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Capitalists and Radicals Switching Positions?

Blog posts are the work of individual contributors, reflecting their thoughts, opinions and research.


More and more is being made of the corporate takeover of mass movement modes and clichés. From Apple’s first advertisements for personal computers in 1984 where they drew on Orwellian drones being freed by an athletic activist-angel being chased by riot cops, to George Soros, the exchange rate vulture who uses his spoils to help fix societies he raided, to the Koch brothers financing the Tea Party today; activists are sorely ignorant of their history if they think that popular movement building in the streets is the sole purview of progressives and Left radicals.

While we are stuck in building social movements, mostly within protests and civil society, entrepreneurial capitalists have taken up strong positions in both civil society and the socio-economy. And yet I don’t hear a single activist, even those economically inclined, actively talking about a movement for how we can normalize ‘power-with’ through the day-to-day of work-places and sourcing of goods needed for daily life. This is distressing to me, because not only would peoples’ economic venues allow us more sites for cooperative culture outside of market dynamics, but it would give us the resources to effect peoples’ will in the political, cultural, environmental, and kinship realms as well. Just as the capitalist leverage their resources towards directing policy, we could do that in a way that is actually legitimate, i.e., by being able to assert and host transparent and inclusively set policy.

But trying to talk economics with activists usually seems like I’m trying to describe hell-and-brimstone to unicorns while they bathe in a moral rainbow. They just don’t want to know, or more often, they think I must be some gargoyle or phony social-justice person because I think about economic production and, GASP!, even ‘money’ as a fundamental necessity to movement building.

I’m convinced that a big part of the hurdle is the lack of a clear economic model. Most don’t see any alternative economic model that would meet their moral needs, or if a model did meet moral needs - how would it be kept from the long arm of capitalism? The fact that we can’t imagine a good, complete alternative to capitalism is a sign that our minds are incredibly colonized by capitalist norms, and thus a sign that we need to work even harder to decolonize ourselves via the growth of our own, liberated economic spaces.  

But certainly, most every alternative has been subsumed back into capitalism or smashed through fascism. Mutualism (cooperatives), for example, has tended towards a kind of capitalism, a capitalism for and by privileged workers and management instead of a few owners.

These problems are solved by making our economic firms multi-stakeholder co-ops, so that we don’t support just workers who are the only ones with a vote in worker co-ops, or just consumers voting power so that co-ops like MEC go on only paying their workers $13 an hour. But a multi-stakeholder co-op where there is a balance of say relative to how a particular stake-holder group will be affected by a particular decision.  Also giving rotating people through conceptual and menial work  so that a coordinator or managerial class doesn’t form and corner all the pertinent information. Even if you introduced democracy into a capitalist firm, and 10 people all sat around in a meeting with one vote, but the marketing guy, the owner and the accountant were the only ones with real access to information, the other 7 workers would go along with whatever the 3 say if they care about the viability of the firm, i.e., their jobs. Why when you’re blind, wouldn’t you listen to the people who can see everything, even if a lot of the time they are using their cornering of the information to screw you, at least you won’t fly into a wall. So we need to have a balanced rotation of roles or we are likely to see democracy undermined.

A federation of such multi-stakeholder co-ops could get away from market values by having the community and consumer memberships that can reach into the operations of a co-op to control it to be better, to make sure it never pollutes or off-shores consequences onto some poor unsuspecting peoples, etc. A federation of such co-ops that are radically accountable and controlled by their communities, would only do business with other participatory co-ops, and parConsumers would only patron enterprise that empowers the whole community in decision making about the use and distribution of resources.

Then we have the capacity to affect our political, kinship and cultural visions, instead of whine outside the capitalist controlled government, whine about no community child care, whine to them to give us some crumbs for this arts program or that social assistance program. We have our own resources to keep the ‘elite’ in check, to direct them and take and r’evolutionize what has been their placating and neo-tyrannical ‘democracy’ into real participatory institutions ‘governed’ by those who are affected by the decisions, not those who will gain more money by the decisions.

Whether the Koch brothers, or any corporation spends serious resources to manage politics, cultural views, all towards corrupting the world towards their very narrow interests.

We, at theVMC, were learning how to read balance sheets and publically traded corporate publications. Looking at the balance sheet statement one person asked  if Gold Corp had $800 million in cash on hand or some other figure. What struck  me is while they’re accumulating and playing with billion$ and billion$ to their ends, we can’t even read about value at a 2nd grade level. If we’re serious about winning, not only do we need economic literacy in their system but in an alternative economic model, we need to know how to create value in our communities so that we are secure enough in our own resources and collective cultures for creating those resources, that we can then strike out en-masse into creating cooperative culture and economies even where competitive exploiters have seemingly always ruled.

Want to put your feet on the path to make that kind of capacity, i.e., our own economy, happen? Find a credit union you can win the election to the board for, and then turn financing towards your own community based co-operative federation. Start your own mass-media via wifi-mesh-networking (use your fingers to google it, not to scratch your head) so your peoples’ economy can promote itself to all the other people. But don’t sit on your ass, and wait for the rest of the shit piles to hit the fan. Don’t whine at the state-capitalists’ feet for this or that crumb. Let’s get ours! And then tranform those who prefer to take from others.


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Manager vs owner institutions

Hey Greg,

First, great article. Not to privilege the economic sphere over any other, but considering the long-standing infiltration of capitalist thinking into *all* spheres of life, it seems obvious that we need to seriously tackle this issue and start building real economic alternatives that meet material needs outside of the limits of current structures while also manufacturing vision and hope as we go, in a sense. I also think you should submit this line to the International Foundation for Hilarious Metaphors... "trying to talk economics with activists usually seems like I’m trying to describe hell-and-brimstone to unicorns while they bathe in a moral rainbow." So good!!!

Second, you hinted at what seems like a very important distinction (and an extremely relevant one to the coop movement in particular) between coordinator/managerial-capitalism and owner/investor-capitalism, and their respective modes and institutional forms. Both seem equally dangerous and necessary to overcome, with their own challenges (a topic worthy of an article in itself!), but with respect to your ideas around federated coops, mesh networks, etc., how do people interested in those ideas avoid reproducing managerialism or petit-capitalism in their own radical economic institutions? Or do you think there's even much risk of this in the first place?

Thanks again for the article!


Real Risk

I think there is a real risk of the birthmarks we carry from this culture, following us into the new world and contaminating it to such a point that the new world morphs back to the old we came from. 

This is why we need to be incredibly diligent and invite creative debate and study to identify historic trip-lines that destroyed the best of systemic-change intentions.

In the end - we win

No matter what happens, and things actually look frighteningly sad, we win.

That the current "model" of the "free capitalistic" society will come to a close. Perhaps one could say "transition is a bitch sometimes". Really though. It ^%&# wil be! Many thousands(every day) are already dying of treatable diseases and starvation. Yes, of course, these are symptoms of the system itself, but the transition Greg speaks of, will be fucking hard.

I welcome the change and it will happen eventually. As we head towards collapse and towards the critical mass of the new age of collective participatory economics on a much more local scale. Perhaps this is the age of a "new globalism"? One that is truly sustainable? Certainly sounds much more interesting and realistic.

Yet, it is the transition that looms. Perhaps we are starting to take baby steps with a global awareness of this really unhealthy (being kind here) societal system and that there are other ways societies can develop.

Yes, much to learn and unlearn.

I just need a few more rainbows and unicorns dude.

Thank you for the post, MAN! (wink wink - nudge nudge)



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