2004/07/01

Does the left love capitalism?

Michael Albert today added an interesting post to his blog on participatory economics. It seems that while audiences up to and including the mainstream in countries around the world are interested in hearing about parecon, in the USA not even liberals will give it a shot.

Outside the country, Albert is invited to conferences, the latest parecon book is translated and reviewed, meanwhile American leftist publications like The Nation or The Progressive won't even review the book much less start up a discussion on the vision.

This is strange, to say the least. Liberals know that free markets make all kinds of social inequalities much worse, that they destroy the environment, that they corrupt politics. And here's a proposal that would eliminate markets and replace them with something egalitarian and democratic. Wouldn't we at least want to talk about it?

Maybe these liberals are afraid of appearing too radical? Do they fear that talking about ending capitalism would hurt their credibility? It's possible. But credibility with whom? Who is their audience? Is it regular men and women, or is it those who hold power in society? Most mainline liberal organizations, like NOW, the PIRGs, NAACP, &c, focus their attention on appeals to legislators, corporate leaders, and other highly-placed authority figures. These people would of course dismiss any fundamental challenge to free markets — their power is based on the status quo.

Regular people are too often merely foot soldiers to man the phone banks and collect the petitions, not individuals to be mobilized and empowered in new structures of power. Maybe this audience would be more receptive?

Another possibility, as Albert has suggested, is that the leaders of these magazines and organizations themselves have a class interest in preventing the sort of nonhierarchical structures of parecon. They, like their counterparts in government and corporations, serve at the top of hierarchies, receiving greater pay and authority than those they order around. The people who fund these organizations and read these magazines, too, tend to be from an educated, professional background, expecting the power and perks that accrue to their class. In parecon these sorts of inequities would be eliminated.

Whatever the reason, it's time for the left to stop being afraid. The injustices we fight against, from race to foreign policy, can't be solved as long as capitalism reigns.

(I make the case for parecon here)

3 comments:

Deleted said...

There is a standing requirement for liberals who want to be part of -- or have access to members of -- the governing establishment to denounce or belittle "radical extermist" left wing thinkers. It's a rite of passage to embrace the brand of liberalism Phil Ochs made infamous with "Love Me I'm A Liberal".

They've been conditioned by the truly extremist corporate class media campaign to regard a shift in direction as dangerous. Casting Noam Chomsky or Michael Albert as potential Robespierres or accusing them of being authoritarian apologists makes it hard for people who haven't been exposed to their work to read them with open minds. A closed or narrowed mind is more amenable to acting out the part of submissive consumer.

A dependency on advertising revenue and, in some cases foundation grants, serves as a muzzle. If you're reasonably intelligent, as most liberals are, it's easy to brainwash yourself into accepting this as an unpleasant but necessary price to pay for modest reforms.

Reaching regular people, most of whom lead lives of drudgery at work and economic pressure at home, is hard because of the infotainment on demand supplied by TV and movie rental services. The unchallenging infotainment is a palliative for the their stressed out lives. In addition, one learns very quickly not to cite an article from Zmag when everyone else is discussing Rush Limbaugh's latest screed.

There's good sense in your penultimate paragraph. Class interest certainly plays a role in the refusal to even contemplete opening a broader discussion. The people already disposed to reject top down hierarchies -- like artists, comedians and other creative types -- are the best people to ask for help in getting a serious conversation going. You'll never persaude the elite, but they can be pressured into a semblance of decent behavior with a populist effort.

suibhne said...

Jake: Perhaps you haven't heard, but there was a titanic world struggle a few years back, a cataclysmic striving between the forces of communism and those of capitalism. Guess who won? :p

Deleted said...

What most people call communism is actually state capitalism, and it is not the same as Parecon :-)