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My Response to Michael Albert: Revolution and the Democratic Party

category north america / mexico | the left | opinion / analysis author Saturday August 09, 2008 09:36author by Wayne Price - (NEFAC-US) personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

Michael Albert's reformist strategy-PART II

Michael Albert, co-founder of "Parecon," has responded to my essay on his strategy. This is my response, focusing on the meanings of reformism and revolutionary and the implications for a "revolutionary to support the Democrats.
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Michael Albert has written a response (2008) to my essay (Price, 2008) which criticized some of his theory. My essay did not discuss his theory of Parecon (“participatory economics”), a program for a new society, of which he is one of the two founders. I agree with much of Parecon, but do not buy the whole package (which is also my attitude toward Marxism). Instead it focused on his proposed strategy and tactics for achieving Parecon. (I made a similar discussion about the strategy of Robin Hahnel, the other founder of Parecon, when reviewing his latest book [Price 2005].)

From Albert’s response, I see that we are talking past each other, due to different assumptions. This is even though we are both for the ending of capitalism and its replacement with a radically democratic, cooperative, economy, polity, and society. As he says of my essay, “We immediately enter a zone of confusion - or at least I do… which will simply escalate from here.” Certain it is that he believes I misunderstand him! And he writes whole paragraphs speculating on what I really mean. Since I accuse him of reformism, he wonders whether or not I support the struggle for reforms (Yes, I do). Since I doubt that a revolution could be nonviolent, he wonders whether I am for immediately building a guerilla army (No, I am not). Since I say that his strategy is “fatally flawed” and that he “crosses the class line” in voting for the Democratic Party, he claims that I am labeling him a “class enemy” (I do not). Since I advocate socialist revolution, he says that I sound like “Lenin and Trotsky;” this implies that I do not sound like what I am, a revolutionary class struggle anarchist rooted in the tradition of anarchist-communism. In order to understand revolutionary anarchism, Albert was not obliged to have read my other essays on www.Anarkismo.net or my book on the nature of the state (Price, 2007). But it wouldn’t have hurt.

Given the lack of space and time, I am not going to discuss every argument of his in detail nor follow every side topic he raises. Instead I will cover two subjects: (1) the meanings of revolution and reformism and (2) the significance of voting for the Democrats.

(1) The Meanings of Revolution and Reformism



Albert repeats his basic definitions of reformism and of revolution. To him, reformism means to keep society essentially as it is, with only minor changes (reformism = liberalism). Revolution, as he defines it, means to basically transform society. Of course, I cannot argue that a definition is “wrong.” I can only argue that it is not useful. In particular, Albert’s set of definitions leaves no space for reform socialism, that is, for a movement which wants to make fundamental changes (like his definition of revolution) but believes that the way to do this is by making step-by-step, peaceful, gradual, reforms (like his definition of reformism). Historically, his definitions provide no labels for the pre-World War II German Social Democratic Party and British Labor Party. Their leaders and their ranks claimed to be for a new, socialist, society, but did not believe that revolution was needed. Or for the pre-World War I German Social Democratic Party, whose key leaders (e.g. Kautsky) and many members believed that someday a revolution would be needed, but meanwhile only reformist strategies were valid. Another example was Proudhon, the “father of anarchism;” he advocated a totally new society, to be achieved by gradually building a cooperative bank (“mutualism”). All these may be called reformist socialists; the last two cases might be better called “centrist”: revolutionary in rhetoric and posturing but reformist in actual behaviors.

Albert believes that Parecon (socialism, anarchism, whatever) WILL BE a revolution (a new society). But he does not explain that Parecon WILL TAKE a revolution. That is, an upheaval similar to the U.S., French, or Russian Revolutions. (All revolutions began with the existing state having most of the armed power—which is what made it the state; yet revolutions have won.) Because, as I said, we identify with similar traditions, we advocate many things in common, judging by Albert (2000), to which he directed me. That is, we are for building a mass movement. We advocate raising reforms such as classwide demands for shorter hours without cuts in pay. We advocate and seek to organize workplace and community councils. We will oppose all other forms of oppression and misery. We will try to win over the ranks of the military (Albert includes the police).

What is unclear to me is why he is so certain that the actual changeover will be mostly nonviolent. Especially since he writes in his counterargument, “My guess would be about a third of the population would be aggressively pro revolution [meaning, being for a new society-WP], about a third doubtful, and about a third paying little attention, at the time when the balance of power would shift [his term for a sort of revolution-WP], but it is just a guess, nothing more. As to the army and police…I believe that movements for change will be constructing a new society from positions of being able to themselves define (and not just demand) innovations {another Albertian term for a nonrevolutionary revolution-WP] only after the military and police are no longer willing to crush opposition, but are instead won over to our cause.” Perhaps I misunderstand him, but he seems to be saying that while only a third of the population will be strongly for “the revolution,” yet most of the military and the COPS will be “won over.” So Pareconists will win a higher proportion of the police than of the general population?? (He cannot men this, I hope.) But what if we win most of the soldiers but very few police? What if the counterrevolution starts out with more guns, but we use the power of the strike…and the power of producing weapons? All of this seems more likely to me than any assurance that the revolution will be peaceful.

That Albert and Hahnel strongly desire the total change of our oppressive social system, I do not doubt for a second. What I doubt is that they propose, in fact, a revolutionary strategy. This is what I mean when I call them reformists, or, better yet, centrists. This is not name calling, but a discription of where I, and other revolutionary class struggle anarchists, disagree with them.

(2) Voting for the Democrats



Albert and I agree that we are very far from a revolution right now. But the presidential election is happening right now. This is a here-and-now test of what it means to be a revolutionary.

We anarchists are anti-electoralists. We do not support electoral campaigns even of reformist socialists such as Lula of Brazil or Chavez of Venezuela (in this we differ from Lenin and Trotsky). We think that electoralism contradicts the idea of building a self-managing movement of popular opposition from below, which Albert says he is for. Instead it involves focusing on a leader who you urge the people to vote into power in the capitalist state, where the leader can be political FOR the people.

However, what I specifically called “crossing the class line” was to vote for an explicitly capitalist party, and not just any capitalist party, but the Democratic Paarty, which is the second party of U.S. imperialism. It is the Democratic Party which has historically served as the death trap for mass movements. It is the Democrats which historically began World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and whose presidential candidate now promises to expand the U.S. military and to step up the war in Afghanistan.

Talking with my liberal family members, friends, and co-workers, I do not try to dissuade them from voting for Obama, a pointless task. I do try to persuade them that Obama is, at best, the lesser evil, rather than a great Hope, and that the lesser evil remains…evil, even it they feel they must vote for him.

It is different when I discuss with “revolutionaries.” How can we persuade others that we think the Democrats are an evil force in U.S. politics, if we simultaneously tell people are voting for them? (That is, if we DO think that the Democrats are an evil force.) Albert compares voting for a Democrat to using a bank. But we have to participate in the capitalist economy, just to live. We do not have to vote. And voting means giving political support to a party or candidate, whereas banking has no such implication.

There is a matter of principle. At least when President Obama sends his bombers and soldiers to slaughter Afghani civilians, MY hands will be clean.

But what really matters is not how any individual vote, one out of a vast number (if our votes are even counted). What really matters is what large groups of people and organizations do. If the unions were to stop spending a big part of their money and personnel on bourgeois politicians, they could spend it on union organizing and on strike support work. The same for the Black community and other People of Color, the women’s movement, the Queer community, the environmental movement, and so on. For that matter, one large, successful, general strike in a big U.S. city would change U.S. politics drastically—in a way no election could. For decades—generations—labor, African-Americans, and other progressive forces have repeatedly supported the lesser evil of the Democrats. And for decades, the greater evil has gotten worse, the lesser evil has gotten worse, and the whole of U.S. politics has moved to the right. Lesser-evilism has failed. That Albert does not see this is astonishing!

Virtually every progressive step forward has been won through non-electoral mass actions: the sit-down union strikes of the thirties, the “civil disobedience” (and urban rebellions) by African-Americans in the sixties, the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and rebellions, etc. When these movements were absorbed into the Democratic Party, they were coopted and died down.

In Albert (1994), he takes the left to task for not supporting Jesses Jackson hard enough. This time he writes that my opposition to the Democrats is plain “silly.” Instead, he suggests that I might vote for Jackson and even work for him. In both Jackson and Obama’s campaigns, he writes, “Did I hope and try to contribute to good results coming from both those efforts? Yes, I did.” But he assures us of “my disdain for the electoral system [and] Democratic Party.” “Disdain” is hardly enough. I cannot think of a better example of someone assuring us that he has the most radical beliefs, revolutionary even, but urging good old reformist tactics. When Albert reassures us that he is trying “to contribute to good results” coming from the party of capitalism and death, is he covering up his revolutionary beliefs or is he just expressing his own reformist illusions? It is hard to tell. It is not enough to try to be nonreformist; it is necessary to be revolutionary.



References


Albert, Michael (2008). Albert’s reply to this article. In the comments section. http://www.anarkismo.net/article/9513

Albert, Michael (2000). Moving forward: Program for a participatory economy. Edinburgh/San Francisco: AK Press.

Albert, Michael (1994). Stop the killing train. Boston: South End Press.

Price, Wayne (2008). Michael Albert’s “Parecon” and reformist strategy.
http://www.anarkismo.net/article/9513

Price, Wayne (2007). The abolition of the state: Anarchist and Marxist perspectives. Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse.

Price, Wayne (2005). Parecon and the nature of reformism; A review of Robin Hahnel’s Economic Justice and Democracy.
http://www.anarkismo.net/article/737

author by Toddpublication date Sun Aug 10, 2008 01:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the good reply Wayne. I hope that this decorum and tone may be kept up, and that replies are of this quality and tone.

I think the emphasis on the degree or nature of violence is actually an irrelevant point raised by Albert's misreading you. It doesn't matter much for the purposes of evaluating a revolutionary strategy as to whether one thinks there will be lots or little violence. Moreover it will vary on history. I think it is easy enough to say hope for the best prepare for the worst, and don't be paranoid. None of us are doing that, so we're good.

On voting- Albert misses the fact that there is a distinction between:
1. believing a particular election's outcome matters
2. voting
3. organizing a group of people to take a political stand around a vote and agitate others to do so too.

Anarchists can and do engage in 1&2, there's disagreement whether this is worthwhile or not, but it is not inconsistent. I'll even be charitable and say that sometimes anarchists might do number 3. Some anarchists have argued for organizing around say ballot measures. But endorsing candidates is a whole other animal.

I'd say it matters whether Obama gets elected (not much...). I'd even say i think that some good may be done. But to organize to push for a vote as a political strategy to bring about change is unabashedly reformist and confused. When you espouse a strategy and articulate it through your activity, you demonstrate to everyone the negation of your own ideas. The means are inconsistent with the ends. It is a mild for of machiavellism. After doing so, how can you reasonably argue that the way to seek change is through direct democracy and revolution, when the method by which you're arguing for change is through hierarchical representation and electoralism. This is dramatic, I don't think Albert's work on electoralism is important enough to have much of an effect, but if the same activity occured within a mass movement for parecon, it would be out and out reformist and irresponsible.

author by red paintpublication date Sun Aug 10, 2008 06:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

These essays puzzle me. If there's a technical meaning of "anarchist" and "revolutionary" on this website, then I'd like to know what I'm missing.

But the history of anarchism and leftism appears full of people arguing at length about what "we anarchists" believe, or what "a revolutionary" thinks. As if they own the terms. Safe in the knowledge that they passed tests of their own side's invention. Even though others spend their time doing this too and disagree with them!

I think Albert's notion of "revolution" is self-consistent and reasonable. Whatever tactics you take to get to a better society, the goal is clear -- replacing society's defining institutions. Doesn't matter if it's peaceful or requires battlefields littered with corpses. Doesn't matter if it's a good or bad revolution.

Why would I want a transition to Parecon to resemble the US, Soviet or French revolutions? What mental or tactical clarity does that win me? If I thought that Price was sufficiently omniscient that he knew The Answer... then OK, we could laugh away Albert's ideas as so ridiculous that it doesn't even merit the term "revolution." But Price doesn't offer that level of omniscience.

As for elections... I think people are more than smart enough to understand that Obama is good-cop and McCain is bad-cop. So yeah, voting is an embarrassing and pathetic form of participation, but at least national states like the US have been forced to provide limited forms of participation. Sometimes, this participation can be tactically useful, like anything else. You don't have to turn voting into dogma, pro or con; you can explain its role and emphasize the guiding vision.

Price says, "At least when President Obama sends his bombers and soldiers to slaughter Afghani civilians, MY hands will be clean."

For one thing, this assumes a President Obama. Imagine some horrific alter-universe where Obama didn't have enough support to compete successfully against President McCain. Because people didn't want to get their hands dirty.

Also, Price still gets benefits from living in the US. Like banks, utilities, opportunities, etc. Price shares some responsibility in what his nation does, because he has some small ability to affect its decisionmaking, and can share in some of its privileges. The US is not a dictatorship. His hands won't be clean just because he shut up about voting.

author by Waynepublication date Sun Aug 10, 2008 09:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Todd: It is important to understand your point # 1, that just because we think something is better does not mean that we have to politically support it or try to get it to happen. But I would further divide your # 2 and # 3 each between voting for a socialist and/or worker's party and voting for an explicitly capitalist and imperialist party (such as the Democrats). Historically anarchists are against both, rightly, but the last is much worse than the first.

Red Paint: It is not surprising that there has been so much disagreement with my essay, since most anarchists are reformists or centrists. This is why I do not say that someone who is for a gradual, peaceful, road to anarchism is not really an anarchist, although they are not revolutionary (which is not an honor but clarity in political labeling so we can know what we are talking about). I do not care whether Michael Albert's definition is "self-consistent and reasonable." This is not a dictionary-writing class. I argued that it did not cover an important range of concepts and historical institutions and that it muddles up things which should be distinguished. RP does not address this argument, which is my central argument; if you still do not get it, I will not repeat it a third time. RP asks, " Why would I want a transition to Parecon to resemble the US, Soviet or French revolutions?" Why you should want this, I could not say. I want it because it is more democratic to want a mass uprising than manipulations and elections of leaders. I also do NOT want more bloodshed, but think that it is more likely than you or Albert think, so we better stick with reality rather than our desires. And I think that having faith in bourgeois elections is just being a sucker. RP writes, "I think people are more than smart enough to understand that Obama is good-cop and McCain is bad-cop." Is that what you think people think? Have you spoken to many people? RP further thinks I get benefits from living in the US. Yeah, like watching the ruling class destroy the world and kill people. This makes me want to OPPOSE them and to build a mass movement AGAINST them, not capitulate to them by buying into their elections.

author by Sachapublication date Sun Aug 10, 2008 14:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Voting for Democrats is complete waste of time and effort. However, I don`t think that voting and banking have big differences as Wayne states in his response to Albert. Banking is another way of the lesser evil within the capitalist society. Many revolutionaries think we would not be able live without banking. However, aren't most of our daily choices based on choosing the lesser evil of the this society. Are our hands really clean when Obama sends more troops to different parts of the world. Doesn't our bank support those troops?

I agree a big strike in a big US city has much more impact than electing Democrats. Unions had / have enough time and money to succeed this. However, every strike has a great potential for any agreement with the other side unless they trigger a revolution. Why wouldn't we go one step further? What if unions started their own economies, alternative societies with no money and no banking, or even further asking workers not to strike for one particular issue but strike for a life time.

In Argentina workers claimed the capitalist production facilities. Many revolutionaries all over the world watch their struggle with excitement. What if worker unions started their own production facilities in the States with their own vision.

In the early times of capitalism these kind of projects could be offered by romantic capitalists with an alternative society vision. But nowadays with the accumulated knowledge and the purchasing power working class can dare all these alternative projects.

In short there is not difference between banking and voting.

author by red paintpublication date Sun Aug 10, 2008 17:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Price mentions I didn't cover his "central argument," about how Revolutionary we'd rate some European organizations which existed over half a century ago (in all but one case), and whose troubles and pressures I have little idea about. (And no impulse to study, because I don't yet know a reason why their struggles offer more insight into today's problems than... reading a newspaper.)

So, his claims about Albert's definition:

* "no space for reform socialism, that is, for a movement which wants to make fundamental changes (like his definition of revolution) but believes that the way to do this is by making step-by-step, peaceful, gradual, reforms (like his definition of reformism)."

Well, if we have something called "reform socialism," what are we supposed to think? How do reform socialists spend their time?

Certainly, no definition here will be mathematical -- when dealing with people, there'll be fuzzy lines and our definitions won't be exact. If someone proposes an odd creature like "reformist revolutionaries"... OK, maybe this is a gray area.

Let's for the moment strip away the romantic connotation of "revolution," to see things more clearly. Suppose you have a game player who builds up their position through a bunch of short-term victories. Well, the player is presumably trying to win. (Unless it turns out that they're really trying to instead tie/draw with the opponent, in which case you note that. Because you see their moves are really moving towards a tie, or you know their incentive in the tournament is to tie.)

So if they're achieving short-term goals, but openly and clearly doing it in pursuit of an overarching revolutionary goal... OK, I'll accept their word on being revolutionary. Even if I happen to think their methods are terrible and happen to actually strengthen the status quo. That their methods won't attain the goals they claim to seek.

If I observe that they're only paying lip-service to revolution -- that they're leaders who preach utopia just to somehow get into power... we can note that too: what's a likely result of them achieving their ends?

* "Historically, his definitions provide no labels for the pre-World War II German Social Democratic Party and British Labor Party. Their leaders and their ranks claimed to be for a new, socialist, society, but did not believe that revolution was needed."

Well, what does "revolution" mean here? That's precisely what we're scrutinizing.

* "Or for the pre-World War I German Social Democratic Party, whose key leaders (e.g. Kautsky) and many members believed that someday a revolution would be needed, but meanwhile only reformist strategies were valid."

Well, if they say they're reformist in reality and revolutionary in their dreams, then... they're honest and up-front, it seems to me.

(Again, I'm taking Price's word on what "reformist" and "revolution" mean.)

* "Another example was Proudhon, the “father of anarchism;” he advocated a totally new society, to be achieved by gradually building a cooperative bank (“mutualism”)."

OK, people have all sorts of ideas. Did he do anything about it? Or was it the sort of madcap scheme you expect from college students smoking pot into the wee hours? (I confess to not reading about "the father of anarchism," outside some sayings about property and theft.)

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britain publication date Sun Aug 10, 2008 23:28author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

There are two kinds of reformism. One has no intention of bringing about revolutionary change – indeed it may use reforms to oppose such change.
The other kind cherishes the mistaken belief that successful reforms will somehow prepare the ground for revolution. Reforms are seen as necessary first steps on the long road to eventual revolution.

The first type can be summarised thus:-
Political parties have already become rival groups of professional politicians with virtually identical policies and certainly identical practices, offering themselves as the best managers of the system. So it would mean that politics would be reduced to pressure group politics as different sections of the population tried to persuade governments—whichever the party in power—to make changes in their particular sectional interest or, in the case of campaigning charities, of the disadvantaged group they have chosen to champion. Political action would consist of lobbying, backed up from time to time by direct action, for reforms in the sectional interest of some group.
Politicians' logic prevails:

1. Capitalism is terrible.

2. We must do something.

3. Reforms are something.

4. Therefore we must enact reforms.

The second type of reformist the "revolutionary reformist" has certain assumptions which seem to be the following:-

1. The working class has a reformist consciousness.

2. It is the duty of the Revolutionary Party to be where the masses are.

3. Therefore, to be with the mass of the working class, we must advocate reforms.

Further:

1. Winning reformist battles will give the working class confidence.

2. So that, therefore, they will go on to have a socialist revolution.

And just how does the jump from reform-mindedness to socialist consciousness happen? There are three basic models for how this may come about:

1. The working class will learn from its struggles, and will eventually come to realise that assuming power is the only way to meet its ends.

2. That the working class will realise, through the failure of reforms to meet its needs, the futility of reformism and capitalism, and will overthrow it.

3. That the working class will come to trust the Party that leads them to victory, and come a social crisis they will follow it to revolution.

The World Socialist Movement rejects the above political strategy and offers its no compromise , no minimum programme alternative .

Fighting for reforms is to fail in the duty of socialists to demystify and dispel capitalist ideology. This is important to note: capitalism is in the end an ideology; everything it does, all of its workings, all of it is a human product, constructed in the minds of humans, and obeyed because it presents itself as the natural law, as the real world, and the realm of the possible.For so-called socialists to fight for reforms then is to fail as socialists, to become enmeshed within the working of capitalism.

The Socialist Party does not oppose reformism because it is against improvements in workers' lives lest they dampen their revolutionary ardour.
Nor, because it thinks that decadent capitalism simply cannot deliver on any reforms.
But because our continued existence as propertyless wage slaves undermines whatever attempts we make to control and better our lives through reforms. Our objection to reformism is that by ignoring the essence of class, it throws blood, sweat and tears into battles that will be undermined by the workings of the wages system. All that effort, skill, energy, all those tools could be turned against class society, to create a society of common interest where we can make changes for our common mutual benefit. So long as class exists, any gains will be partial and fleeting, subject to the ongoing struggle.

Socialists make a choice. We choose to use our time and limited funds to work to eliminate the cause of the problems. One can pick any problem and often one can find that real improvements have taken place, usually after a very long period of agitation. Rarely, if ever, has the problem disappeared, and usually other related problems have cropped up to fill the vacuum of destruction or suffering left by the "solution".

We want the majority in society to take over and run the means of production in the interest of all. However, at the moment these are in the hands of a minority of the population whose ownership and control of them is backed up-and, when necessary, enforced-by the State and its repressive forces. The State stands as an obstacle between the useful majority and the means of production because it is at present controlled by the minority owning class. They control the State, not by some conspiracy, but with the consent or acquiescence of the majority of the population, a consent which expresses itself in everyday attitudes towards rich people, leaders, nationalism, money, etc. and, at election times, in voting for parties which support class ownership. In fact it is such majority support expressed through elections that gives their control of the State legitimacy.

In other words, the minority rule with the assent of the majority, which gives them political control. The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the State, and the easiest way to do this is via elections.

But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.

The plain fact is that you can't "Smash the State" while it still enjoys majority support - and when those who control it no longer enjoy majority support there is no need to try to "smash" it because the majority can use the power of their numbers to take control of it via the ballot box, so that it is no longer used to uphold class ownership.

To do so they will need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. This is what we advocate.

The SPGB/WSM doesn't suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary claim that we are that party.
What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group which we are presently , but a mass party that has yet to emerge.
It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society.
They neutralise the state and its repressive forces - there is no question of forming a government - and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work.
This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, re-organised on a democratic basis, and are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed to take over and run production ( the workers councils and industrial unions , the co-operatives , the neighbourhood and community organisations ) , to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to.

This where we find ourselves in opposition to both Wayne and Michael . Tongue in cheek , the SPGB/ WSM has been described as the political wing of the anarchist movement

Related Link: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/nov03/refrev.html
author by Laure Akaipublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 02:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

1.While there may be some tendencies that are reluctant to accept attempts to define terms more clearly, this is not necessarily beneficial to the anarchist movement, which, although it has always had different strains, should not be confused with forms of reformist statism. At the very least, anarchism is the idea that the state should be abolished and that statist representative democracy by replaced by forms of direct democracy, voluntarism and federalism.

As anarchists, it would be inconsistent to legitimize statist representative democracy as our task to organize ourselves for overthrowing this system and readying ourselves to replace it.

2.Some voting anarchists claim that they are not legitimizing the state but are voting in order to “make a difference” or achieve some goal.

There may be some types of voting within the system which allows (at least on the surface), citizens to more directly decide on certain matters, such as referenda and resolutions.

Voting in American presidential elections is quite another matter as you are

Those anarchists who choose to do so and who publically advocate it tend to claim that they are, in some way, making a difference, at least by choosing a lesser evil or by supposing that their candidate will in fact take a concretely different course on a certain matter than his or her opponent. However, there are a lot of problems with this approach, and, upon historic scruntiny, these claims rarely hold up. I will offer a few concrete examples.

3.The nature of political power is systematic – that is it is conveyed through the electoral system, the legal system, the financial system of capitalism… It is quite misleading indeed to continue fostering the myth than individual political leaders are capable of changing the fundamentals of this system. Especially when they have vested interests in it.

A quite good example of this were the anarchists who voted for Bill Clinton who was saying he was in favour of free universal health care. This was obviously just an issue which was being used to get votes, just as it is now. Even if Hillary Clinton really was in favour of it (which I don’t believe), as an individual, she would be unlikely to survive in a political machine which is serving the interests of big businesses such as the pharameutical and health care industries. Most politicians choose survival in the system; this is how they find themselves supported by the system to begin with.

A huge number of Americans have understood that political problems are empty and that business interests play a larger part in politics than the public’s interests. However, they haven’t understood that they need to organize themselves and replace the system; most people become passive. At the same time, they are being told that they should vote, because it DOES make a difference. The liberal-left establishment is usually vocal in this chorus. By doing this without a deeper analysis of what voting may realistically change or not, they are active participants in misleading the public.

4.We are never going to vote out capitalism. It is unlikely in the USA that even half-ass social democratic reforms can be passed in the electoral system. The nature of political power is also currently such that the voice of the people can be ignored or manipulated. A good example of ignoring the vote can be seen with the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty. The powers that be will enact it anyway, by changing the rules for the enactment. Only a very hard and radical response outside of the ballot box – mass riots or general strikes – may present a chance for defeating this. And even then, if mass protests subside and no deeper systematic change is made, it will just come back to life later. Currently electronic voting machines is the US can be rigged and one programmer has even publically testified that he was asked to do so. Voting may easily become like gambling on a rigged slot machine where the outcome is already known.

5.Some candidates throw around individual issues in areas not threatening to the larger system of power as bait to hook in voters. These are the “concrete issues” that some claim voting can change although they seem to ignore the other “concrete issues” that come as a package. Politicians are under no obligation to fulfill their promises on those issues, just as they are often not even able to do this individually. Politicians have been known to take a stand on issues which they have no competence to do anything about. This is also misleading as some voters, who may not under the political system, may believe that their vote will change something whereas they are only really voting with slogans they agree with.

6.The Democratic Party is not a left party, not a social democratic party and not even a liberal party. They may differ on several issues from the Republicans, but mostly they survive by creating a false dichotomy. They always find issues to sell Democratic voters which are not consistent with their track record and which are only believed because of their undeserved reputation in certain areas. In this, the left-liberal establishment is often complicit.

One area where the Democratic Party earns a lot of support when necessary is portraying itself as being somehow anti-war. This is complete nonsense as anybody who studies the history of military incursions can see. The world protested when the war in Iraq was officially started by the Bush administration – but it had been started years before by the Clinton administration, which not only bombed the place but also employed other deadly policies, such as economic sanctions. Barrack Obama will carry out military ops in Afganistan and may install nuclear weapons in Central Europe, but some people are trying to pass him off as somebody he’s not: some kind of anti-war candidate.

One can survey the left-liberal establishment press and note something quite interesting: during the Bush regime, you get a lot of articles saying “Stop Bush!” or “Bush out of Iraq” or “Stop Bush’s War”, as if this were the decision and work of one man. On the other hand, during the Clinton years, when wars were going on, you tended to hear authors complaining about “US Wars”, or “US Imperialism” or “US Policy” or “NATO Wars”. In other words, when there have been democratic presidents, some directed their focus onto a larger problem: US foreign policy, imperialism, etc. Of course this is a generalization, not a rule. The deeper issue is the incorrect perception that some may have that individual Democratic candidates (for example presidential candidates) can stop wars and do not have any interest in the military industrial complex or the use of military force.

7.The word “reformist” has a rather clear meaning in revolutionary ideology although perhaps this is not always clear for others. It can be applied to those who believe that the way to larger change is through gradual reform within the system. It can also be applied to those who practice political activity within the system with the illusion that they are actually making substantive changes of consequence whereas what they are doing is merely exercising the extremely limited rights and choices allowed to them through the system which is willing to even make small concessions or give over small areas of governance to the citizens as lot as this activity lulls people into believing they are doing “all they can” to change things and keeps them away from any more radical political project.

8.Those calling for voting for the Democratic Party need to be challenged and their justifications need to be carefully scrutinized. If they are telling people that there is an important difference between candidates, they are flying in the face of the idea that capitalism and the state cannot be reformed. This ideology confuses the goals of anarchism and social democracy.

It is also legitimate to look at the larger picture in terms of those who have one foot in the left-liberal establishment and one foot in the anarchist movement. In terms of ones like Michael Albert, his stance on these elections, on Venezuela or the crap state-sponsored participatory democracy schemes, should be sending up red flags as to where he is centered politically. Revolutionary anti-capitalists have long ago made certain criticisms of PARECON, which contains many interesting ideas but envisages the maintainance of wage labour and pay differentials (among other things) which incorrectly implies that the capitalist system will somehow wither away through the introduction of more and more PARECON workplaces within the capitalist system.

author by red paintpublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 05:51author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As a small clarification, I doubt that Albert thinks that "the capitalist system will somehow wither away through the introduction of more and more PARECON workplaces within the capitalist system."

Brian Dominick, who spoke about his experiences with a Parecon company, may be more lucid:

"None of this means that I think for a second that all we need to
do is build up alternatives and -- what-- eventually 10% of
businesses are participatory economic businesses, 50% percent are,
then 100% are, because all the workers have come around?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js4vfZe1Doo&feature=related

For one thing, he claims Parecon companies would be slaughtered in the present marketplace. Why? Because all the nasty stuff that corporations do -- like pushing costs off on others, treating employees like crap -- give them a huge competitive advantage. Not to mention going up against huge supermarkets with ready access to outside capital, marketing ability, etc.

Therefore, he claims that (among other things) counter-institutions are needed -- the bulk of what we think of as activism.

"At some we're going to need to start tearing down. And so
counter-institutions -- which is really the bulk of what we think
of as social institutions today -- but more coherent ones, more
focussed ones, ones that are more explicitly tied into movements
that have networks of alternative institutions attached to them
and associated with them -- those institutions need to start going
after the supermarkets. They need to start going after the
competitors. They need to start providing a competitive advantage
for alternative institutions. [...] And I don't necessarily mean
that you go fire-bomb the other place, but using propaganda, using
whatever means are available and sensible and as long as you're
rooted in the community and alternative institution networks that
you are sort of working on behalf of, and you're accountable to
them, then we have the ability to actually allow alternative
institutions to take root."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdPZFVmzjbY&feature=related

(For those unused to terms like "propaganda", my understanding is that it originally just meant spreading info in favor of a given cause. But around WWII, it was associated with Nazis and whatnot. Of course, we're constantly surrounded by dishonest forms of propaganda like commercials and presidential speeches.)

author by Waynepublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 09:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To Sacha: You are raising a version of what I call reformist anarchism, which is widespread among anarchists. Hahnel and Albert similarly believe in building alternative institutions as one of the main aspects of a Pareconist strategy (see above discussions by Laure Akai and Red Paint). I disagree with them, and with you. These can be useful, such as (in your example) nonprofit cooperative banks, usually called credit unions. They work fine--but, like coop stores, coop housing, and coop businesses--they are integrated into the market economy (they "fail by success"). Meanwhile good activists spend time on building economic enterprises. Being part of the capitalist economic system is a necessity, not a "lesser evil," unless you are comparing it to the "greater evil" of starving to death. No, banking is not the same as voting.

Red Paint: You think I am being foolish or something, raising events in long ago history about organizations "whose troubles and pressures I have little idea about. And no impulse to study," How anti-intellectual. How empiricist. How American. As Henry Ford said, "History is bunk." But as Santayana said, "Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." So why don't we follow your advice and reinvent the wheel, politically speaking. (Right after I responded to someone who has revived the idea of alternate institutions as a strategy, which goes back to Proudhon and the Utopian socialists.) I mean, anarchism has failed again and again and again. So why bother to learn why it failed and try to not make the same mistakes all over again?! OK, maybe I should have used the examples of the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party in the 60s, when I came in...but that is probably old history to you also. And where do I get these ideas about what revolutions are like, except that I study what past revolutions, successful and failures alike, have been like? (See the chapters in my book on the Spanish and Russian revolutions, for example.)

You ask, "How do reform socialists spend their time?" I will tell you. They spend it advocating totally new kinds of society whlle proposing strategies which have failled again and again in the past, such as building alternate economic institutions and/or voting for bourgeois parties. Sound like anyone we have been discussing, hey?

To A. Johnstone of the SPGB: Your distinction between two types of reformism is what I mean by the difference between liberalism and reformist socialism. But unlike me, you are against all struggles in support of reforms, apparently. I find this approach to be both immoral and impractical.

To Laure Akai: Bravo. Well said. You cover all the points as well as I could.

author by K. Blythepublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 12:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Not been following the discussion very closely, but I will say this about the article:

First, I think it is a much better piece than the original, hits its poitns better, more coherently organized, and draws back more logically to bigger questions than "is Michael Albert reformist?"

Second, I do not share the dogmatism of most revolutionary anarchists when it comes to voting -- I have voted before, and probably will vote this year, Democrat. I don't really care whether other anarchist vote or not, because the way I see it, one way or another it achieves very little for "the Revolution" whether we vote or don't vote. If someone feels uncomfortable voting for a bourgeois party in an election for the bourgeois state, then that is fine, but if one thinks that it is worth taking a couple hours out of every couple years to put a "less evil" politician in office, who for whatever reason will murder a few less thousands peolple or start one less war, then that seems just as fine. If we were actually in a revolutionary situation right now, it would be a different case, but right now we are not in a revolutionary situation nor do we have anything resembling a mass movement, so it seems to me there is nothing better to do than add a vote for "less evil" and devote the rest of our energy to other problems of more significance.

author by Laure Akaipublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 15:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think I'll ask K.Blythe now why s/he believes that Barrack Obama will kill fewer people, how military operations work and how many people, exactly, is s/he willing to let the American military kill under Obama before s/he will label him a murderer.

Are you saying that, relatively speaking, you're going to support a government which kills 20,000 cilivians, not 30,000?

And please tell me, last time the demoncrats were in power in the US, exactly how many people were killed in military actions and as a result of economic sanctions? Please try to estimate the number of victims in Iraq, Somalia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Haiti , Guinea-Bissau, Afganistan, Sudan, East Timor. Also, what about the places where the US sent weapons - like to Liberia? And please tell me also about the numerous operations where US soldiers were deployed "to secure the safety of Americans in the area". Who were they protecting and how many people got killed there?

author by nestor - fdca (pers.cap.)publication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 15:59author address author phone Report this post to the editors

if you'll excuse the crudeness, a comrade of mine once succinctly described the "lesser evil" option (in a voting situation such as the forthcoming US presidential election) as simply a matter of choosing whether or not you want your prospective rapist to use K-Y Jelly...

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 21:30author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

Wayne- "To A. Johnstone of the SPGB: Your distinction between two types of reformism is what I mean by the difference between liberalism and reformist socialism. But unlike me, you are against all struggles in support of reforms, apparently. I find this approach to be both immoral and impractical."

Simply to clarify something about reforms and reformism .

The SPGB/World Socialist Movement does not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions.
Indeed, we see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as 'successful'. There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. Indeed , how could a party composed of workers and committed to the working-class interest be opposed to any measure that improved, however marginally and temporarily, conditions for workers - but our opposition is to reformism , in the sense of a policy of actively seeking reforms.
However, in this regard we also recognise that such 'successes' have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while it has ameliorated the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely.

Reformism means POLITICAL action or pressure put on the state to modify the economic behaviour of capitalism . For example, voting for the Labour Party to introduce a minimum wage is reformist; joining your local Freecycle movement is not. There is no attempt to influence the state to introduce reforms therefore it is not reformist - anymore than joining a trade union is "reformist". Another example could be advocating the abolition of the death penalty which would not be reformist .

What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be made palatable with the right reforms, By that, we mean that we oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a programme of reforms on behalf of the working class, often in order that the organisation dishing out the promises can gain a position of power.
Such groups, especially those of the left-wing, often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.

On the other hand, a concession wrung from the capitalists without compensation, such as a reduction of the working day with no loss of daily pay, is a triumph.

The Socialist Party has always drawn a distinction between reformism and trade-unionism (economic action,against employers, over the price and conditions of sale of labour power). We oppose the former (even if we don't necessarily oppose all reform measures as such) and support the latter as long as it is one sound lines (democratically organised, recognising that employers are the class enemy, etc).
As Socialists, we see in this something that is to the good in the class struggle. These efforts of the workers to combine, either to resist the onslaughts of the master class, or to gain whatever they can, must meet with the support of all workers who understand their class position.The struggle on the economic field must be looked to and encouraged. The particular form of economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle as long as capitalism lasts.(Things get complicated when trade-unions start getting involved in reformist political action, but then our members in the unions oppose such actions as unsound.)

The Socialist Party of Great Britain also wholeheartedly supports the efforts of workers everywhere to secure democratic rights against the powers of suppression. Whilst we avoid any association with parties or political groups seeking to administer capitalism we emphasise that freedom of movement and expression, the freedom to organise in trade unions, to organise politically and to participate in elections, are of great importance to all workers and are vital to the success of the socialist movement.

In other words, although individual reforms may be worthy of support, the political strategy of reformism—promising to win reforms on the behalf of others—is a roundabout that leads nowhere. Some improvements are made and some problems are alleviated. Yet new kinds of problems arise which require addressing in a society that is forever changing .Or of defending the status quo against some ‘anti-reform’ when gains are being undermined . For the reformer’s work is never done under capitalism.

Another factor to be considered is that organisations that have a commitment to socialism but who also advocate a reform programme were in practice swamped by people who were attracted by their reforms rather than their supposed commitment to abolishing capitalism. In these circumstances,and those those who viewed reforms as a stepping-stone to socialism were themselves swamped by people for whom reforms were simply an end in themselves, palliating the worst excesses of the system.

In 1890 William Morris wrote an essay ‘Where are we now?’, as he left the Socialist League and looked back over his time in that organisation and the Social Democratic Federation. He saw two ‘methods of impatience’, as he termed them.
One was futile riot or revolt, which could be easily put down. - The armed struggle in modern terms .
The other was, to use the then-popular label, ‘palliation’, what we would now call reformism.

Morris (and the SPGB/WSM) resolutely opposed both, since they would be carried out by people who did not know what Socialism was and so would not know what to do next, even if their efforts were successful on their own terms. Instead he advocated propagating Socialist ideas:

"Our business, I repeat, is the making of Socialists, i.e., convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles in practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible."

Related Link: http://mailstrom.blogspot.com/2007/07/anglo-marxism-spgb.html
author by Black Heartpublication date Mon Aug 11, 2008 21:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Price writes, "You ask, 'How do reform socialists spend their time?' I will tell you. They spend it advocating totally new kinds of society whlle proposing strategies which have failled again and again in the past...."

As do you.

Do you advocate a new kind of society?

Do you propose strategies which have failed again and again in the past?

author by K. Blythepublication date Tue Aug 12, 2008 01:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

First I want to mention again that I don't have strong feelings on the voting question, I don't care to try and persuade any anarchists that they should vote for Obama, and as for non-anarchists I nearly always have pointed out the basic problems (as I see it) with Obama. But you ask good questions that deserve an answer (especially since I bothered to comment in the first place, so it would be a bit ridiculous to avoid your question at this point).

I never said Obama would not be a "murderer" as president -- actually, the position of any president in this country makes them a murderer regardless of their naive "good intentions." I will say that Obama is a little more of a "real" liberal than either of the Clintons, and I do believe that he is less murderous than any Republican candidate. So, in the hope that for a few people at least it will mean the difference between life and death, I will probably vote for Obama.

On the other hand, I do NOT "support" the U.S. government in any way besides a couple hours out of the whole entire year. I simply recognize that whether I vote or don't vote it will make little or no real difference right now, so I am just happy to vote for "less evil" as tp not vote at all. My view as to what the anarchists should be doing meanwhile, is to point out the problems, organize, go to the masses and take real action that can help to build our movement concretely. Again, I simply don't care whether or not someone votes for Obama or doesn't vote at all -- I think too much time and thought is wasted arguing a point with no purpose. And like I said before, it would be lot different if we actually had a mass movement or were in a revolutionary situation, but that is not the case.

author by Waynepublication date Wed Aug 13, 2008 05:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Black Heart asks:
"Price writes, "You ask, 'How do reform socialists spend their time?' I will tell you. They spend it advocating totally new kinds of society whlle proposing strategies which have failled again and again in the past...."
As do you.
Do you advocate a new kind of society?
Do you propose strategies which have failed again and again in the past?"

Yes, I advocate a new kind of society, if not in the detail of Parecon.
Have my strategies failed? This is meant to be clever, since afterall we do not live under the delights of a libertarian socialist society,and therefore all stsrategies--peaceful and violent, reformist and revolutionary, democratic and elitist--may be said to have "failed." And, of course, the major factors are objective, outside the control of radicals, such as the economic situation, or even the social psychology of the majority (which is subjectie, but outside the influence of the radical minority except in extreme, almost-revolutionary, periods). So we are all failures of a sort . As Rosa Luxemburg said somewhere, All revolutions fail except the last.

But I do not spend my time advocating the main strategies of the past and present left, which is overwhelmingly reformist (or centrist). Leaving out a minority which is inflexibly sectarian (and shares the premises of the reformists, but inside out). . I do not advocate either of these strategies. The revolutionary strategy I recommend has "failed" mainly for not having been tried (with the sort-of exception of the ambiguous Russian revolution). Reformism HAS been tried, and failed, again and again.

author by Michael Albertpublication date Thu Aug 14, 2008 00:12author email sysop at zmag dot orgauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

I received Price's original essay, and then his reply to my response, which I replied to again. Now I see there is an interesting discussion occurring, too!

I would think the discussion, which often includes comments about my views, might benefit a bit from including my words. Perhaps I am missing it, but I didn't see any link to or inclusion of what I actually had to say. My original reply to Price is here

http://www.zcommunications.org/blog/view/1834

It is a blog post and is long because I include in it all Price's words. The follow up by Price is there, too, and my reply to that as well.

I know it is a bit annoying to read a message like this that says please go somewhere else to see something - so I will summarize below, to try to make things easier. And I will try to be brief.

First, however, I have a proposal I would like to convey.

I know from various friends, as well as from the Price essay, that some folks in NEFAC have concerns about parecon and associated ideas and are even seriously critical of it. Good, that is how progress is made!

So how about if we have a kind of online exploration/debate.

I have done this sort of thing before and the usual approach has been that I write some kind of summary piece, say at most 3,000 words, and so does the other participant, Price or whoever. Then I reply, to Price and Price, or whoever it may be, replies to me. Thus, in one track, or channel, the discussion is about the views that I offer in an initial piece - about Parecon and associated strategic ideas, etc. In the other channel, or track, the discussion is about views Price (or whoever) offers in an initial piece, presumably views associated with NEFAC, say.

Each set of views is set out initially by a proponent - me setting out mine, Price (or whoever) setting out his. The ensuring exploration occurs on that basis, in the two tracks. At the end, both parties make an overall summary giving their take on the whole experience.

Typically this kind of exchange has involved an initial essay positively summarizing each perspective without reference to the other perspective, critical replies, rejoinders, responses, on both sides, and finally the two concluding essays. The whole thing would appear on ZNet in the debates section - there are a bunch there you can see any time - and presumably it would also go on NEFAC as you all decide. At any rate, I would be happy to engage in such an exploration/exchange/debate, or likely in any variant you all might prefer.

Here then, is the promised summary of some views relevant to the discussion:

I advocate parecon or participatory economics for the economy.

Parecon is not a blueprint but instead specifies only a few core institutions, with the details to come in practice and likely to vary from case to case. The defining features of parecon are workers and consumers self managing councils (where self management means people having a say in decisions in proportion as they are affected by them); remuneration only for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work (or if unable to work, for need); balanced job complexes (balancing empowerment among the workforce); and participatory planning.

The claim made by parecon advocates is that parecon will get economic functions accomplished consistent with also advancing solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, sustainability, and fulfillment and development of those involved - or, in short, full and true classlessness.

On this last point, parecon claims not only to eliminate the class division between the owning or capitalist class and workers, but also to eliminate the class division between what parecon calls the empowered or coordinator class and workers, where the latter division has typified the economies that have heretofore gone under the label "socialist" but have in fact, in the pareconist view, been "coordinatorist."

Parecon is not offered as an alternative for society as a whole, but only for the economy. However, its advocates, including myself, typically also want a new kinship system, culture, polity, etc. altogether composing what has begun to be called a participatory society.

Of course there is much to say about all the above. Price, however, has a different focus - which is fine - strategy. How does one reach a parecon or other new system? And about that he has two foci, as compared to many possible other things to talk about.

About strategy, I should say, SO FAR parecon advocates, myself included, are less specific than we are about the vision itself. There are many reasons for this, mostly, though, that getting widespread agreement on what we are trying to achieve seems to be a prerequisite to getting more than very general and broad clarity about how we might do it.

But what general and broad strategic inclinations have I, and more broadly pareconists, had to offer so far that cause Price, or others in NEFAC, to be critical, and in particular to see me, or pareconists generally, as reformist?

Honestly, even at this point in the exchanges, I don't know.

So -

I argue for what I call non reformist reforms. What is that?

Well, a reform is a change in social relations which doesn't, however, alter underlying defining relations. Typically people pursue a reform as an end in itself. They take for granted, implicitly or explicitly, whether they like the fact or they dislike it, that the defining relations of society are not going to change. This is reformism. It can be heroic, courageous, well motivated, and it can have dramatic desirable effects, as well. But it isn't about changing defining social relations, in the economy or in other spheres of life, since these are assumed to be beyond alteration. Reformism is not revolutionary.

An advocate of parecon, however, is obviously concerned to change defining relations in the economy - and for all the advocates of parecon that I know, in all other spheres too. More, I think it can be done, as do other advocates of the view that I know - so we not only hope parecon arrives, but see the efficacy of working to make it happen.

With Parecon private ownership of productive assets are gone. Corporations are gone. Remuneration for bargaining power, property, and or output is gone. Corporate divisions of labor are gone. Markets (and central planning) are gone. In place of these, as noted earlier, parecon has self managing workers and consumers councils, balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, and participatory planning. I offer this little list to highlight that a society with a parecon rather than capitalism, is a society that has undergone a revolutionary transformation of its economy. Thus, a parecon advocate doesn't want to fight for reforms in a way that assumes the continuation of the old system, doesn't want to fight for reforms as ends unto themselves, doesn't want to be reformist, myself included.

But, in my case and I think for nearly all other advocates of parecon - we do want to fight to win reforms. We/I believe that to dismiss reforms tout court is an incredibly odd stance - and a callous and disconnected one. So, we might fight for affirmative action, to end a war, to restrain or eliminate the IMF, for some ecological law, for higher wages, or better conditions, or a shorter work day, and on and on. So how do we avoid being reformist even while we respect that reforms are important both for bettering the lives of people now and for the lessons and implications they can have over time?

Our answer is we fight for them in non reformist ways. We try to win demands which (a) we try to define in ways, and (b) we try to fight for in ways that leave those involved better able and highly motivated to fight for still more gains, on the one hand, and more disposed toward and even involved in and participants in trying to conceive and seek a truly better, revolutionized, society, on the other hand. We view fighting to end a war or for better conditions, etc. etc. as important in their own right, of course, but also as part of a long term process of consciousness raising, commitment building, organization development, and general movement growth for winning a new society - revolution. I find it confusing to think that any anarchist would even disagree with that, much less deem it basis for serious rejection.

That is, I am absolutely at wits end to understand what it means, or what could lead to saying, or what is intended by saying, that a person or group which at eery opportunity argues for a very explicitly transformed social system, and which tries to better the lot of people while working toward it, and which is constantly oriented to the long term aims, not just short term goals, is reformist. If one says it is reformist because the person or group advocates and hopes to see reforms won, and works for them - then as best I can tell it means every revolutionary in all history was reformist, save for a quite small number of, again, in my view oddly callous and disconnected folks. I do not think that is what NEFAC is saying, but if not, then what? Let me be more blunt. Suppose Price or NEFAC or whoever was working in a factory and there was a struggle for higher wages. Would he/they tell the co-workers that is nonsense reformist, deluded, you should be marching for anarchism - the whole system - now? Or would he/they work with co-workers to win the demands but try to do it in ways leading toward growing revolutionary awareness, vision, commitment, and organization, etc. If the answe is the former, then, yes, we have a real difference here, a profoundly important one. If the answer is the latter, as I suspect then I don't see what the difference is. For pareconists, I should say, the way to work on a wage struggle is partly informed by the vision - develop understanding of self management, or equitable remuneration, perhaps even begin the process of creating awareness of or trying to build a workers council, etc.

To conclude on this topic, if I and typical pareconists think that winning reforms is a good thing, especially if done in non reformist ways, how do we think it contributes to revolution - meaning transformation of the defining features of one or more spheres of social life? Answer - it is a process by which more and more people become advocates of such change, begin to devote time and energy to the struggles for such change, and develop infrastructure both to facilitate that struggle and to foreshadow and even begin experimenting with the future goals, to the extent possible, in the present. For those who think the word revolution, by the way, means something other than a process - with whatever shape and form and features it winds up having - that engenders a new social order - I wonder what that other definition is.

Some advocates of parecon tend to think - I believe - that one can create pareconish firms, larger and more numerous as time goes by - and that that constructive process is the road to final victory. I, however, don't think that. I do think that activity is quite valuable, to learn, to inspire, and to gain the benefits of institutions of our own - but that such activity is nonetheless only one aspect of winning a new economy. Another aspect, also centrally important, even more so, is building growing movements that struggle for non reformist reforms, and, in particular, in talking specifically about the economy, to shift power throughout the economy, from elites - both elite classes - to working people. I could go one, but for purposes of the discussion - it seems to me the above ought to be enough.

What about electoral involvements, Price's other focus?

Well, to read Price you would perhaps think I have been some kind of ally of the Democratic Party and not only voted repeatedly for them, but urged others to do so, and even to work for them, etc. etc. This is peculiar in that ten minutes of effort before writing the piece, and merely reading my reply after writing the piece, would dispel the confusion. I am 61, I have cast one presidential ballot, for Nader - and I regret that, a bit, because I think while his campaign could have had very good results, the benefits were squandered after the election - which I predicted in advance, by the way, though I tried hard to make my prediction false. (I would have voted for Jackson, too, in a final election, but didn't get that chance. I think the outcome was similar to with Nader - fine possibilities lost. Now some will say of course the possibilities were lost, one could predict it. Indeed, I did. But just because I thought there was only a small chance of overcoming obstacles, that doesn't mean don't try...particularly once something was happening, in any case.)

What about more recent elections? I have said, often, I think there are times when voting for a lesser evil in an election is a perfectly reasonable way to spend a couple of hours -though so too is not voting, or voting for a third party, etc. There are also times, much rarer, when working for such a lesser evil mainstream candidate makes sense, particularly if one is in a swing state. That said, unlike Price, I would not say to someone, if you vote for a candidate who I don't think merits a vote, or in fact even support a candidate who I don't think even merits a vote much less support, then by that very fact you are revealing yourself to be reformist or even an ally of reaction, etc. It could be the case. Or it might not be the case. Voting is not a particularly useful indicator of political commitment and allegiances compared to, oh, checking years or even decades of a person's stated views, of their actions, etc. etc. And I find the inclination to engage with people in the dismissive manner that extrapolates so much from so little (even if the so little wasn't misperceived, at best) quite mistaken - honestly, far worse in its implications for possibilities of organizing than voting poorly, say.

I in fact happen to think elections in the U.S. are incredibly co-optive, on the one hand, and that the two parties are actually in any event two branches of a single corporate party that exists to pursue corporate elite agendas on the backs of the rest of the population. I want to replace the whole damn system, of course. I don't see how anyone could think I, or pareconists more generally, are soft on democrats, the electoral system, etc. etc.

Still, just to be sure we are clear, I do think there are times when someone is running, even as a democrat (rather than green, say) and it is viable, or even worthy and desirable, to support that candidate. This is only very rarely true, in my view - more often in most other leftists views, including, probably, many pareconists. When Mel King, for example, ran for Mayor of Boston, years back, as a Democrat - I supported him. Why? I felt that his victory, had it occurred would have been profoundly beneficial for virtually every type organizing in the Boston area, and beyond as well, with pretty much zero downside. That is my only such case. There are others who would say, and PRice seems to be one, without even looking at the specifics, that they know that since all electoral work is destined to have negative implications outweighing any benefits, they can a priori reject it - and not even just reject voting for Democrats, but even for third parties, etc. Okay, that's their view. I think while the claim in specific cases is often right, it is nonetheless, when it is made inflexible doctrine assume apriori to apply to all cases, highly dissociated from real circumstances we face. But suppose I am wrong and enti electoralists are right. Suppose it was wrong for people to support Mel King, or Jesse Jackson, or Ralph Nader, etc., or to even just vote for Obama in a swing state, or in Venezuela to work endless hours for Chavez, and so on. I don't agree, to put it gently, but whether I am right or wrong, to dismiss anyone who disagrees about such matters not just as perhaps being in error on the issue, but as being reformist and not revolutionary by virtue of this difference, seems to me - I am sorry - horribly sectarian.

Finally, I can easily conceive of scenarios in the U.S. and elsewhere in which electoral activity is part of a full revolutionary process, perhaps in some cases even a very important part, but of course never the whole story - at least if the revolution is to create a truely classless and participatory economy and society. I actually find it much harder to envision cases that don't involve any electoral activity, but not impossible.

author by Wayne Price - NEFAC publication date Thu Aug 14, 2008 06:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I am willing to try this new-fangled electronic debate to which Michael Albert offers an invitation. But I am not sure how. I tried to access the email address he gives but the site says I have to be a member of Znet in order to do so. Which is what Steve had originally written when he passed on Albert's original response to me. So I do not know if this can be done.

author by Todd - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Fri Aug 15, 2008 03:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Albert and others again above again overlook two crucial distinctions:
1. Voting- I follow Albert's logic on how a more-left candidate can be a good thing for society/the world/whatever. I will probably vote in this election. But that is different from organizing with groups of likeminded people and endorsing someone for a vote. Let me give an example of this

http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17001

I think it is also problematic for any revolutionary to tell someone else to vote this way or that, while at the same time having a systemic understanding. How do you take a political stand as a group that says "we should vote for this person, but actually they will become our enemy we must organize against"? Either you water down the critique, or your action will emphasize the limited nature of voting and won't be effective propaganda for the candidate.

2. Prefigurative activity- The question isn't what reform, mostly it's how you get it. Revolutionaries pursue the reforms they seek by prefiguring the world they want to see. We want to see a world of direct democracy, then we build workers struggles on that basis. We want to see a lack of arbitrary hierarchy, we build horizontal movements. If we become instrumentalist about our activity (i.e. voting as a political act doesn't match our values or ideals, but we'll adopt it to meet some short term goal), it creates a slippery slope within our movements. It is a matter of principles.

Alternative institutions are sometimes touted as prefigurative action, but we need to contextualize them. They exist within capitalist market competition which imposes market relationships on them. In a capitalist society people reproduce capitalist social relations, not inevitably but as a tendency. This just what we see with workers collectives, hierarchy tends to re-emerge (consider the Polish syndicalist now organizing against conditions in a Mondragon owned factory) or they get crushed by capitalist economics. I support these institutions when they form support for social movements, but in themselves I think they have limited usefulness for our movement.

author by todd - WSA (personal capacity)publication date Fri Aug 15, 2008 03:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"if you'll excuse the crudeness, a comrade of mine once succinctly described the "lesser evil" option (in a voting situation such as the forthcoming US presidential election) as simply a matter of choosing whether or not you want your prospective rapist to use K-Y Jelly..." Nestor

This was the logic a Young Communist League activist.... in telling me to vote for Clinton! He was like, hey at least you get lube.

author by Marcopublication date Fri Aug 15, 2008 20:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne, while ZNet articles are accessible by anyone, only registered users of ZCom can access the blog system. If you like, you can sign up for a free account here:

https://www.zcommunications.org/zsustainers/signup

It takes just a moment (it's probably easier than filling out Anarkismo's comment forms).

Todd:

But that is different from organizing with groups of likeminded people and endorsing someone for a vote. Let me give an example of this

http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17001


Okay, what about this:

http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/18452

One thing is to organize or endorse, another thing completely is to give space to several contrasting point of views in a magazine. Check out this page if you want to better assess ZNet editorial line on the subject:

http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/places/2008+Election

author by I - NEFACpublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 01:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I wrote this to Albert several months ago but never got a response because I was unemployed and didn't feel like scrounging up the monthly ZNet fee...evidently he's now following this thread, so here it is...

I was at your "Creating an Economic and Social Vision" talk at NCOR last week. I was sitting near the front who asked the obligatory "how do you measure effort" question, and we talked for about half an hour afterwards. I read Parecon last year and I agreed with most of it, but I still have several concerns that I'd like to talk about with you.

If I remember correctly, a hypothetical parecon would use Iteration Facilitation Boards to gather information about supply, demand, and social factors and set prices accordingly. I don't share the common anarchist critique that this system is essentially a merger of markets and central planning; I understand that IFBs would have no additional control over the economy and would be democratically and horizontally organized just like all other workplaces, and I recognize that such a system is fundamentally different from a capitalist market because its prices are not determined by competition between buyers and sellers. Rather, my objection to the remuneration-for-effort/sacrifice norm is that a parecon-ish economy could conceivably function without any free public services--health care, housing, food, etc could have their prices set by IFBs, and there would then be a possibility that some people might not be able to afford basic needs.

Parecon doesn't address this problem by altering its inherent structure but merely by making exceptions to its remunerative rule. You've stated that both health care and kinship in a parecon would be a free public goods and that people who are unable to work would receive an "average income." As far as I know, you've never addressed what else might be a free public good, or how it would be decided WHICH services or commodities should be free and which should have prices.

I don't entirely disagree with the idea of rewarding effort, and I agreed with your statement when we talked last week that "what anarchists really mean is that people should receive an amount of the social product based on how much they contributed" (although that question did at one time spark a controversy between Proudhon's/Bakunins' disciples and Kropotkin's/Malatesta's adherents). However, I would be far more comfortable upholding parecon as an anarchist economy if it incorporated some kind of protocol for democratically deciding what parts of that social product ought to be free public goods. In fact, it seems to me that anarcho-communism would be perfectly compatible with parecon if we simply used a broader definition of precisely that. In other words, sure, an IFB can set the price for iPods and blackberries, but if Third World kids want STRAWberries they fucking well better get some.

As I write this it occurs to me that using participatory decision making to determine need could also conceivably make a planned economy less susceptible to the famous "socialist calculation problem" that right-wing economists love to drone on about. It might reduce the number of effort/sacrifice measurements circulating through planning boards, which coupled with the staggering amount of supply & demand information they'd be sorting through might otherwise present an efficiency problem.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me last week. Someday I also hope to be able to contribute to the Left's sorely lacking economic vision.

author by Wayne - NEFACpublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 02:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To Isaac and Michael Albert:

OK, following Isaac's directions I signed up. More significantly, I see that anyone can access the Znet debate page, without having to sign up.

So I am willing to take up Albert's generous challenge and write an essay for the Znet debate section (no one else in NEFC has volunteered). But to whom do I send my 3000 word essay when it is written (sometime next week)?

And do I take Albert's last staement on this list as his contribution, to which I am supposed to make a critique?

author by Marcopublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 02:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As far as I know, you've never addressed what else might be a free public good, or how it would be decided WHICH services or commodities should be free and which should have prices.

Isaac, there's something about that in the new parecon FAQ (or Q/A, or whatever one may call it...)

http://www.zmag.org/zparecon/qafulfilling.htm

As far as I understand, the political institutions of a participatory society would play an important role in these decisions. The parecon model deals exclusively with the economic sphere, it does not give you the entire picture...

(uh...and I'm sorry for the poor grammar in my last comment, I've only just noticed that :-P)

author by Marcopublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 02:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne, I think you can reach Michael directly through this email address:

sysop (at) zmag (dot) org

And do I take Albert's last staement on this list as his contribution, to which I am supposed to make a critique?

I think so (his summary starting with "I advocate parecon [...]") but you'd better check with him of course.

author by Marcopublication date Sat Aug 16, 2008 03:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Wayne, I re-read Michael's comment and it looks like his was only the summary of what he posted on his blog in response to you... so no, it has nothing to do with the debate he proposed...

sorry for the mess, everyone!!...

author by Laure Akaipublication date Sun Aug 17, 2008 18:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hopefully not off-topic. For Obama-voting anarchists:
http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=200808170111...37460

author by Michael Albert - Znetpublication date Mon Aug 18, 2008 23:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

> Since I accuse him of reformism, he wonders whether or not I support the struggle for reforms (Yes, I do).

Good. Then reformism must mean something more to Price than favoring diverse reforms - which apparently we both do - what more is it that it means, then, when Price applies the term to me or to parecon - I have no idea.

If Price favors particular reforms fought for in particular ways but is not reformist - my guess is it is because he sees the reforms he likes fought for in ways he likes as part of a process that doesn't accept basic defining structures but instead challenges and seeks to replace them. Same for me.

> Since I say that his strategy is "fatally flawed" and that he "crosses the class line" in voting for the Democratic Party, he claims that I am labeling him a "class enemy" (I do not).

When you say someone crosses the class line - what else does it mean? It is a way of saying class traitor, whether attributing malevolence or not. But, at any rate, I happen not to vote for Democrats or to have ever done so - with the exception of Mel King for Mayor of Boston - which makes the whole issue rather moot, save for broader relevance. I have no problem with other people voting for democrats, however, for diverse reasons, which typicallly come down to lesser evil claims, and don't think that voting Democrat means they have crossed a class line -

> Since I advocate socialist revolution, he says that I sound like "Lenin and Trotsky;" this implies that I do not sound like what I am, a revolutionary class struggle anarchist rooted in the tradition of anarchist-communism. In order to understand revolutionary anarchism, Albert was not obliged to have read my other essays on www.Anarkismo.net or my book on the nature of the state (Price, 2007). But it wouldn't have hurt.

He is correct I wasn't obliged to, since I was only answering one particular essay. In contrast, Price was writing one about me as a person, and parecon as a framework - so perhaps he might actually have had a responsibility to be a bit more careful.

My reasons for guessing Price has a trotskyist backgrond are in the essay, and certainly are not that he advocates revolution - since I do too...and am certainly not from that background. I still wonder, did I guess right or wrong? I didn't say Price was now a Trotskyist, I said his tone and style made me think he probably once was. Not damning, just a guess... was it wrong?

> Given the lack of space and time, I am not going to discuss every argument of his in detail nor follow every side topic he raises.

So far, there is no reply to any argument - only quick dismissals by attributing things I didn't write...but maybe that is just due to it being an intro.

But if I were going to write a piece claiming someone was x - I would damn well deal with them saying the opposite of x, over and over, throughout the entire body of their writing...

> Instead I will cover two subjects: (1) the meanings of revolution and reformism and (2) the significance of voting for the Democrats.

Sure and hopefully what Price says will explain why he thinks I or Parecon or both are reformist...

> Albert repeats his basic definitions of reformism and of revolution. To him, reformism means to keep society essentially as it is, with only minor changes (reformism = liberalism).

The changes need not be minor - an increase in wages, a new law, an end to a war, etc. etc. can be very meaningful. But the changes do not alter basic underlying structures - instead taking these as given.

> Revolution, as he defines it, means to basically transform society.

To change its underlying defining relations in one or more spheres of life and social organization - yes...

> Of course, I cannot argue that a definition is "wrong." I can only argue that it is not useful.

Fair enough - why, I wonder...

And what is the alternative definition - a revoluion is X ---- What does Price think X is in words?

> In particular, Albert's set of definitions leaves no space for reform socialism, that is, for a movement which wants to make fundamental changes (like his definition of revolution) but believes that the way to do this is by making step-by-step, peaceful, gradual, reforms (like his definition of reformism).

That is not my definition of reformism - not even the very quick summary he gave. Step by step, peaceful, gradual, changes in policies, laws, structures, distribution of wealth, etc. etc. are neither reformist or revolutionary but could be either. They are reformist if they take for granted a continuation of society's defining relations. They are revolutionary if they not only don't take that for granted but are sought in ways aiming to build movements that will keep struggling until the transformations are enacted.

Actually, I believe I did include this issue. If a steady stream of reforms yields a new social organization, the overall process is a revolution. The people doing it were likely being revolutionary, but I suppose it could be that they weren't, they only wanted reforms and got more than they bargained for - but don't expect that! Reformist reforms don't yield new social organization in and of themselves because they assume the old ones and never try to undo and replace them.

But let's put it more like this - suppose a sequence of reform struggles keeps altering relations in ways benefiting not only suffering constituencies, but also increasing their inclination to demand more gains and their organizational and movement capacities for winning more gains, including changing the overall balance of forces in society, etc. And let's say that that type of struggle rolls along for quite some time, and then, I don't know, there is an election or something else, and various occupations, etc., and after that basic structures start to be altered too. And then, in the end, the society is a new type society. There was no civil war, no war of any kind, and no single moment of tumultuous upheaval, either, let's say. Can that happen nowadays - I don't know. But if it did, it would be a revolution or not depending not on the tumult, or violence, or speed, or intermediate demands - but based on whether - well - society was revolutionized.

Again, if PRice wants to use the word revolution differently - then he should spell out how.

> Historically, his definitions provide no labels for the pre-World War II German Social Democratic Party and British Labor Party. Their leaders and their ranks claimed to be for a new, socialist, society, but did not believe that revolution was needed.

Now, indeed, we are simply using the word revolution differently. I think Price means by it some kind of upheaval, or something. If you replace private ownership with public, you eliminate markets, you replace the corporate division of labor, and so on and so forth, changing from capitalism to parecon - well, that is a revolution, however it happened. Price is right, I don't make a fetish of one path or another. I think we need to try things and see what works - and I hope we can find a less rather than a more costly route, as I assume Price does too. So I don't see what the difference that bother Price so much, is.

> Or for the pre-World War I German Social Democratic Party, whose key leaders (e.g. Kautsky) and many members believed that someday a revolution would be needed, but meanwhile only reformist strategies were valid.

Reformist strategies are valid - for winning reforms, though they are not best for doing that, I think, and don't seek more, which I do.

> Another example was Proudhon, the "father of anarchism;" he advocated a totally new society, to be achieved by gradually building a cooperative bank ("mutualism"). All these may be called reformist socialists; the last two cases might be better called "centrist": revolutionary in rhetoric and posturing but reformist in actual behaviors.

I repeat what I said about Price's earlier allegiences, and am growing more confident about my guess....

What has any of this got to do with me... My problem with Price isn't so much his using words differently than me - it is his not bothering to see how I use them if he is going to write something about me or my views - or ditto for parecon. At any rate, I suspect this is becoming a waste of time - perhaps for both of us.

How can I be more explicit - I call for revolution all the time...I would bet there are few people in the U.S. who have written explicitly of the need for it, more often, or more comprehensively, than myself, for whatever that is worth. Yes, by revolution I mean winning and implementing a new social order - economy, polity, culture, kinship - and I have in mind participatory society, parecon, etc. Do I know the intermediate steps? No. Do I have some ideas about some steps, yes. Does Price relate to any of it? No. He just wants to assert, it seems.

> Albert believes that Parecon (socialism, anarchism, whatever) WILL BE a revolution (a new society). But he does not explain that Parecon WILL TAKE a revolution.

I don't understand the semantics, unless, again, by revolution Price has something very specific in mind which I don;t talk about... which to him qualifies me as not favoring any revolution. Does Price mean workers and consumers organizing in councils and taking control of society's production unit, consumption, and allocation? Does he mean popular assemblies replacing government institutions? Does he mean transformations of culture and kinship whose full dimensions we don't yet know? Does he mean all this is accomplished by whatever means are needed but with a premium on reducing violence and disruption to a minimum, if possible? I bet his answers would pretty much be yes - and so I bet we agree that far. And beyond that, I still don't know where we disagree - but wherever it is, I find it incredibly odd that Price thinks it means I am reformist.

> That is, an upheaval similar to the U.S., French, or Russian Revolutions. (All revolutions began with the existing state having most of the armed power—which is what made it the state; yet revolutions have won.)

Does he mean that we will have an armed force which out does the u.s. military, or even police? If so, okay, I think that is very very likely to be ludicrous. On other hand, he may mean instead having a movement that is so broad and deep that the police and army ultimately unravel - which is what I think, so again, I don't see what the problem is. Does he mean it happens in a very brief span? Maybe it will, but I doubt it.

> Because, as I said, we identify with similar traditions, we advocate many things in common, judging by Albert (2000), to which he directed me. That is, we are for building a mass movement. We advocate raising reforms such as classwide demands for shorter hours without cuts in pay. We advocate and seek to organize workplace and community councils. We will oppose all other forms of oppression and misery. We will try to win over the ranks of the military (Albert includes the police).

Yes, so, again, other than that I write about this stuff very widely, what is it that makes me reformist - or parecon?

> What is unclear to me is why he is so certain that the actual changeover will be mostly nonviolent.

Actually, I don't know that that will be true - and I think maybe we mean something different by violent and non violent. At any rate, it will not be occur by a massive movement overcoming a solid and still loyal military, or even police apparatus. Those forces will dissolve from within and until they do, they will be militarily beyond our reach.

If that is what Price disagrees with, fine - he is entitled to - but how my thinking that translates into my being reformist - is entirely beyond me.

> Especially since he writes in his counterargument, "My guess would be about a third of the population would be aggressively pro revolution [meaning, being for a new society-WP], about a third doubtful, and about a third paying little attention, at the time when the balance of power would shift [his term for a sort of revolution-WP],

No, the balance of power would shift in the sense that it is downhill from there on...rather simpler to arrive at a condition where movements are rebuilding social structures - it would remain very difficult, however, at the level of people's beliefs and habits.

A revolution is the entire extended process of moving from one set of stable established institutions to another different set - there may be a tumultuous bump at some point, or maybe not.

> but it is just a guess, nothing more. As to the army and police...I believe that movements for change will be constructing a new society from positions of being able to themselves define (and not just demand) innovations {another Albertian term for a nonrevolutionary revolution-WP]

This is silly, it seems to me. We can demand a higher wage, say, or shorter work week, and win it or not, depending on the scale of organization, support and so on that we can mount against authorities who still possess control of the levers of decision making, etc. We can ourselves define new relationships when we have sufficient power in various places, institutions, and so on, up to the whole society, So we can begin doing that - not having to demand a change but ourselves simply implementing it, because we are in position to simply do it. Right now, for example, there are diverse institutions of ours that we could - and in my view ought to - transform by our own choice, simply by doing it.

> only after the military and police are no longer willing to crush opposition, but are instead won over to our cause." Perhaps I misunderstand him, but he seems to be saying that while only a third of the population will be strongly for "the revolution," yet most of the military and the COPS will be "won over."

Okay, in a silly discussion, honestly, I wrote unclearly. It isn't that the police and military are all won over, but simply that they are no longer willing to follow repressive orders to assault dissent.

> So Pareconists will win a higher proportion of the police than of the general population?? (He cannot men this, I hope.) But what if we win most of the soldiers but very few police? What if the counterrevolution starts out with more guns, but we use the power of the strike...and the power of producing weapons? All of this seems more likely to me than any assurance that the revolution will be peaceful.

Why is that not peaceful? What does he mean by peaceful. Right now there is more violence in many neighborhoods than what he is talking about. Of course strikes are part of social change, marches, civil disobedience, no doubt riots too, at times, but the point is, this array of tatics works against repressive power only when that power can't be used - there are two conditions that make that the case. (1) Its use will be counter productive for elites in helping movements grow rather than weakening them. (2) It can't be used because the workers, police, and soldiers, disobey.

Price apparently thinks he can read the future with so much confidence that he can dismiss people with whom he agrees about vision, etc. I find this hard to fathom and would, even if there were serious differences here, which, as far as I can tell, there are not. You don't have to have the whole society on your side to have police or military unwilling to shoot at you, or even elites unwilling to tell them to do so, for that matter. Even right now - way before we have a third of the population - the state worries greatly about repressive forces refusing orders and also about utilizing repression in ways that will harm rather than advance their interests by galvanizing support for dissent. My guess, and again, unlike Price I admit I am only guessing - would be that by the time even one in ten soldiers or police in particular units were strong allies of movements like the one third of the whole population active revolutionaries), the units would be balking at shooting down strikers, protesters, etc. etc. Maybe not. Maybe it would take longer. I hope to know before I grow too old... But to argue about it now, and dismiss people based on it - that is sad. That said, honestly, I still have no idea what Price thinks in contrast.

That is, one either thinks that in the long run what matters is organizing massive highly informed and involved support in diverse struggles and construction, and doing it throughout the society including in the military and police - with victory of a new society hinging on success in that pursuit - or one thinks you wage some kind of military struggle, with a far smaller level of support, and that that violent battle somehow overcomes the opposition or galvanizes more allies. The latter, for example, was the Cuban model and worked, to a point, there. The former seems to be the Venezuelan approach, and we don't yet know how it will turn out.

> That Albert and Hahnel strongly desire the total change of our oppressive social system, I do not doubt for a second. What I doubt is that they propose, in fact, a revolutionary strategy.

We are very clear that we haven't proposed any strategy. I have some ideas, etc., but I wouldn't call it a worked out strategy, by a long shot. That will come in time, one hopes, partly from new experiences.

> This is what I mean when I call them reformists, or, better yet, centrists. This is not name calling, but a discription of where I, and other revolutionary class struggle anarchists, disagree with them.

It isn't a description of where Price disagrees, or if it is, then I am tone deaf. So what is left, apparently, is name calling.

We have very explicitly indicated there is a long way to go before there is something like a full and serious strategy for revolution - but, some features seem pretty clear, at least -- for example, fighting for non reformist reforms or for reforms in non reformist ways - building the seeds of the future in the present by having our own movements and institutions embody the structures we seek for the future - amassing huge movements with a participatory membership that all together exerts leadership rather than following a few leaders - creation of workers and consumers or geographic assemblies, etc. What Price thinks is not revolutionary - or centrist???? - is beyond me.

(2) Voting for the Democrats

> Albert and I agree that we are very far from a revolution right now. But the presidential election is happening right now. This is a here-and-now test of what it means to be a revolutionary.

Far from it. That is, I can think of countless things far more indicative than how one relates to the election of whether one believes in and seeks to contribute to revolutionary developments, right now.

> We anarchists are anti-electoralists.

I know a lot of anarchists who are no such thing. I would think, indeed, it would be a very peculiar anarchist who said he or she was against votes and tallying them, per se and without reference to context.

> We do not support electoral campaigns even of reformist socialists such as Lula of Brazil or Chavez of Venezuela (in this we differ from Lenin and Trotsky).

So, suppose, Price knows or even just believes, that if Chavez wins an election it will means a different and vastly improved context for organizing and movement building as well as incredibly important benefits for poor and alienated constituencies - even if he doubts that it will mean a government literally seeking to accomplish revolutionary changes - in that case, he wouldn't want Chavez to win? He wouldn't vote for him? He wouldn't tell others that in context it is a step forward and so worth the time of casting the ballot? Now admittedly I think there is vastly more reason to support Chavez than that - but that wouldn't be enough for Price? And he thinks all anarchists should have views like that? If so, okay, we disagree. But for him to decide that makes someone reformist seems absurd, to me - well, actually, what it seems is horribly sectarian.

> We think that electoralism contradicts the idea of building a self-managing movement of popular opposition from below, which Albert says he is for. Instead it involves focusing on a leader who you urge the people to vote into power in the capitalist state, where the leader can be political FOR the people.

Why can't a movement do both - seek to keep building and also seek to have someone who will be better for its efforts win, rather than someone who will be worse for its efforts. What Prices thinks, I suspect, is that the act of participating in the election somehow compromises people, or even subverts their good sense, etc. etc. Fine, if he could convince me that was always the case - then I too would be against electoral activity per se. But to act as though such a formulation is a given and a basis for judging people - that goes way too far.

Thhe idea that voting for Chavez, say, is somehow part and parcel of being against revolutionary change is at least consistent...I guess, though horrible.

> However, what I specifically called "crossing the class line" was to vote for an explicitly capitalist party, and not just any capitalist party, but the Democratic Paarty, which is the second party of U.S. imperialism. It is the Democratic Party which has historically served as the death trap for mass movements. It is the Democrats which historically began World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and whose presidential candidate now promises to expand the U.S. military and to step up the war in Afghanistan.

Does Price think he knows this and I don't? Not to mention, I have never voted for them...but would, if I lived in a swing state, and thought there was some point to it, as in, beating Mccain, this time.

> Talking with my liberal family members, friends, and co-workers, I do not try to dissuade them from voting for Obama, a pointless task. I do try to persuade them that Obama is, at best, the lesser evil, rather than a great Hope, and that the lesser evil remains...evil, even it they feel they must vote for him.

And so, Price - where is the difference? I not only say it to friends and relatives, etc. etc. but to large audiences, to people from other countries, and in print. Why is it okay for Price to act as though I have views I don't - I wonder, and to ignore my contrary comments?
Just as an aside, though it isn't particularly important to the larger issues, I would be interested in Price showing me having said or written anything about elections or democrats even a tiny bit like the view he suggests I have. It would take him ten mintues to find things quite contrary...

> It is different when I discuss with "revolutionaries." How can we persuade others that we think the Democrats are an evil force in U.S. politics, if we simultaneously tell people are voting for them? (That is, if we DO think that the Democrats are an evil force.) Albert compares voting for a Democrat to using a bank. But we have to participate in the capitalist economy, just to live. We do not have to vote. And voting means giving political support to a party or candidate, whereas banking has no such implication.

Fine, change the analogy. Price I bet is and certainly is friends with lots of wage slaves. People who work for capitalist firms, obey rules in those firms, and don't rebel every hour of every day against them - perhaps not even at all. That's a choice. They don't have to make it. I didn't. But I wouldn't call people who take wages from owners sellouts...etc. etc.

So let me get this straight, if Castro hopes Obama will win, and would be surprised if someone he respected said we shouldn't vote for Obama, would that mean Castro wasn't revolutionary? Were Lenin and Trotsky not revolutionary? That said, I have never told anyone to vote for a Democrat - I have however, said I think it is one viable thing to do.

> There is a matter of principle. At least when President Obama sends his bombers and soldiers to slaughter Afghani civilians, MY hands will be clean.

You want to worry about your hands...fine, but it is a strange notoin of cleanliness - I will try to worry about people around the world and here... Will Obama end imperialism. No. Might he undertake enlarged wars? Yes. In the choice between Obama and Mccain do I hope Obama wins - of course - for many many reasons. Will I vote for him. No - but it is easy for me not to, I live in Massachusetts.

> But what really matters is not how any individual vote, one out of a vast number (if our votes are even counted). What really matters is what large groups of people and organizations do. If the unions were to stop spending a big part of their money and personnel on bourgeois politicians, they could spend it on union organizing and on strike support work. The same for the Black community and other People of Color, the women's movement, the Queer community, the environmental movement, and so on. For that matter, one large, successful, general strike in a big U.S. city would change U.S. politics drastically—in a way no election could. For decades—generations—labor, African-Americans, and other progressive forces have repeatedly supported the lesser evil of the Democrats. And for decades, the greater evil has gotten worse, the lesser evil has gotten worse, and the whole of U.S. politics has moved to the right. Lesser-evilism has failed. That Albert does not see this is astonishing!

That Price feels he can impute views to me, or others, is what is astonishing. I think he is in fact wrong about the drift of U.S. society but that is a larger and very different subject. But, Price - be honest. Go look at my writings on the american electoral system, on the campaign, on obama, etc. You won't find too much - because it is all so trivially obvious, honestly, that it seems far more valuable for me to spend time trying to generate positive alternatives.

> Virtually every progressive step forward has been won through non-electoral mass actions: the sit-down union strikes of the thirties, the "civil disobedience" (and urban rebellions) by African-Americans in the sixties, the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and rebellions, etc. When these movements were absorbed into the Democratic Party, they were coopted and died down.

It is like having a discussion with someone who wants only to hear himself - what is Price replying to? My words. I haven't seen any instances of my words here. And I couldn't agree more that victories come when movements are strong enough to compel the results - so?

> In Albert (1994), he takes the left to task for not supporting Jesses Jackson hard enough. This time he writes that my opposition to the Democrats is plain "silly."

I do neither. If being opposed to the Democrats is just plain silly - than I am so silly it would be hard to function at all. Rather, I may have said something like, taking one's informed opposition to the Demcorats and extrapolating to an inflexible incapacity to even allow others to vote for a lessor evil or even for someone they likely mistakenly think would do more good than is the case without castigating them and calling them names, etc., is silly - well, horribly sectarian.

> Instead, he suggests that I might vote for Jackson and even work for him.

And apparently you think that voting for jackson, or even working for him, does what - makes someone a reformist? Incredible.

This is why I say I think you have a Trotskist background - this is something they might come up with, but I would not expect from serious anarchists, honestly.

> In both Jackson and Obama's campaigns, he writes, "Did I hope and try to contribute to good results coming from both those efforts? Yes, I did."

That means with Jackson I tried to influence the process to be far more oriented to building movements and persisting as an activist opposition, and with Obama - well, I did almost nothing, so I doubt I wrote it, but if I did, than what little I did was to urge leftists not to mistake him for some kind of ally...

> But he assures us of "my disdain for the electoral system [and] Democratic Party." "Disdain" is hardly enough.

Is this for real. I have to use words this guy likes. Okay, I abhor it. I revile it. I despair that it exists. And so on. Or how about this - I have lived for sixty one years - not only have I never supported a democrat - though I don't mind that others have for diverse reasons - but as an institution I think the democratic party is just one half of the single corporate party which exists to further the interests of elites at the expense of everyone else, the other half being the republican party - and I think that voting for the president is rather like prisoners voting for a warden. Many won't want to partake, even if one potential warden would be a little better than another - others will want to vote for the guy who will be less painful, or who they think will be - and I can understand and relate to both stances though I personally am in the first group.

Price not only won't relate respectfully to someone who at times votes for a lesser evil candidate - or a candidate he or she likes, for that matter - but won't even allow another person, me, to be respectful of such choices without donning the mantle of more revolutionary than thou. This is sad.

> I cannot think of a better example of someone assuring us that he has the most radical beliefs, revolutionary even, but urging good old reformist tactics.

What example? Supporting Jackson. Incredible.

I thought we already dealt with this .... what makes a tactic reformist or not, in its intent, at least, which is what Price is talking about, is what you are trying to achieve and how you are trying to do it. So - if Jackson had been trying to build revolutionary consciousness and organization, it would not have been a reformist campaign. And that is what I was trying to facilitate. That said, sometimes reformist efforts deserve support too - my bet is that when unions strike Price wants them to win, even if the union's leaders not only don't oppose capitalism, but would think Price was crazy for doing so - but others can't have nuance views, only Price.

> When Albert reassures us that he is trying "to contribute to good results" coming from the party of capitalism and death, is he covering up his revolutionary beliefs or is he just expressing his own reformist illusions? It is hard to tell. It is not enough to try to be nonreformist; it is necessary to be revolutionary.

The latter is not something one accomplishes by proclaiming it into a mirror, or even to others. It takes deeds. I hope Price will pile them up into a mountain of revolutionary achievement.

But the above closing paragraph is despicable, honestly.

Related Link: http://www.zcommunications.org/
author by Herb A.publication date Tue Aug 19, 2008 06:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Keep thrashing away at that strawman Albert.. if you attack it enough, people might not recognize what it was in the first place!

You consistently waffle on the question of support for the Democratic party. Why would you not explain why you think Obama/Chavez, etc. would be a better "context" for social movements? Please, elaborate on this key point instead of writing volumes of semantic games.

It is surprising that you are not aware of the Anarchist rejection of the bourgeois electoral system. It is not enough to reject the Democrats for us Anarchists, as Price mentions.. we are against the advocacy of the State's offices and bureaucracy, not because we are against reforms from the State (obviously), but because this is the most abhorrent and obvious inversion of self-determination/self-management, namely, to elect a person to represent us in a bureaucratic state. This is (again obviously) diametrically opposed to federations of councils engaged in direct democracy without the bourgeois, hierarchical and alienated state-form. Now, If we advocate for someone in this office and institution, how could we honestly advocate the dissolution of the office and institution itself, whether the leader of the state be be Nader, or Castro, or Chavez, or Obama, or your beloved Jackson? (I mention the whole gang at once so you can't waffle around).

Parecon seems ass-backwards to me. Why would a utopian vision precede struggle and anti-capitalist strategy grounded in history and concrete situations, that is, the legacy of communism and anarchism? Perhaps if the only fitting strategy for this vision was embarrassingly reformist (like the now popular Pareconista tactic of taking over the cooperative movement.. or Hahnel's groveling at the feet of the Venezuelan state). I agree and appreciate the contribution to a discussion of vision (appreciatED more like), we need all the weapons in our arsenal that are available, but the sectarian "Parecon or bust" argument is now officially annoying.

I also feel that the fetishization of utopian vision - this urge to lay down every detail of a post-capitalist society.. who knows how far off - stinks of your own "coordinatorism". Why is it coordinatorist? Hmm.. let see, a group of academic specialists who create a blueprint of a world for the working class to live in. Its tone is seems distrustful and classist.. but you have the right.

The monolith of Parecon is only topped by the megalomania of Michael Albert!

Herb A.

author by Isaac - NEFACpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 00:18author email evilmonkeys23 at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Would you mind taking a look at my above post, Michael? You might find it more interesting than the current discussion because I'm trying to talk about the specifics of Parecon rather than just your alleged reformism...

author by Waynepublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 01:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Michael Albert is hard to pin down. He thrashes about and slip-slides away. This makes it difficult to evaluate his opinions since it is difficult to know just what his opinions are.

Consider his opinion on voting for the imperialist Democratic Party. He says, "I happen not to vote for Democrats", well, he RARELY "happens" to vote for Democrats. He has disdain for the electoral system and the Democrats and he abhors and reviles them and generally has a negative attitude toward them. For an analysis, he thinks "the Democratic party is just one half of the single corporate party" which he opposes. After all, he is for a Pareconist revolution (or "bump", as he calls it) and even the best Democrats are not.

On the other hand, at the very same time, he says he WOULD vote for Obama, the imperialist Democrat, if Albert lived in a swing state. He tells large meetings that he does not mind if they vote for the Democrats. He thinks it is possible for a movement to "do both," both vote for a lesser evil and build itself as a movement. In his book, Stop the Killing Train, he has a chapter,Jackson Vs. Technocracy, in which he criticized leftists who would not support Jackson in the Democratic Party,writing, "We merely want them [supposed radicals] to see that increased success for Jackson's campaign can enhance the security and fulfillment of people all over the world precisely because Jackson's campaign threatens the system the Tweedle-Dum & Tweedle-Dee candidates legitimate." (p. 199). (Actually, Jackson did not threaten the system but strengthened it.)

How do we put together these anti-Democratic Party, non-voting, statements, with these statements supporting voting for the Democrats? (He is just as murky on my other topic of the nature of revolutions.)

Certainly, Albert does not make voting for the Dems a central strategy, the way in which the Democratic Socialists of America do--in the tradition of Michael Harrington and Max Shachtman (speaking of ex-Trotskyists). If I seemed to imply that he did, I was wrong. But neither is he a consistent revolutionary opponent of the Democratic Party and its candidates. On the contrary, in certain situations, he is FOR voting for the Democrats. He thinks it is possible for a Democratic candidate to threaten the system. Since I regard the Democrats as being on the other side of the class line, representing the boss class, I think that voting for them is crossing the class line (which does not sum up all of a person's politics, of course).

Finally, Albert rejects my statement that as anarchists we are anti-electoral. He knows many anarchists who do vote, and for Democrats. No doubt he does. I should have written: In the mainstream tradition of revolutionary class struggle anarchism, we are anti-electoralist. And then maybe quoted Kropotkin,"The anarchists refuse to be part to the present state organization and to support it by infusing fresh blood into it.They do not seek to constitue, and invite the workingmen not to constitute, political parties in the parliaments." (The Essential Kropotkin, p. 110) See?

author by Waynepublication date Thu Aug 21, 2008 04:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I want to make it completely clear that when I write that Michael Albert is being murky and slippery, I am not at all accusing him of being dishonest. He writes exactly what he thinks but, I have come to believe, he is confused in his political thinking, as is evidenced by his comments here. Confused, contradictory, political thinking is typical of centrism (left reformism).

To give another example, which shows both confusion as well as theoretical ignorance, he writes above:

" So let me get this straight, if Castro hopes Obama will win, and would be surprised if someone he respected said we shouldn't vote for Obama, would that mean Castro wasn't revolutionary? Were Lenin and Trotsky not revolutionary?"

(1) Does he not realize that anarchists do not regard Lenin and Trotsky--and certainly not Castro--as models. Yes, they were revolutionaries of a sort (authoritarian revolutionaries, especially Castro who was a nationalist revolutionary but not a working class revolutionary)?
(2) In any case, Lenin and Trotsky--and Rosa Luxemburg--were heirs of a Marxist tradition which completely rejected support for bourgeois parties, such as the Democrats. This was fought out at the time over the issue of whether socialist, working class, parties should send representatives into bourgeois party-dominated government cabinets ("ministerialism"), which they bitterly opposed. During the Russian revolution, they opposed the Mensheviks joining a coalition with liberal politicians. Trotsky was later to fight against the Popular Front, a coalition of bourgeois liberal parties with socialist parties, as opposed to a United Front coalition of working class parties. So Lenin and Trotsky, and Luxemburg, would never have voted for the Democrats. (Castro is another matter.)
(3) And logically, even if revolutionaries were to act as reformists, this does not prove that reformist behavior is correct. It would only show that these were not really revolutionaries (at least working class, socialist, revolutionaries).

author by Michael Albert, posted by Waynepublication date Fri Aug 22, 2008 07:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi, again - Wayne and everyone else who is posting.

I am afraid I am about to travel for a time, and that I am also knee
deep - actually more like chest deep - in other responsibilities.
Regrettably, I can't keep up with both Z's sites and this one too.

however, as a way to proceed that would be viable for me, I invited
Wayne or anyone else in his place if need be, to debate, starting from
scratch, anew, in a more sustained way.

Wayne agreed.

So by around mid September Wayne will have sent me an essay of about
3,000 words, not about my views - but presenting his views. I will
have returned from travels on the 12th and will ten produce an essay,
as well, of the same length, presenting my views, and not reacting at
all to Wayne.

Then each of us will respond to what the other wrote. So I willcomment
on Wayne's views, as he presents them, and Wayne will comment on my
views, as I present them. Then Wayne will reply to my reaction and I
will reply to his, with another round of rejoining, and so on.

Thus there will be two tracks of exchange, so to speak - one will be
about Wayne's views, one will be about my views.

If others want to pursue related issues too, in the way of questions
or whatever - it is fine with me - more than welcome - but I would
need for it to occur on Z's site where I am constantly tuned in. I
hope that is okay.

Finally, I did look over what I found here, on your site, as of
Thursday morning, and it continues to be a bit befuddling. I will
reply very briefly.

(1) Why are people continuing with the democratic party stuff - at
least with reference to me? It is as if my replies are simply ignored,
or so it seems. Someone says I vote for democrats and urge others to
do so, too, and suddenly, though I have never voted for a democrat in
a national election - and in forty years have only voted for one in a
non national election - for mayor in Boston - and though I have never
urged anyone to vote for any democrat, or condemned anyone (myself
included) for not doing so), I have to keep addressing formulations
directed in part at me implying that this matters greatly to me, that
I am soft on democrats, etc.

I do say, yes, that I would likely vote for Obama against McCain if I
lived in a swing state - which I don't. Somehow that gets translated
into an overt claim, or sometimes just implict claim, that I support
Democrats and Obama. Soon it will be Albert thinks Obama is great. Is
there no room for the slightest nuance? I don't support Obama. I don't
think he is great. I think he is a candidate of capital. But I also
think there is good reason, though surely not definitive, to believe
that Obama's victory would be a whole lot better, for many reasons,
than his loss. thus I would vote for him, in a swing state, if I lived
in one, and that choice, for some, apparently is not just something
they wouldn't do - which is fine - but is something so fundamentally
revealing that they think it warrants casting a judgement about my
whole political conception, and that of anyone else who casts such a
ballot, regardless of the person's reasons for doing so and regardless
of the rest of what they believe and do. That seems odd, to me, or
honesty, actually, incredible. To use that simple single fact -
someone voted - to judge their overall beliefs and commitments, yes, I
find that incredible, even sad, particularly when the deduction is
made moot by so much else in the person's life and choices.

(2) I also find the discussion of reforms odd. I say, of course, that
I have supported and do support reform efforts - but always trying to
aid them, or engage in them, or otherwise relate to them, in ways
that are non reformist and push on toward continued struggle for
fundamental rather than system accepting changes. I may be wrong in
this, but I don't believe there is anyone in this discussion who
thinks significantly differently about this. If a person fights
against the war, or for higher wages for some workforce, or for a law
against emissions, or whatever else, they are fighting for reforms -
but they could be doing it in a non reformist way. Does anyone really
disagree with that? Is there anyone here who would tell the civil
rights movement or the women's movement they should not fight for
affirmative action, say - or tell the anti war movement they should
not fight to end the war, or tell a union they should not fight for
higher wages - because those are all reforms and thus complicit in
system maintenance? Would anyone say to someone who has organized his
or her whole life around the need for and attempt to contribute to
fundamentally replacing society's defining institutions with better
alternatives, and who has worked on that goal endlessly, that, well,
because they also, more short term, want an end to a war, or win
better pay for some workforce, etc., that, well, hey, they just think
they want revolution, but, in fact, all they want is reform? I doubt
it. But that's what some of you are saying to me, perhaps
unintentionally, it seems. I would have guessed, instead, that folks
here would say these are all worthy causes, all merit support, among
so many others that do as well, but the best way to pursue such near
term reforms would be with an approach geared to raise consciousness,
build commitment, build infrastructure, etc. etc., that extends beyond
the reform battle into the struggle for a new society. If I am right
in that guess, then here too there is no significant gap in views.

Hopefully in the debate to come we can get over these incredibly
elementary and obvious points - likely a function just of verbal
confusions and semantics and probably without serious difference - and
get to more substantive issues of both agreement and disagreement.

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