Verizon: union win

John Gulick jlgulick at
Wed Aug 23 22:30:27 PDT 2000

Ted sez:

>The constintuency for a social economy is socialists, anarchists,
>anti-globalists, environmentalists, human-scalers, etc. Anyone who's
>concerned that their personal survival is threatened by capitalism or who
>simply wants to reduce their participation in the system. It's people who
>belong to Co-op America or subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture
>program or use an alternative currency, like Ithaca Hours. We're talking
>about a very large group of people.

OK, I hear ya. My brother is one of those small-is-beautiful appropriate- technology types, and we've had some productive dialogues as well as some heated exchanges on red-green politics. I don't know the terrain very well, but well enough.

>As people become swayed by the example of the commons, they join it. As to
>the potential dangers, I think Gordon put it well: When the capitalists get
>depressed, the rest of us undergo a "depression." Hopefully, this would
>speed up the process of building up the alternative economy, as more and
>more people see their interests aligned with it.

If the ruling class and its attaches in the capitalist world subjectively anticipate or objectively experience brakes on accumulation, won't they do one of the following two things, or both ? 1) Suck ever more surplus value from the working class and rip off ever more of nature's free gifts. Like you said, the ensuing social and ecological deterioration of the capitalist world might make the alternative economy seem all the more groovy, but I don't think the ruling class will allow human and territorial secessions without a fight. Unless you believe that the ruling class will see the writing on the wall -- the long-term unsustainability of capitalism, the rising costs of subduing a restless populace -- and morph into Fabian socialists. I believe this is an approximation of how Wallerstein sees a socialist world- system evolving. 2) Imperialist attack, as it were, on the alternative economy. Uneven exchange. Sanctions. Espionage, subterfuge, and proxy wars. Even full-out invasion. See: U.S. imperialist attack on the better, though flawed, quasi- state socialist experiments in the Western Hemisphere -- Nicaragua, Cuba. If the alternative economy resorts to guerilla warfare to defend itself, this robs natural and human resources away from production/reproduction, militarizes the society, and destroys all the gains which made opting out worthwhile in the first place.

>My chief influence regarding the creation of a social economy is Isidor
>Wallimann. I'm not familiar with Gare. As to Gorz, I agree with him that
>we should not be creating jobs providing services to people which they could
>do for themselves if they weren't so overworked. But how do you stop this
>trend? It's in the logic of capitalism to create more work (and more profit
>for capitalists), regardless of how much the workload is reduced by
>automation. Gorz is relying on the government to step in and pay people for
>doing personally fulfilling work rather than economically "useful" work.
>He's assuming that automation will continue rendering workers redundant.

I don't know Walliman at all. You really should read Gare if you get the chance -- the most recent edition of _Capitalism, Nature, Socialism_ has a piece by him. You two are like echoes ringing in my ear. I read Gorz more than ten years ago. Your critique seems sound. He seems not to have an analysis of how ceaseless accumulation reduces socially necessary labor time in the production and delivery of "basic needs" in order to build up an edifice producing and delivering "non-basic needs" (however these tricky concepts are defined). I suppose he sees new social movements as putting pressure on the state to, as you say, "pay people for doing personally fulfilling work ..." Unfortunately, social democracy is dead, much less Eurocommunism, and the state in capitalist society has become the capitalist state, as my main man Jim O'Connor would say.

>My view is that we should try to move away from automation and restore
>craft-based production. Technology can be used for labor-friendly purposes
>as well as capital-friendly purposes. Overall, a system that promotes
>useful, skilled work is more efficient than a system that automates (in
>order to de-skill and subjugate labor) and then produces loads of useless
>work on top of that. Such a system could out-compete the corporations and
>grow under its own power.

"Efficient" by red-green criteria, maybe, translating into participatory (although not always pleasant !!!) work, more time for social and private leisure, less resource depletion/pollution, a more convivial existence generally. _NOT_ more "efficient" by the standards of capitalist irrationality, even if capitalist firms were forced to absorb the social costs of environmental externalities through devices like emissions taxes. No way. Why ? Because there would be no built-in incentives to revolutionize willy-nilly the productive forces in the alternative econonmy. Because (hopefully) labor could not be flexibly hired and laid off, deskilled and reskilled, in the alternative economy. No way you'll beat the capitalists playing the game of "efficiency" with their rigged criteria. The allure, as you put it before, will have to be in the realm of conviviality -- the attenuation of alienation in work, the return to the simple joys of collective physical labor, minding the kids and taking care of the feeble, communal feasts and celebrations, etc. (I'm not trying to draw a technophobic picture here).

Finally, on the issue of commodity exchange between the sea of capitalism and the island of the alternative economy. Relatively labor-intensive craft exports to the sea of capitalism will not and cannot compete with capitalistically-made goods. These exports will be sold only to the upscale and politically sympathetic consumers of the capitalist world, not to the working-class and poor consumers. That's how the alternative economy will earn its hard currency (or equivalent) to pay for those imports it can't make itself. As I'm sure you're aware, one way in which capitalism has propped up the living standard for the working-class and poor is through tapping intensive throughputs of non-renewable energy/materials (petrochemical products especially). To the extent that the alternative economy becomes associated by the non-alternative economy working class and poor as green consumerism for the rich and politically correct, it may make building bridges between the alternative economy and the non-alternative economy working class and poor all the more difficult. We see this today w/organic agriculture, natural fiber clothes, etc. Not such a big problem if there's green pricing of capital/consumer goods in the sea of capitalism, but if that were the case, then the whole discussion surrounding the model is at least in part moot.

Mind you I'm not trying be a devil's advocate, but a sincere interlocutor. I don't dismiss this model of transition out of hand.

John Gulick

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