My Position, in Two Steps



I know, I can be wordy.  I write a lot about a wide variety of subjects.  Sometimes it can be hard to see where I am coming from. So I hope, in this entry, to give an extremely brief overview of my political perspective, which will of necessity involve massive over-simplifications.  But hopefully this will be a good starting point, and I can work out subtler nuances in other writings.

The shortest way to say it is that I am trying to work out a position somewhere between socialism and anarchism.  I think it was a big mistake when the ("first") International (Workingmen's Association) split at the Hague Conference in 1872. 

I don't claim to know all the answers. I don't even claim to have a fully coherent and worked-out worldview.  In fact, I will fully admit that there is a fundamental tension - maybe even a contradiction - in my position.  So here is my position, such as it is, in two steps  (please reserve judgment until you've read both steps):

Step One: Working class ownership and control of the means of production.

(a) First, I will not say that I "believe" in worker ownership and control of the means of production, as though it were a religious ideal.  Nor do I say that workers "should" own and control the means of production, as though it were a moral law.  I see it more as a scientific experiment worth trying, and trying many, many times.  Undoubtedly, the first thousand times it is tried, it will not work.  Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  The key is not just trying it again, but trying it differently - learning from our mistakes.  Perhaps after thousands of such experiments, we will start to learn what can be effective... at least for a while.

(b) I want to emphasize worker ownership.  I strongly believe in ownership and property rights.  My intention is that the means of production will be owned by the workers that operate them, and that they will have full sovereignty over these means of production.  In addition to this, people will have personal property - products that are produced by these means of production.  Indeed, the entire purpose for the means of production, and for proletarian ownership thereof, is to supply people with personal property.  You will own your own house and everything in it - your food, your toothbrush, your art, your toys, everything to satisfy a luxurious lifestyle - and that stuff will be inviolably, permanently yours, with which you can do whatever you see fit.  No one else can mess with it.

(c) I want to emphasize that the workers themselves will own and control the means of production.  Not the state, not the government, not the party, not the union, not a joint-stock corporation.  No one will own it on "The People's" "behalf".  

How will the proletariat control the means of production - i.e., the workplaces, etc.?  Ultimately, it is up to them - they are fully sovereign.  But I would humbly recommend that they make the necessary decisions democratically.  Perhaps this democratic process will take the form of workers' councils - I'm not absolutely insistent that this is the only valid form of democracy, but so far I've never heard of anything better.  The great lesson of the last three centuries is that democracy works better than any other decision making structure we have come up with so far.  It is the most efficient system, and the most productive.  To be sure, there are problems with democracy - enormous, perhaps unsolvable, perhaps fatal problems.  But there are even greater problems with every other decision-making structure.  That's why democracies have out-competed every other form of government.  Thus far, the quasi-scientific result of all of our social experiments is clear.

(I think this position comprises the best version of what is sometimes called "anarchism". But it is a kind of "anarchism" that is not at all chaotic, but rather carefully balanced and rooted in the rule of law.  At the same time, it could be called "socialism," but it is far better than all of the other systems that are called "socialism" and "communism" and in many ways I dislike all of these labels.  If it ends up taking a form based on what have been called workers' councils, it could also be called "councilism" - which puts it in the tradition of people that I admire but with whom I have some disagreements, like Antonie Pannekoek.  But it is also, I think, above all, the best version of what is called "democracy," and I think that's the best word for it.)

So, if workers in one workplace want rule by consensus, that's fine.  If another group of workers in another workplace want direct democracy, that's fine, too.  I often hear people complain that these arrangements sound hellish, because it would involve sitting in endless meetings.  When I hear this, part of me wants to grab people and say, "What's wrong with you?  Are meetings really that much worse than thousands of years of exploitation?  You'd really prefer the present system, in which people cannot afford the insulin they need to live, because you're afraid of sitting in some meetings?  Grow the fuck up!"

But, fine, fine - if, at some workplaces, some people would prefer to elect representatives to sit in these meetings, so that they don't have to, I'm okay with representative democracy.  I just think we should be able to vote on who's boss, and that a boss's terms should be limited.  (I'm even okay with bosses receiving greater compensation than the people that work for them, although I don't see why.  If anything, I think we should disincentivize bosses - bosshood should be seen more as a kind of public service, rather than something to which we aspire.  I'm certainly in favor of greater compensation for people who have worked longer, who work harder, who have more dangerous jobs, etc..)  If the workers want a strong executive branch of the management of their workplace, that's fine, too - whatever they want.  Heck, if the workers collectively decide that one person should own the workplace, I guess they're free to do that, although that seems utterly irrational to me.  If they want to dissolve the entire workplace, that's their decision, as well.

I'm guessing that rule by absolute consensus and direct democracy, though perhaps most admirable, will be fairly rare.  I think it's likely that most means of production will be run as some kind of representative democracy, with majority rule, with perhaps a bicameral or multicameral legislature - perhaps it would be wise for one chamber of the legislature to represent the consumers of the products, and another chamber to represent the workers that make them - as well as some kind of executive branch, and perhaps some kind of court system, with checks and balances between these different forms of decision-making and responsibility.  But maybe this prediction is way off.

It seems that almost any decision-making apparatus would be better than the current system, in which either one person (the sole proprietor) has an absolute dictatorship over the means of production, or a joint-stock corporation, in which people can literally buy votes in the decision-making process.  These types of absolutist despotism, whether autocratic or oligarchic, are, for one thing, ridiculously inefficient - rather than reinvesting in the growth of their respective industries, they simply hoard enormous resources for those who unilaterally make all the decisions - since people who can buy votes will simply vote to have all of the money go to them.  I see it simply as a form of legalized corruption.

That said, although I support majority rule, I will not allow the majority to oppress the minority.  I insist and demand that the decision-making structures of the means of production should be limited, preferably by written constitutions, strictly enforced, that guarantee personal freedoms and rights, such as the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to assemble and form political parties, and so on.  This is non-negotiable for me.  My commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of the press is even deeper than my commitment to proletarian ownership and control of the means of production.  Maybe that deserves its own little statement in the outline:

Step 1 (c) i: I'm more committed to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, assembly, and other personal liberties than I am to proletarian ownership and control of the means of production.  But I don't see them as incompatible in any way.  In fact I would say the degree to which these freedoms are restricted is a measure of the degree that the rulers do not represent the workers.  To repeat: if the rulers find it necessary to silence the workers in order to maintain their rule, this fact alone proves that the rulers do not represent the workers, and should be deposed immediately.

In many ways, I consider myself a libertarian.  Aside from the workers owning the means of production, I probably agree with right wing libertarians and anarchists on most issues: I'm for the legalization of drugs, banning all capital punishment, open borders, etc., etc., etc..  I think that to the maximum extent possible, we should create a society where people are able to make decisions about their own lives, and everyone else should leave them alone.

(What about property rights?  Well, I think they are very different from freedom of speech and the other personal rights, and I don't try to confuse people by lumping them all together as "human rights".  But in a certain sense, I do support property rights, as I've already stated: I stand for defending the workers' ownership of the means of production, and also peoples' personal property.)

In fact, apart from my advocacy for worker ownership of the means of production, I consider myself very much an individualist - an "egoish" individualist.  Let me rephrase that - I see no contradiction between individualism and worker ownership of the means of production.  In fact, I advocate for worker ownership of the means of production because I am an individualist.  It's just that which is in my own rational self-interest.  I see no problem with greed.  I'm in favor of greed.  I think if workers would be a little more greedy, they would rise up against their current oppression.  I also don't have a problem with wealth.  I want more wealth, and I want you to have more wealth, too.  I'm not the type of person who says, "billionaires shouldn't exist."  I just believe in democracy.  If you can convince a majority of people at your workplace to vote for you making enough money to be a billionaire, then be a billionaire.

Finally, I think it would be healthy for there to be competition between different worker-run collective workplaces, rather than one gigantic monopoly.  (Which brings me to another, related topic: I am totally opposed to one world government.)

I don't think that what I've outlined here will be the permanent condition of humanity.  On the contrary, I see all of the above merely as a transitional stage. Transitional towards what?  I have no idea.  And I have no way of knowing.  Neither, in my honest opinion, do you.  It could be something good; it could be something bad - who knows? We will cross that bridge when we come to it.  We don't even honestly know what issues we will face during this stage, let alone how to resolve them.  I'm more concerned with the here-and-now than I am with this purely speculative future.

So, to sum up, my principles here are: ownership, property, sovereignty, democracy, limited constitutional decision-making, the rule of law, personal freedom, checks and balances, competition.

Step Two: On the other hand: ...we fucked up, ...and now we're fucked.

Yes, deep in my heart of hearts, what I outlined in step one seems like the best option for humanity.  But....

I don't believe in historical determinism.  Perhaps humanity could have gone in something like this direction in 1789, or 1793, or the 1830s, or 1848, or the 1870s, or the 1880s, or 1905, or 1917, or 1936 (probably the peak the proletarian movement), or maybe even 1968 (though that's indeed doubtful).  Perhaps in another universe, in some alternate timeline, humanity did go that way.  Maybe things are better there.  Maybe worse.  Maybe just different. 

But here in this timeline, in this history, humanity missed all of those opportunities.  And now capitalism has been allowed to grow and progress to a point where it has reached a crisis point.  Most obviously, global climate change is threatening a kind of devastation the likes of which we have never seen before, but that's not the only issue.  We are now facing several cataclysmic crises at once.  And I'm not sure the system(s) that I outlined in step one are up to the task of solving all of these crises - especially since we have such limited time to solve them.  Democracy is slow.  Direct democracy and consensus even slower.  And we need action, fast.  And we need some kind of system of global coordination just to ensure basic survival.

So what kind of social and political organization can solve all of these crises?  I really don't know, and I'm all ears.  If anyone has any bright ideas, I'd genuinely like to hear about them.  My mind is wide open. 

Unless someone has a better idea, I'm going to keep on fighting for what I described in step one. But I fully recognize that this might not be the best idea for the present emergency.  If that makes me inconsistent, very well, I'm inconsistent.  Help me.

In any case, even if what I outlined in step one is unworkable during this extreme crisis, I remain committed to freedom of expression and other personal freedoms above all.

But there are even deeper problems with what I outlined in step one.  For one, there are philosophical problems with the principles I outlined.  This is not a very serious problem, but I will deal with it in a future essay.

For another, it ignores some political realities and manipulations. This is a very serious matter, and it is forcing me to reconsider what I have outlined in step one to a major degree.  I will be writing as I continue to formulate my thoughts on this.  Wish me luck.

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