In response to a question from Ed Cone in comments to a post of his about the AIG brouhaha, I offered a capsule summary of the type of economic and financial system I’d ideally like to see in place of existing arrangements:
The short answer is that I’d favor an economy in which democracy did not stop at the factory gate or office door, but is organized around a network of worker/community-governed (not state-controlled) enterprises. The closest living example I can point to is Mondragon. On a more head-in-the-clouds theoretical level, I’d describe myself as straddling mutualism and syndicalism.
I went on to concede the unlikelihood of any such alternative system emerging (beyond isolated small-scale island operating awkwardly within the roiling sea of post-late capitalism), and to express my willingness, “[i]n the here and now [...] to work within the realm of the possible to achieve reform, while also critiquing the limits of reform to help push it as far as it will go in what I hope is the right direction.”
While accurate as far as it goes, my comment failed to convey my fundamental pessimism about the prospects, not only for revolution, but also for moderately positive reform. In a contribution to The Nation’s ongoing forum on “Reimagining Socialism“, Mike Davis pretty much sums it up:
I realize that is not fashionable these days to praise the CPUSA in its sectarian heyday or to applaud highly confrontational tactics that provoke violent official responses. But if these are near-to-the-end times, when social change risks being “too late,” as our new president repeatedly emphasized in a brilliant campaign speech that quoted Martin Luther King Jr. from 1967, then we must be as forthright about the need for disorder (“raise less corn and more hell”) as were our populist and socialist ancestors.
From my point of view, this starts with the recognition that there are no realistic solutions to the current planetary crisis. None. A peaceful, just-in-time transition toward low-carbon, rationally regulated state capitalism is about as likely as a spontaneous connecting-the-dots of neighborhood anarchism across the world. Simply extrapolating from the present balance of forces, one most likely arrives at an equilibrium of triaged barbarism, founded on the extinction of the poorest part of humanity.
I believe that socialism/anarcho-communism–the rule of labor upon and for the earth–remains our only hope, but the necessary epistemological condition for serious strategic and programmatic debate on the left is a rising global temperature in the streets. Resistance alone will clear the conceptual space needed to synthesize the meaning of Rebecca Solnit’s small, stateless utopias with the huge, confusing, soiled but heroic heritage bequeathed by two centuries of working-class and anticolonial struggles against the empire of capital.
Truth be told, I’m not a great fan of Fidel Castro, and Cuba under his rule is not my idea of a socialist paradise. Nonetheless, the Cuban Revolution was a great victory in its time; the country has accomplished much that is admirable in areas like literacy and public health; and the mere fact that Castro has remained in power through 50 years of U.S. blockade and aggression is a remarkable achievement. So, to honor the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, I made this video, with backing music by Michael Hall.
I voted (early) for Barack Obama. I did so in small part because, for all his limitations, an Obama administration is a less horrible prospect than the only plausible alternative, and in larger part because, having previously demonstrated my low standards by throwing away my vote on a parade of Democratic mediocrities, and facing the historical significance of electing a person of color to the White House, I couldn’t justify raising the bar this time around on a candidate who is not obviously worse than Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, & Kerry. (I did draw the line, twice, at Bill Clinton; but Obama, having never executed a mentally retarded person for electoral gain, hovers safely above the truly debased Clintonian level.)
One thing that did not motivate my vote was any misplaced hope that an Obama administration would bring about meaningful change in a radical-democratic (small “d”) direction. I sincerely wish that Obama were the stealth socialist of feverish right-wing imagination. Alas, he isn’t anything of the sort. A few decades ago, when Obama and I were eight years old and the Weathermen were resorting to desperate and disastrous tactics to end an imperialist war, Obama might comfortably have fit within the Rockefeller wing of the GOP. Today, he passes for left of center only because, thanks not only to George W. Bush but to Bill Clinton before him, the center has moved so far to the right.
Tomorrow night, I will put on a happy face and celebrate the election of Barack Obama. On Wednesday, the struggle continues.