Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Right to Say No. Or Yes.

The going socialist theory (as expressed by folks like Kim Moody here) sees the capitalist class abolished by a worldwide democratic uprising of workers, who seize power over the means of production and redistribute assets equally among people.

My own observations of the world suggest that, with rare cooperative exceptions, someone generally organizes productive capacity (material resources and other people), and some people have more vision, drive, and capability for doing so than others. These people, of course, are certainly not the ones that always end up in these positions. Inheritance, class entrenchment, etc. ensure that idiots or assholes or otherwise undeserving folks end up at the top all the time. But if workers did succeed in seizing and equally distributing the assets of the capitalist class, the need would arise again for someone to organize people and assets and shape it all somehow, to manage cooperative projects. People would offer their assets and their labor to "buy into" someone's suggested project, or people would come up democratically with a project they'd like to pursue, and put the best individual or team on the job. This again ends up with more power and more resources in the hands of some people than others.

I am not anti-capitalist, in that I am not against some people having more than others. Greed is disheartening and inequality is ugly, but to attempt to manage human beings to ensure consistent levels of equality in all regards among them sounds like a tedious and frankly oppressive project, and one that is stacked too tenuously against the organic motion that is living and being.

So I am not anti-capitalist, in this regard at least. What I am is for accountability and power-sharing. I am for people having a say, and having the power to really have a say. I think that workers have the right to surrender some of their autonomy to "buy into" collective endeavors, and that includes both unions and private business firms. In other words, they have the right to sell their labor. That said, it's obvious there are some preconditions to making that right practicable.

Where the arguments of the socialists gain traction is in pointing out that workers often have very little decision in how or by whom they are employed because they have to be employed. The industrial, urban, mercantile economy we have surrendered to over the last several hundred years has severely limited peoples' ability to provide for themselves, thereby limiting their ability to say no to bad employment when it's the only employment option to be had. Again, we can trace this back to the expropriation of the peasantry in 17th century England, one of the first clear motions by the burgeoning capitalist class to ensure a dependable supply of low-wage labor - a.k.a., those that don't have an option to say no.

So this is where I end up in my political and economic orientations: I believe in strengthening the capacity of people to say no to shitty employment. Sometimes this means changing employment conditions, and sometimes it means increasing options through developing external or internal resources. While ideally this would entail mostly attentive, dedicated local work, the reality of the globalized age is that it often demands coalition and coordination with actors far and near. I suppose it can take a lot of shapes.

All peoples that exist in the world once had their own land or equal access to collective land. They could grow food, fuel, and textiles on it. Few chose to leave these original holdings; most were forced off. This is the history of labor. In my ideal world, we would all be well-organized smallholders, providing for ourselves and our communities and living freely. The complexities and realities of the modern age preclude this from becoming a reality anytime soon, if ever. But it shapes my policy inclinations nonetheless.

(images from

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