Steven Johns responds to Michael Albert's reply

I must admit this reply has taken me a while, as I didn't expect a response to my original article of only 1500 words to be so extensive (nearly 9000 words). And I've got a lot on my plate at the moment.

Not only that, but as we at stressed in our previous debate with a parecon advocate, we don't think that debating the minutiae of a post-capitalist society is a particularly useful activity for those of us who oppose capitalism today.

Nonetheless I appreciate that Albert took the time to respond in such depth. However, I was quite disappointed that his response was based almost entirely on a complete misrepresentation of my views and my initial argument.

In addition to that, there are several areas where we have significant disagreements, which I will address in the order in which he discusses them.

Johns prefers, though it is never made very explicit, much less seriously explored in his piece, that we instead work to our ability, and receive to our need, leaving society no need to have remunerative norms other than personal preferences. My most recent round of addressing views like these - which were put forth considerably more extensively than here - can be found in another article: "Querying Young Chomsky," at If concerns over parecon's remunerative norms and methods concern you, that might be a good additional "exchange" to view for further exploration, as the young Chomsky was a very strong advocate of the "from each, to each" position.

In this assertion, Albert is broadly correct. I do hold, like Chomsky outlines in this interview, that in a good society we will be able to contribute what we can, and receive what we need from society.

I disagree that the only "remunerative norm" will be personal preference, which is an assertion which to me comes off as a dismissive strawman. Of course personal preference will be a significant factor (as it is in capitalist society) but other factors such as availability/scarcity will also have an impact. Albert repeats this strawman multiple times through his article.


Johns, however, usefully explains further: "parecon … instead of abolishing wage labour proposes a "fair" way of allocating wages."

Whether parecon is wise to do this, we address below. Interestingly, Johns puts the word "fair" in quotes, but never in the essay addresses whether the parecon norm strikes him as anything other than "fair," equitable, etc. That isn't the issue for Johns.

As I stated in my article, its intention wasn't to debate the ethics of parecon, but was to hypothesise about how workers would react in it. In our previous debate with parecon, we did discuss fairness. And if Albert is really interested, then I am happy to inform him that no I do not believe that this is "fair" (whatever "fair" means). Nor do I believe it is workable, for the reasons outlined in my previous article.

On the concept of "fairness" of wages in general: I think that Karl Marx made mistakes but something he was dead right on was his call to workers: "Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wages system!’"

On the "fairness" of remuneration for effort and sacrifice specifically, a quick personal example comes to mind. At the council where I work management for several years has been attempting to introduce performance related pay. A system which they claim will be "fairer" as it will better reward those who work harder. Now, my co-workers and I have successfully resisted its introduction so far as we believe it will be neither fair nor conducive to a productive working environment (management are now attempting to impose it once more using the crisis as an excuse, but that's another story).

I believe it is unfair as it will discriminate against the disabled, and people with different types of abilities. It will also most likely institutionally discriminate against women and workers from ethnic minorities. And it will harm the working environment as instead of cooperating we will be competing with one another to work harder and longer than each other. Which again will discriminate against disabled people and people with caring responsibilities -who are disproportionately female.

Some of these criticisms of performance related pay are equally relevant for parecon. So with parecon either it would discriminate against people with disabilities or caring responsibilities, or else it would be unworkable as people could just pretend to have disabilities (particularly invisible ones like anxiety, depression, etc) or different abilities.

Wage work

Next comes a key area of disagreement, where Michael Albert gets into all sorts of semantic manoeuvrings to try to claim that wages under parecon are not actually wages:

Wage labor, sometimes called wage slavery, is a term most often meant to cover the employment and payment of workers by owners via a system of workers selling their ability to do work for some period of time to owners who in turn extract as much actual work as they can coerce from the workers' time they have bought control over, all for maximizing owners' profits. Okay, Johns says he rejects that. Well, parecon advocates too say, we reject that.

I referred to wages as meaning remuneration for work performed which can be exchanged for a share of the social product.

Albert's definition of wage labour here is inadequate, from a revolutionary point of view. In the former Soviet Union and other state capitalist economies, enterprises do not have "owners" in the same way as more free market economies do. Nor do "owners" make "profits" in the same way. However, the workers are still wage slaves, people compelled to work for a share of the social product, and for survival. And the subjective experience of work is very similar in both types of economies. Certainly the response of workers, which is to resist work (whether by not trying their hardest, absenteeism, covert sabotage or open strikes) is the same in both.

In fact, however, having a way of allocating income, and thus a guiding norm for income allocation, and a means of accomplishing that norm, whether implicit or explicit, is simply unavoidable. It will exist in every society and every economy that will ever exist because in all such societies people will get a share of the social output.

In the former part of this assertion, Albert is completely incorrect. Of course in all societies people will get a share of the social output. However this is not the same thing as all members of the society having a monetary income. For the majority of the time humans have existed, money and therefore income did not even exist.

Parecon believes its norm and methods offer a fair, worthy, viable option. Johns' mistake, assuming he believes that parecon's norm means it is preserving "wage labor" as this term is used by critics of capitalism, is to think that the mere fact that people get income - wages - means the system has wage labor, or wage slavery, as it exists under capitalism, or even just waged labor that is exploitative and alienating, as in any class divided system.

In this Johns goes beyond merely being wrong. It is quite like if someone argued that if we have production, then we have capitalism. Or if we have decision making, then we have authoritarianism. Or if we have procreation, then we have sexism.

Here Albert reels off a string of complete non sequiturs to counter my point which I believe is based on reality. And certainly my subjective experience as a worker.

The point I'm making is nothing to do with someone making the ridiculous argument that if there is production there is capitalism. The point I am making is that if people are forced to work for wages in order to receive a share of the social product, then people will resist this imposition.

I believe I am backed up by empirical evidence here, as every society I'm aware of where there are wage workers -i.e. there are people working for a wage (to avoid Albert attempting any more semantic gymnastics to try to say that it won't apply to parecon) - workers have resisted work on an individual and collective basis. Whereas in moneyless societies where "work" as a separate sphere of life didn't exist, this did not occur (indeed it couldn't, as there were no workers, and there was no "work").

If Albert could point to any examples in the real world of groups of wage workers which did not resist work then of course I will take this into consideration.

The only reply I can imagine from Johns that would reveal that he does not have this particular confusion would be for him to say, wait, I don't mean parecon preserves wage slavery.

In response to this point, if you say that workers under parecon will have to work for wages, in order to get a share of the social product (and if we do not then like now we will either have to starve or scrape by like the unemployed do now on benefits) then I would say that yes from the perspective of wage workers ourselves, we will still be wage slaves.

[Johns says] I just mean that parecon preserves workers getting income that is related to their work, and that is what I reject.

Well, okay, if that is what Johns means, then he is right that parecon does include that. And he would also be right if he said that it is instead possible to propose that people to get income for reasons having literally no connection to what they do in the economy, for example, they could get what they need and provide in accord with their ability. For example, the "Querying Young Chomsky" essay responds to the young Chomsky arguing just that, and a full reply to his formulation is rendered.) But a desire to disconnect income from economic activity, if it is Johns' view, isn't viable, nor I think, is it even equitable. Nor is it argued consistently, by Johns, at any rate.

Some of this point I will get into later, although I would refer people to the interview with Chomsky linked to earlier for discussion of people receiving what they need from society.

A problem with Albert's points here is that he seems unable to break from bourgeois (i.e. capitalistic) concepts. Namely here I'm referring to his comment about disconnecting "income from economic activity". Not only am I saying that "income" should not exist, as money should be abolished, but the entire idea of "economic activity" as a distinct sphere of life separate from everything else I think is inherently capitalistic and should be done away with. As I said, I'll get into this in more detail later.

Johns says he wants to look at the allocation norm from the "perspective of workers in a parecon society." … Johns then adds, however, that he "will base [his] statements on how [he and others] respond to work as workers in the real world now." This is worrisome, to put it mildly, depending on Johns' precise meaning.

Albert then goes on in some detail about how he disagrees with this approach. Myself, I base my ideas on practical evidence in the real world.

So in order to have some idea of how wage workers under parecon will act, I can only go on how wage workers in other societies, such as workers for private capitalists (i.e. owners as Albert describes them) or in state capitalist societies act.

If Albert has counterexamples of societies of wage workers who don't want to work as little as possible for as much money as possible, i.e. who don't have the same fundamental economic interest as workers under capitalism, then I would be very happy to learn from them.

It suggests that we can look at how wage laborers under capitalism act, and we can then predict by transferring the behavior, how workers under parecon would act, because we take as a given that workers under parecon are wage laborers quite like those under capitalism… In other words, if this is what Johns does, it is simply continuing a horribly flawed assertion that if a system has income based on some aspect of what we do in the economy, then that system has workers with interests, motives, and behaviors like those of workers operating in capitalism…
There is nothing necessarily wrong with paying attention to how people act now, unless, of course, this means that one is going to assume that contemporary behavior will persist even in changed institutional settings. It is hard to imagine a libertarian communist thinking such a thing, or evaluating in such a way - given that it would obliterate prospects for any positive claims and hopes at all.

On this last point obviously completely disagree with Albert. Of course, as I am a libertarian communist it should be clear to Albert therefore that he is misrepresenting my views. As of course I do think that there is the possibility of positive change in the world.

Where Albert seems confused again is around the nature of work. We for the most part do not like work which we are compelled to do. For wage workers as a whole across the world, our interest is primarily in our wages, rather than in the work we happen to do (of course, a minority of people to work in an area which they enjoy, however it being work still strips a lot/all of this enjoyment from it).

If we remain wage workers where we are compelled to work to get by, then our interests as workers will still be in earning as much as possible to have as good a standard of living as possible, and in doing as little work as possible.

This does not mean that I do not think that it is possible to act differently, of course. But I believe the only way we will act significantly differently is if we abolish wage work.

As Chomsky points out, when working for ourselves in an un-alienated way we are happy to work hard. This is because it doesn't even feel like work.

At work I try to do as little as possible. But for myself each week I spend dozens of hours working hard on things which I enjoy, which are paid work for other people. For example, web design, editing, cooking, cleaning.

Similarly, when I was at school and I had to read things for school, I just wouldn't do it. I would just put it off and put it off. But for myself I read all the time, for fun.

As I said in my initial article, us humans are naturally inquisitive, creative and productive. But when we are forced to do things we also naturally resist them.

Most proletarians, like me, spend huge amounts of time every week carrying out activities which for some people are paid work, but for fun.

And in a better society, instead of prioritising profit, we can prioritise turning as much currently under its work as possible into fun activities, which we take part in because we enjoy them, or because we get a sense of community from collectively doing what we need to do.

All spying on each other, grassing on who isn't doing what, who is working harder than who and so who should no longer have their needs met is not conducive to this kind of collective effort.

Monitoring effort and sacrifice

Albert goes into some detail on how effort and sacrifice can be monitored under parecon, to determine how workers should be paid.

And to be honest the type of methods he suggests are the ones I criticised in my initial post:

Briefly, duration is, time spent. There is nothing complex about measuring that. Intensity is most easily viewed/measured by workmates, again by looking, working with, etc., but output can certainly also be used as an indicator. Is Joe working like the rest of us, or is Joe taking extra long and frequent breaks and otherwise not exerting? Is Sally, working much harder. with agreement from people that it is okay to do so, taking up more than an average share of responsibility for output?

Now, first of all, there is a problem here in terms of talking about "output". Many employers today talk about that kind of objective measure, however, many of us workers do not have any sort of tangible output to our work which can be measured. How do you measure the "output" of a nurse, or a doctor, or a bus driver, or an educator?

Pretty much all workers' organisations (which are overwhelmingly very conservative compared to "revolutionaries" like parecon advocates or libertarian communist), pushed by their membership oppose monitoring of outputs. For a few reasons, including that they are often meaningless (i.e. monitoring teachers by how well pupils perform mostly is to do with how well off the parents are rather than anything to do with how good the teachers are), they are hugely time-consuming, and most importantly that they make the working environment horrible.

We should (and do) fight against this type of monitoring even under capitalism, let alone in a supposedly free society.

And as for Joe or Sally, rather than spying on them all day seeing if they are taking too many smoke breaks, I would rather get on with my own tasks and trust that however they are acting they have their own reasons.

Often when people suffer bereavement, relationship breakdown or some other kind of problem at home it can mean their work performance is affected. I don't think that grassing on them so that their pay is cut, or alternatively making them tell everyone what may be their own private business so that we can take a vote on whether or not to cut their pay, is a practical response -let alone humane one.

And Albert has completely failed to respond to my point about how intensity/effort would be impossible to measure as you will not be able to tell between a hard-working average person and a gifted slacker. I mean before I became disabled I was able to type 80+ words a minute. Whereas many of my colleagues can only type about 40. If I was to be rewarded by my effort I would not let anyone know that I could type twice as fast as everyone else!

Onerousness, finally, is measured by workmates assessing job roles, again… the bottom line is, who measures these things, who decides issues, who agendizes and acts regarding the workplace, is always the same, in a parecon - the workers self managing that workplace.

Again, as I pointed out in my previous article, if this were introduced at my work we would just collectively vote to give each other the maximum ratings of onerousness for all of our jobs. Certainly, this would be the collectivist thing to do, and I would suspect someone suggesting otherwise would be socially ostracised like a snitch.

As but one example, suppose 100 of us work in a plant. It is part of parecon, has targets for production that fit the self managed participatory plan. We are all workers, there is no boss. Suppose the plan produces the output target as envisioned. The plant is then entitled to 100 times the average income in society. Now how is the income allotted among workers inside the plant? Well, if the plant workforce agreed to requests from 10 workers to work half time, say, and to some other workers to work double hard, or double time, or whatever - all to arrive at the planned output, then incomes would vary due to those differences. If not, incomes would be average for all. If you are convinced workers in a self managing plant would be trying to rip off one another, you might well feel that it could get pretty chaotic. But if not, then not. If the workers wanted to rip off the rest of society, they could all together claim to have worked way more than they did - or harder, which amounts to the same thing. The trouble is, in that case, why wasn't output higher? There is no extra income to disperse if the work did not generate socially valuable output.

As that this example, I must say I'm pretty shocked. This does sound very much like a Soviet style setup. I've already pointed out the problem with measuring "output". But even in this type of factory scenario where concrete outputs could be measured, there are huge numbers of problems.

What if there were problems with the equipment? Or with the component parts? Or with the local energy supply? It would be entirely unfair to cut the wages of everyone working at a factory if they were unable to meet targets due to circumstances out of their own control. And of course different production units could put the blame on each other for any delays. So how could you determine who was really to blame, and who should really have their pay cut?

For those people who doubt the seriousness of this problem, I would suggest reading the texts I linked to in my first article going into the chronic inefficiency of the Soviet Union. Where production for planning targets basically meant that quality dropped. And faulty equipment sabotaged the entire economy.

This seems really odd to me. Parecon is the product of "anti capitalist management consultants"? It would be awfully hard to explain, in that case, how it is that parecon is arguably the only serious economic model out there that emphasizes eliminating the class division between managers - and other coordinator class members monopolizing empowering work…

I'm not going to get into an extended debate about the ridiculous idea of the "coordinator class". But to explain my point about anti-capitalist management consultants I wasn't saying that management consultants now would advise people to have workplace democracy (although some do). The point I was making was that management consultants coming and have grand ideas about what measures can be put in place to improve employee performance - like the parecon idea of reward for effort and sacrifice - which are completely unworkable and even counter-productive in practice.

With the example of performance related pay I gave above, which used to be strongly recommended by many management consultants, it is on its way out in many places in the private sector as its focus on individual reward has been shown to have a negative effect on collective productivity and performance. Collective effort is by far the most important element of work in human society, and in production, as by working collectively we are able to achieve infinitely more than we can as atomised individuals.

Is the impact on workers of this remunerative norm, in in the parecon institutional context, considered. Of course it is - that is the point. The impact is workers do not compete with one another, they have mutually shared interests, they get equitable conditions and claims on social output, they exist without having to repress or resist others with different interests, and so on.

Michael Albert asserts here that workers under parecon will have mutually shared interests. However that is not the case. In a communist society where we receive what we need from society, it is in all of our interests to contribute to society because we enjoy being creative and productive, take part in onerous activity is in order to be socially accepted, and to contribute enough that we can all have what we need.

Under parecon individual workers will get more if they exert more effort, sacrifice more and work longer than other workers (or appear to do so). And if rewards are per enterprise as Albert outlines then it gives workers individual incentives to unfairly down rate their colleagues. Or for example say that work in another department is less onerous than in theirs, so they should be better rewarded. And if their department is bigger then they could vote this through.

The idea of having a collective, proletarian revolution, and then reverting to this type of individualistic or slightly collectivist piecework reward system -which is even more individualistic than many large capitalist or state capitalist employers today to me is completely unthinkable.

Johns says, revealing not only a pretty jaundiced view of working people - that parecon's workers would behave, and not just some of them, but essentially the whole workforce, as he says he would, and this even in an equitable economy, even with self management, even without class rule, etc.

This is perhaps the element of Albert's response which I am most offended by. And I find the point actually quite ironic.

At the centre of my politics is the idea that humans are naturally social, co-operative and productive. And do not need to be coerced into being productive by the threat of destitution or starvation. Advocates of parecon, however, do not accept this view of humans, and believe that we do need to be coerced into being productive by wages and the threat of being denied them if we do not work long hard enough.

That Albert is now claiming I have a "jaundiced" view of working people is hypocritical in the extreme. And furthermore I don't believe is valid (indeed, further down his article he even criticises me for holding the exact opposite view, see below). Far from lazy wage workers being anti-social, or workers resisting work being selfish in doing so I think is entirely laudable.

Self managed alienation and forced work is still alienation and forced work, and I think that collective resistance to alienated and enforced activity is a great thing to be encouraged.

Albert’s verbal attack on workers who would continue to resist sounds a lot like Soviet denunciations of workers who weren't doing their bit to build the glorious socialist society, now that they didn't have owners anymore.

Seriously? After struggling for a new, equitable, self managing, classless economy, what Johns thinks is that in it, to implement equitable remuneration, means spying on one another, etc. Well, I admit that this is a point various parecon advocates do wonder about.

I would like to point out Albert that this spying is exactly what he has advocated in his response to me.

To what extent, in a parecon, with equitable remuneration, would there be tight, or very loose accounting of duration, intensity, and onerousness, and how precisely would workers implement their arrangements? For the latter, however they choose. That is what self management means. For the former, however, I think, for example, that whatever roads lead to its implementation, in a parecon, at least after it has operated for a time, most folks will decide that fraud is a relatively small issue and the need for close attention to claims about duration and intensity is relatively slight, and even the number of levels of remuneration that ought to exist is quite low - as in, say, way over average (meaning perhaps 20% over), over average (meaning 10% over), average, under average (meaning 10% below), and way under average (meaning 20% below). Others might think the range of incomes folks should be entitled to earn should be wider and the precision of them more accurate. Different workplaces might opt for different arrangements. But the main point is, different workers, and different firms and industries, can opt, via self management, for different approaches in their own workplaces ways of measuring and allotting income for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor.

Now, this paragraph doesn't sound that bad. I think that Albert is right to say that in a rationally organised society, fraud would be a minor issue. If you say you are communist people often respond by saying "what would you do about freeloaders?". When actually under capitalism we have huge numbers of "freeloaders". Apart from people who don't work because they don't want to, and the tens of millions of people working in socially useless jobs (like the military, finance, insurance, etc) there are millions more people who want to be productive but are part of the mass of the unemployed.

However, I don't think this is an argument for parecon, but an argument for communism: for people to receive what they need from society.

Especially if Albert is saying that wages would be on a range of 80% of average-120% of average. If that is the case, then what is the point of reward for effort and sacrifice? If you earn doing zero hours worked per week only a tiny bit less than if you work 80 hours a week then why would you bother?

Of course, no one would want to do zero hours of productive activity in a week, because that would be far more onerous than carrying out a good few hours productive activity. But I believe this is evidence that keeping wages is unnecessary.

Other parecon advocates in the comments below my first article also stated that under parecon people would also be paid the average wage while not working, between jobs, or while studying.

And again I believe this demonstrates that all the work and potential problems with measuring and remunerating effort and sacrifice are unnecessary and counter-productive.

Johns says, "Additionally, if effort and sacrifice is what is rewarded, then if your team comes up with some new equipment or new processes which make the work easier, then you would have to do keep them secret, in order not to have your pay reduced. And of course this would be highly detrimental to society as a whole - as a rational economy would be based on trying to minimize the amount of work and effort which would have to be done."

In fact, in parecon there is every interest, for every citizen, in developing technology that reduces the onerousness of labor and increases output per effort expended… And there are no adverse effects from innovations on people's incomes. Why? Because, over time, jobs alter and are balanced, innovations spreading since there are no copyrights, etc.

This doesn't counteract my argument. There still would be the incentive for people to keep innovations secret, as it would enable them to increase their wages while decreasing the amount they had to work and the onerousness of their work.

Albert then goes into a hypothetical case study to try to demonstrate that this would be pointless, however his points are based on poor assumptions. Like saying that the workplace would have a fixed workforce every day. To me it sounds like this counteracts parecon's balanced job complexes. And that people would notice if the workplace was closed. But who's going to be aware of what workplaces are meant to be open when? And it implies that work under parecon will be very similar to how it is now in terms of there being specific workplaces open at specific times. Whereas in a rational economy we should have much more flexibility in terms of where we "work" and when.

Suppose Johns is right that people would do this - and their benefit would be that they spend four hours each day in the workplace playing cards. What would it take to prevent it. How about a job in the economy which is to research workplace effectivity…by visiting. Done.

Here we get to the crux of the problem I think. Albert is acknowledging that parecon would need paid spies to monitor workers. I've already gone into most of my issues with this.

But one point I would like to meet again is that this would be another pointless job which people would have to do, which would actually waste time which we could otherwise use constructively. Rather than me have an "jaundiced" view of working people, I don't think we need to be spied on and compelled. So in effect I guess I'm saying "no u".

And of course many of us who work now have to put up with occasional visits and inspections from outsiders or consultants. And we know how to fool them, I'm afraid. We can put on a show while they're about. So to this Michael could respond, well in that case instead of outside specialist "workplace effectivity (sic)" researchers (who sound a lot like they would be part of a "coordinator class" if you believe in such a thing [and probably look like the guy in the picture at the top of my first article, lol]) you could have people inside workplaces doing this -but then you have managers again. Or at best a Stasi style network of informants. But of course if parecon is open and transparent then these informants would have to be named publicly. And of course their role would set them against their colleagues, so to incentivise them to grass on their coworkers they would have to be rewarded in some way, presumably with additional pay. But then of course you have managers/coordinators again.

But truly, there is no point in us now trying to figure out every variant structure people in the future might opt for. Future workers will decide their own paths. There is point in our determining a set of core institutions that are workable, viable, and that would generate not anti social attitudes, like those Johns claims he would manifest, but solidarity and mutual aid; not domination and subordination, but self management; not class division and class rule, but classlessness.

This point is attempting to be insulting. And I'm sorry to disappoint Michael Albert, but I'm an extremely pro-social individual. Even at work I always go the extra mile to help out my colleagues.

But I repeat my assertion that resisting alienated, enforced labour is not anti-social in the slightest. In fact I think it's about the most pro-social thing you can do!

If bureaucrats in the Soviet Union hadn't paid themselves better than ordinary workers, and say rotated regularly as well, this wouldn't change anything significant about the nature of the Soviet Union. (The little bit of extra salary money spread out wouldn't have made any significant difference to the mass of workers. And the state bureaucrats didn't act the way they did because they were evil people, but because of the institutional roles they occupied and the pressures they came under as a result.) Workers there would still have been right to resist as they did.

Work versus productive activity

I'm feeling bad about having to repeat the same points again and again, especially as I was trying to keep this response brief. But the same strawmen keep cropping up again and again in Albert's response. So sorry to have to repeat this but in response to this:

But the heart of the matter, again, is Johns sad and defeatist slight of hand - that typically is the exact opposite of the mindset of libertarian communists - which the libcom site represents, I believe. That is, the formulation that everyone will try to fuck over everyone else in a good society, merely because they get incomes - which is true in any society - even as they do in a rotten, classist, market system.

As I have already pointed out, this is the exact opposite of my actual point of view. I emphatically do not believe that in a good society (especially one following a proletarian revolution, where collective solidarity would have to have become the most powerful force in society) people will try to fuck each other over.

I think where Albert is having trouble understanding what I'm saying is that I do not believe that parecon is a model of a good, free society, if it contains wages.

Johns says, "if anyone thinks I am over estimating this they would do well to read these accounts of how widespread shirking effectively destroyed East Germany and wore down the Soviet Union." Suppose that was true - which I think in fact it is a large exaggeration of this one factor - it is even in that case amazing to me that Johns doesn't realize, apparently, that what he is saying, which is that as bad as things are, anywhere, is what they must be, everywhere, always. If in the Soviet Union and the U.S. workers try to finagle greater income and less work to whatever degree they can get away with, than that will be true, too, in a parecon, and, I should think, in any system - or else, why in a parecon?

As I have said repeatedly, this tendency has proved correct for wage workers. But not in societies, such as "primitive" communist and some indigenous societies without wage work.

And here is the incredible punchline. Suppose we take Johns at face value. We assume he really feels all this after serious assessment, and that if he hasn't paid much attention to what he is critiquing it is only because he read someone who led him to believe there was no need, because it was so transparently dumb, or something like that. Libcom, and probably Johns, thinks that what we should really favor for remuneration in a good society is that each person should work the amount they choose to, and consume as much as they wish to. This is what the young Chomsky argued, as well. But there is a big difference. The young Chomsky had an optimistic view of workers' motives and inclinations. Johns has a pessimistic one.

This is completely incorrect. I have the same optimistic view as Chomsky.

Johns says, "if a revolution doesn't abolish `work' as a distinct activity separate from the rest of life, then workers will always fight against it."

I have no idea what Johns even thinks he means by this. I would be curious to find out. Work, which is producing socially valuable outputs, is not the same as my taking a bath, washing a floor, raising a child, playing a game, dancing, and so on. If all these latter activities are distinct things we can talk about, then so is work.

I am quite bemused as to why Albert doesn't understand this quite simple point. Albert I'm sure must be aware of the existence of societies where work didn't exist. And I'm sure he must be aware that for the majority of human existence "work" did not exist.

Albert's idea of what work is I think throws up more problems with parecon, including some quite worrying ones. He says quite definitively that washing a floor, raising a child, playing a game and dancing are not "work". And of course he's right in that they are not inherently "work". Many people do those things either for fun or through obligation. But under capitalism all of those things are also "work" which some people are paid wages to do, and these people as a result do not enjoy these activities to the same extent when they are counted as "leisure". And of course they resist them. Cleaners, nursery nurses, play workers and dancers all resist work individually and in many cases do so collectively with strikes to defend or improve their conditions -to either work less and earn more, or slow the rate at which they work more and earn less (sadly under austerity it is more often the latter).

I say worrying because I do find it concerning that the socially "useful" work Albert refers to throughout his response is primarily manufacturing work which historically is predominantly male, whereas the tasks he refers to which do not constitute "work" in his view: cleaning, childcare, etc are predominantly female-dominated and mostly grossly underpaid.

Cleaning, childcare and dance are all needed by society as much as factories.

In a decent society, there will be no distinction between work, play and leisure in this way. Indeed, keeping a distinction can be inherently discriminatory. See all the unpaid work throughout the world carried out by women which is totally unrewarded.

Tasks which need to be done which aren't enjoyable in any way at present, we can try to reorganise to make them as enjoyable and un-onerous as possible. But even now boring tasks like washing up we do anyway without problems as we know that our standard of living with clean dishes is better then without. And if we just expected everyone else to do it for us then we would be socially ostracised.

And of course what matters more than financial reward to everyone is social acceptance and community.

It really is incredible that Johns thinks this constitutes serious analysis. Everything but what he favors must be capitalism in disguise. Somehow it seems that Johns thinks that if we simply say everyone can have anything they say they need, and can do any amount they say they want to do - suddenly everyone will not only behave wonderfully by internal inclination, but also will know quite well what actions constitute behaving wonderfully.

Here Albert has tied himself in a bit of a knot. Having just accused me of having an unacceptably pessimistic view of human nature, he now dismissively implies that I have a naive faith that people will behave naturally "wonderfully". I would say that Albert should make up his mind of what he thinks my views are.

I do think that people are naturally cooperative and social (unless put under external pressure not to be so, as we are under capitalism). And as for knowing what actions specifically "constitute behaving wonderfully", this article has already gone on far too long and I've already said are not interested in the minutiae of a communist society, however I will just say that I don't think paying people according to how hard or long they work helps anyone determine what is a socially beneficial behaviour. And I don't think that Albert has demonstrated anywhere that this would be the case.


In summary, I contend that remuneration by effort and sacrifice: supposedly "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work" would be neither fair nor practical.

And especially if regardless of effort and sacrifice the proposed differences in remuneration were only 80% of the mean wage to 120% of the mean then the building in of complex structures of monitoring and accounting would be a waste of resources. And that's not to even mention the social costs of having people spying on each other.

If, like me, Michael Albert or anyone else does acknowledge that human beings are naturally creative and social, then they should realise that we do not need to be compelled to work as we are now. We don't need the wage system.

In a free society we wouldn't just sit around doing nothing until we starved. We could organise society on the basis of fulfilling human needs and desires in as joyful ways as possible. And we could decide exactly how to do this by ourselves, collectively, at the time.


If, like me, Michael Albert or anyone else does acknowledge that human beings are naturally creative and social, then they should realise that we do not need to be compelled to work as we are now. We don't need the wage system.
Steven Johns