PARECON AND ANARCHIST COMMUNISM-ALBERT REPLIES TO PRICE:The following article was originally published at the Z Communications site. As this site, and this essay in particular, is mostly available only to subscribers somebody republished it on the Anarkismo site from which this version is taken. As I have mentioned before this debate began with an essay by Wayne Price of NEFAC on the Anarchist Black Cat discussion site. Seems likes it's bouncing all over the place. The following is Michael Albert's reply to Wayne Price. Molly adds her comments at the end.
Albert's reply to this article:
Albert's reply to this article:
Here is Albert's reply to the article in which he (to my mind) deals bit by bit with Wayne's points while clearly making his stances/intentions clear. I had to paste the article rather than do a link as Albert's reply was available to znet sustainers only (sorry)"
"Price starts by saying the Parecon is okay with him, or perhaps okay with him, but he doesn't want to talk about that. He wants to talk instead about "how to achieve this new society."
But now we immediately enter a zone of confusion - or at least I do.
Price says, rightly, "Albert has not written much about tactics and strategy for reaching Parecon, as compared to his writing on how a pareconist society might work."
That is quite true. Why is it true?
Well, because it seems to me, as I have noted often, that going into some detail about how to reach a new society - in this case parecon plus parpolity, etc. - makes sense only if large numbers of people want to in fact reach that new society. So my not writing as much about strategy as about vision isn't a matter of thinking, "who cares, we need vision not strategy." Far from it. It is just a matter of taking things a step at a time. That said, I have written so much about vision, that even a lot less about strategy is still a lot about strategy. Price should have no trouble finding all kinds of material to assess, if it interests him.
Price continues: "One work which did focus on strategy was a little book, The Trajectory of Change: Activist Strategies for Social Transformation."' That is true, but so did, for example, the book Moving Forward, about economic program and strategy, and so have many many articles, and parts of other books, and debates with leninists, anarchists, etc. etc.
Still, taking from that short work, Price reports, Albert's "approach for a movement is stated summarily" and then Price quotes me writing: "Short term, we raise social costs until elites agree to implement our demands or end policies we oppose. Longer term, we accumulate support and develop movement infrastructure and alternative institutions, while working toward transforming society's defining relations."
And already, we have the confusion I mentioned, which will simply escalate from here.
Price says I have a reformist strategy. But is the above statement that he quotes from me consistent with that?
Well, what is reformism?
Reformism is a mindset, an approach, and a practice which says, "I like this and that, but, I believe that the basic institutions of society are unalterable, at least in their defining features, so whatever my likes and dislikes are, I will pursue changes in context of assuming the persistence of those defining institutions." Reformism is when you seek to make people's lives better, or to otherwise alter social conditions, but you take for granted that underlying defining features of capitalism, the parliamentary government, patriarchy, and racist or otherwise hierarchic cultural relations will persist, though improvements can be made around the periphery of those defining structures.
While Price asserts I am reformist, he doesn't quote me having that view - not surprisingly, because I don't. Likewise, he doesn't quote me rejecting that view, not surprisingly, though I do reject it, repeatedly, because that would complicate his article with actual facts. What Price does quote me saying, however, ironically should make perfectly clear my attitude about this issue. That it doesn't, for him, is strange.
Thus, Price quotes me saying that in the short term we win changes - reforms - that improve people's lives and we do it by having movements that are sufficiently strong to raise social costs that compel elites to give in to the demands rather than continue suffering the costs. Longer term, however, we grow those movements and also develop the infrastructure and institutions of a new society, winning a trajectory of changes while developing our new structures, in sum both winning and building the new society's new defining relations. But this is the opposite of reformism. This says we seek short run improvements, yes, via one struggle after another, but we do it with an approach, a commitment, a rhetoric and especially while building organizations that are not solely about those immediate improvements, but, are also about attaining new defining institutions in society - which is, of course, a revolution.
Some people - let's say hypothetically someone name Cost, since I am not sure if this is Price or not - hear formulations like this and say, "oh, it is reformist, you see how Albert says he wants to win reforms. You see how he thinks that a movement should seek reforms? That shows he is reformist." But of course it doesn't show that at all.
Cost would be wrong logically and in spirit, too. Logically, saying you want to win some reform - an end to a war, an end to the WTO, higher wages in an industry, affirmative action, a new law about emissions, a tax reform, a shorter work day, and on and on - does not say, nor even imply, that you don't want to win broader, more fundamental change. More, what is the alternative to saying you want to win various reforms? Would this hypothetical fellow named Cost say, "hey, I don't want an end to war or terminate the WTO or win higher wages or affirmative action? Is that how Cost would distinguish himself from a reformist advocate of those changes, by saying he doesn't want them? If so, then Cost would immediately reveal himself to be a callous idiot - to be very blunt. Callous, because to not want those changes says one doesn't give a damn about the pain that people now suffer. Idiot, because there is no way to create a movement able to overcome existing obstacles and construct new social relations without having fought and won diverse struggles along the way.
Okay, I hope we have dispensed with the idea that wanting to win a reform makes one reformist and I hope we have replaced that noxious view with clarity that what makes one reformist is wanting to win ONLY reforms and fighting for them with the assumption that that will be the maximum that can be hoped for. And I hope we have also dispensed with the idea that what makes someone revolutionary is decrying reforms as horrible things and have replaced that noxious view with clarity that what makes someone revolutionary is seeking fundamental change as an overarching goal, including while trying to win short run gains in the present.
Returning to Price, he looks at the brief passage that he quoted - which, remember, said we raise social costs until elites agree to implement our demands or end policies we oppose and we accumulate support and develop movement infrastructure and alternative institutions, toward transforming society's defining relations, and he follows up with this summary of what he hears in those words: "That is, we cannot force the state to end a particular war or to grant universal health care, but it may do it if the rulers fear that there will be a spread of radicalization among the people; if there is increased militancy among workers, youth, soldiers, and People of Color; if society becomes increasingly polarized and ungovernable. This is precisely what happened in the 60s and which led to the end of legal racial segregation and of the Vietnam war."
My only reaction is that Price seems to be confused about the word "force." What is one doing other than forcing it to act thusly if one amasses sufficient movement activism that the state relents and does what it otherwise had zero desire to do? Price may think, I don't know how else to understand this if we take the words at face value, that to force the state means for an armed group to point their rifles at the state and say, do this or else. Apparently, for a massive movement to point its activism at the state and say, do this or else - doesn't count as forcing, for some reason. Or maybe taking his words at face value and this is just careless writing and we agree on this point.
Then Price says, "So far, so good. A revolutionary anarchist would completely agree with this orientation. As opposed to the liberal strategy of permeating the centers of power and making changes from above, it proposes to pressure the state and capitalists from outside and below. It demonstrates why a revolutionary perspective is relevant even in non-revolutionary periods (which are most of the time): the more militant and disrespectful a movement is (that is, the more revolutionary it is), the more likely it is even to win reforms."
Well, this is strange. Price rightly reads into the one brief quote that I believe in pushing on centers of power from without, and below, and that I believe the more powerful a movement and the more it threatens basic relations, not just policies, the more likely it is to win even just regarding short term policies. You might think that with this considerable agreement, Price would then perhaps doubt some inclination or other I have, but you surely wouldn't think at this point that he would decide I am reformist, overall. But then Price continues: "But is Albert for revolution?"
Well, if I were to answer, I would have to know what does Price mean by his question? If Price means, as I would mean if I asked that question to him or someone else - does the person want to see the basic institutions of society fundamentally transformed and does the person believe that such transformation is possible so that efforts at social change, even in the present, should be oriented not only to short term gains but also to those long term goals - then I think Price has already indicated that he agrees that Albert is for revolution. Since Price is going to give the opposite negative answer, however, he must mean something else by the question. Here is what I think Price means: "Does Albert believe in revolutionary processes that I, Price, find convincing?" And to that question, Price answers no, which would be fair enough, of course, except for his deciding if he disagrees with me then I must not be for revolution at all.
Price says, in the same short book, Albert writes of "our commitment to ultimately revolutionize all aspects of life....This country needs a revolution..." He says in my memoir Albert makes it clear that "he regards himself as a revolutionary. What he means by revolutionary, however, is someone who advocates a totally new society, which he does." Well, yes, but a little more.
For example, a person could say, I love parecon, parpolity, etc. etc. - or some other vision - but then add, "but I don't think they are attainable. Instead, I think the best we can hope for is to ameliorate current ills via reforms." In other words, a person could be reformist even though the person would like, if he or she thought it was possible, a new society. But that isn't me. And the books Price mentions and many others, and piles of articles, debates, interviews, etc., and my choices over decades, etc., all make it very apparent. So why can't Price see this obvious point. Well, on the other hand, I am also not Price - as in, I don't see social change quite as he does. Is it the case, that like a lot of commentators Price confuses his own revolutionary view with the only possible revolutionary view?
Now comes the heart of the matter for Price, though not for me. Price says "there have been differences between those socialists who hoped to reach a new society by gradual, peaceful, and legal changes, and those who believed that eventually there would have to be a confrontation with the capitalist state, its overthrow and dismantling."
The first thing to point out is that anyone remotely sane, and also leftist, would hope one could reach a new society with a minimum of conflict and violence. That seems obvious, unless one has a secret yearning for blood. As to a confrontation with the state - well that happens all the time. So anyone remotely in touch with reality knows that conflict is part and parcel of social change of any kind, all the time. As to my own aims, since they include the still very rough political vision called parpolity, which is about as different from current states as parecon is different from capitalism, clearly my revolutionary aims include, in the end, not even just overthrowing or dismantling the current state - but replacing it with a truly desirable new polity.
Price says: "To be a revolutionary is to advocate a revolution."
Actually, there are tons of people, through history, who are advocates of revolution, but not revolutionary. What is the difference? Assume another fictitious character, Sam Lookatme. Sam says, "I am for parecon, parpolity, etc. I am for revolution." So far so good. If we take Same at his word, and there is no reason not to, then he advocates revolution. But suppose that's all Sam does. If you ask him, he wants the new society, yes, but beyond that, he does nothing to attain it. For me, to be a revolutionary, whether in tumultuous or in tied-down times, means to makes choices in your life in light of the desire to contribute to winning a new society. Now you might do this in a way that is silly, or in a way that is futile, or even in a way that is counterproductive, or you might do it in a way, against great odds, that yields wonderful success. Effectivity is not the criteria, however, trying is.
For Price, however, to be revolutionary is "to point out that the state will not permit peaceful, gradual, legal, changes to a better social system. It is to WARN the people that when the economy gets worse, the capitalists will take back the reforms they have given in the past—as they have begun to do. At some point, when the capitalists feel threatened enough, they will whip up racist and sexual hysteria. They will abandon bourgeois democracy, cancel elections, organize fascist gangs, smash unions, murder leftists, and arrange a military coup."
All this projection of reactions is possible, though not inevitable, case by case. But more to the point, the idea that being a revolutionary means proclaiming these things, as if these are the key insights of winning change, is absurd, at least in my eyes. Do I myself in my writings and talks and conversations point out, as a kind of background given, the vile inclinations of centers of power. Sure. I do that over and over, particularly when asked about such matters. So what is our difference on this issue? I think it may be that for Price, fighting the state is the heart of the matter. State power, and amassing military might sufficient to challenge it are the core of Price's notions of revolution of what he thinks is revolutionary. On the other hand, I think amassing sufficient movement organization and commitment to push the state toward relenting to movement demands in case after case, and, as well, to undermine its military might by organizing its police and military to resist orders and change allegiances, so that then a new polity takes over, along with a new economy, etc., is not only possible, but essential.
The state has soldiers, police, etc., and it has rulers willing to send out pretty much any order to retain power. So far, we agree. Indeed, is there anyone on the left who doesn't know this? And given that everyone knows this, is it really the pinnacle of revolutionary achievement to trumpet it?
Well, Price might think - and this would be consistent, at any rate - that it makes sense to begin working toward creating an army of liberation that can stand, toe to toe, or tank to tank, or jet to jet, however far in the future, with the U.S. military, or even the Chicago police force, and back them all down, marching into the White House due to the power that springs from the barrel of a gun. I, in contrast, have to say that I find it hard to imagine this is anything other than juvenile delusion of the highest order, or perhaps silly posturing for appearance sake, or maybe most likely a holdover of Leninist or Trotskyist identity, but in any case, nothing serious. To put it succinctly, there is no such thing as a movement in an industrialized society that will militarily defeat the army, or even police forces found there. What there, is, instead, is the possibility and even the likelihood of massive organizing by massive movements reducing the power of the state to a tiny fraction of its initial level, due to amassing huge popular support and participation while simultaneously undermining obedience by police and military for the rule of elites.
So, supposing we were quite a lot closer to tumultuous times, Price might advocate - I don't know what he thinks, of course, but it would at least be consistent if he urged this - giving talks and writing tracts claiming the state is the enemy and that everyone needs to buy guns and be prepared to barricade themselves against incursions, while forming a highly disciplined and powerful military machine to win the day. He might then suggest that the revolutionary armed forces he has worked so hard to organize should start aggressive struggle with the army and police. Let's take an example. If Price's scenario went broadly like Cuba, Price might suggest that he takes a group of a couple of hundred or so like minded advocates of violently overcoming the organized might of the state into the Appalachians. It is a big country, so he would presumably suggest another column in the Catskills, one in the Rockies, etc. And maybe he thinks there could be urban warfare too, so he organizes a column in Manhattan, Chicago, LA, etc. Then he would think, these groups could, continuing the analogy to Cuba, assault local police stations and military bases, gathering arms as they went about their assaults and intimidating the repressive forces, engaging in long marches through the mountains or from home to home of allies in the city, to stay ahead of forces in pursuit, etc. If this isn't what he advcoates, fine, what is?
However, if the above is even remotely his vision - and it is central to why and how he thinks we differ - I suggest that Price send a note to Castro inquiring of someone who actually did all this, and who succeeded, whether he thinks (a) this could be done, in this day and age, anywhere in the world, and (b) whether it could be done in the U.S. or any other developed society. I would bet that Castro would doubt the approach for anywhere at all, now - and I am confident he would say that in the U.S. such an effort would last not years, months, or even weeks, but maybe days, and more likely hours after the first aggressive action was taken before it was entirely dismantled. Che himself, would also laugh at the idea, I am quite certain. And they, and anyone serious about revolution, would then try to think, okay, if that military style strategy won't work in that win much of anything, not to mention yielding a paranoid and hyper militarized and centralized mess of a movement, what can we do that will work?
In this same vein, when I am out giving a talk or chatting with folks, either in the U.S. or abroad, and someone suggests grave concerns about the armed might of the state, I always have basically the same recommendation - organize or find a way to contribute to organizing movements, with commitment, clarity, program, etc. That is the key task, regardless of the state's capacities. However, if you have a hankering to get started, even now, at more directly addressing the might of the state, fine, join the army, or the police, and do your organizing there.
Price says, "Working people need to prepare to defend ourselves, to strengthen unions, and to engage in general (city-wide) strikes. We need to popularize the idea of workers' and community councils, for replacing the state, and of an armed working class, for replacing the specialized police and military."
As far as the councils go, and unions and so on, we agree, at least broadly. As far as telling working people they need to be prepared to defend themselves against their brothers and sisters and neighbors - literally - in the army and police, I recommend a slightly different stance. First, it would help if working people believed something better was possible and that fighting to win it had merit. Second, it would help if they spent time talking to and organizing their brothers and sisters and neighbors in the police and army. Third, there is no need to tell anyone in the U.S. to go buy a gun, and not much point to it, anyhow. Fourth, as far as replacing the police and military, as in, they are exterminated? - it is silly, honestly. If it means, constructing new ways of dealing with the functions that these groups perform that would be preserved, sure, that is one part of a revolution, I agree, though hardly the heart of soul of it.
Price says, "None of this is in Albert's work. He wants a drastic change in society, but he does not expect it to need a revolution (what most people would mean by revolution, on the order of the U.S., French, or Russian revolutions). He does not warn of the dangers of counterrevolutionary, fascist, repression."
The confusion persists. Note, if I want parecon, etc., then I want a revolution. That is simply a matter of the meaning of the words. Revolution doesn't mean a confrontation of the sort Price has in mind, whatever that is. It means a process, with whatever features, which transforms defining institutions. More, if I work hard to try to figure out real actions I can take, or help others take, that contribute to an on-going process that attains revolutionary aims, then I am trying to be a revolutionary. However, for Price, if I don't do what he himself wants, if I don't see revolution as he himself sees it - as primarily some kind of armed confrontation and battle in which military type concerns are paramount, then, well, I am reformist.
Price says "Albert believes in building a militant mass movement, but he believes that one way this can be done is through electoralism."
What Price thinks I believe seems to me to owe little to what Albert actually writes, says, or does. In fact, I think that in some contexts electoral campaigns can contribute, yes, though I don't think in forty years of writings Price will find anywhere where I say this is primarily how you build a militant mass movement. I don't think elections or electoral activity are the heart of the matter - indeed, they are or need to be a subordinate part of a much broader process - though I would be very happy if someone proved me wrong and got a new world through a simple election. In contrast, Price somehow knows that elections can never be anything but detrimental, it seems, not even, relatively positive in a limited context. Okay, great, then he should ignore them, and not partake, etc. The fact is, for the most part, I agree. Thus, I have never partaken of any electoral activity myself other than supporting Mel King, a mayoral candidate in Boston, some decades back, and watching some other people doing things, now and then. I have only voted in one national election - for Nader, despite all my criticisms of his endeavors. But I would never say to someone, you voted for some candidate, or you worked for some candidate, so therefore you are reformist. That is way beyond what the evidence of having cast a vote would warrant. It is, in my view, indeed, a kind of silly purism, sectarianism, and arrogance, to make that type of assertion.
Price says, "Not only does he support third-party capitalist candidates (Nader, the Green party) but he supported Jesse Jackson's campaign inside the capitalist, racist, pro-war, imperialist, Democratic party (Albert, 1994)."
This just seems silly, honestly.
Did I hope and try to contribute to good results coming from both those efforts? Yes, I did. Reading the pieces I wrote at the time will also show, however, my disdain for the electoral system, Democratic Party, etc. etc., not to mention my trying to prevent the ills Price mentions. Let's take it further. On election night, this year, is Price going to be praying that Obama wins? If not, then I am sorry, but Price is horribly divorced from reality. Which doesn't mean I think Obama is a tribune of the people - very very very far from it. It just means I think if the country elects McCain, over Obama, it will be markedly worse. And if Price is rooting for Obama, or even votes for him, or even works for him, it would in no way in and of itself mean Price is reformist, nor that he supports Obama as some kind of tribune of the people. It could mean that, or it could just mean, instead, that in a horrendously restricted context, Price can see that one outcome is better than another and is willing to try to make it occur. The same applies to me.
Price writes: Albert "seemed surprised when the so-called Rainbow Coalition turned from movement-building to supporting Jackson's deal-making." hmmm, I don't remember having Price as a dinner guest to hear my reaction when I heard about the turn - which, I actually knew about rather early on. Actually, no, I wasn't surprised, but I did discuss the behavior of the Rainbow, and critique it, and try to show the origins and lessons that arise - unlike just dismissing people with epithets. In fact, if I remember right, I was warning against the dangers, well in advance of their occurring, trying to point out changes that would diminish the debits and increase the benefits of the endeavor.
Then Price says, "Working with capitalist parties is not only naïve but it crosses the class line."
I don't know Price. But this type juxtaposition of words is to my eyes the first step on a sectarian slippery slope. I am now not just reformist, but I am a willful class enemy, no less. Ignore for a moment, that I didn't in fact work with the Democratic Party, because, of course, many other people did who are not, due to that, class enemies, not least, oh, say, millions upon millions of working people. The assertion would be horribly misplaced even if I worked tooth and nail for a mainstream Democrat, say Obama.
To understand why, consider this. Suppose I said that due to the crisis and military type orientation that Price has, I think his approach, if it were writ large would, contrary to his stated wishes, lead not to a bottom up truely participatory and self managing new society, but, instead, to a top down society, run by what I call the coordinator class and, in particular, run by the militarily central elements of the movement that Price advocates. So far, the claim would be perfectly fair - a statement of my view. But suppose I then said that this means Price is personally crossing the class line, and is an advocate of coordinatorism not classlessness. I hope you see the problem. I might say, legitimately, that I think the implications of Price's approach would bring on coordinatorism. But to say that coordinatorism is what he wants, that would not be fair.
Price says: Albert "does not warn the workers that Parecon cannot be voted in, the capitalist state is designed to prevent that. Even if Pareconists won an election, the result would be something like when Lincoln won the 1860 election; the slaveowners refused to accept their defeat, taking the leading military officers and organized to overthrow the government and break up the country in a bloody counterrevolution." Price has published in an anarchist web site - but I have to say, the whole tone and direction of his comments doesn't seem particularly anarchistic to me - rather it seems far more Trotskyist and Leninist. That doesn't make him wrong, of course, but it is surprising.
That said, I only wish that advocates of parecon were in a position where people's attitudes about voting in parecon, or parpolity, or whatever else, were issues of pressing concern. Regrettably, however, there is a prior step: having large numbers of people remotely interested in attaining parecon by whatever route may prove possible. Price says: "Albert believes in building alternate institutions in the present to demonstrate how Parecon might work. Such institutions (coops, collectives, democratic publishing groups, etc.) would face not only the state, but the forces of the marketplace, where capitalism is dominant. Many such attempts fail. Others succeed, only to be integrated into the capitalist economy. These organizations are good in themselves, but cannot play a major role in changing capitalism. I live in a self-administered housing coop, run by the tenants without even a professional manager. It provides good housing but is not a threat to the bourgeoisie."
I actually, agree with this and have said so repeatedly. Building alternative institutions, the seeds of the future in the present, both to learn about and test and revise our aims, and also to provide models and inspire, isn't alone sufficient - both because of the difficulties, as Price indicates, and due to the potential for insularity/isolation, but mostly because the ultimate battle ground of transforming society is the workplaces and neighborhoods of the whole society, and so those locales must be the locus of a second part of strategy, building movements, winning changes, amassing organizational might, etc.
Price writes: "In 1978, writing with Robin Hahnel, he sketched out how a `socialist revolution' might be carried out. There would be a `revolutionary councilist organization' or `party.' In workplaces and neighborhoods, the revolutionaries would organize people to fight back over economic, racial, gender. and other issues. They would seek to build popular councils of workers and oppressed people, to replace state functions in the communities and to challenge the managers in factories and workplaces. Workers' councils would take over the worksites. Neighborhood councils would take over the communities. The councils would federate. The revolutionary organization would dissolve into the councils. This would be the contest for power against the state and capitalism, to be followed by building a new society."
While quoting might have been better, as some nuance is lost, so for example I think the aim is not to fight back against repression, but to fight for positive changes, all in all, fair enough. But does it sound like reformism?
Price writes: "As the councilist movement spread and solidified, there would be an increasing danger of state repression. The authors' main response to this is the need to avoid `adventurism' or `premature strikes.' They had previously mentioned the need for `people's patrols' but that is only `to deal with juvenile delinquency and mugging' (p. 336). They refer to mass struggles `all without and also often with militant self-defense' (p. 337), which is rather vague."
These fragments, with such partial quoting, from thirty years ago, are somehow meant to be a basis for evaluating my views? Odd. Is what Price quotes vague? Yes, and in fact, I plead guilty to then being vague about strategy more broadly. Indeed, thirty years later I remain vague, unlike Price, I guess, about what will and what won't work to galvanize a movement of roughly 100 million people in the U.S. to win a new society. I am pretty confident the way to disarm the state, in a given context, is to create a condition in which the use of its capacity for violence to snuff out dissent would, in fact, produce more dissent. If a strike is adventurist, it means it is going beyond what the carefully organized context permits, and leaving itself open to being repressed successfully. If a strike is sensible, it is fighting for worthy ends, with mass support, in a manner such that were the state, or the corporation, to use military repression against it, the result would be not its dissolution, but its growth. But this is the trivial part of strategy - not the heart of it, the core and hard part of it. That is reaching people, inspiring people, organizing people, motivating people. That's the part we all need to key on.
Price writes: "They wrote that readers may interpret this sketch to imply `an essentially non-violent dynamic` (p. 352)—which seems reasonable to me--but they deny this."
I am not sure what we said thirty years ago, given this five word reference, and I am less sure, even, what Price is saying. A U.S. revolution, occurring over a period of years or decades, can't be non violent, not least because daily life in the U.S. is incredibly violent even without a growing struggle intensifying all social interactions. But a revolutionary process can try to minimize violence turning to it only when forced to do so, if at all.
A revolutionary process could, and perhaps this is what Price has in mind, see military confrontation with the state as the central locus of winning a new society, as I think Price does, wrongly, and as Che and Fidel did, in a very very different setting, with considerable success. Alternatively, a revolutionary process could instead see amassing informed, passionate, committed, participation and leadership from immense numbers of working people as the locus of winning a new society - with the state effectively disarmed, over time, due to that organizing reaching into its innards. The two orientations are very different, I agree. But I wouldn't say Price isn't revolutionary because he sees things in a military way that I think is incredibly naive, deluded, or perhaps just habituated by ideology. I would just say he is, instead, in my view, wrong.
Price quotes us saying: "...There is considerable violence likely during the whole preparatory series of struggles leading up to the actual final seizure of power. But the seizure itself and the following period of construction will likely be relatively peaceful" (p. 352). And then Price himself adds that "They expect to have won over most of the ranks of the military as well as the big majority of the population by the time of a seizure of power."
Actually, my guess would be about a third of the population would be aggressively pro revolution, about a third doubtful, and about a third paying little attention, at the time when the balance of power would shift, but it is just a guess, nothing more. As to the army and police, however, Price is right. I believe that movements for change will be constructing a new society from positions of being able to themselves define (and not just demand) innovations only after the military and police are no longer willing to crush opposition, but are instead won over to our cause.
Price writes: "The prediction of repression and considerable violence during the preparatory period of struggles has dropped out of Albert's writings, as has the concept of a `final seizure of power.' Programmatically, he has abandoned talk of a need for people's patrols and miltant self-defense."
Actually, none of that is the case. I have no doubt about and routinely at talks indicate that there will be violence, in fact that there already is violence, and I also talk about what will be necessary, as compared to what will be counter productive, in dealing with it. But I admit, I do not see this as the main thing to spend time on, and so mostly only do it when asked. The idea of a "final seizure of power" is of little importance to me, I also admit, though absolutely central, I suspect, for Price. to me it is just one thing that happens along the way, and we may not even be able to pinpoint when it occurred. To me, instead, the really historic moment will be when there are sufficiently massive, participatory, committed movements that we can say with utter confidence that victory and transformation is now just a matter of time. If the issue is as Price seemingly thinks, mainly a kind of military battle, then yes, the battle becomes the focus, the lynchpin. If the issue is, instead, as I tend to think, a multifaceted development of infrastructure and movement while bettering people's lives, then the shift from fighting against a prior elite that still holds the state by seeking to win demands, to fighting for even greater innovation but with the movement literally defining outcomes, not making demands but ourselves enacting programs, is a consequential change, yes, but not the heart of the matter. The difference is, do you organize with an eye on numbers of guns and bullets - jails and escape routes, or something like that, with the movement's military command virtually inevitably centralizing power and developing a very instrumentalist view of change and society? Or do you organize with an eye on the growth of mass participation and leadership, grass roots definition, etc., with the institutions of the base becoming the infrastructure of the new society?
Price says: "To be so sure that `the seizure [of power] itself and the following period of construction will likely be relatively peaceful' is to disarm the workers and oppressed ahead of time."
Here we sort of agree. That is, we don't know what the future will be. But the idea that what Price says now or what I say now or what anyone says now is going to arm or disarm working people is worse than silly, I think. On the other hand, our ability, now, to inspire and galvanize large numbers of people - and we are sadly wanting on this front too - to desire a new type society, which they can describe and more importantly even define, and to fight for gains in the present with an eye toward building toward that future, is not at all silly.
Price says: "For reasons of space, I have not discussed other aspects of Michael Albert's program, such as his concept of `non-reformist reforms,' his view of the working class, his odd belief that the managerial `coordinators' are not a pro-capitalist class, or his odder admiration for Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevera (who were hardly antistatist Marxists)."
Well, the concept of non reformist reforms is precisely what distinguishes someone who seeks reforms from reformism. To say that the coordinator class is pro capitalist, now, is true enough - but then again, Price would have to admit that whatever evidence he is using to say that, for example their day to day actions, their voting patterns, etc., would entail his also saying that the working class is pro capitalist. Of course, the point is, the working class can, and we hope will, develop anti capitalist views and indeed, pro change views, perhaps pro parecon views, we will see. Likewise, the coordinator class can develop anticapitalist but pro coordinatorism views - which I think often takes the form of Leninism, but that is a whole additional matter.
Price says, "Like me, Albert comes out of the councilist, antistatist, tradition of socialist anarchism and libertarian Marxism (although he no longer calls himself a socialist)."
I am going to go way out on a limb and say, perhaps unwisely, perhaps unfairly, but honestly since it is my reaction - I bet we did not in fact come out of similar traditions. My bet would be that Price came out of a Trotskyist tradition - it just sounds a lot like that to me. Doesn't matter much, but I am a bit curious.
Price says: "Like us, he aims for an economy which is neither centrally planned nor market-oriented. He believes that a movement needs a vision of a better world (although I do not think it needs to be as detailed as his Parecon blueprint). He also agrees with us about building a democratic movement from below, which challenges the centers of capitalist power by threatening them from outside."
Despite all this, I am a class enemy? Interesting. Apparently, to escape that designation requires quite a lot of agreement with Price. As to Parecon being a blueprint, of course it isn't. It is, in fact, a broad specification of just four key institutional features and their interconnections - self managing councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, and participatory planning. What about that list is too much, too detailed, in Price's view, I wonder?
Price says: "There are many areas where we revolutionary anarchists can work with Albert and others who advocate Parecon. However, there are fundamental weaknesses in his program for achieving a new society (as in the thinking of Robin Hahnel, that is, of both of the founders of Parecon)."
Here I could not agree more strongly. That is, I think my understanding of how to win a new society is very problematic, at best. Of course I also think that that is true for Price and others, too. Surely, the evidence that we don't know how to make fundamental change is all around us...in our relative lack of progress. For me, however, I admit, the issue of how to win a better society depends on having a degree of agreement about what the better society includes. This is because for me, strategy isn't primarily about overcoming a military power, it is primarily about developing participation and commitment to new relations and a willingness to fight to win those new relations in a huge and steadily growing number of people, and, as a result, our understanding of those new relations matters greatly to specifying strategy.
Price then levels his ultimate criticism: Albert "does not warn of counterrevolutionary violence. He disarms the working class and oppressed by predicting that the change to pareconism can be done peacefully. He has advocated participating in elections, in support of capitalist parties, which crosses the class line. Subjectively he regards himself as a revolutionary, but his practice is really reformist and nonrevolutionary (or at least "centrist," revolutionary in rhetoric but reformist in practice). With all respect for his contributions to the anti-capitalist movement, Albert's program is fatally flawed."
Pretty incredible. The first claim is false, I routinely talk about the violent inclinations of the state, to the point of making utterly clear that the only solution to it is to disarm it, not overcome it with a bigger power. But mainly, I just don't agree with Price, or many others, that the power of the state, or corporations, or the media, is the biggest obstacle to our winning change and therefore what we should constantly focus on. Of course they are real and matter, but the biggest obstacle, and particularly the one we can address, is our own lack of coherence and workable methodology for overcoming reticence, building solidarity, creating lasting structure, etc. That is where we can improve, and must.
Despite Price's assertion, I don't predict a peaceful change, only that the final steps get relatively less violent, and as to me disarming anyone, well, is that serious?
And yes, I think elections can perhaps be a positive part of social struggle, at times, though there are many obstacles. And yes, despite that I virtually never do it, I think voting is no more a crime against humanity than putting your money in a capitalist bank. It is better, at times, than not doing so. If Price uses a bank, or, say, the roads that the state maintains, is he then, as a result, a class enemy? His is sad and sectarian reasoning, at least to my eyes."
It's hard for Molly to say where she stands on all this. I'm reminded of the singer of 'The Orange and the Green' (the product of an Irish mixed marriage) who tells of how the relatives of each of his parents accidently came over at the same time. The relevant stanzas go:
"We tried to smooth things over,
But they all began to fight,
and me, bein' strictly neutral I bashed everyone in sight"
The above essay seems very reasonable, and I'd guess I'd generally agree except for a few points where I think Albert is being disingenous. One is a polemical style wherein he "implies" that Price holds positions that he very obviously does not, couched in language that gives him "plausible deniability" but leaving the full emotional force of the implications intact. That's one thing, but there is also the true howler where Albert claims to "go way out on a limb" and "bet" that Price "came out of a Trotsyist tradition". Full fucking stop here. Molly will now also go way out on a limb and bet that Albert knows and has known for a considerable time that Price used to be a Trot. This isn't the first time that Price has written on Parecon, criticizing it, and I'd be shocked, even if by some miracle that Albert was innocent of this knowledge until recently, that he didn't bother to "look up" his opponent before launching his polemic. My own opinion is that Albert is far too intelligent and skilled to be so remiss. It is,however, very conducive to building a reputation as a "seer" to seem to "discover" such a thing from the writings of an individual. To Molly's eyes, however, this looks like slight of hand, stage magic.
All of this,however, is neither here nor there in terms of Albert's central contentions which are generally correct in my opinion (see my previous disagreements with what Price wrote). Albert, however, does a poor job of ducking some of Price's accusations. The above essay demonstrates more than a little residual sympathy with the authors of the Cuban dictatorship. If Price suffers from "residual Trotskyism" then perhaps Albert suffers from "residual vague American leftism and Third Worldism". One wonders why Albert dodged the accusation of sympathy sympathy for Che Guevara-which he amply demonstrates above- but also for other even less savoury characters such as Ho Chi Minh ?
Then we come to perhaps the crux of the matter, electoral politics and its connection to class conflict. For someone who claims to have formulated a theory of the "coordinator class" (though it was formulated long ago by people that Albert has never acknowledge to my knowledge) Albert has always seemed more than a little blind to what this means in day to day politics. Albert's main activity is not the oushing fo paper, nor any conspiratorial organization building. It is in writing and speaking in favour of certain ideas. Can we say 99% ? The meaning of the leftist term "support" has always been overplayed, as another 99% of such cases of "support" have no actual effect on the causes that they claim as their own. When Albert "writes in sympathy with or speaks in sympathy with" certain mainstream political actors or events in his own country-such as the centrist social democratic 'Rainbow Coalition' or the right wing social democratic-if it even gets to be social democratic- Obama campaign he is very much "supporting them" in the way that his usual political action does- by his words. Weave and dodge as he might this is the reality. How does this square with his criticism of some "coordinator class" ? The answer is that it doesn't.
There are Trots and then there are Trots. As an ex-social democrat I, and pretty well all party members oif my generation, became quite familiar with Trots of a different sort than what Price came from. Entrists. "Win the NDP to socialism". "Critical support". I heard this decades ago. It continues today in my own country, and it is just as silly now as it was then. No doubt Albert is right when he says that some political outcomes are more desirable than others, but it is a fact that his "support", let alone Prices or my "support" makes little difference in the real world today. If Albert convinces some rare wavering leftists to either vote for Nader or to vote for Obama now he knows just as well as I do that this will be meaningless in terms of the actual outcome. If Price acts like a left wing Trotskyist then Albert's justifications for his pronouncements of sympathy for politicalk actors in his country who are far less worthy of support than our Canadian NDP reminds me very much of right wing Trotskyism.
There's a squiggling loittle mouse of a point here that I intend to put my paw on and not let escape. Albert is very much the realist. He has just as much the jaundiced eye as I do for the self-important proclamations of "revolutionists" when their proclamations mean nothing because they are so tiny. I disagree with his rather individualist idea that a "revolutionist" becomes a "revolutionary" simply by "trying". One doesn't become a pilot by "trying". In the abscense of a plane to fly you are still a wannabe. There are NO revolutionists in a non-revolutionary situation.
So how do you get to the influence that both Albert and I desire ? I would suggest that a position of "intransigence" whereby you are visibly seen to be incorruptible is a necessary component of building towards such a situation. I would further suggest that persistently offering sympathy to the electoral goals of one set of rulers over another (remember the "coordinator class"!) shows very simply and plainly that you are not incorruptible. I would further suggest that this incorruptibility be not merely apparent, as was the case with various Communist parties- but real. Reality is always better than illusion. Not that you should spend a great amount of time in things like anti-electoral campaigns or, worse, trying to create tiny riots outside of political party conventions. If you are worried about what the politicians will do, well then understand that some of them will simply follow your own non-political actions for motives both good and ill. I don't think that we should abandon what is one of the few strengths of libertarian socialism to purchase some illusionary influence over either the politicians or those who support them. At its bluntest- support Obama and people think, perhaps rightly, that you are just as mendacious and corrupt as he is.
All of this doesn't detract from my personal admiration for Albert, and I still stand by a statement I made years ago that drew some flac from the "anarcho-nut" crowd that the Parecon people are more intelligent than the average anarchist. But so are the people gathered around NEFAC. My own goals are practicality, rather than showing off, and I think that both groups are szteps along the way. I disagree with both on many points, but, gradualist that I am, I think that both are good and proper advances and that both have great potential.