newbie on Participatory Economics

Brett Knowlton brettk at
Mon Jul 20 11:21:42 PDT 1998

Louis and Gar,

Thanks for your responses - I'm glad to see this generated some discussion.

I find myself mainly in agreement with Gar, and so won't repost the same thoughts. But there is one thing I want to respond to. Louis, you claim that ParEcon is utopian, specifically because it meets your criteria of utopian claims, namely that they are:

1) Ahistorical 2) Moralist 3) Rationalist

I really don't have much knowledge of the former USSR or Albert and Hahnel's writing on the subject, so I don't feel like I can talk intelligently about point #1, but I think you do a disservice to Albert by accusing him of excessive moralism.

You claim:
>What counts for the utopian socialists is the moral example of their
>program. If there is no historical agency such as the working-class to
>fulfill the role of abolishing class society, then it is up to the moral
>power of the utopian scheme to persuade humanity for the need for change.

You follow this up with a quote from Albert, and claim that Albert believes that the good society has to be achieved by good people stepping forward (like Che Guevara), and that bad episodes can be explained by bad apples (like Lenin or Trotsky) as opposed to larger historical trends and social forces.

I'm surprised that you've reached this conclusion unless you have only a cursory familiarity with Albert's writings and ideas. One of the points he consistently makes is that individual personalities and "morals" mean very little compared to incentives provided by social institutions. That is, institutional structures are so powerful that human behavior on the social level will conform, within fairly broad limits, to the behavior dictated/rewarded by social institutions (this is not deterministic - he still recognizes that there will be individuals who behave in ways not rewarded or encouraged by dominant social institutions).

This is crucial, because the ultimate success or failure of any social revolution will depend on the institutional structures which get implemented after the fact. Albert argues that unless we consciously implement institutions which reward and encourage behavior which furthers the kind of society we want to live in, such as solidarity and diversity, etc., we will end up right back where we started from, or maybe even with something worse (you might argue that the Russian revolution replaced something bad with something worse - or at least not much better). Institutional change isn't just a nice thought, but absolutely essential if the gains of any revolution are to be permanent.

I agree that current struggle is imperative - without it things will only stay the same or get worse. But I think Albert is correct when he says that we need a vision of what to do once a social revolution has been successful.

Finally, in response to one of Gar's comments, Louis said:
>I argue that socialists should provide compelling class-struggle
>alternatives to the capitalist status quo. In a period of deep crisis--what
>is called a prerevolutionary situation--the question of state power will be
>raised. This is the crucial role for the revolutionary party, effectuating
>a transition from bourgeois power to people's power. Furthermore, armed
>defense of the people's movement will be necessary. Model building is an
>extraneous but harmless diversion from the nasty business of conquering

I have a couple of questions here - I mainly want some clarification. What is a "compelling class-struggle alternative to the capitalist status quo?" Can you be more specific? Also, you scare me a little when you talk about the revolutionary party - what is it exactly, and are you saying it should take over the state, or abolish it, or something else entirely? I'm also confused as to why armed defense of the people's movement will be necessary - the Eastern Bloc countries threw off Soviet influence with very little bloodshed. Why is violence the only course this can take? Finally, assuming a worker's revolution is successful, what will replace capitalism, and how would the new society take shape?

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