics, government, sociology, or anthropology.

I am all for thrashing things out; I have no feeling that much of anything along these lines is certain or foregone.

Certainly our nominally communist states have not been what Marx had in mind, and your point there is well taken.

However, I am not so certain why gradual change need play into the hands of the ruling class, though I have no desire to slow reform up so as to make it gradual. It seems to me that the immense majority act not as a unity but as a plurality, so that leaving things to them--or, better, to us--means that there will be some gradation in actions.

I find the need for polycentrism a particularly good observation.

It seems to me that what we are dealing with generally, by whatever ideas we may wish to influence it, is a complex, self-organizing system that will progress in a non-linear fashion--whatever else one might say about what it will and will not do. I think that means that at some point change will not be gradual, but that at most points it will be, regardless of our intentions.

It seems to me that a polycentric system of the kind that I suspect would be needed is unlikely to come about without many relatively independent centers prior to its existence. I think these must be established to some degree and then join in federation of some sort, likely against the sort of resistance that a new economy must face. I do not think this is apt to be accomplished by a centralized revolution that creates such a structure after the fact, and still less if said revolution must be an out-and-out violent overthrow.

I am tempted to ask at what level of scale setting up a socialist system ceases to play into capitalist hands, but maybe this misframes the question in some way.


#20

Only after i posted, i realised that Marx was indeed Dr. Marx, gaining a PhD in law, (i think). So i was a bit "workerist" in dismissing the contributions of intellectuals to the cause of labour.

I think we should reach a consensus on what sort of society we are striving towards but we are in an area of confliction opinions when it comes to how we go about achieving it. Some have already been shown by experience to be dead-ends...the Leninist/Trotskyist platforms. The gradualist/reformist of what became social democracy has also failed with all the progressive labour parties being successfully subsumed into being merely alternative governments when the avowedly pro-capitalist ones fail.

The radical reformists such as Wolff and Alperovitz, however, can still claim that their methods as stepping stones remain valid since they have not had their policies implemented. The tradition i adhere to is the Impossiblists, [ https://www.marxists.org/subject/spgb/index.htm ] likewise says their ideas have not been tried. Those Marxists who declare that we have only one issue...the abolition of capitalism ...and other strategies will side-track us into eventually accommodating capitalism because they appeal for votes and support on the compromises and concessions and cannot gain a mandate for socialism itself.

The other important political strand that may well offer a solution (or at least, they also claim) is the anarchists and they share elements with the Libertarian Marxists and the radical reformists. Perhaps they are the fusion of us both. The socialist philosopher from the 19thC, Joseph Dietzgen, once said,
"For my part, I lay little stress on the distinction, whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much weight is attributed to this difference.....While the anarchists may have mad and brainless individuals in their ranks, the socialists have an abundance of cowards. For this reason I care as much for one as the other....The majority in both camps are still in great need of education, and this will bring about a reconciliation in time."

He also said " If a worker wants to take part in the self-emancipation of his class , the basic requirement is that he should cease allowing others to teach him and should set about teaching himself."


#21

You've obviously put a lot of thought into your post. But it seems like you have couched your critique of Alperowitz in the frame of capitalism itself that boxes in your arguments.

Regarding the focus on localism - Alperowitz and his group are addressing that in the Next System project. thenextsystem.org.