Friday, December 3, 2010

Costas Panayotakis Stimulating Essay
Capitalism, Socialism, and Economic Democracy: Reflections on Today’s Crisis and Tomorrow’s Possibilities

As long as we define socialism in contrast to capitalism, we’ll not see the possibilities for transformation. Changing our conceptions, however, is only a first step. Achieving what is possible will be unbelievably difficult. Costas Panayotakis’ article takes important first steps.

For me, the most useful definition of Capitalism emphasizes the following three elements: markets, wage labor, and private property. In the current discourse, particularly that of the Tea Bagers, Costas reminds us, capitalism is merely defined by its markets. In contrast, they define socialism as government policies that overcome the effect of markets: namely bailouts and the like.

Costas examines how the political Left’s focus on government policy is used by the political Right to argue that big government is unwanted and interfering with the operation of capital. According to Costas, the arguments of the political Left and the political Right play into sustaining the “normal” functioning of capitalism.
Costas advocates that leftists focus on economic democracy as a primary characteristic of an alternative system to capitalism. He examines the implications of economic democracy in at least two places in his paper:

Early in the essay Costas states: “Economic democracy presupposes not only the abolition of capitalism and class inequalities but of any and all social inequalities, such as racial and gender inequalities, that prevent all citizens from having an equal say over the goals and priorities of the social and economic system in which they live.”

Towards the end of the essay Costos writes: “In view of capitalism’s inherently undemocratic and ecocidal nature, socialism must be redefined as a socio-economic system that allows all human beings to have an equal say over the priorities the economy is called upon to serve. In contrast to capitalism’s subordination of social and economic life to an abstract logic that escapes people’s control and subordinates them to its unyielding imperatives, ‘socialism as economic democracy’ promises to give people the ability to become the true authors of their individual and collective lives. It does so because only an economically democratic socialism can create an economic system with goals and priorities that are the product of democratic deliberative processes rather than the blind logic of capital accumulation.”

The question which looms large is how do we get there?

As examples, Costas refers “worker-controlled and democratically run cooperatives” in Argentina.

My question to participants in this blog is: What other examples are there? What unions, if any, in the United States exhibit economic democratic control of both the union and their workplaces? Is there a group of unorganized workers who have tried to democratize their workplace? Are there community organizations that attempt in incorporate decision making by community members in their administrative structures? What are the important elements in the cooperative movement in this and other countries? How can existing forms of economic democracy be expanded? What if any demands should be made on the state through legislation or direct action that would set a stage for economic democracy in the workplace or the community?

If we can begin to document and describe instances of economic democracy, then maybe we will begin to present models for others to borrow from and follow.

Maarten de Kadt