Michael Albert, along with Robin Hahnel, is one of the main developers of the idea of Participatory Economics, or Parecon. He is the co-founder of ZMagazine and South End Press and has published more than 15 books dealing principally with alternative economic systems to the rapacious capitalistic ones that most of us are now subject to.
He will be appearing in Scotland, courtesy of The Project for a Participatory Society UK on the 29th of October at the University of Glasgow and later at RIB at the CCA and on the 30th he will be in Edinburgh at the World Power Independent Radical Book Fair. Interview by Michael Greenwell.
Have you been to Scotland before and what do you think of the place?
Yes, I was here in the course of a speaking tour once before, but like will likely be the case this time, I saw only train views, streets, and the hall where I spoke – not really anything to have an opinion about – other than the people I related to, who were exceptionally nice.
What do you know about the political situation re the independence movement and the fact that when England decides to vote Tory Scotland is left for years with a government that is has simply not voted for?
Sad to say, I must admit, I know nothing about it. When Chomsky, for example, goes places to speak he often knows more about the place, wherever it may be, than most people who live there. I have a hard time knowing a lot even about the U.S. Knowing about other countries I visit to an extent that would imply my opinion matters, is simply beyond my mental means.
Is the elimination of the nation state as it is now understood one of the aims of Parecon?
It would depend what you mean by your phrase as it is now understood. If you mean would Venezuela achieving a parecon, or becoming a participatory society, mean there was no longer Venezuela – no, it neither requires that, nor does it seek it, nor do I think that has any particular merit, though that is just my opinion.
If you mean would countries as we know them becoming participatory societies, with participatory economies, be overwhelmingly different from what we typically mean by a nation state – of course they would. The ways are too numerous to list, but, for one, instead of having a government that operates above the populace and in the interests of small elements in the populace at the expense of the rest – the polity would be the whole populace, self managing.
In a small nation like Scotland where a substantial number of the people wish to divest from the larger state system (the UK), could a parecon system help to bring this about?
Not if Scotland had great resources and England did not. That would be the same as the rich leaving the rest, and taking the wealth with them. That’s a tiny bit oversimplified, but not too much. Think of the oil counties in Venezuela deciding they want to secede and take control of the oil with them.
But in your case, my guess is, there would no longer even be an issue and if there was, by way of the norms of self management, yes perhaps it would help. That is, just as counties and states, in the U.S., say, would not want to secede from a participatory society version of U.S., because it was just, equitable, etc. – surely regions with different cultures and histories that could and would maintain those attributes, wouldn’t need to secede for any reason. Or that is my guess, at any rate.
The greater likelihood, I would guess, is that widespread participatory economy and participatory society existence would lead to real internationalism, as in, over time, regions and then the world becoming federations of ever more equal – in wealth and per capita influence – populations, often with different languages, cultures, etc.
Would it be easier for a parecon system to start in a large or small state or would there be no fundamental difference?
There are many variables. If you say everything else is the same and just size differs – still, it could go either way. A small state might well be easier and quicker to develop powerful movements and make the change. However it is also true that a small state would be easier of other states – such as my own U.S. – to subject to pressures, economic or military, preventing or overthrowing such gains. I don’t think it is possible to answer in general.
I would say, however, it is probably quite a bit easier to develop a nationally powerful movement in a small state, with not too much cultural variation, than in a huge one like, say, the U.S.
How could a parecon society defend itself against an aggressive neighbouring society?
It is probably not really neighboring that is the issue – rather a rapacious violent defended of empire – such as my country, say. And for the most part, my own view is that it can’t be done militarily. Whether a massive and incredibly powerful military apparatus can repress a small or even modest sized parecon state depends on that state’s military might, which can easily be smashed technically – but on whether social issues prevent the military power from deploying massive force. My own estimate is that the real defense of a meritorious transformation of a society, that brings it out of the U.S. web of market relations, that makes it insubordinate, and most damning from the point of view of other elites, that provides a model of how to live freely and well that still more populations might emulate (and I think a country attaining a parecon would accomplish all this), is the military commitment of its citizens (their ungovernability by empire), the extent of resistance to such carnage that other nations would display, and the resistance to such carnage that radical and progressive elements within the violent nation would unleash. I suspect the number of tanks or planes the transformed economy and society has has almost zero to do with its safety from attack, and may even be counterproductive.
Finally, can you provide examples of communities, businesses and groups using the system successfully at the moment that people could look at and contact?
There may be one or more in Scotland, I don’t know. There are certainly various operations, often media, but sometimes in other areas – travel agencies, a dentist’s office, and so on – that explicitly use the logic and methods of parecon, albeit within existing hostile societies. Then there are hundreds, actually thousands and even tens of thousands of coops and other ventures that use elements of pareconish content, though not explicitly linking what they do to parecon. On a larger scale, for example, I think many steps are being taken in Venezuela moving quite strongly in participatory economic and participatory society directions, though without saying so explicitly.
The vision is young; having taken a long time to get beyond very small circles, but now seems to be finding favor far more widely, and in a slowly accelerating pattern.