Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Bridging Utopia and Pragmatism to Achieve Direct Economic Democracy1

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Bridging Utopia and Pragmatism to Achieve Direct Economic Democracy1

Article excerpt


Owing to a poverty of vision anarchists are failing to bridge the gap between utopian economic models of society and reality-theory and praxis. The result is a de facto acceptance of the basest systems as 'pragmatic'. Direct economic democracy, also known as libertarian socialism, is attainable but only in ways that connect to the experiences of daily life. By modifying existing institutions of production it is pragmatically possible to achieve societies resembling distant utopias. One of my proposals is that the top corporations have half their boards of directors filled by lottery from the demos modelled on the jury system, the other half by workers of the company. Here, citizens and workers would set corporate policy which affects society at large. My second proposal is to establish a standard national wage, leading to increased economic efficiency and development. These changes are possible only through critical pedagogy and radical direct action but the possibilities have been demonstrated by US labour and civil rights history.

Keywords: Political Economy, Critical Theory, Political Philosophy, Inequality


The birth of market fetishisation was recorded and discussed by classical theorists including Dürkheim, Marx and Weber. This commodification of society was not complete simply because those with capital dominated society's institutions. Rather, market fetishisation of nineteenth-century capitalism extended to the bourgeoisie as a class. In contrast, tomes of labour history, including classic works of the afore- mentioned theorists, make clear that the average worker wanted as little to do with the forces of the free market as possible. There was a high level of class consciousness amongst workers, though it was not always articulated. As a result, the domination of culture by capital was resisted. The victory of market ideology was complete in the twenty-first century, having become the common point of reference for under- standing social issues. While radical coalminers shot back at capitalists during the 1900s Coal Wars, working Americans now shout pro-capitalist slogans on the way to the food lines or Tea Party rallies.

Unfortunately, much blame for this reversal can be apportioned to the bank- ruptcy of left ideologies. On the pragmatic side, too many groups on the left spend time developing public policies that could barely be considered even reformist. For example, one of the most respectable left economic think tanks, the Economic Policy Institute, provides great analyses of economic data but its prescriptions for reform rarely extend beyond recommendations for tweaking the tax codes or reviewing levels of stimulus spending. On the theoretical side, the few remaining left critical theorists still often prefer to expend their energies in sectarian debates instead of developing workable models for change. Similarly, utopian theorists pour over things that are alien to the average person. Who in the general population has even heard of 'Really Really Free Markets'? The final problem is the left's ideological rigidity, often exhibiting a naïveté about socioeconomic systems and how they change. Some left groups even think epochal transformation happens like the big bang: instantaneously through a 'great strike' or 'revolutionary moment'! Did feudalism appear in this way from antiquity? Did capitalism appear in its fully developed form in a fortnight? No. Any historian will tell you all this is a result of historical processes, often historically contingent. There is room for a different way of thinking about transformation. The changes we should be considering are the intelligent moves that will unfold histori- cally in the direction of social equality, in this case direct economic democracy.

There are qualitatively different types of reform, those that keep the system intact e.g., anything coming out of congress or the White House and those that transform it as proposed here. …

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