Posted 2 years ago on Feb. 9, 2012, 5:56 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Manifesto for Economic Democracy and Ecological Sanity
Thursday 9 February 2012
by: David van Arsdale, Michael McCabe, Costas Panayotakis , Jan Rehmann, Sohnya Sayres and Richard D. Wolff, Economic Democracy Manifesto Group | Op-Ed
A new historical vista is opening before us in this time of change. Capitalism as a system has spawned deepening economic crisis alongside its bought-and-paid for political establishment. Neither serves the needs of our society. Whether it is secure, well-paid and meaningful jobs or a sustainable relationship with the natural environment that we depend on, our society is not delivering the results people need and deserve. We do not have the lives we want and our children’s future is threatened because of social conditions that can and should be changed. One key cause for this intolerable state of affairs is the lack of genuine democracy in our economy as well as in our politics. One key solution is thus the institution of genuine economic democracy as the basis for a genuine political democracy as well. That means transforming the workplace in our society as we propose in what follows.
We are encouraged by The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement spreading across the United States and beyond. Not only does OWS express a widespread popular rejection of our system’s social injustice and lack of democracy. OWS is also a movement for goals that include economic democracy. We welcome, support, and seek to build OWS as the urgently needed, broad movement to reorganize our society, to make our institutions accountable to the public will, and to establish both economic democracy and ecological sanity.
1) Capitalism and “delivering the goods”
Capitalism today abuses the people, environment, politics and culture in equal measures. It has fostered new extremes of wealth and poverty inside most countries, and such extremes always undermine or prevent democratic politics. Capitalist production for profit likewise endangers us by its global warming, widening pollution, and looming energy crisis. And now capitalism’s recurrent instability (what others call the “business cycle”) has plunged the world into the second massive global economic crisis in the last 75 years.
Yet both Republican and Democratic governments have failed to bring a recovery to the great mass of the American people. We continue to face high unemployment and home foreclosures alongside shrinking real wages, benefits and job security. Thus, increasing personal debt is required to secure basic needs. The government uses our taxes to bring recovery from the economic crisis to banks, stock markets, and major corporations. We have waited for bailouts of the corporate rich to trickle down to the rest of us; it never happened. To pay for their recovery we are told now to submit to cuts in public services, public employment, and even our social security and Medicare benefits. The budget deficits and national debts incurred to save capitalism from its own fundamental flaws are now used to justify shifting the cost of their recovery onto everyone else. We should not pay for capitalism’s crisis and for the government’s unjust and failed response to that crisis. It is time to take a different path, to make long-overdue economic, social and political changes.
We begin by drawing lessons from previous efforts to go beyond capitalism. Traditional socialism – as in the USSR - emphasized public instead of private ownership of means of production and government economic planning instead of markets. But that concentrated too much power in the government and thereby corrupted the socialist project. Yet the recent reversions back to capitalism neither overcame nor rectified the failures of Soviet-style socialism.
We have also learned from the last great capitalist crisis in the US during the1930s. Then an unprecedented upsurge of union organizing by the CIO and political mobilizations by Socialist and Communist parties won major reforms: establishing Social Security and unemployment insurance, creating and filling 11 million federal jobs. Very expensive reforms in the middle of a depression were paid for in part by heavily taxing corporations and the rich (who were also then heavily regulated). However, New Deal reforms were evaded, weakened or abolished in the decades after 1945. To increase their profits, major corporate shareholders and their boards of directors had every incentive to dismantle reforms. They used their profits to undo the New Deal. Reforms won will always remain insecure until workers who benefit from the reforms are in the position of receiving the profits of their enterprises and using them to extend, not undermine, those reforms.
The task facing us, therefore, goes well beyond choosing between private and public ownership and between markets and planning. Nor can we be content to re-enact reforms that capitalist enterprises can and will undermine. These are not our only alternatives. The strategy we propose is to establish a genuinely democratic basis – by means of reorganizing our productive enterprises – to support those reforms and that combination of property ownership and distribution of resources and products that best serve our social, cultural and ecological needs.
2) Economic Democracy at the Workplace and in Society
The change we propose – as a new and major addition to the agenda for social change – is to occur inside production: inside the enterprises and other institutions (households, the state, schools, and so on) that produce and distribute the goods and services upon which society depends. Wherever production occurs, the workers must become collectively their own bosses, their own board of directors. Everyone’s job description would change: in addition to your specific task, you would be required to participate fully in designing and running the enterprise. Decisions once made by private corporate boards of directors or state officials - what, how and where to produce and how to use the revenues received – would instead be made collectively and democratically by the workers themselves. Education would be redesigned to train all persons in the leadership and control functions now reserved for elites.
Such a reorganization of production would finally and genuinely subordinate the state to the people. The state’s revenues (taxes, etc.) would depend on what the workers gave the state out of the revenues of the workers’ enterprises. Instead of capitalists, a small minority, funding and thereby controlling the state, the majority – workers – would finally gain that crucial social position.
Of course, workplace democracy must intertwine with community democracy in the residential locations that are mutually interactive and interdependent with work locations. Economic and political democracy need and would reinforce one another. Self-directed workers and self-directed community residents must democratically share decision-making at both locations. Local, regional and national state institutions will henceforth incorporate shared democratic decision-making between workplace and residence based communities. Such institutions would draw upon the lessons of past capitalist and socialist experiences.