This paper begins with a brief presentation of participatory economics. The presentation focuses on the class aspect of the model. It outlines the thinking behind Albert and Hahnel’s three class analysis. It takes a critical look at their thinking behind the corporate division of labour and the coordinator class. It suggests alternative ways of thinking about this third class, their source of power etc., which have implications for the model. As a result, the necessity of one of the model’s main features is questioned. The motivation for writing this paper comes from a desire to improve participatory economics by clarifying and simplifying the model in such a way that advocacy and organise become easier.
Participatory Economics in Brief
The participatory economics model was developed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel and presented as an alternative to both “free” market capitalism and 20th century socialism. The model is a product of Albert and Hahnel’s experience of activism in the 1960s and 1970s, their critique of the Left, their broader analysis of 20th century history and the left-libertarian tradition more generally. One of their central insights is that the Left neglects the development of vision and therefore doesn’t really understand what it wants when it asserts “Another World is Possible!” or similar sounding slogans designed to inspire. Writing in the late 1970s, they stated:
“Making a socialist revolution […] requires a clear vision of what the socialism we want will be like. How will it work, what will be its institutional and human relations, and how will its quality of life be superior to that we now endure?” 
The model that they developed to address this concern is made-up of five main features. They are:
1. Either non-ownership or collective ownership of the means of production 2. Self-managed worker and consumer councils
3. Balanced job complexes (BJCs)
4. Remuneration for effort and sacrifice
5. Participatory planning
One of the central objectives of the participatory economics model is to generate classlessness. Like all socialists, Albert and Hahnel see capitalism as being based on a system of class exploitation and oppression. However, unlike many socialists, Albert and Hahnel also see 20th century socialism as a system of class oppression and exploitation. This is because they reject the typical two class analysis (i.e. capitalists and workers) that is generally accepted within socialist circles. Instead they see a third class that sits between these two main classes. In addition to the capitalist class and the working class, Albert and Hahnel insist that a third class – what they call the “coordinator class” – also exists. They define this third class as follows:
“Planners, administrators, technocrats, and other conceptual workers who monopolise the information and decision-making authority necessary to determine economic outcomes. An intermediate class in capitalism; the ruling class in coordinator economies such as the [former] Soviet Union, China and Yugoslavia.” 
From their point of view, what is generally referred to, by both those on the Right and the Left, as socialism (in both its market and centrally planned forms) is better understood as coordinator economics: “An economy in which a class of experts / technocrats / managers / conceptual workers monopolise decision-making authority while traditional workers carry out their orders”.  Importantly, for Albert and Hahnel, the origins of coordinatorism can be traced back to the “original Marxist theoretical framework” :
“On average, the Marxist concepts that organise Marxists’ thought, and the organisational structures and strategies that Leninists abide, together have a built-in logic that causes Marxist-Leninists – even against their best inclinations and aspirations – to elevate coordinators.” 
“Unfortunately, for all its emphasis on class analysis, Marxism blinded many fighting against the economics of competition and greed to important antagonisms between the working class and the new, professional managerial class, or coordinator class.” 
The above reference to the “professional managerial class” points to the work of two other important thinkers who Albert and Hahnel credit for their development of the idea of the coordinator class: “…our own view derives more from the work of Barbara and John Ehrenreich.”  This refers to a lead article on the professional managerial class by the Ehrenreich’s that was published in 1979. The reasons given, by Albert and Hahnel in that book, for the rebranding of this third class from the professional
managerial class to the coordinator class are that they saw the Ehrenreich’s conception as “flawed” and “imprecise”.  Nevertheless, the significance of the Ehrenreich’s work on their thinking is captured in Albert’s memoir:
“The book matters to me not only for the essay that Robin and I did but because writing that essay crystallised our views about class and helped set us off on the journey to what we later called participatory economics.” 
Understanding Albert and Hahnel’s class analysis is crucial to understanding the thinking behind most, if not all, of the features that make up the participatory economics model. For example, participatory planning has been developed as a means of arriving at an equitable and efficient plan but in a way that makes both markets and central planning redundant. In making central planners redundant, participatory planning removes the need for the coordinator class positions, and with it the class dynamics, within the planning process of centrally planned socialism.
A similar argument could be made for the development of self-managed worker and consumer councils. Once again, these proposed institutions are designed to make coordinator class rule over workers and consumers superfluous and in-so-doing removing oppressive class dynamics from the economic system. However, it is perhaps the proposed feature of balanced job complexes (BJCs) that is most explicitly designed to address coordinator class dominance.
As we have seen, according to Albert and Hahnel, the coordinator class derives its social-economic power by monopolising knowledge and skills and decision-making authority within the workplace and broader economy. Furthermore, the ability of the
coordinator class to garner this power is facilitate by a specific institution, found in both capitalist and (20th century) “socialist” economic systems. That institution is called the “corporate division of labour”:
“Corporate divisions of labour will ensure that a few would give orders and most obey, and these are not conducive to all participating equality.” 
What is important to understand about this institution is that all economies have a division of labour of some kind and that it can be adjusted to have more or less egalitarian / hierarchical outcomes. This is because the division of labour has to do with how jobs (which are just bundles of tasks) are formulated. If we design jobs where empowering tasks are shared out evenly then we get an egalitarian division of labour. But if we design jobs so that empowering tasks are concentrated in a small number of jobs then we get a hierarchical division of labour. As the name suggests, the corporate
division of labour refers to a hierarchical formulation. And as already noted, it is this particular institution, say Albert and Hahnel, that facilitates the privileged position of the coordinator class.
This is where balanced job complexes (BJCs) come in. They are defined as:
“A collection of tasks within a workplace that is comparable in its burdens and benefits and in its impact on the worker’s ability to participate in decision making to all other job complexes in that workplace […] and often for additional tasks outside to balance their overall work responsibilities with those of other workers in society.” 
As we can see, the basic idea here is to replace the hierarchical outcomes of the corporate division of labour with an egalitarian structure and dynamic. This is Albert and Hahnel’s way of systematically undermining coordinator class privilege and replacing it with an arrangement that institutionalises classlessness and facilitates self-management.
We can see from the above definition that BJCs have two aspects to them. One aspect has to do with creating conditions in which workers can “participate in decision making” in meaningful ways within the workplace / economy. The other has to do with sharing out the “burdens and benefits” equally amongst workers. In other words, in a participatory economy – as conceived of by Albert and Hahnel – jobs are balanced for both empowerment and desirability:
“So in a participatory economy every worker council is called upon to create a job balancing committee to distribute and combine tasks in ways that make jobs more “balanced” with regard to desirability and empowerment.” 
“We need balanced job complexes for desirability and empowerment in each and every workplace, as well as guarantee that workers have a combination of tasks that balance across workplaces.” 
We can conclude that, for Albert and Hahnel, reformulating jobs for both equal empowerment and desirability is a necessary and crucial aspect of participatory economics as a proposed vision for economic justice.
A Critique of Albert and Hahnel’s Analysis and Vision
Above we have seen some of the ideas and reasoning behind participatory economics with a focus on Albert and Hahnel’s class analysis and the implications of this for their
vision for a just economic system. I would now like to take an even closer look at certain aspects of their argument. To assist in this we will explore the following questions.
1. Isn’t the analysis that informs the coordinator class confused and confusing?
As we have seen, for Albert and Hahnel the third class – what they call the coordinator class – can be traced back to Marx’s ideas and in particular to his two class analysis that has a “built-in logic” that “blinded” socialist to the existence of this third class. However, they also characterise the coordinator class as an “intermediate class in capitalism”. So on the one hand we have a dominant class in socialist economies that was informed by Marx and on the other the same class in capitalist economies that, presumably, was not informed by Marx.
If correct, this seems to suggest that the emergence of this third class has something to do with a more general historical trend that was taking place. That general trend was the emergence of management culture as a specialised field based on its own particular knowledge and skill-set. Furthermore, this is a trend that has a much longer and richer history than that suggested by Albert and Hahnel’s formulation of the coordinator class. As one Social and Organisational Theory scholar puts it:
“So what we see is the emergence of the word [“management”] really around the 17th and 18th centuries in English. It has got Italian roots from mano, the hand, or it is sometimes tracked back to maneggiarre, which is the activity of looking after or training horses. But in terms of its application in the English language you see it sometimes in the theatre, from the 17th century onwards, but much more intensely after the industrial revolution to refer to a particular class of people who were basically overseeing the new factories and offices of the time. So, we are talking about a certain class fraction if you like. The term itself has some quite interesting roots, particularly the idea of managery, a certain kind of skill at organising. But I think in terms of its contemporary application, I find it very troublesome. Largely because it assumes that what managers do is something that ordinary people can’t do. In other words it assumes insufficiency in most of us. And that is why we need managers to coordinate us. And that is not that often remarked on. In that sense of giving up our autonomy, our control over our everyday lives to a cadre of people called managers, we are also admitting a sort of insufficiency in ourselves, as if we couldn’t do this because we are too stupid to arrange matters ourselves. That seems to me a fundamentally repressive technique of organising.” 
A more appropriate term for this third class, therefore may be the managerial class. As we shall see, this suggested name for the third class also complements the argument presented in response to the next question.
2. Can the monopolisation of empowering tasks really set this third class up to perform the role of managing the workplace / economy?
According to Albert and Hahnel, the corporate division of labour must be dismantled because it is this institution that facilitates the coordinator class to “monopolise the information and decision-making authority necessary to determine economic outcomes”. But does this make sense? How, for example, does monopolising the knowledge and skill-set for brain surgery (for example) translate into decision-making authority on economic matters? For that matter, how does monopolising knowledge and skills from any empowering job – that is not related to management – lead to the monopolisation of decision-making authority necessary to determine economic outcomes? The answer, I think, is that it doesn’t.
The point being made here is that having specialised knowledge and skills in a specific field does not automatically translate into the knowledge and skills necessary for the specific role of management, as Albert and Hahnel’s argument seems to suggest. So, if it is not the corporate division of labour that is facilitating the coordinator class to monopolise the information and decision-making authority necessary to determine economic outcomes, then what is it? One possibility (that is in line with the answer given to question 1) is that this third class derives it authority from an ideology called managerialism:
“Managerialism combines management knowledge and ideology to establish itself systemically in organisations and society while depriving owners, employees (organisational-economical) and civil society (social-political) of all decision-making powers. Managerialism justifies the application of managerial techniques to all areas of society on the grounds of superior ideology, expert training, and the exclusive possession of managerial knowledge necessary to efficiently run corporations and societies.” 
Clearly, this definition refers to managerialism in capitalist economies. However, it could easily be expanded to include what Albert and Hahnel refer to as coordinator economies. For example, in the following excerpt the “expert organiser” could be understood as a synonym for the Leninist vanguard party:
“Anti-authoritarian critiques of managerialism are clearly entangled with a variety of other complaints, but they all share a deep mistrust of the notion of the expert organiser. The centrality of the manager, as someone with more status and reward who is not involved in day-to-day organising, is entirely antithetical to most anarchist, socialist, feminist and environmentalist thinkers.” 
3. Are BJCs really necessary?
If the above is correct – if the coordinator class are better understood more generally as the managerial class and the source of power for this third class is not an institution called the corporate division of labour but an ideology called managerialism – then this raises a question regarding the aspect of Albert and Hahnel’s vision, namely: Are BJCs a necessary part of the model?
As we have seen, BJCs are proposed as a solution to two important issues within economic justice; empowerment and desirability. However, if the source of power for the third class is the ideology of managerialism and this is replaced by a popular culture of self-management then the empowerment aspect of the argument already seems to have been addressed, and with it the argument for dismantling the corporate division of labour and replacing it with BJCs seems to disintegrate. This part of the argument relies on the assumption that in a functioning participatory economy / society citizens would be educated in what we might generally refer to as self-organisation including, in the economic sphere, self-management. This would begin in school and extend into adulthood. Therefore, in a functioning participatory economy, all workers would be proficient in self-management, making the elitist ideology of managerialism a thing of the past.
As for the desirability aspect of the argument for BJCs, once again it may also be suggested that in a popular and functioning culture of self-management, workers would naturally address the issue of desirability without the necessity of a formal institutional arrangement and all of the additional work entailed in establishing and maintaining BJCs. Likewise, it could also be argued that another feature of the model already takes care of this concern. As Albert has stated:
“…differences in quality of life at work could be justly offset by appropriate remuneration.” 
In other words, the fourth feature of the participatory economics model outlined above – i.e. remuneration for effort and sacrifice – can address the desirability issue without the need for BJCs.
It has been suggested that Albert and Hahnel are correct in highlighting the existence of a third class that sits between capitalist and workers in capitalist economies and that became dominant in socialist economies during the 20th century. However, their use of the term “coordinator class” as a descriptor of this third class has been questioned. The “managerial class” has been suggested as a better alternative. Albert and Hahnel’s claim that this third class derives its power from the corporate division of labour has also been challenged. The ideology of managerialism has been proposed as an alternative explanation for the source of power for this third class. It has also been suggested that, with these changes in place, two existing features of the model already address the issues of empowerment and desirability that BJCs are proposed to address. They are (1) a popular culture of self-management and (2) remuneration for effort and sacrifice. If correct, this appears to make BJCs redundant. Finally, introducing these proposed changes into the model would make both the advocacy and implementation of a participatory economy a simpler endeavour.
1. Unorthodox Marxism: An Essay on Capitalism, Socialism and Revolution. (p253)
2. From the Glossary of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (p151-153).
3. Same as above.
4. Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (p7). 5. Michael Albert, Realising Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism (p159).
6. Robin Hahnel, Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation (p65).
7. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, Marxism and Socilaits Theory (p140) 8. See Chapter 9 of Between Labour and Capital (edited by Pat Walker) for details.
9. Michael Albert, Remembering Tomorrow: From SDS to Life After Capitalism, (p189).
10.Michael Albert in ParEcon: Life After Capitalism (p46).
11. From the Glossary of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (p151-153).
12.Robin Hahnel in Of the People, By the People: The Case for a Participatory Economy (p55-56).
13.Michael Albert in ParEcon: Life After Capitalism (p104).
14.From an interview I did with Martin Parker for Collective 20 titled Management: Past, Present and … Future?
15.From Thomas Klikauer Managerialism: Critique of an Ideology (p2).
16.Martin Parker in Shut Down the Business School: What’s Wrong with Management Education (p60).
17.Michael Albert in ParEcon: Life After Capitalism (p104-105).
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