Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Future Fantasy or Appropriate Agendaby Michael Albert
Humanity's Big TaskAt some point a revolution will transform the U.S. economy, polity, kinship, and culture - and similar revolutions will transform other countries too. Such a revolutionary process will include diverse movements and organizations working together for sought changes. In that light, this essay considers the possibility of building an International Organization for a Participatory Society, or IOPS, that would be structured to seek council-based self-management in a classless participatory economy, a feminist kinship sphere, an intercommunalist culture, and a participatory polity - that is, to win a participatory society. Is it time to explicitly begin, however tentatively, the steps that can lead to eventually creating such an institution? Or, alternatively, must we wait for some more propitious moment at some distant point to even begin laying groundwork? First, do we confidently know if it is possible now or in the near future to usefully begin laying groundwork for a new organization? No, we don't, of course. Second, can we find out if it is possible now or in the near future by any means other than trying? I doubt it. But third, should we even want to find out? Should we even want to have a new organization, sooner, rather than later? I tend to think if we can begin the process, we should. Even highly preliminary preparatory work could help generate coherence of vision and strategy. It could connect diverse efforts, multiply resources and provide services. Finally, if it carried through to success, the work would contribute to developing a vehicle for the growth and development of positive activism. Can we do this? Should we be starting to work toward doing it? Some will say yes. Others will say no. The former will likely think that it is never too early to begin important tasks. The latter will think it is now too early. We don't have enough capable folks to participate. There isn't a broad framework we can start with and expand upon. To further consider even just the possibility of beginning to lay the groundwork for seeking an new organization, first we might describe main features we might anticipate such an organization having sometime in the future after it stabilizes and is contributing to transforming society. Second, we might envision a period hopefully just a little in our future where a fledgling International Organization for a Participatory Society, or IOPS, has attributes consistent with getting to the longer-term condition. Third, from that short-term conception, we might then discern a possible agenda of immediate prerequisite tasks to perhaps tackle now, as first explicit steps in a long journey. Finally, we can then sensibly ask, can we take these preliminary steps, or must we put them off.
IOPS After StabilizingWe don't know how far down the road a well functioning IOPS is - but I think we know it is somewhere, and that creating it is a worthy task, and that to get started with initial precursor work we don't need a precise future image or timeline. Indeed, we we only need a plausible picture of a possible future whose final details, texture, and timing will of course vary from our initial image. Also, we aren't talking about well after a revolution, or even very near one, we are talking about a nearer moment when an organization has been born and grown so it will clearly be a major player in winning a new world system which is, however, yet to be won. So, looking into this hopefully not too distant future, we can "see," or, if you prefer, we can imagine that there is an International Organization for Participatory Society. This envisioned IOPS has, as we envision it years down the road, organizations in dozens of countries which together compose regional federations stretching continent wide. Composing the national organizations, in turn, we see hundreds or perhaps thousands of local chapters that extend all the way down to neighborhoods or even to city blocks or apartment houses. These chapters all focus attention on their own areas, but also federate to constitute town, city, county, state, and national organizations. In short, this IOPS we envision is an international federation of layers of organization with each unit in the whole addressing some area's constituency population. Microscoping our view, what might characterize a chapter? Roughly, for our exercise, realizing things can change as we learn more, we can plausibly envision that a chapter might be from 10 to 500 people from a local area such as a living group, neighborhood, town, or city. Such a chapter might start, in this picture of possibilities, with 5 to 10 members as a minimum number required to attain chapter status. Maybe a particular chapter starts in a city. As it grows, however, it begins to have enough members from some encompassed sub-area to spin off a chapter for a smaller local constituency. For example, a New York City organization might begin with 10 or 20 people for the whole city. As the organization grows, it spins off a bunch of chapters, each covering a neighborhood, or in NYC a borough. In time, chapters for Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, etc. grow and spin off chapters for smaller locales such as neighborhoods or even just a large apartment house. Perhaps the lower limit for a chapter can cover be an area with a population no less than 500. So you might go from having 10 or 20 people begin a chapter for NYC, to having 20 or more people in dozens or even hundreds of chapters inside NYC, such as in apartment complexes, city blocks, or school dorms with the sum of all the local chapters composing borough chapters, and the sum of those composing the NYC organization. Telescoping our vision out a bit, what might be a national organization? Well, it might be at least 5 city or county chapters federated into a countrywide organization. And what might be a continental? Well, how about at least 5 nationals federated together across a continent. And would there be other bases for group organization within IOPS? Yes, looking ahead, I think we can anticipate or envision that minority cultural communities, women, gays, and perhaps other constituencies within IOPS at many levels, would want to have a means by which they can engage with one another within their constituency without having others not in their constituency present - a room of their own, to use however they decide. These constituency groupings likely wouldn't be chapters, since it would make little sense to say some neighborhood's group, or an apartment complex's group is a chapter, but so are all women, blacks, gays, or whatever other constituency. What might make sense, however, looking forward, is that within chapters or larger units like city, country, or national organizations, there could be caucuses of people from the lower positions in society's social, economic, and power hierarchies, to guard against replication of any of those oppressive relations within the organization as well as to develop related vision, strategy, and program. So, continuing our hypothetical look at the future, we can plausibly imagine that by the time IOPS has grown into a large, steadily growing, coherent, and lasting player in the effort to build a new world, it has, let's say, 50,000 members each of whom belongs to a local chapter which federated together compose larger area, town, city, county, national, and continental organizations, and finally, all together, IOPS itself. Presumably the full membership, given that the organization likely focuses on economy, polity, culture, kinship, ecology, and international relations, would be highly diverse in gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc., with caucuses at every level, though most members would be working class. Microscoping our view back down, again, what might it mean to be a member? Keeping in mind that we are flexibly and fluidly hypothesizing this picture pending more experience broadening our views, if this organization ia to help attain and melt into a future participatory society, it will presumably have to nurture members who know that goal and function in accord with it. One type member, we can predict, might be a person in a chapter, working with fellow chapter members on local program and also contributing to national and international policy and program. Such a member would presumably not only advocate the overall IOPS vision and at least much of its program, but also help support the organization with dues and by fulfilling task responsibilities. To honor and implement equitable remuneration and expenditure, we might anticipate that IOPS dues would be ample, but also account for the means at people's disposal. We might also anticipate many people wanting to become members who are, however, not organized together with other folks sufficiently to be in a chapter where they live or work. This, we might guess, would be acceptable, as a way to get started in IOPS, but perhaps it perhaps only for some period of time after which chapter membership would become essential as a means of full involvement and responsibility. So it might be that there are two levels of sustained involvement over the long haul - being a full member in a chapter or as a temporarily at large member, or being a member without chapter for the long term, where the latter would presumably have fewer responsibilities as well as less voting influence. That's a reasonable guess, in any case. But what might IOPS look like, internally? IOPS, with its participatory society agenda, would, we can reasonably guess, at every level embody seeds of the future in the present. Power over program and policy would arise from the base, which is to say from the local chapters, with large-scale policy representing a sum of local initiatives or arising from national or larger initiatives that are collectively and cooperatively agreed to by the whole organization. Chapters would presumably often work together, we can guess, like councils would work together in a new society's participatory polity, nested and federated into layers that address steadily larger domains and populations. Each chapter, of any size, would presumably have responsibility for its own goings on, but with its agendas always decided in context of the IOPS overall umbrella of principles and priorities that all chapters contribute to determining and therefore readily accept. This autonomy with solidarity would, we can anticipate, facilitate self-management in a setting of mutual entwinement. Within chapters, at every level, and also among chapters across levels, decisions would presumably be taken by procedures chosen by those involved, though in every case one goal would presumably be to convey to all parties affected by decisions roughly, on average, influence proportionate to the effect on them - or self management. IOPS would in this sense be an assemblage of mutually informed and engaged constituencies cooperatively taking care of their own and of each other's well being and mutually aiding each other's work, all in a self-managing manner. For decisions, then, we can plausibly envision that sometimes consensus might make sense. Sometimes democratic majority rule or some other decision procedure might make sense. Sometimes deliberation might be long. Sometimes deliberation might be quick. Sometimes challenges might be drawn out to address serious differences by careful negotiations. Sometimes challenges might be rapid and results swiftly settled even with differences persisting. Sometimes a decision would be for a small chapter and therefore taken by only its members. Sometimes a decision would be for a borough, or a city, or a national federation of chapters, or even for the whole IOPS. But what might this IOPS actually do? It might do many things, of course, contoured to the various levels of constituency and their needs, as well as to the wishes and capacities of chapters. We can't, and have no need to now imagine details, but we can at least broadly imagine some categories of IOPS program. Part of the IOPS focus would surely be reaching out to new people. IOPS, we can be confident, would therefore raise consciousness of aims and methods and inspire involvement with and eventual membership in the organization. IOPS would try to build trust, competence, and commitment. Part of the focus would also certainly be building the organization as well as projects that would enhance IOPS program, meet needs of members and diverse constituencies, and explore future social relations. IOPS would no doubt construct aspects of the new world and means to reach it in the present. And part of the focus would also, it is safe to say, be struggle for immediate change, as in posing, battling for, and winning demands against elite opposition. IOPS would no doubt contest elites to win changes that benefit members and constituencies and create conditions for further gains to follow. Clearly, each of these three broad types of activity - commitment building, construction, and contestation - would inform and enrich the other two types. Membership growth and deepening commitment would fuel the ability to win demands and build new institutions. Organizational construction would foreshadow the future and in so doing embolden and orient struggles and also provide means to apply energies while inspiring and deepening involvements. And fighting for and winning demands would fuel membership growth as well as win conditions suitable to continued struggle and further victories. In other words the three types of activity - commitment building, construction of alternative structures, and contestation over demands - would each occur at every stage of IOPS development and would each continually inform and enhance the other two forms, from the level of a neighborhood, apartment complex, or college dorm, up through cities and nations, continents and the whole IOPS. But what specifically might commitment building involve? Envisioning a future IOPS and imagining people joining and becoming involved, we can reasonably predict that commitment building would certainly involve communicating goals and methods of social change efforts, sincerely welcoming involvement in social change efforts, supportively eliciting confidence and leadership suited to social change efforts, and modestly teaching skills and enriching social ties and connections critical to social change efforts. Commitment always takes trust. Commitment also always requires a degree of stability in one's life, and of confidence in one's capacities, plus a sense of the worthiness of one's contributions. We might anticipate, therefore, that at the future time we are envisioning, IOPS will have features that enrich member's lives - including their social ties, their personal sense of involvement and worth, and even their enjoyment in personal relations, entertainments, and learning - all by providing ways of meeting, joining up, celebrating, learning, etc. In a sense, IOPS might, in this picture, function not only as a venue for winning change, but as a kind of mini society, delivering to its membership the full range of challenges and fulfillments that societies ought to provide to their citizens, and thus winning lasting allegiance and loyalty. But how would this kind of commitment building happen? Commitment building could happen in a multitude of ways, including using media to educate or inspire and learning by the example of involvement, through conferences or schools, or via face-to-face conversation. Commitment requires sharing a coherent vision and broad strategic approach, methods of analysis, etc. and so would involve continually enriching and refining and sharing all these. But in addition IOPS would likely create lasting trust and supportive ties by providing a space that enriches members' lives and furthers their sense of involvement and their personal growth and social pleasures. Perhaps to this end IPOS would provide day care support, social evenings and dinners, cultural events, sports teams and events, help with housing and food, and so on. More, we might wonder, how would IOPS deal with difficulties that arise among members or with other people outside the organization? How would it adjudicate disputes? The answer would presumably emerge from its vision for how this should occur in a participatory society. Once that vision starts to exist and be shared, in other words, key aspects of related organization and operations for the present would likely follow from it. But what would success at commitment building with a given person entail? With IOPS, because it will be seeking a participatory society and not a new top down structure, what would count as success, we can reasonably guess, might be having a person become not just an advocate of sought goals - participatory economics, participatory polity, feminism, intercommunalism, etc. - but a possessor of those goals. In other words, the IOPS we envision would likely want each new member to understand IOPS goals, structure, and program not only so as to be able to describe and justify them, but so as to refine and adapt and implement them in present work and into the future. Building commitment for IOPS and its chapters would therefore not entail amassing followers but, instead, we can envision, welcoming and nurturing equals. This can perhaps be made a bit more precise, even at this early stage. IOPS would, by our presumptions about its reason for being, seek a revolution that addresses all the major dimensions of social life. As a result, it would surely need members who confidently share vision and methods for the whole project in all its dimensions. Thus, IOPS would presumably have an anti racist or intercommunal, an anti sexist or feminist, an anti authoritarian or anarchistic, and an anti classist or participatory economic approach. More, it would likely adopt vision emerging from the past, recent, and continuing experiences of the involved constituencies, all fitting into long term aims. More, IOPS would presumably not only reject replicating present hierarchies internally; it would prioritize constructing the liberated social relations of a participatory society. In a very real sense this future established IOPS, we can therefore reasonably guess, might develop its internal organization and carry out its external policies roughly as if it was a participatory society. Succeeding with outreach would therefore mean incorporating new people into all these dimensions of active involvement. But what would contesting demands mean? IOPS and all movement organizations and projects seeking a participatory society would presumably continually struggle to win changes. Sometimes the sought changes would address a local level - maybe a zoning issue, or local noise or air pollution, or higher wages in some firm, or a new local government policy. Other times the sought gains might address a larger constituency, such as a city, state, country, or even the world. Thus, there could be struggles over a city budget, a state investment project, a national law like affirmative action or the length of the work day or content of mainstream media policies, or about an international issue such as a war, the IMF, or global warming. The main point, however, is that efforts to win gains at any level will, we can plausibly predict, always be conducted by IOPS in a non-reformist way. In other words, the language used, style of organizing, demands formulated, structures created, ethos and culture of the struggle, analysis employed, and broader longer run aims discussed when justifying the movement, would all point as much as conditions permit toward on-going struggle for the new society rather than taking for granted the continuation of current defining structures. A fight for higher wages might talk about pareconish norms of remuneration relevant to a better economy. A fight over electoral laws might talk about participatory political priorities and structures. A fight for a shorter workday might incorporate additional features to make the campaign also address redistribution of income or influence, or perhaps the corporate division of labor, explicitly developing awareness and additional desires about each. In other words, the contestation that IOPS would presumably pursue in any domain and at any level would not just seek to win the immediately sought innovation, but would also prioritize raising consciousness, solidifying commitment, and developing the organized wherewithal of all participants to attain long-term goals. But what would construction of our own alternative structures mean and entail? People, including people on the left, have needs. To a degree we can create our own institutions to address them. We can therefore envision that an IOPS would help create publishing operations, but also perhaps day care centers, bars, restaurants, meeting centers, community halls, and who knows what else, as it grows. These creations would presumably all employ structures and exemplify values that IOPS seeks for society. This is easy to say, of course, harder to do, but we can certainly imagine that a well-established IOPS would implement many such endeavors. We can also imagine that its own internal structure would be similarly exemplary and that IOPS might constructively urge other left projects and institutions to incorporate future oriented defining features as well - for example balanced job complexes, self-management, etc. In short, IOPS would presumably create future-oriented arrangements partly to meet members' needs, partly to create lasting community and meaningful trust, and partly to experiment with and learn from partial implementation of sought goals. IOPS would be about resisting and rejecting what is bad, of courses, but we can envision that it might also be even more about constructing and celebrating what is good.
Summarizing A Successful IOPSSo we have a picture, broadly, of quite a few features of a potentially worthy new organization that we may hope to see operating at some point in the future. IOPS, as we here envision it, would span countries, for example, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, the UK, Spain, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, India, Australia, Korea, Japan, and so on. It would also span continents, North and South America, Europe, Asia, etc. But even more important, it would be built on local chapters that each address areas with a population down to as low as a few hundred. All told, at the future time we are envisioning, which is well before revolutionary change but well into the successful founding and initial development of IOPS, perhaps 50,000 or more members would belong to the new organization and therefore possess IOPS's shared vision for a participatory society and its broad shared strategic commitments. Members, as we have envisioned this future, would mostly be organized in chapters, and all would contribute time and funds to operations. They would be culturally diverse but largely from constituencies with the most to gain from economic, political, sexual, kinship, and cultural revolutions. Members would presumably work on consciousness raising, construction of organization, and contestation over demands. They would likely do their work local chapter by local chapter, as well as in campaigns at larger city, national, and regional scales. Program at all levels would presumably focus on issues of economy, polity, gender/kinship, culture/race, ecology, and international relations. Demands would be chosen and methods of struggle pursued, at least as we have envisioned this particular path forward, always to win gains in the present but also to fuel further growth and commitment in the future. Activities would likely emphasize meeting members' needs and developing their talents and skills, as well as furthering their mutual ties and trust. IOPS organization and structure, as we have envisioned, would embody the values and social relations envisioned for the future revolutionized society. Diversity, solidarity, equity, justice, sustainability, peace, and self-management would presumably be paramount guides to IOPS decision-making, job allocation, finances, etc. Similarly, projects undertaken by IOPS or by IOPS members would, we are guessing, incorporate as many features of future participatory society as possible, particularly regarding all the major realms of social life. So the question arises, what steps might usefully be taken at the outset, even as early as this year, to prepare for getting off the ground and eventually attaining the above well functioning IOPS?
IOPS Gestation and BirthWell first, what would a very young, fledgling, possible IOPS need to look like, broadly speaking, to be able to mature into the successful IOPS envisioned above? Well, from the beginning of explicit active collective efforts to conceive and lay the groundwork for IOPS, to the organization's date of founding, let's say, people involved would have to have developed, or at least to be steadily developing, vision regarding all spheres of life, broad strategic commitments for struggle in all spheres of life, and probably also a fair number of chapters, say twenty to fifty in ten to twenty countries, that could provide a model and a basis for further development, as well as lift morale and provide infrastructure for having program. The proto pre-founding membership would presumably have to be diverse and quite competent and committed, perhaps as many as 3,000 people, or more. The organization would likely need even at its founding, a means for new chapters to form and become active, a means for at large membership to join and in turn, when able, to establish new chapters, and a means for new chapters to bud off of existing chapters. It would likely need to have, even at founding, decision procedures and internal organizational guidelines and features conducive to the participatory future envisioned for it, including caucuses, etc. It would likely have to either before or certainly not long after founding generate serious participation in shared large scale as well as local programs, promote self-management regarding all program and policy, and have literature and web offerings and also lots of public speakers for outreach. It would likely also, even at the time of first founding, need diverse means of internal education to develop new members and to keep older ones up to date, and would likely have to have many people ready to make a compelling and inspiring case for joining and working on IOPS campaigns, and ready for public speaking, writing, etc. It would also likely need to have at least the beginning of various social construction projects knitted into mutual support to together help fulfill members' needs, and to provide ties to construction efforts and their lessons. And it would likely also need workable methods for internal adjudication and for financial policies including dues, budgeting, mutual aid for members, etc. This is a very big list of achievements needed even just to found the type of really serious and productive organizational network we have been talking about. It isn't going to happen overnight, of course. But could people, if the scenario makes sense, begin usefully working on it even now?
Possible Tasks We Face TodayWhat would diverse people need to do, right now, to get collectively in position to found an organization like the IOPS discussed above? One could imagine countless possible initial tasks, but I suspect all such lists would contain at least most of the following, plus their own refinements: · Establish shared vision for all sides of life with some parts universally accepted but other parts still in contention, and have methods for further elaboration, exploration, debate, and sharing of results. · Establish broad strategic priorities and norms, again with methods for further exploration and for testing contending perspectives, sharing results, etc. · Establish a plan for internal organizational structure including decision-making methodology, adjudication methodology, dues structure, chapter definition and structure, role and structure of caucuses, etc. · Generate ample explanatory literature, video, and audio, a rich and highly expandable web site, perhaps a logo and name and design look, and means of continuously developing and disseminating more literature, video, etc. · Generate public speakers/organizers and effective means of internal skills development and education. · Gather steadily growing allegiance from prospective members and establish, where possible and plausible, groups that could later become chapters. · Conceive components of program to enact after founding, as well as means for steadily refining, changing, and adopting or rejecting new program. Let's suppose a group or perhaps many groups of people strongly committed to the broad project of founding a new organization like IOPS, collectively, very cautiously and patiently, tentatively began to self consciously undertake the above tasks and managed, in time, to complete them sufficiently to provide a basis for getting started. Along the way, suppose they together created what would become some chapters and projects and these began to accept new members and even line up potential at large members who would later establish new chapters. And suppose program ideas began to emerge and various features like internal education began to take shape. After further development, based on all these achievements, suppose the time became right, the preparations were sound, and the groupings of active participants held a founding convention representing thousands of initial very well versed, highly committed participants, then reaching out more broadly. Is that conceivable? Perhaps there is something in the broad picture that is impossible to begin working on now, but if so, I don't see what it is. Perhaps there is something in the broad picture that would inexorably mean the founding would be negative, rather than positive, for social change - but again, I don't see what it is. Yes, organization can be an albatross, as can vision, or strategy, or even just knowledge, if they are held in a sectarian manner and/or horribly flawed. But that a bad organization or program or idea can be an albatross is not an argument against a good organization with good program and good ideas. A real argument against beginning to explicitly undertake this type effort now, cautiously, carefully, and patiently, would be that there are simply not enough people who would work hard to make it happen so that the effort would be wasted due to being premature - or there is not enough diversity as yet to ensure balanced development, or there is no hope for generating enough agreement any time in the foreseeable future to either do a good job with the preparatory tasks or to spread beyond a tiny circle. Why, however, would there not be enough people? And isn't attaining diversity a difficult task, but one that must be undertaken in any case? And can it really be true that good concepts can't galvanize ample agreement? And at any rate what is going to change, to arrive at a time better suited to taking up this task? Some will say that what will change is that we will have many more years of people engaging in struggles about painful aspects of society and horrible societal ills such as global warming, poverty, war, etc.- albeit without overarching shared organization, ties, and vision. But the fact is we have already had decades of that kind of struggle, and if it that kind of engagement can prepare us to take another step, then presumably it has already prepared us to do so. Or we might want to find out, at any rate. My guess is that only our trying to do this will tell us if we can do it. To me, due to having some feel for how many people are asking for this type of organizational step and for how many people are already trying to create chapters but are doing so in isolation and horribly dragged down by doubts and loneliness, and for how many people are potentially eager to align and to join such an undertaking but have no route to doing so - and for how important successful multi faceted and widely rooted organization is to morale and effectiveness, it does seem like it is time to try - or, more accurately, to try to try. Without some audacity, what ever gets done? Without risking failure, what success is ever achieved? As of now, there is no call to be made. There is no organization to be founded. Hard work may, however, bring the time of those occurrences closer if a considerable number of people in various parts of the world, hopefully engaging constructively with one another, soon explicitly begin the long project of laying a proper groundwork for a founding. The birth of a new vehicle of revolutionary work in my country, the U.S., and in other countries all around the world, is not going to happen by itself, magically, at some amazing conjuncture of stars or of smiles or of frowns. Tears won't do it. Nor will mere desire do it, however heartfelt. It will not happen just because more people, or new people, are angered by societal crimes and become involved in fighting them. People will need to do difficult work with very explicit intentions before it will happen. Why not us? And why not try to take first steps, however modest they must be, now?
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