In an influential 1963 pamphlet titled “The Two Souls of Socialism,” the Marxist revolutionary, Hal Draper, said “socialism” encompassed three tendencies. First, it referred to dictatorial political regimes plus central planning (or markets) for allocation, plus corporate workplace organization—as was present in Draper’s day in the Soviet Union, China, etc. Second, for Draper socialism also referred to using government intervention to ameliorate damages caused by core capitalist structures. And third, socialism referred as well to classlessness, wherein all workers and consumers have appropriate participation and decision-making influence regarding their economic lives, rather than many people being subordinate to a few.
Draper saw socialism as a process of change that derives “from above” or a process of change that derives “from below.” A primary issue was if one’s strategy was “from above“ or “from “below,” and not solely the character of the analysis that precedes one’s strategy or the goal that it seeks. However, if we don’t pay close attention to underlying concepts and to overarching goals, how can we accurately judge whether a strategy is “from above” or “from below”?
Draper—and since the article still exists, from now on I will use present tense—says that he wants a “true socialism” and that any effort to attain it will need strategic commitments that melt into a new participatory and self-managing system, and I agree.
If an effort to attain liberation instead establishes a new ruling economic class and an authoritarian state, then having espoused libertarian goals matters little. In other words, the proof is in the pudding and Draper warns that regardless of our hopes, if our means are “from above” we will wind up with authoritarian pudding. If our methods lead to authoritarianism—in economics, in politics, or in other domains—then our efforts will lead to authoritarian results. It is arguably utterly obvious, yet, in 1963 it needed to be said, and once stated it revealed that a central task is to realize what methods do, in fact, generate authoritarian outcomes and what methods, in contrast, generate liberatory ones.
What if we think our methods are in tune with our libertarian aspirations “from below,” and we pursue them, and we wind up with authoritarian results anyhow? We thought our actions accorded with our liberatory aims. It turned out they didn’t. Our judgment wasn’t as good as we thought. This has been true, repeatedly, in history.
Or what if we have quite libertarian means, as best we can see (and let’s say we can see as well as Draper decades ago, or even better), but nonetheless, as we make progress against corporations, against the market, against the state, etc., the only options we can conceive for organizing a new economy and polity take us away from our intended path and toward new hierarchies? In that case, we would have good strategic means that don’t subvert our aspirations, yet we would wind up with bad ends anyhow.
It follows that it isn’t enough to say we have to fight “from below” rather than to fight “from above”—or, more specifically that we have to fight with methods and organization that lead to truly liberated outcomes rather than with methods and organizations that lead to new forms of political and class domination. No, we have to additionally say what that instruction actually means. And it isn’t even enough that we have a good idea what that instruction means, that we believe in, and that we abide, if it turns out that as we make progress we have no idea what forms to construct consistent with our desires, so we fall back into old ways or adopt new ways that despite our best intentions subvert our desires.
Draper says “the heart of socialism from below is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activized masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors … on the stage of history.”`
Okay, that sounds profoundly insightful, to be sure. But it is also true that in the earliest stages of activity some few people will be very aroused and aware, whereas huge numbers of other people will be less so, and even more people will not be politically conscious and active at all. The few will act. The few will take initiative. And yet the few must not wind up dominating those who only later become involved. How is that to happen?
To just say that change must be sought from below and not from above is a far cry from describing actual structures consistent with the instruction. What’s more, as the initial organizing of small numbers of people inspires many others to become aroused, and then more and more people become involved, and as the growing numbers of activists begin to manifest their preferences to win changes that better their lives, and as they eventually gain sufficient weight to take over workplaces and communities and establish local organs of direct power, all ”from below,” will this inevitably equate to a new world with truly participatory consequences?
It may, of course. Indeed, it is necessary, of course, as Draper urges. But is it sufficient? What if the “from below” project preserves markets and slowly but surely erodes the euphoria of struggle against owners, and then causes the reinstatement of hierarchies other than those based on property? Or what if the changes chosen preserve the old form of workplace organization with its corporate division of labor because no other option is attempted, and that has similar consequences?
In other words, does it follow that if a movement internally structures itself without undo hierarchies of power and income, a new society built by that movement will preserve and extend those properties? That a movement be “from below” is a necessary condition for a classless new economy, yes, but is it sufficient?
Draper is very concerned with the stated aspirations of various actors and movements and looks at the history of those various actors and movements in revealing ways. There is no time to explore every jewel of evidence he uncovers. When the quotes that he examines deny the accompanying inspiring rhetorical flourishes, it is particularly revealing. But even when the quotes positively ratify the inspiring rhetorical flourishes, while I don’t want to say that that is irrelevant, I do want to suggest that it may be far less determinative than Draper thinks.
It doesn’t matter, pending further investigation beyond their rhetorical claims, that Karl Marx says he wants the self-directed emancipation of workers any more than it matters that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or anyone else says they want a maximum of liberty, justice, and equity. What does matter, instead of inspiring claims regarding what people or movements want, is whether the frameworks of thought they offer and the choices of actions they settle on, and especially the programs they implement advance or instead deny—whether by error or by overt personal intention—their proclaimed aims.
Most actors, by and large, say they want nice ends. If we quote Marx saying he wants nice ends to prove that after all Marxism is about attaining nice ends, why not also quote Lenin, Trotsky, or even Stalin describing the nice ends they desire, to prove that Leninism, Trotskyism, or even Stalinism are about attaining nice ends? Why not just look at Biden’s quotes, not Biden’s actions to claim Bidenism is about attaining nice ends?
Draper doesn’t praise these various actors beyond Marx because he feels there is a schism between what these actors say they want, which they sometimes trumpet in various undeniably nice quotes, and what their concepts tend to produce and what these individuals and their movements actually did in real history. The important evidence, Draper knows, is not self-descriptions, but the concepts utilized and the structures implemented.
So if Draper wanted to look at Marx—or more importantly for his day in 1963, or for now, at Marxism—or at Anarchism, or Leninism, or at what have you—he ought to look at such matters as their basic concepts and institutional allegiances and not at their most inspiring phrases. This, by the way, is exactly what Marx would advise.
Marx (and others) provided Lenin and all who followed him an intellectual framework of concepts for thinking about capitalism. In a great many respects that framework was incredibly powerful. No sensible person can reasonably deny that. But does the set of concepts that were handed on have some problems that can interfere with discerning what is “a movement from above” as compared to what is “a movement from below”?
Put differently, did the roots of being “from above,” derive only from the choices of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin? Was being “from above” imposed on Marxism by infidel “Marxists” who deviated from Marxism’s inner logic, as Draper argues, or do some attributes at the heart of Marxism’s concepts not only not rebut and eliminate inclinations to organize “from above,” but even propel organizing “from above” even against activists’ better personal inclinations? Similarly, are there flaws in the vision and analysis that has most often been called “socialism,” that lead to the adoption of structures at odds with libertarian aspirations even by movements that strive to be “from below”?
The Polish Solidarity movement, Solidarnosc, begun in 1980, for example, was very much bottom-up oriented during its uprisings against their own state and the Soviet Union. Solidarnosc sought workers’ self-management. Indeed, the folks who moved first were explicitly committed to being a catalyst and to never ruling. Yet when the dust cleared there was elite rule by a few, in particular by those who had moved first.
In a more recent case, the Argentine movements of two decades ago were again very much struggles from below, which, however, lacked clear aims for the economy and for that reason failed to fully transcend failed economic models.
So, for the rest of this essay, I’d like to explore two extensions of the “from below” instruction which I think are in tune with Draper’s intent, though they extend beyond what Draper had to say. The first is to make a case that Marxist class analysis has a flaw that has contributed to why all economies that have been guided by Marxism have not, in fact, eliminated classes. (I should add that I believe inadequacies regarding the political sphere also have at least some roots and encounter few if any obstacles in Marxist concepts, but I want to highlight the economic dimensions of the problem, given my own greater confidence about that.)
Second, I want to also offer a succinct picture of what Draper might like to call “real socialism,” which I call participatory economics and some call participatory socialism. I want to offer it as a goal worth striving for that along with their needing to be “from below,” can protect our movements from re-imposing class-stratified economic relations.
Marxism’s virtues include that it powerfully explains ownership relations and profit-seeking. It reveals the horrible effects of markets. It highlights class dynamics. But are there also conceptual flaws we need to transcend? In particular, does Marxism have flaws that contribute to so many Marxists finding themselves categorized by Draper as being in the “from above” camp?
Marxism has some problems that are serious but not directly relevant to Draper’s dichotomy. For example, Marxist dialectics are a methodological reminder to think holistically and historically that often, however, drains by its obscurity creativity and range of perception. That is, when “real existing people” in 1963, when Draper wrote, utilized historical materialism’s concepts they often systematically under-valued and misunderstood social relations of gender, political, cultural, and ecological origin and import. Marxism as used by real practitioners, that is, often exaggerated the centrality of economics, and gave insufficient attention to gender, race, polity, and the environment. To fully overcome this “economism” of the Marxism prevalent in Draper’s day would require a twofold alteration of how some Marxists constructed and utilized their worldview. They would need to acknowledge that Marxism had mainly conceptualized economics, and they would need to recognize that conceptualizations of the other mentioned realms offer equally central insights and moreover that influences from those other domains can centrally contour economic relations, just as vice versa. But Draper wrote in the early sixties, and a half-century later most Marxists have no problem with the above two admissions and offer them on their own, no prodding needed.
That is, most (though not all) Marxists have by now jettisoned the orthodox base/superstructure conceptualization and now highlight that gender, race, and political dynamics can impact economics just as powerfully as vice versa. Modern Marxism recognizes both directions of causality, not exclusively or even primarily only causality from economics to the rest of society, and has been refining certain of its concepts accordingly. These inclinations have propelled feminists to create socialist feminism (to try to merge insights from gender-focused and class-focused analyses), and has led as well to variants of anarcho-marxism, Marxist nationalism, the idea of racialized capitalism, and other conceptual combinations…right up to frameworks that centrally and intersectionally address economics, polity, culture, kinship, and ecology all on a par and interactively.
So far so good, but the above now largely transcended concerns about economism are not the problem of Marxism that I wish to explore here. They are not the problem that I think is central to many Marxists ultimately winding up, even against their own desires, on the “from above” side of Draper’s typology.
Indeed—suppose as I think is largely true—most Marxists have over the last few decades achieved an intersectional enrichment and diversification of their concepts. Should activists be satisfied with such a desirably renovated Marxism?
I believe we should be happy about those gains, but no, I don’t think we should be satisfied because I think Marxism has a more troubling and less tractable second problem. Ironically, the second problem is that Marxism gets the economy wrong. For example, in its more orthodox variants, and in almost all its texts, the Labor Theory of Value misunderstands the determination of wages, prices, and profits in capitalist economies and tends to turn activists’ thoughts away from seeing how the dynamics of the workplace and market are largely functions of bargaining power and social control, categories that the labor theory of value underplays. Likewise, orthodox Marxist crisis theory distorts understanding of capitalist economies and anti-capitalist prospects by often seeing intrinsic collapse where no such prospect exists and by often orienting activists away from the importance of their own organizing as a far more promising basis for change. But these ills too, one can imagine Marxists fully transcending, as indeed, again, I think many and perhaps most Marxists have already done over recent decades. Okay, so let’s also assume these ills too are transcended.
What I want to focus on would still remain. It is that in virtually every variant of Marxism, even with all the above concerns transcended, there would remain that Marxist class theory usually denies and always at least distorts the existence of what I call the coordinator (and what some others call the professional-managerial or technocratic) class, and in particular undercounts and even ignores this third class’s specific class antagonisms with the working class below and the capitalists above.
This particular failing has long obstructed class analysis of old Soviet, Eastern European, and Third World non-capitalist economies, and also of capitalism itself. It is this flaw, I suggest, that leads much Marxist thinking and practice, even despite peoples’ undeniably good intentions, to much too often wind up reflecting the interests and views of the coordinator class, “from above.”
On the plus side, Marxism brilliantly reveals that class differences can arise from differences in ownership relations. Capitalists own means of production. Workers own only their labor power which they sell for a wage. The capitalist pursues profit by trying to extract as much work as possible with the least expenditure possible. The worker tries to expand wages, improve conditions, and exert as little as possible. This is a class struggle within capitalism. And as far as it goes, this picture is certainly true. So, what’s the problem?
The problem is, why do Marxists think that only property relations generate class difference? Why rule out a priori that other economic relations can also divide actors into critically important groups with different circumstances, motives, and means?
In capitalism, some waged employees monopolize empowering conditions and tasks and have considerable say over their own work situations and those of other employees below. Other waged employees endure only disempowering conditions and tasks and have virtually no say over their own or anyone else’s conditions. The former empowered employees try to maintain their monopoly of empowering circumstances and greater income. The latter disempowered employees seek to expand wages, improve conditions, and work as short and as little as possible. This too is a class struggle under capitalism.
Within capitalism, in this view, we have not only capitalists and workers, but, in between labor and capital, we also have a coordinator class of empowered actors who defend their advantages against workers below and who struggle to enlarge their bargaining power against owners above. Even more, this coordinator class can seek to remove owners above to itself become the ruling class of a new economy that has capitalists removed but has workers still subordinate.
That is, and this is the flaw that I mean to highlight, Marxism’s two-class view obscures the existence of a class that not only contends with capitalists above and with workers below, but which can become the ruling class of a new economy, aptly called, I think, not socialism, but coordinatorism. Finally, this new economy that I call coordinatorism, is not so new. It is indeed quite familiar. It has public or state ownership of productive assets and a corporate division of labor. It puts decision-making in the hands of a few. It remunerates for power and/or output. It utilizes central planning and/or markets to allocate. Its advocates call it market or centrally planned socialism. Virtually every Marxist text that offers a serious economic vision celebrates it as the goal of struggle. Every Marxist party that has ever redefined a society’s economic relations has implemented it. Yet despite its familiarity, this system is barely conceptualized at all.
Despite its other ample accomplishments, regarding visions of a desirable economy, Marxism is counter-productive in four ways. First, Marxism raises a general taboo against “utopian” speculation. This tends to minimize attention to vision. Second, Marxism tends to presume that if economic relations are made desirable, other social relations will fall into place. This tends to minimize attention to cultural, kinship, and political vision. Third, “From each according to ability to each according to need” would curtail needed information transfer and has in any event never been more than rhetoric for empowered Marxists. Their preferred alternative “from each according to work and to each according to contribution to the social product” is not a morally worthy maxim because it would reward productivity, including genetic endowment and differential tools and conditions. And fourth, and most relevant to our discussion here, in practice Marxism advocates a hierarchical division of labor in workplaces plus command planning or markets for allocation, both of which propel coordinator class rule.
In other words, the heart of the problem that makes me question even the best contemporary Marxism despite its great insights is that due to its underlying concepts and however innocently for most Marxist activists, Marxism’s economic goals most often amount to advocating a coordinator mode of production that elevates administrators, empowered workers, planners, etc., to ruling status. This is why so many Marxists, even against their own desires, have all too often wound up advocates, in Draper’s terms, of a strategy that operates “from above.”
Too often Marxism is content, whether by omission or intent, to elevate to ruling status in a new economy a class that is above workers though below owners in capitalism. Too often Marxism uses the label socialism, which ought to imply people controlling their own economic lives, to label this coordinator class-dominated goal.
For these reasons, Marxism has not structurally implemented its most worthy ideals when it has gained power to affect societal outcomes, nor has it offered a well-formulated vision that does so even as an ideal. To label the results “socialism,” Marx himself would surely point out, is analogous to how bourgeois movements use the label “democratic” to rally support from diverse sectors for their political programs, though they never structurally implement truly democratic ideals.
Finally, what follows from the above is that Leninism is a natural outgrowth of Marxism employed as it has been employed by people in capitalist societies, and while Leninism is certainly anti-capitalist, far from being the “theory and strategy for the working class,” it is, instead, by virtue of its focus, concepts, values, organizational and tactical commitments, and institutional goals, the theory and strategy of the coordinator class.
Leninism, even against the aspirations of most or arguably even nearly all of its advocates, employs coordinator class organizational and decision-making logic and structure to seek what turn out to be coordinator class economic outcomes. The “from above” tendencies that Draper points to aren’t aberrations that crowd out better inclinations. The “from above” tendencies manifest coordinator class interests that characterize certain defining Marxist concepts despite the reality that countless Marxists have not themselves thought about or personally favored such interests. There emerges an interesting analogy. Under capitalism, sincere and caring social democrats battle with owners not over the class roots of the owners’ wealth and power, as those are off limits, but over policies that seek to mitigate the most extreme pain that capitalist rule imposes. Similarly, under market and centrally planned coordinatorism, sincere and caring Marxist critics battle with coordinators not over the class roots of the coordinators’ wealth and power, as those are off limits, but over policies that seek to mitigate the most extreme pain coordinator rule imposes.
But one must at this point admit that even if all this is true, it is generally not very effective to rail against a long-standing intellectual framework by adopting a purely critical stance. Something positive must be offered. It seems to me this is where Draper fell seriously short in his important pamphlet of the early 1960s. And for that reason, I propose that in place of the economic inadequacies of real-life Marxism (though in tune with grassroots Marxist desires), for greater relevance to current aspirations perhaps activists should utilize a richer conceptual framework emphasizing the broader social relations of production, including all the material, human, and social inputs and outputs of economic activity, the various social and psychological as well as material dimensions of class division, and particularly the impact of corporate divisions of labor and of market and centrally planned allocation on class hierarchy not only in capitalism but also in coordinatorism.
If we do all that, in addition to of course retaining the many lasting insights of Marxism and for that matter of all prior revolutionary frameworks, I think the conclusion that will follow is that we need to reject existent and past market and centrally planned models of a better economy and gravitate instead toward new structures, as Draper would urge, “from below.”
For myself, having traveled along just that path with my then friend and writing partner Robin Hahnel, I most often call the new economic vision that all this reasoning leads toward “participatory economics.” It includes a commons of productive assets, councils for the workplace and for consumer self-management, remuneration for effort and sacrifice and for need for those who can’t work, what we call balanced job complexes for division of labor, and participatory planning for allocation. This is the vision I would like to append to Draper’s insights because this vision is, I believe, worthy, workable, and classless, and should for those reasons replace what I call coordinatorism as the goal of movements seeking economic justice and equity. The key point bearing on Draper’s work is that developing a movement from below should not simply find fault with some past ways but instead favor:
- A Productive Commons (built and natural) to replace state ownership and top-down control over means of production.
- Council self-management to replace coordinator-led authoritative rule.
- Remuneration for effort and sacrifice to replace rewarding power or output, the latter being the typical approach of coordinator-ruled economies.
- Balanced job complexes to replace corporate workplace division of labor so as to eliminate the workplace basis for coordinator rule.
- Participatory planning to replace markets and or central planning, to remove the allocational basis for coordinator rule.
Together these five features propel solidarity, equity, diversity, and self-management rather than stifling and trampling each.
It might be nice to claim that Leninists have advocated a mistaken set of institutions that don’t, in fact, spring from the logic of their conceptual framework. This is Draper’s view. But while coordinatorism is not what most grassroots Marxists desire, it does have roots in various Marxist and particularly Leninist concepts and commitments, which is why these need to be transcended.
I note that Marx himself taught that we ought to look at ideologies or conceptual frameworks and ask of them, who do they serve? What are they suited for? What do they include, what do they exclude, and will their inclusions and exclusions make them suitable or unsuitable for our aims? Marx was no one’s fool and these are very insightful instructions. Applied to contemporary Marxism, however, which of course post-dates Marx and leaves out all too many of his insights while enriching and adding to others, these instructions reveal that contemporary Marxism most often leaves out important economic relations the absence of which benefits the coordinator class in its agenda to overcome capitalism and install itself into ruling status. We shouldn’t only tinker with and otherwise refine really-used Marxism. It certainly has insights we can borrow, but as to its class analysis in particular—following Marx’s own advice, and following the logic of Draper, we have to transcend that.
Now, what about offering an economic vision that might propel, sustain, emerge from and inform a “from below” movement such as Draper and most other grassroots Marxists envisage and desire? Can we spell out such a vision, at least a bit more?
Capitalist economics revolves around private ownership of the means of production, market allocation, and corporate divisions of labor. Remuneration is for property, power, and to a limited extent contribution to output. It causes huge differences in wealth and income. Class divisions arise due to property and due to differential access to empowering versus disempowering work. Huge differences in decision-making influence and quality of circumstances result. Buyers and sellers one-up each other and the broader public reaps the harsh anti-sociality that self-interested competition sows. Perverse trajectories of profit-guided investment and compatible personality development result. Decision-making ignores or actively produces/exploits ecological decay. The drive to accumulate ignores ecological impact. Reduced ecological diversity and even suicidal ecological distortion results. To transcend soul-destroying capitalism and to escape its suicidal ecological trajectory, suppose we advocate various common left core values that I think Draper himself would certainly advocate: equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, ecological balance, participation, and internationalism. Then we would have to ask, what economic institutions can propel these values as well as admirably accomplish essential economic functions of production, consumption, and allocation?
To start, we might choose to advocate public/social property relations in place of privatized capitalist property relations. In the new system, all citizens own every workplace in equal part. This ownership conveys no special right or income. Put differently, productive assets constitute a productive commons. Bill Gates doesn’t own a massive proportion of the means by which software is produced. Jeff Bezos doesn’t own a gigantic array of assets, warehouses, trucks, etc. No owners amass profits, control productive assets, and exploit wage slaves. We all equally own society’s means of production—or symmetrically, if you prefer, no one owns it. At any rate, ownership becomes moot regarding distribution of income, wealth, or power. In this way the ills of private ownership such as personal accrual of profits yielding huge wealth and private control of workplaces disappear.
Next, we might organize workers and consumers into self-managing councils with the norm for decisions being that methods of dispersing information to decision-makers and of their then arriving at preferences and tallying them into decisions should convey to each actor, to the extent possible, influence over each decision in proportion to the degree they will be affected by it. Such self-managed councils would be the seat of decision-making power and would exist at many levels, including subunits such as work groups and teams, and supra units such as workplaces and whole industries. And likewise on the consumption side, councils for living units, neighborhoods, counties, states, or cantons, etc. People in councils would be the economy’s decision-makers. Votes, when necessary, could be by majority rule, three-quarters, two-thirds, consensus, or whatever method councils choose to best approximate self-management. Decisions would be taken at different levels, with fewer or more participants, depending on the particular implications of the decisions in question. For example, sometimes a team or individual would make a decision pretty much on its own, though in context of more encompassing choices. Sometimes a whole workplace or even industry would be the primary decision body. Different voting and tallying methods would be employed as needed for different decisions. There would be no a priori single correct choice. There would be, however, a right norm to try to efficiently and sensibly implement: decision-making input should be in proportion as one is affected by decisions.
Next, we might alter the organization of work by changing who does what tasks in what combinations. Each actor does a job, of course. Each job is composed of a variety of tasks, of course. What changes from the almost universal current corporate division of labor to a preferred future division of labor is to balance the variety of tasks each actor does for their empowerment implications. Every person participating in creating new products is a worker. With balanced job complexes, the combination of tasks and responsibilities you have at work accords to you the same empowerment as the combination I have accords to me, and likewise for each other worker. A relative few people do not overwhelmingly monopolize empowering, fulfilling, and engaging tasks and circumstances. Relatively more people are not overwhelmingly saddled with only rote, obedient, and dangerous things to do. For reasons of equity and especially to create the conditions of successful participation and self-management by everyone, when we each participate in our workplace and industry (and consumer) decision-making, we each have been comparably prepared by our work with confidence, skills, and knowledge to do so. The typical situation we now have is that instead that some people who produce have great confidence, social skills, decision-making skills, and relevant knowledge imbued by their daily work, while other people are only tired, de-skilled, and made to lack relevant decision-making knowledge due to their daily work. Balanced job complexes do away with this corporate division of circumstances. Balanced job complexes complete the task of removing the root basis for class division that is begun by eliminating private ownership of capital. That is, balanced jobs eliminate not only the role of owner and its centralization of power and wealth, but also the role of empowered decision maker who exists over and above other workers. Balanced job complexes apportion conceptual and empowering and also rote and disempowering responsibilities more equitably to foster true self-management and classlessness.
Next comes remuneration. We work. This entitles us to a share of the product of work.
But this new vision says that we ought to receive for our socially valued labors an amount in tune with how hard we have worked, how long we have worked, and with what sacrifices we have endured at work. We shouldn’t get more by virtue of being more productive due to having better tools, more skills, or greater inborn talent, much less by virtue of having more power or owning productive assets. We should be entitled to more consumption only by virtue of usefully expending more of our effort or otherwise enduring more sacrifice. This is morally appropriate and it also provides proper incentives due to rewarding only what we can affect, not what we can’t. With balanced job complexes, for eight hours of normally paced work Sally and Sam will receive the same income. This is so if they have the same job, or any job at all. No matter what their particular job may be, no matter what workplaces they are in and how different their mix of tasks is, and no matter how talented they are, if they work at a balanced job complex, their total workload will be similar in its empowerment effects so the only difference specifically relevant to reward will be their length and intensity of work done, and the onerousness of the conditions they endure. With all this equal, they will earn an equal share of output. If the length of time or the intensity they socially beneficially work differ somewhat, or the onerousness of conditions, so too will the share of output they earn. Who mediates decisions about the definition of job complexes and about what rates and intensities people are working? Workers do, of course, in their councils and with appropriate decision-making say using information culled by methods consistent with employing balanced job complexes and awarding just remuneration.
There is a very large step remaining, even to offering only a broad outline of economic vision. How are the actions of workers and consumers connected? How do decisions made in workplaces, and made by collective consumer councils, as well as by individual consumers, all come into accord? What causes the total produced by workplaces to match the total consumed collectively by neighborhoods and other groups and privately by individuals? For that matter, what determines the relative social valuation of different products and choices? What decides how many workers will be in which industry producing how much? What determines whether some product should be made or not, and how much? What determines what investments in new productive means and methods should be undertaken and which others should be delayed or rejected? These are all matters of allocation.
Existing options for dealing with allocation are central planning as was used in the old Soviet Union as well as inside large corporations—and markets as is used in all capitalist economies with minor or greater variations. In central planning a bureaucracy culls information, formulates instructions, sends these instructions to workers and consumers, gets some feedback, refines the instructions a bit, sends them again, and gets back obedience. In a market each actor in isolation from concerns for other actor’s well being competitively pursues its own agenda by buying and selling labor (or the ability to do it) and buying and selling products and resources at prices determined by competitive bidding. Each person seeks to gain more than other parties in their exchanges.
The problem is, each of these two modes of connecting actors and units imposes on the economy pressures that subvert the values and structures we favor. Markets, even without private capitalization of property, distort valuations to favor private over public benefits and to channel personalities in anti-social directions thereby diminishing and even destroying solidarity. Markets reward primarily output and power and not only effort and sacrifice. They divide economic actors into a class that is saddled with rote and obedient labor and another that enjoys empowering circumstances and determines economic outcomes, also accruing most income. They isolate buyers and sellers as decision-makers who have no choice but to competitively ignore the wider implications of their choices, including effects on the ecology. Central planning, in contrast, is authoritarian. It denies self-management and produces the same class division and hierarchy as markets built first around the distinction between planners and those who implement their plans, and then extending outward to incorporate empowered and disempowered workers more generally. Both these allocation systems subvert rather than propel the values we hold dear. What is the alternative to markets and central planning?
Suppose in place of top-down imposition of centrally planned choices and in place of competitive market exchange by atomized buyers and sellers, we opt for cooperative, informed choices by organizationally and socially entwined actors each having a say in proportion as choices impact them and each able to access needed accurate information and valuations and each having appropriate training and confidence to develop and communicate their preferences. That would be consistent with council-centered participatory self-management, consistent with remuneration for effort and sacrifice, consistent with balanced job complexes, consistent with proper valuations of collective and ecological impacts, and consistent with classlessness.
To these ends, activists might favor participatory planning, a system in which worker and consumer councils propose their work activities and their consumer preferences in light of accurate knowledge of local and global implications and true valuations of the full social and ecological benefits and costs their choices will impose and garner. The proposed system utilizes a back-and-forth cooperative communication of mutually informed preferences via a variety of simple communicative and organizing principles and vehicles including indicative prices, facilitation boards, rounds of accommodation to new information—all permitting actors to express, mediate, and refine their desires in light of feedback about other’s desires, arriving at compatible choices consistent with remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and participatory self managing influence. So, do we now have a full picture of an economic alternative to capitalism?
Of course not, it is too brief. And being brief, I would imagine it is also too hard to retain a grip on much less to evaluate as the words roll by. But it is hopefully provocative and inspiring. In sum it contains
- A Productive Commons to remove pursuit of profit and control over work by private owners.
- Democratic workplace and consumer councils using diverse decision-making procedures to provide proportionate say for those affected by decisions
- Balanced job complexes to provide a just distribution of empowering and dis-empowering circumstances
- Remuneration for effort and sacrifice to deliver equity in accord with morally efficient incentive logic
- Participatory planning to provide allocation that serves human well-being and development
Together this view’s advocates claim these five features constitute a core institutional scaffolding suitable for a systemic alternative to capitalism and also to what has been called centrally planned or market socialism, or, in our terminology, centrally planned or market coordinatorism. And so what does all this say about Hal Draper’s dichotomy?
I think Draper is right about his take on approaches “from below” and “from above,” but I think to successfully pursue his agenda fully sixty years after he proposed it requires that we clarify that “from below” stance is one of strategy but also of vision and underlying concepts. More, the positive prescription is not just that we ought to prefer “from below” but that we should understand that preferring “from below” means that we want to develop movements that can overcome current oppressive obstacles to “melt into” a new society that is economically truly classless and self-managing as well as including comparably liberated structures for other domains of social life.