Eco-localism: A Constructive Critique

Published on ZNet, by Robin Hahnel, November 13, 2013.

In the aftermath of the collapse of communism, debate about alternatives to capitalism has divided into three camps: advocates of market socialism, proponents of democratic planning, and supporters of community-based economics.[1] Few anti-capitalists—whether they favor market socialism, democratic planning, or community-based economics—deceive themselves that there is more than a tiny minority in any advanced economy who are ready to replace capitalism at this time.

Most of us understand all too well how strong capitalist hegemony is at present. Moreover, market socialism, democratic planning, and community-based economics are all visions of a thoroughly democratic economy, and supporters understand that this means that until a super-majority supports their vision of a more desirable future, it cannot come to fruition. Therefore, advocates of all three alternative visions understand that—with the exception of a few countries where significant portions of the population may now, or soon, support abandoning capitalism—the struggle to eventually replace capitalism must, for the foreseeable future, concentrate on fighting to reform capitalism and building experiments in equitable cooperation within capitalism.

The Importance of Economic Vision: … //

… Community-Based Economics … //

… Points of Agreement Between Participatory Economics and Community-based Economics:

Supporters of participatory economics and community-based economics have a great deal in common.

1. While today’s capitalist economies can and must be reformed to make them more just, democratic, and less environmentally destructive, as long as our economies are dominated by giant corporations and driven by market forces, we will never achieve environmental sustainability, economic justice, or economic democracy.

2. The traditional socialist response to capitalism was fatally flawed and does not serve as a positive model. Those who ruled in centrally planned economies unfortunately chose to compete with capitalism in a race that confused economic growth with economic development and ignored the importance of environmental preservation. But more fundamentally, central planning and hierarchical management are inherently incompatible not only with economic self-management but also, ultimately, with economic justice. As Steve Welzer aptly put it: “The socialist experiment was increasingly discredited during the 20th century as it became clear that the promise of egalitarianism and ‘peoples’ control’ was a chimera in one socialist experiment after another.”[11]

3. While employee-managed models of market socialism overcome some of the flaws in capitalism and centrally planned socialism, and while worker-owned firms, or producer cooperatives, can play an important transitional role in combating the economics of competition and greed, as long as market forces play a dominant role in economic decision-making, we will never achieve a sustainable economics of equitable cooperation. So worker-ownership by itself is no panacea, nor is market socialism the alternative to capitalism that we seek.

4. A desirable alternative to capitalism must be up to the challenge of replacing today’s environmentally destructive technologies and products with technologies and products that are much more environmentally benign. In particular, our energy and transportation systems must be completely transformed to halt rapid environmental deterioration. A desirable alternative must also eliminate perverse incentives in capitalism that relentlessly drive consumers to seek satisfaction through invidious consumerism and drive producers to engage in what ecological economists call “uneconomic growth.”[12]

5. Desirable economies promote diversity rather than uniformity and initiative rather than passivity. This means that local communities and “direct producers” must be free to run their own economic affairs—as long as they do so in socially responsible and environmentally sustainable ways. As Welzer put it, our “vision runs counter to the civilizational trend lines which have been leading in the direction of compelled uniformity and monoculture.” Instead, we advocate “re-empowerment of communities and participatory decision-making, enhanced local autonomy, and more humanly scaled institutions and technologies.”

6. Finally, we must discard old theories of how capitalism will be replaced and face up to the fact that, in Welzer’s words, “there will be no ‘final conflict’ ushering in the new era, but rather a generations-long challenge to build the new society within the shell of the old.” Much of my most recent book, Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation[13] is devoted to developing a more realistic understanding of how capitalism can be replaced and the role different kinds of social activism can play in this process. More specifically, I agree with Welzer that for the time being we must “a) constrain corporate power through regulation, b) undermine the dominance of corporations by fostering the development of community-based alternative organizations [such as] co-ops, credit unions, Community Supported Agriculture, land trusts, locally owned businesses, [and] municipally owned enterprises, and c) gradually reallocate social resources away from the corporations toward the emergent alternative institutions.” But while we agree on all this and more, I have serious reservations about community-based economic visions.

Critical Questions About Community-Based Economics: … //

… Participatory Planning: Not What Many Critics Think … //

… Allies in Thought as Well as in Struggle:

I believe as discussion continues, supporters of participatory economics and community-based economics will become even closer intellectual allies than many of us already are. We share the same values—an unwavering commitment to environmental sustainability, economic democracy, economic justice, and diversity. We all understand that economic democracy means direct, active, effective, grassroots participation—not delegating authority to representatives or abdicating decision-making to market forces. For my part, I see nothing in a participatory economy that should displease proponents of community-based economics, particularly since participatory economics is “agnostic” with regard to the degree of community self-sufficiency that will prove desirable. This is not to say that critiques of participatory economics have not appeared in radical libertarian journals.[24] But from what I have read, there is little if any disagreement over values, and much of the disagreement over institutions and procedures voiced by our anarchist critics is based on a misreading and misinterpretation of what supporters of participatory economics have actually proposed. I also think those attracted to community-based economics may find that problems with their vision I have raised here are nicely resolved by some features of a participatory economy. In any case, I regard most contemporary advocates of community-based economics as intellectual allies—like our council communist, syndicalist, anarchist, and guild socialist forebears. I invite them to consider the procedures of participatory planning when they think further about how they would coordinate economic relations among communities that are, in fact, only semi-autonomous. I further invite them to reflect on how they would propose communities comprised of different groups of workers and consumers apportion decision-making authority internally as well.

(full long long text and notes).


The Turnaround: At the dangerous intersection of race, class and masculinity, on ZBlogs, by Bob Simpson, Nov 8, 20113;

30 Days in May: U of MD 1970, on Spark, May 29, 2013;

Budget Slavery, Budget Freedom Past and Present, on ZMagazine, by Paul Street, Nov 11, 2013;

Uploaded on YouTube by democracynow (see also the Website of Democracy Now):

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