We who desire a better world act within countless organizations, projects, campaigns, and movements each siloed from and often even competing with the rest. Unless this immense array of actors achieves substantial overlapping unity, it will rarely win even partial victories much less a new world. In place of thousands of activist entities each with its own largely isolated banner and agenda, we should have one big movement of movements within which, each member retains its own agenda and banner but all members together have one big encompassing agenda and one big overarching banner wherein each component aids the rest and the rest aids each.
Facing this need, six host organizations and about 300 individuals have so far co-signed the Twenty Theses for Liberation (at 4Liberation.org). Each signer hopes the twenty theses can help unite an international movement of movements.
Are the host organizations and signers delusional dreamers? Or do the twenty theses propose good enough vision and strategy proposals to elicit a conversation among countless projects, movements, and organizations? Should you laugh at our naïveté, or should you sign on?
A recent article pointed out that just the U.S. has nearly 30,000 environmental groups. Add to that labor, economic, feminist, gender, internationalist, anti war, cultural, anti racist, electoral, and judicial social change groups and clearly a truly vast mosaic of activist intent operates even in any one country, much less worldwide. But when each component fails to aid the rest, the mosaic becomes loose strands. Without cohesion the strands flap this way and that. The mosaic loses when it could win.
So, again, are the twenty theses’ signers delusional to think proposals for shared vision and strategy could propel most of our multitudinous strands to each help and be helped by the rest? Is our dream time worn and naive? Or is it a dream whose time has come?
I doubt many who have so far signed the Twenty Theses for Liberation carefully thought through the above question for all different advocacy and activist efforts, or even for just those of any one kind, like say environmental, or even for just one large existing and growing approach within one focus, like, say, for Degrowth within environmental. Instead I bet current signers have thought that if we can’t develop sufficient unity to become more than so many separate parts we will remain too atomized to win much. I bet current signers have thought we have no choice. We can’t let this hope be mere delusion. Would we have signed if we had instead asked if unity is actually attainable? If we had asked can twenty proposed theses about vision and strategy provoke a cross border, cross issue conversation sufficient to sustain a massive movement of movements? Do non-signers not sign due to answering, no? To address this possibility, even partially, will take a lot of words. But if developing greater activist unity is pivotal, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time on it?
Degrowth is a rapidly growing international environmental orientation with diverse tendencies. Is there any reason to think the twenty theses can fruitfully engage even just Degrowth, much less fruitfully engage every approach we might consider, much less help get them all to converse not just separately but with one another to pursue growing unity?
Let’s consider engaging with Degrowth in the hope that if the twenty theses can inspire Degrowth, it might inspire other approaches as well. Imagine you could meet for an extended informal conversation with one Degrowth advocate after another from Europe, the U.S., South America, Africa, and Asia. Consider the many common aspirations that would recur so persistently that you could justifiably deem them significant parts of Degrowth. Our question becomes, can the twenty theses speak to those common Degrowth aspirations? For that matter, the twenty theses do likewise for Solidarity Economy, feminism, internationalism, ecology, equity, and so much more? It is an undeniably tall order.
At its root, Degrowth asserts that society’s well being and even survival requires that we aggressively solve global climate, resource depletion, water shortage, and even broader un-sustainability crises. But while Degrowth began ecologically focussed, and despite Degrowth being known mostly for that ecological focus, conversations with its advocates reveal much broader commonality.
For example, Degrowth rejects inequitable differences in income and wealth within and also between countries. More, Degrowth rejects working people’s near total lack of control over the circumstances of their lives. And beyond economy, Degrowth also typically rejects sex, gender, religious, ethnic, racial, and political hierarchies. More positively, degrowth celebrates mutual respect and material and qualitative fulfillment for all. Degrowth wants all facets of life to generate just circumstances, human solidarity, and material equity. Degrowth abhors all things that aggrandize a few owners over many workers, North over South, white over black, and male over female.
All that said, some core questions arise about Degrowth (as about all other movement efforts). First, what vision for society’s institutions would fully jettison what Degrowth rejects and permanently elevate what Degrowth advocates? Second, by what strategic steps might we attain such new institutions? And third, and particularly for our purposes here, if sufficiently propelled and augmented, could the Twenty Theses for Liberation provide useful motivation for Degrowth (and by extension for other social change efforts) to converse deeply about these matters among themselves and also with projects and movements that have other primary social change focuses? Could the twenty theses usefully unify actors to favor institutions with intrinsic features that don’t allow for, and that even make nonsensical continued injustices?
As an indicative case to consider, Degrowth wants economic activity to end global climate and other ecological crises forever into the future. For this systemic correction, Degrowth favors that new economic institutions account for ecological costs so as to eliminate the corporate drive to accumulate without regard for ecological and social consequences. Degrowth says we must not have disconnected, competitive actors who each seek their own advance without concern for impacts on others. We shouldn’t have a system that ignores how exchanges affect those not directly engaged in the exchange. We shouldn’t have a system that ignores those who breathe the pollution cars or workplaces generate but who neither bought nor sold the cars or had a say in the workplace’s decisions. We shouldn’t have markets that orient buyers and sellers to ignore ecological and even most social implications of their production and consumption.
Degrowth also rejects inequitable differences in income and wealth. It desires for all actors appropriate decision making influence, equitable incomes, and proper awareness of the ecological and social costs of economic choices. The twenty theses propose that future economies should ensure that no individuals or classes dominate others and that all economic actors are able to fully participate in determining their own economic lives. The twenty theses urge that future economies should structurally preclude anyone owning natural resources and factories so that such ownership plays no role in hugely elevating owners’ decision-making influence and share of income at the expense of non-owner’s. The twenty theses urge that workplaces, resources, ideas, and technology should become part of a “productive commons” that all can benefit from. Individuals should not own the sky, oceans, forests, resources, knowledge, or technologies. The on-going benefits of nature and of past human innovation should be collectively enjoyed.
More, to attain appropriate participation by all within and between countries (as Degrowth, labor, economic, feminist, gender, internationalist, anti war, cultural, anti racist, electoral, and judicial social change groups and more each certainly desire), the twenty theses propose that new economic institutions should ensure that all workers and consumers should to the extent possible have a say in decisions proportionate to effects on them. The twenty theses call this “collective self management.” And the theses propose that to attain such self management will in turn entail that new economic institutions have venues for deliberation including worker and consumer councils or assemblies. And that to have appropriate say people not only need free space to congregate but also accurate information to assess and personal preparedness and means by which to pursue their desires.
Likewise, the twenty theses propose that to ensure that self management is well informed and carefully enacted a worthy economy should eliminate corporate divisions of labor that give a domineering one-fifth of employees empowering tasks while relegating to a subordinate four-fifths of employees mainly rote, repetitive, and obedient tasks that make them ill-equipped to participate in effective decision making. To facilitate informed and confident participation from all employees, the twenty theses propose that economies should not only no longer have owners above all other employees, but should also end class division based on differential empowerment wherein empowered employees rule over about four times as many disempowered employees. And to that end, the twenty theses propose that economic institutions should ensure that each worker enjoys a comparable share of empowering tasks via new designs of work that convey to all workers sufficient confidence, skills, information, and access to participate effectively in informed self-managed decision making with no group systematically subordinate to the rest. The twenty theses call this new division of labor “balanced jobs.” So, is it reasonable or delusional to think a conversation about the twenty theses could further Degrowth aspirations and simultaneously further solidarity, feminist, anti-racist, and more aspirations for the economy? Put differently, is it plausible that the Twenty Theses for Liberation could help inspire and aid a Degrowth discussion of its theses to augment, refine, improve, and help share them to sustain a movement of movements?
So far, perhaps it is plausible. But what about access to goods and services? The kind of material equity Degrowth seeks will require economic institutions that ensure that workers who do socially valued labor longer or harder or under more onerous conditions earn a proportionately greater share of the social product than those who work less long, less hard, or under better conditions. Degrowth’s desires for equitable income for all also entail that no one earn for property, bargaining power, or the value of their personal output. And that all who are unable to work nonetheless receive society’s average income and that of course everyone receives many services and products free, including, for example, medical care, day care, transportation, and education. The twenty theses call these aims “equitable remuneration.” Once refined by future experience, the twenty theses suggest that this equitable remuneration would transcend deprivations that Degrowth rejects and implement equity that Degrowth seeks.
The twenty theses also propose that economic relations should avoid both market competition and authoritarian planning since each of these produce oppressive class rule, inhumane alienation, and suicidal ecological degradation which failings Degrowth and indeed virtually all left activism rejects. So the twenty theses urge a conversation about how economic relations should seek ways to conduct decentralized cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs via workers and consumers councils and federations of councils. The theses call that “participatory planning” and add it to a productive commons, workers and consumers self managing councils, balanced jobs, and equitable remuneration as tentative proposals to discuss to advance Degrowth’s highest economic aspirations, and, by extension, also the highest economic aspirations of many other projects, organizations, and movements. Is that a plausible or delusional agenda?
But Degrowth is no more about only economics than it is about only ecology, just like feminism is not about only gender and kinship, anti racism is not about only racism, and labor is not about only economy. Every main focus of activist attention has aspirations that overlap the rest. Every main focus has an interest in all being able to work together. That is the twenty theses’ main message.
Returning to our Degrowth case study, imagine you interview a few hundred or a few thousand Degrowth advocates. You find that nearly all reject sex, gender, religious, ethnic, and racial hierarchies, as well as political disenfranchisement and authoritarianism. So, what do the twenty theses say about all that, and could they aid Degrowth advocates to pursue a discussion to better specify and enlarge Degrowth shared vision and strategy to fulfill its widest aspirations and to work compatibly with a similarly oriented movement of movements about all those areas of concern?
To end denials based on sex, gender, identity, or age the twenty theses say new fundamentally transformed kinship institutions should ensure that no individuals or groups—whether by gender, identity, sexual orientation or age—dominate others in income, influence, access to education, job quality or any other dimension of life that bears on quality of life. To attain that aim, the twenty theses propose that future gender and kin institutions should respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but also reject such ties as ways for sectors of the population to gain financial benefits or social status that others lack. Likewise, both for equity and also for the enrichment of personality and the affirmation that care-giving conveys to those doing the caring, the twenty theses suggest that gender and kin institutions sould respect care-giving as a central function of society including perhaps even making care-giving a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities, and, in any event, should at least ensure equitable burdens and benefits among people of all genders for all household and child raising practices.
To all these ends, the twenty theses say it follows that gender and kin institutions should not privilege certain types of family formation over others, but should instead actively support all types of families that are consistent with a transformed society’s other norms and practices. And to promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all children, the twenty theses propose that future gender and kin institutions should affirm the right of diverse types of families to have children and provide them with a sense of rootedness and belonging, and also utilize non-arbitrary means to determine when an individual is too old or too young or otherwise able or not able to receive benefits and shoulder responsibilities.
Likewise, to ensure that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others, the twenty theses propose future gender and kin institutions should centrally affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, sexual identity, gender identity, and mutual intimacy while they provide diverse, empowering sex education as well as legal prohibition against non-consensual sex. Considering all that, we may ask is it plausible or delusional that the twenty theses could provide a good basis for cross group and even cross country discussions of core kinship and gender vision suitable to be shared by a movement of movements?
Moving on, desires to have racial, ethnic, national, and religious relations accord with predominant Degrowth values require that we rectify the negative historical and contemporary impacts of racist, colonial, and otherwise bigoted structures and neoliberal policies and practices on countries and communities, especially in the global South. Seeking that, the twenty theses urge that new participatory cultural institutions should ensure that no individuals or groups—whether by race, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, or any other cultural community identification—dominate others. And that future cultural and community institutions should provide space and resources for people to positively express their cultural/community identities however they choose consistent with the freedom and dignity of others.
The twenty theses likewise propose that worthy cultural and community relations should explicitly recognize that all people deserve self management, equity, solidarity, and liberty even while society also protects all people’s right to affiliate freely and enjoy diversity. Also, to end the reality and even the fear of race, caste, religious, or national suppression, the twenty theses propose that worthy cultural and community relations should provide all cultural communities guaranteed access to means to preserve their cultural integrity without barriers to free exit from all cultural communities including nations, and without arbitrary non cultural barriers to free entry. So the question again arises, can the twenty theses proposals regarding cultural community relations become a basis for visionary discussion in tune with a wide range of projects’, organizations’, and movements’ aspirations on the way toward generating shared vision and strategy able to sustain a movement of movements?
Continuing, the twenty theses propose for international relations valuing people in all countries and being in solidarity with their just struggles for decent lives. The theses propose that no nations or geographic regions should be privileged above others, and that, until that is achieved, we should move toward that result by working to end the subordination of nations in all its forms while we also reduce and finally eliminate residual differences in collective wealth. Aren’t these proposals for international relations consistent with Degrowth aims for equitable internationalist globalization in place of exploitative corporate globalization? For that matter wouldn’t all potential participants in a movement of movements want to diminish economic disparities in countries’ relative wealth, protect cultural and social patterns internal to each country, and facilitate international entwinement as people desire, including implementing reparations and international exchange and mutual aid as well as border redefinitions with these many ends in mind? And so wouldn’t these twenty theses proposals for international relations provide a fruitful starting place for a cross group and cross country conversation that seeks shared internationalist vision for a movement of movements?
What about polity? The twenty theses propose that to eliminate political elitism and domination, new political institutions should establish transparent mechanisms to carry out and evaluate political decisions and to convey to all citizens self managing political say proportionate to effects on them. The theses propose that liberatory political institutions should include grassroots assemblies, councils, or communes (and federations of those) by which people can manifest their views. Political institutions should provide advanced public education so people’s views are well formed and clearly expressed. Political institutions should provide direct public policy participation or, when that’s not possible, re-callable representation and delegation that utilizes inclusive voting algorithms.
Further, to ensure freedom for each person consistent with freedom for all people and to benefit all people while also protecting and even advancing diversity, the twenty theses propose that political institutions should guarantee freedom to speak, write, worship, assemble, and organize political parties. Similarly and additionally, to ensure diversity and continuous development, the twenty theses propose that political institutions should welcome, facilitate, and protect dissent and guarantee to individuals and groups means to pursue their own goals consistent with not interfering with the same rights for others. Regarding violations, to attain justice and promote rehabilitation, the twenty theses propose political institutions should foster solidarity and provide inclusive means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively adjudicate disputes and violations of agreed norms. And so here again the question arises, isn’t all of this, properly refined, amended, and improved by diverse participants in extended conversation, compatible with Degrowth aspirations for a continuing visionary political discussion that seeks a movement of movements?
Returning to where Degrowth began, not only for liberation but literally for human survival, the twenty theses echo global calls that to have worthy ecological relations will require that societies implement new participatory ecological practices that first and foremost guarantee that societies cease and reverse unsustainable resource depletion, environmental degradation, climate change, and other ecosystem disrupting trends. To such ends, the twenty theses propose that new ecological relations should facilitate not only an end to using fossil fuels, but an ecologically sound reconstruction of society that accounts for the full ecological as well as full social and personal costs and benefits of both short- and long-term economic and social choices, so that future populations can sensibly decide for themselves levels of production and consumption, preferred duration of work, degrees of collective self-reliance, modes of energy use and harvesting, means of stewardship, pollution norms, climate policies, conservation practices, consumption choices, and other future policy choices all in light of their full consequences.
The twenty theses additionally propose that new ecological norms and practices should foster a consciousness of ecological connection, responsibility, and reciprocity so that future citizens understand and respect the ecological precautionary principle and are well prepared to decide policies regarding such matters as animal rights or vegetarianism that transcend sustainability. And once again, isn’t all this quite consistent with Degrowth aspirations? Indeed, wouldn’t these proposals provide a good outline for discussing shared vision for a movement of movements including, in particular, Degrowth?
In sum, for society writ large, most and perhaps even all advocates of Degrowth celebrate mutual respect and qualitative fulfillment and want all dimensions of life to generate human solidarity and mutual aid, and certainly not to aggrandize a few. Degrowth in that same degree typically rejects class, race, gender, and political hierarchy and instead desires new economic, kinship, cultural, political, international, and ecological relations that elevate all citizens to participate constructively in daily life with appropriate influence and equitable responsibilities and benefits. And as that is all consonant with and basic to the twenty theses, is it plausible or delusional that the twenty theses can serve as an outline for further discussion that Degrowth participates in and in turn enriches, as do feminism, Solidarity Economy, labor, internationalism, and all other potential participants in a flexibly unified movement of movements?
One might reply, maybe, perhaps—but so what? Conversations about such matters have occurred for decades, even for centuries. Why will this time be different? The difference is that this time the goal is not only edifying self or enjoying interesting subject matter with a few others. This time the goal is widespread on-going inclusive and continually updated discussion of vision and strategy by diverse groups, projects, and movements both internally, each among its own members, but also outwardly across issues, focuses, and even countries. This time the goal is discussion with intent. And this time, to fail is forbidden.
Okay, one might reply, yes, but hasn’t that also been said before? Sure it has, at least to a degree. But that is not a reason to not continue and greatly enlarge the effort now. The idea is to generate a degree of unity based on shared core vision and strategy not only within a focus area and country, but across focus areas and countries.
Still one might ask, but how do we make shared vision into shared reality? Won’t significant mutual aid guided collaboration sufficient for a true movement of movements require not only steadily enriched shared vision, but also steadily enriched shared strategy? Yes, of course it will. So our examination of the twenty theses must continue on to discuss strategy.
Part Two to follow.
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