Hi Joseph, thanks for your opening statement - I think it reads well.
We clearly have a lot in common. However I do have some concerns. I also disagree with some of the things you say and I think that your piece raises some important questions that you do not answer.
After reading your statement I think that I can safely say that we both want to help build a popular movement for radical-progressive social transformation. One of the basic necessities for the creation of such a movement is a compelling vision of an alternative to capitalism. Our shared vision is our solution to the many personal and social problems that result from the capitalist economic system. Our vision will also help inform our strategy. After all if we don’t have a clear idea of what our long- term goal is then our short-term objectives can only be based on what we are against and not on what we are for. This means that our strategy is only informed by what we are anti which in turn gives our campaigns a negative quality. So the initial attraction of our vision will be its ability to solve the very real problems that capitalism systematically inflicts on us all. A secondary benefit is that our vision both informs and therefore adds a positive quality to our strategy. This is why developing vision is so important and it is in the hope that we can come to some agreement over what constitutes good vision that I make the following points.
First of all I would like to say that I agree with your “economic truths”. I think that you are right to point out that “our vision is necessarily internationalist”. I think that you are also right when you say that “the economy does not exist to serve our needs” and like you I think “it is clear that there is a real class divide” and also that “the function of a class analysis is to understand the tensions within capitalist society”. However, I think that there is more to the class system than ”us and them” as you put it. I explain what I mean by this below.
But before going on to raise some disagreements I would like to just touch on a slight concern. You say “The struggle against [race, gender, national identity etc] is … a necessary aspect of class struggle”. When you say this I think that you are trying to take into account other forms of exploitation that are not strictly speaking economic in origin. I do like where you are going with this but it does seem that when you ultimately locate these non-economic issues in class struggle that you might be making the mistake of assuming that racial, gender and political groups are less important agents for social change than class. This tendency is referred to as “economism” and advocates of participatory economics are inclined to be quite critical of it because it suggests that economic agents involved in class struggle should have priority over the other groups involved in other forms of struggle. Instead we tend to employ a liberating theory called complimentary holism. According to this theory there are four spheres of social life. They are the kinship sphere, the political sphere, the community sphere and the economic sphere. Each sphere has its own function and all are socially necessary. Not only do we think that the four social spheres are necessary we also take the view that any dominance of one sphere over another should be determined by knowledge that results from rational enquiry into a particular society and should not be based on a dogmatically ideological prediction.
I also find the following statement confusing - “… our vision for the UK economy under capitalism is for us as a class, to impose our needs over the needs of capitals.” What do you mean by “vision … under capitalism”? When I talk of economic vision I mean vision of a post capitalist economy. You then go on to describe what you mean by vision “In concrete terms” saying this “mostly involves defensive struggles over wages, conditions …” But this is not a statement on vision (at least as I understand it), rather this is a statement about strategy.
One part of your statement that I sort of disagree with is your criteria for remuneration. You say that the economy should reward people based on the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. I think that this is partly correct. I do agree that need should be a moral consideration for any humane economy. However, I also think that any good economic system will be able to produce goods and services well beyond basic human needs. This means that we also need criteria for remunerating goods and services that people want. So, for example I may not need a holiday to Greece next year or a new computer but I certainly want these things. How do libertarian communists propose that we work out who gets what they want and who doesn’t?
Another part of your statement that I partly disagree with is your class analysis. You talk indistinguishably about “bosses” and “capitalist” as though they are the same class. To repeat your phrase there is “us and them” which implies a two class system. This outlook, I think derives from a limited conceptual toolbox that is quite typical of the old left. It is commonly held within left circles that there are two classes – the capitalist class and the working class. Such a view leads to statements such as “… communism has nothing to do with the former USSR or the present-day Cuba or North Korea. These are capitalist societies …” Because the former USSR was not a workers economy it therefore has to be a capitalist economy – there simply isn’t any other option for you to choose from.
But we all know that there is a big difference between an economic system with privately owned institutions operating within competitive markets and a government controlled system with central planning. Yes it is true that both systems are based on class exploitation and dominance but there are also very important differences. For example the dominant class in the first system are the capitalists whereas the dominant class in the second system are a professional-managerial class I call the coordinator class. So I would argue that the economy of the former USSR is more accurately described as a coordinator economy, rather than a capitalist (or for that matter socialist) economy.
This insight derives from a three-class analysis that argues that modern day capitalism has created a new techno-managerial class that is both distinguishable from the capitalist class above it and working class below it. One important outcome of this new class-consciousness is that we realise that the coordinator class can (and have been) anti-capitalist whilst not necessarily being pro-workers economy. Working class organisations are often dominated by members of the coordinator class, and the coordinator class can, and has, hijacked popular movement against capitalism. Not surprisingly when popular movements of this sort have been successful in overthrowing capitalism it has tended to result in a coordinator economy (like the former USSR) and not in a classless economy.
This clarity is useful in a number of ways. It helps us understand where socialists went wrong in the twentieth century and it helps us develop better strategy for the twenty-first century.
When you do address vision you mainly talk about the whole society as being “stateless” and “democratic”. This is fine but I want to know about the economy. You do say about your economic vision that the means of production would be “held in common” and that “decisions can be made democratically among equals”, which I like – but you don’t say how this would work. What does the democratic process look like, and how do you maintain equality? You also say that there will be “no market forces” in your economy. Again I like this – but you don’t say what you alternative is. How will goods and services be allocated in your economic system? Regarding economic self-management you say - “We will work only as long as we decide is necessary to produce the things we need at an intensity we are happy with …” Now, apart from your concern for only need, which I have already addressed above, that sounds great. But it still doesn’t answer the question - how, in a libertarian communist economy, do workers make the decisions about what to produce and how to produce them?
There are other important questions that I would like to ask, but I will leave it there for now. I look forward to reading your response and continuing this exchange.