A few more moves ahead


There is too much at stake for social change to be a game. But if it were a game, the side that had the ability to think many moves ahead, anticipate its opponents moves, know what its goal was and move toward it relentlessly, would have huge advantages over the side that didn’t.


There is too much at stake for social change to be a game. But if it were a game, the side that had the ability to think many moves ahead, anticipate its opponents moves, know what its goal was and move toward it relentlessly, would have huge advantages over the side that didn’t.

I just read ‘Globalization from Below’ by Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith. They have put together a ‘Draft of a Global Program’. This is a positive program that all the groups in the movement against corporate globalization can look at, debate, and move forward with. The 7 point plan is:

1) Level labor, environmental, social, and human rights conditions upward 2) Democratize institutions at every level from local to global 3) Make decisions as close as possible to those they affect 4) Equalize global wealth and power 5) Convert the global economy to environmental sustainability 6) Create prosperity by meeting human and environmental needs 7) Protect against global boom and bust

They go into detail on each point. Under ‘equalizing wealth and power’, for example, they talk about canceling international debts, about making global markets work for developing countries, and providing developing countries access to technical knowledge.

There are some left economists (Arthur McEwen, Patrick Bond, Walden Bello, Robin Hahnel) who have made plans for replacing the ‘global financial architecture’ we have now with one that would give the third world a chance to develop and get the first world on a trajectory to environmental sustainability and full employment. Their proposals include capital controls, taxes on financial speculation, and social investment and spending by governments.

Between ‘globalization from below’, and these economists, it seems to me that the anti-globalization forces have plenty of plans to take them forward, for quite a while. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t know what we want. We want full employment at living wages with job security. We want air we can breathe, water we can drink, food we can eat, and some confidence we’re not all going to fry tomorrow because of global warming. Fewer prisons, more education, more health care. A lot of friends in the third world would be thrilled to not have to worry about being displaced or killed for a hydroelectric project, oil well, or piece of land.

Each and every one of these things, and many more of the things we are for, can be won. And then lost again, because holding on to them while markets, racism, colonialism, and sexism persist is as hard a fight as winning them in the first place. Brecher, Costello, and Smith’s wonderful, humane program takes us to a much better world. But could we keep that world, and those gains? Or would they be rolled back by the system we’re fighting?

Where’s the harm in thinking a few more moves ahead? How much further than that would we have to go so that holding on to the gains we’ve won against all the pressures of the system isn’t something we have to worry about? If we’re strong enough to get that far, are we strong enough to replace the system with one whose pressures are in positive directions? Would it be unrealistic to think so far ahead? Divisive? Would we be accused of being silly dreamers if we did? Is there anyone who has bothered to read this far who hasn’t been called a silly dreamer?

It’s not easy to turn a participatory economy into a sound bite, but when someone asks me what I’d replace capitalism with, I say an economy where people are paid according to effort, where everyone is skilled and works a fair share of the skilled and unskilled work, and where prices for things are set by a system that takes into account their social (how much sweat and pain and danger went into them) and environmental (how much pollution did they make and what will it take to clean it up) costs.

Economists (Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel) have worked this economy out in some detail too, but like all the other proposals, it’s not going anywhere until it gets taken up and taken over by many, many working people who like it and see it as one of the moves we’re going to make, together, down the road.

Albert and Hahnel talk mostly about a domestic economy in their participatory economics books. Their principles of international trade between pareconomies are that the terms should benefit the poorer economy more than the richer. In other words, participatory economies would make sure their international trading decreased global inequality. It’s not surprising that this fits nicely with Brecher, Costello, and Smith’s program.

Fair enough. But keep dreaming with me for a few more minutes.

Globalization isn’t going anywhere. The kind of globalization we’re seeing now is, hopefully, going to the trash, but people are going to travel, communicate, exchange information and ideas, more and more. That’s not going to change (and why should it?). And in the world today, there are corporate economies that are bigger than some countries.

So (remember you’re still dreaming) imagine we’re quite a few moves ahead. Brecher, Costello and Smith’s global program has been largely implemented. Amnesty International is bored for a lack of work, eager human rights workers are sitting on their heels. Left governments have been elected in a number of countries, with movements to keep them honest. Corporations are seen as illegitimate everywhere.

The only people still locked up are violent offenders like Henry Kissinger, and even they are being rehabilitated. Workers at a Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Argentina, who are secure with universal health care, free education for their children supported by the highly leftist police union (you promised you’d keep dreaming!), with plenty of bargaining power in a full-employment situation, are now highly knowledgeable about the intricacies of the business and budgets because their democratic union has made progress breaking managers’ monopoly over this knowledge, realizes that competition in the international market could erode all the gains they have made until now. They are competing with Bridgestone/Firestone plants in Brazil and the US. What are they to do? Management would like to cut some of their benefits or move the plant, but doesn’t dare say so, or threaten to close up shop. But these workers are experts in international solidarity. They already have contacts with their co-workers in Brazil and the US. They struck long ago to help their co-workers in the US to retain their jobs. They see no choice but to take over the plant and coordinate their production with the workers in the same industry in other countries. Cut out the market altogether and start negotiating inputs and outputs with the consumer and worker councils that have arisen in other industries.

Afterwards, in the process of planning with workers in the global industry and consumers of the products, prices would come into line with social and environmental costs-and the workers might end up retooling and retraining to produce bicycle tires for domestic consumption.

A worker at this plant, instead of doing her taxes at the end of the year, would figure out how much she wanted to consume and how much she wanted to work. This information would be put together with everyone else’s preferences and combined to create a plan for what the economy would produce. She would take part in decisions on how much to spend on a community center or swimming pool in her community in a community council where she lived, and decisions on how to invest and plan for the plant and industry’s future at her workplace. It’s true, she would have to think carefully about her preferences, her community’s best interests, and her workplace. She wouldn’t have to worry about market competition, capital flight, or miserable working conditions.

The tens or hundreds of thousands who have already signed up for this project know that winning reforms in this system is an uphill, but not impossible, battle. To convince millions more, we will need to demonstrate not only that we can win changes, but that we can go beyond stalemate and uphill battles to a system where the pressures are towards freedom, equality, and solidarity and not against them.

A friend of mine compared social change to building sandcastles near the surf. You can build something nice, but the tides are going to wash it away eventually. I’ve met many people who think of social change, and its advocates, that way: ‘You people sure have a nice castle in mind, too bad it’s made of sand.’ Can we build something more solid? If we can, we should say so.

If you don’t have a plan, chances are you’re part of someone else’s. If you don’t dream, you’re probably living out someone else’s dream. As silly as it feels sometimes, maybe it’s worth dreaming a little further.

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction.