What Is to Be Done? Parecon

by Ben Campbell on July 27, 2012

For the purpose of discussion on left-unity/party-building, I point out two recent pieces. First, from Robin Hahnel, a post entitled What Is to Be Done?, the main points of which I excerpt here:

(1) First and foremost we need to build bigger and stronger progressive reform movements. Old reform movements like the labor, civil rights, student, and environmental movements must be revitalized. New movements like Occupy and the anti-foreclosure movement, led by a new generation of activists, pioneering new tactics, must grow stronger. Otherwise we will never build majoritarian support for change.

We must also build a granddaddy of all movements to launch a “Green New Deal.”

(2) We also need to create more experiments in participatory, equitable cooperation, allowing more people to treat one another in ways that “prefigure” the new society. Without palpable proof that participatory, equitable cooperation is not only possible, but works better than competition and greed for people who embrace it, we will never convince people to support the kind of fundamental system change that will ultimately be necessary. In short, we need to build the beginnings of a “new economy” in the rotting carcass of an economy that has abandoned the 99%.

(3) The left needs an electoral strategy. We cannot simply turn up our noses at “traditional politics” and stand aloof from electoral campaigns. … At this point the odds against electing progressive politicians and holding them accountable to their campaign rhetoric in the US are becoming prohibitive. We live in a two party duopoly where both parties are increasingly beholden to corporations and wealthy donors. So progressives who prioritize electoral work in the US must first and foremost wage major campaigns to win campaign finance reform and proportional representation before there is any hope of imitating the kind of success left political parties like Syriza had recently in Greece. This is a monumental, but necessary task. Since we in the US need to build our own Syriza we must come up with a successful strategy to fix an electoral system that is rigged to make this impossible.

(4) We will also need a strategy to defend popular victories from anti-democratic forces. There is no reason to believe ruling elites will abide by the results of fair elections, or shrink from destroying activist organizations and alternative experiments that challenge their ideology, power, and privilege. We must not only have a strategy to build but a strategy to defend what we build as well. The age of revolutionaries picking up the gun is over. If twenty-first century politics gives way to warfare we will lose. Therefore, our defense strategy – and we will need one — must be centered on organizing for massive resistance and non-compliance since no elite, no matter how well armed, can rule unless we, the people, carry out their orders.

And along the lines of point #2, An Open Message to All Who Seek A New and Better World, signed by Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky and a few dozen others (although not Hahnel):

We are members of what is called the the Interim Consultative Committee of the International Organization for a Participatory Society – or IOPS for short.

IOPS is actually an interim entity, pending a future founding convention. IOPS was convened just a few months ago and already has over 2,100 members from 85 countries and a ten language site, despite that it is barely known publicly. IOPS is currently building local chapters, which will unite to form national branches that in turn will compose an international organization.

We send this open letter to invite you to please visit the IOPS Site to examine its initial features – including especially and most importantly its Mission and Visionary and Programmatic Commitments.

The IOPS commitments emerged from a long process of discussion and debate. We believe they correspond closely to the most prevalent, advanced, and widely accessible political beliefs on which to build an organization for winning a better world.

We also hope and even believe that if you read and consider the IOPS commitments, you will likely find that they are congenial to your interests and desires and that they provide reason for great hope that IOPS can become a very important organization in the coming years.

If we had to summarize the IOPS commitments, we would note that they emphasize:

  • that IOPS focuses on cultural, kinship, political, economic, international, and ecological aims without a priori prioritizing any of these over the rest;
  • that IOPS advocates and elaborates key aspects of vision for a sustainable and peaceful world without sexism, heterosexism, racism, classism, and authoritarianism and with equity, justice, solidarity, diversity, and, in particular, self-management for all people
  • and that IOPS structurally and programmatically emphasizes planting the seeds of the future in the present, winning immediate gains on behalf of suffering constituencies in ways contributing to winning its long term aims as well, developing a caring and nurturing organization and movement, and welcoming and even fostering constructive dissent and diversity within that organization and movement and based on its commitments.

We think hundreds of thousands of people, in fact, millions of people, will, on reading the commitments, overwhelmingly agree with them. We hope that if you look at the commitments and feel that way, you will join and advocate that others join as well. If you instead have problems with the IOPS commitments, we hope you will make your concerns known so a productive discussion can ensue.

On the other hand, we also understand that agreeing with the IOPS commitments will not alone cause those same hundreds of thousands and even millions of people to join IOPS. There are numerous reasons why a person might support the IOPS commitments and even hope that IOPS grows and becomes strong and effective at the grassroots, in every neighborhood, workplace, and social movement, and yet, at the moment, not join. Our best effort to summarize obstacles people may feel to joining even while they like the IOPS commitments, and to address those obstacles also appears on the IOPS site, in a Why Join IOPS Question and Answer format. Essentially we argue: If not now, when? If not us, who?

Asked to provide a succinct summary paragraph for the IOPS site about his involvement, Noam Chomsky wrote: “Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear appeals – often laments – from people deeply concerned about the travails of human existence and the fate of the world, desperately eager to do something about what they rightly perceive to be intolerable and ominous, feeling helpless because each individual effort, however dedicated, seems to merely chip away at a mountain, placing band-aids on a cancer, never reaching to the sources of needless suffering and the threats of much worse. It’s an understandable reaction that all too often leads to despair and resignation. We all know the only answer, driven home by experience and history, and by simple reflection on the realities of the world: join together to construct and clarify long-term visions and goals, along with direct engagement and activism shaped by these guidelines and contributing to a deepening of our understanding of what we hope to achieve… IOPS strikes the right chords, and if the opportunities it opens are pursued with sufficient energy and participation, diligence, modesty, and desire, it could carry us a long way towards unifying the many initiatives here and around the world and combining them into a powerful and effective force.”

And as Cynthia Peters wrote: “You hear it all the time. There is always another urgent crisis. They don’t just come in a steady stream, they seem to multiply geometrically. More draconian policies with life-threatening consequences, more corporate control, more prisons, more bombs, more funerals. With so many immediate fires to put out in our day-to-day organizing work, how can we make time to attend to larger issues, such as long-term strategy, vision, and movement building? IOPS creates the space for us to do the essential work of movement building and envisioning and then seeking a better world. Without these elements, we’ll continue to work in isolation. By enlivening and enriching IOPS with your presence, you will both give solidarity to and receive solidarity from so many others — across the world — in the same situation — up to their necks in the daily fight, and at the same time turning their creativity and energy towards revolutionary social change. That is not just good company. It’s the solid beginnings of another world being possible.”

We hope you will join us as we try to make it so.


Ezequiel Adamovsky – Argentina
M Adams – U.S.
Michael Albert – U.S.
Jessica Azulay – U.S.
Elaine Bernard – U.S.
Patrick Bond – South Africa
Noam Chomsky – U.S.
Jason Chrysostomou – UK
John Cronan – U.S.
Ben Dangl – U.S.
Denitsa Dimitrova – UK/Bulgaria
Mark Evans – UK
Ann Ferguson – U.S.
Eva Golinger – Venezuela
Andrej Grubacic – Balkans/U.S.
Pervez Hoodbhoy – Pakistan
Antti Jauhiainen – Finland
Ria Julien – U.S./Trinidad
Dimitris Konstanstinou – Greece
Pat Korte – U.S.
Yohan Le Guin – Wales
Mandisi Majavu – South Africa
Yotam Marom – U.S.
David Marty – Spain
Preeti Paul – UK/India
Cynthia Peters – U.S.
John Pilger – UK/Aus
Justin Podur – Canada
Nikos Raptis – Greece
Paulo Rodriguez – Belgium
Charlotte Sáenz – Mexico/U.S.
Anders Sandstrom – Sweden
Boaventura de sousa Santos – Portugal
Lydia Sargent – U.S.
Stephen Shalom – U.S.
Vandana Shiva – India
Chris Spannos – U.S.
Verena Stresing – France/Germany
Elliot Tarver – U.S.
Fernando Ramn Vegas Torrealba – Venezuela
Taylon Tosun – Turkey
Marie Trigona – U.S.
Greg Wilpert – Germany/Venezuela/U.S.
Florian Zollman – Germany

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Arthur July 30, 2012 at 10:10 am

Smells like another wave of ecumenical uniting – as the churches decline, they huddle together.


Brian S. July 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Just had a look at this: its certainly, as Arthur says, Ecumenical. My take on the epoch is something like the following: the disintegration of the Soviet Union (which, in its stalinist form I had no truck with) represented a watershed in the 20th century socialist project. We are now thrown back into position similar to that which socialism faced in say, the 1870s. We have no consensual grand plan, no “actually existing” forms that we can point to as guides (even deformed ones) but there is a fertile soil of capitalist crisis and popular resistance, a myriad of small groupings and diverse projects, a host of varying schemes and utopias. Its impossible to anticipate what forms of organistion, lines of thought, or strategic visions will provide significant vehiclse for the next advance. So: “let a hundred flower blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”


Brian S. July 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

PS: lets hope the name is “Interim”


Arthur July 31, 2012 at 8:09 am

I agree there is currently no grand plan or guide and its impossible to anticipate what forms of organization etc will be significant and that a hundred flowers should blossom and a thousand schools of thought contend.

But it is easy to anticipate that the attempts at ecumenical unity aim at preserving the existing pseudo-left whereas its collapse is a necessary precondition for something worthwhile to emerge.

Also I don’t think the collapse of the Soviet Union was a watershed. Both the broader 1960s movement and the small “hard left” that emerged from it had disintegrated more than a decade earlier. It is a mark of their absence that so many of the pseudo-left since have been able to get away with viewing the collapse of the East European police states as some kind of defeat (anyone even mildly progressive welcomed it at the time). Even more bizarre is their clinging to the successor Putin regime and China. But such symptoms of absence should not be confused with a turning point or watershed. (At the time I hoped it would be a watershed by taking a lot of the pseudo-left down with it, but that didn’t happen).

Slightly off topic but while I’m at it, these issues are long term but the revolution in Syria is immediate. Actually launching a serious left solidarity movement that aims to help the Syrians, in particular by active pressure for US military action, will do more to help schools of thought contend than any other current initiative.

I hope the next articles here include explicit demands for the US to immediately destroy the Syrian regime’s air force and ground its helicopter gunships and a polemic against hiding behind the Russian veto at the UN as an excuse for inaction.

That involves a tacit admission that a lot of things people here have advocated concerning the UN and the US military are not applicable to the current situation in Syria. I hope you can make that explicit since it will certainly be obvious. Analysis of whether you were wrong before can be postponed till later if necessary. But don’t let embarassment about the inconsistency with past positions inhibit serious solidarity now.

Serious solidarity now means of course solidarity action that actually helps make a difference. Speeding up the application of US air power would be the most serious contribution we could possibly make. Simply disassociating from the disgusting apologetics of the pseudos is nowhere near what serious solidarity requires.


Brian S. July 31, 2012 at 8:34 am

On Syria, I think your proposed response is simplistic at best and dangerous at worst. But there’s a lot to be discussed here. But I’m going to post more on this in my On the Ground…” thread.


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