"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Thursday, March 27, 2008


In the following interview, Michael Albert expounds on his vision of the participatory economic model that he calls PARECON. Visit his website for more information (link below). - Editor

Michael Albert – On Participatory Economics

Source: http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=46

Michael Albert has coined Parecon (participatory economics) as a term denoting a new type of post-capitalist, self-managing economy. He hopes that Parecon can help inspire and inform activism that wins a new type of classless economy.

An interview to Pavlos Hatzopoulos for Re-public

Pavlos Hatzopoulos: Is Parecon (participatory economics) a blueprint for a future society beyond capitalism?
Michael Albert: It depends what you mean by the word blueprint, but I would say no, it isn’t. Can you imagine, for example, a blueprint for capitalism? I can’t. I could imagine, I guess, a very detailed specification of capitalism as it appears in some country, say in the U.S., or in some other country, say Sweden or Thailand, each of which would differ from one another in countless respects, of course. But even if such a blueprint could be produced, I don’t know what anyone would do with it.

I can also imagine, however, a description of key institutions central to all instances of capitalism, despite the many detailed differences each specific instance has from country to country and time to time. That would be a description of markets for allocation, of private ownership of productive assets, of remuneration for power and property and to an extent output, and of corporate divisions of labor. It would be skeletal and therefore not a blueprint, but it would be nonetheless important in specifying key attributes so that we could say useful things about capitalism per se, which is to say, about all instances of capitalism.

Parecon gives that kind of broad skeletal picture of a type or range of self-managing, classless economies that could come in many instances in different countries, times, etc. To provide that broad picture, or vision, parecon specifies key defining institutions including workers and consumers’ councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and participatory planning. Parecon is therefore not a blueprint of another type of economy, but it is rather a broad description of central features of another type of economy. It is what we need, I think, if we are to be convincing that such an economy is possible and would be desirable.

You also ask about society, not economy, in that you ask if parecon is a blueprint of a new type society. Parecon isn’t even a picture of defining features of a new type participatory society, only of an economy. There is a big difference. To have a broad description of a societal vision rather than just an economic vision would entail having not only a picture for a new type economy–for example, parecon—but also a vision of key features of a new culture, polity, kinship, and perhaps some other aspects of society as well.

So, the bottom line is that parecon offers a picture of key defining features of a new type of post-capitalist, self-managing, and classless economy. It could be part of a picture of a new type of society, yes, but it certainly isn’t itself such a picture.

P.H.: In what sense is Parecon an initiative coming from below?

M.A.: In every sense that I can imagine. After all, what does “coming from below” actually mean? Presumably by “coming from above” you would mean thought up and imposed from some top-down perspective and serving elite interests, as well.

Parecon emerges, instead, from decades -really centuries- of grassroots activism and struggle to attain a classless economy. It learns from past experiments, both successes and failures, as well as from current ones. It is written accessibly, offered publicly. It welcomes and seeks debate, refinement, critique. It doesn’t favor some elite but embodies, instead, classlessness.

Ultimately, however, the extent to which parecon will be adopted and widely held by broad popular constituencies who make it their own, is still to be seen. That will depend on many variables, not least on its merits. Wide public advocacy by popular movements is of course the aim. The hope is that parecon can help inspire and inform activism that wins a new type of classless economy. I don’t know what “from below” would mean, if not these things.

Parecon and contemporary social movements

P.H.: Would you see Parecon as the answer to the question of what does the movement for an alternative globalization want?

M.A.: No, and also yes. That is, a movement against corporate globalization is almost by definition for internationalism, which means it is for some kind of equitable and solidaritious approach to trade and exchange among people internationally. Thus it would be against the IMF and World Bank and other institutions that seek to maintain or worsen the bias of international exchange toward enriching the already rich and impoverishing the already poor, but it would be for new international relations that would instead narrow the gap between rich and poor.

The thing is, no such approach can persist on top of each nation being capitalist in its domestic economic organization. So what I think is that while there are a great many very desirable steps that can be taken to move us away from the most egregious types of corporate globalization even before domestic economies are revolutionized away from capitalism, still, that domestic step is in the end essential, and yes, I think parecon provides answers regarding that step.

I also think that the values and norms of parecon, and its insights about social relations including markets, etc., can greatly assist people conceiving demands for immediate improvements in global relations. I have written some about that myself, indeed, and of course many others have, too.

P.H.: How has Parecon related so far to the World Social Forum process? There have been recent attempts to unite the organizations participating in the forum under a common political platform, like the Bamako Appeal. Is Parecon complementary to these prospects?

M.A.: I and others have participated regularly in the forums. I don’t know, however, what I think about the efforts you mention. On the one hand, I am not sure that the WSF constituency is the right one to try to galvanize into a new more programmatic organization and project. The wide array of people who relate to the WSF may be too politically diverse, on the one hand, including, for example, elements that aren’t anticapitalist, and perhaps also too separate from typical and important sectors of people in countries around the world, on the other hand.

It may be, in other words, that trying to get a degree of organizational unity out of the WSF constituencies would entail too many compromises of important commitments–as but one example, dispensing with overt anticapitalism to keep some groups involved. Or it could be that it would entail adopting some views that would distance the project from poorer elements worldwide, say. I just don’t know. Creating new organizations with activist agendas is certainly worth trying–and we certainly need something new internationally and in the U.S. too, even more so, for that matter. And of course trying out ideas is the way we find out whether they can work or not.

As to parecon and these efforts, well, yes, I do think that if it is to matter much over the long haul, any new international or domestic truly left organization needs to be anticapitalist. More, I think it can’t just say that capitalism sucks. Rather, if it wants to be convincing and to have its efforts accord with its aims, it has to be able to not only detail why capitalism sucks but, even more important, describe an economic alternative that would instead be highly desirable. That’s what I think parecon provides so that, yes, I do think parecon is not only complimentary with projects to create new domestic or international movements or organizations of the Left, but perhaps also essential to that effort. I guess time will tell if parecon’s advocates are right about that.
Existing participatory experiments
P.H.: Do you consider some existing political experiments, like participatory budgeting, as partial realizations of Parecon?

M.A.: They are projects that incorporate elements of pareconish structure and values, yes, and so yes, in that sense they are partial realizations of parecon–and there are many. The budgeting that you mention is one such experiment–though it doesn’t yet see itself as related to parecon, as far as I am aware of, at least. Actual workplaces that incorporate pareconish structures such as balanced job complexes are another such experiment, and there are now quite a few of those in various parts of the world, too. But I should say that I don’t think social change is a matter of only setting up such experiments and projects, as important as I think those efforts are. I also think it is essential to fight for a great many kinds of short and medium term gains, to better people’s lives now and to travel a path that leads toward parecon not in a few isolated projects, but throughout economies.

For example, to create a pareconish workplace is good. Doing so can inspire and instruct by example and by lessons, as well as benefit those involved. Doing so begins to plant the seeds of the future in the present. Likewise, to create an experiment in budgetary planning that has some elements of pareconish values and practices is also good, of course. But to create workers councils in large capitalist firms, and consumer councils in neighbourhoods and regions–in part inspired and guided by the other projects and giving them their reason for being—and to then fight and win innovations moving populations and structures toward pareconish commitments, will be even better. One can imagine all kinds of gains such movements can win–redistributive taxes, higher wages, changes in property laws, changes in the division of labor, a shorter work week, and so on.

The point is, with a pareconish commitment, both efforts to organize future-oriented small projects or experiments or workplaces, etc., and also wider movement efforts to win gains in the present would be informed by and would seek to enhance and enlarge support for visionary and strategic commitment to balanced job complexes, equitable remuneration, council-based self-management, and participatory planning.

P.H.: How do you explain the fact that these participatory experiments are springing up within the framework of existing capitalist relations?

M.A.: Well, where else would they spring up? I mean that seriously. It occurs more aggressively where a state is fostering the projects, whether in local venues like for the participatory budgets in Brazil and now some other places too, or even in a whole country as with the many experiments and projects under way in Venezuela, but in any event what we have in the world is overwhelmingly capitalism. So, anticapitalists–or even just people trying to improve their lives or enlarge justice without ideological comittments–can be expected to try to carve out space or win gains where they are, which is inside capitalism–and so, as you say, that’s what we see. I don’t actually think there is anything to explain, unless I am missing something.

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