World Premiere at the 2019 SABRe day (01/02/19), Zurich, Switzerland
This piece uses the SABRe senor technology
Idiosyncrasies for contrabass clarinet and electronics tells a ‘story’ about moving from one into another world where the ‘old’ acoustic contrabass clarinet evolves into a new ‘Another’ one as its original sounds are ‘expanded’ into electronics.
String quartet Vesna Ayama played by the Kreutzer Quartet from London gives an idea of a new society – the new era being symbolised by the title: Vesna (Spring) and Ayama, a Sanksrit word meaning “expansion,” “extension” or “breadth. Written for the Centenary of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps premiere in Paris.
€e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision offers a critique of the neoliberal establishment and proposes viable alternatives that may help us overcome the faults and instabilities it generated. It is dedicated to all the people who make the world a better place, from essential workers to those who strive for equality and justice.
Part I – The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah 1) Hear, O Heavens, O Earth. 2) The Test. 3) The Strong and the Weak. 4) They Shall Beat their Plunder into Shares. 5) EWM.
Part II – eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues 6) This is the Vision. 7) We Have Collective Power. 8) A Portal.
In the year 10.956, interstellar archaeologists arrived to a planet in a remote corner of a distant galaxy. Despite the planet’s unassuming appearance from outer space, the archaeologists became intrigued by the state of affairs they found when they landed, and decided to stay to investigate its history. Prompted by their initial enthusiasm, they spent months of fruitless effort to find any helpful evidence. But just as they were making their preparations to leave for another world, they suddenly came across an archaeological treasure in the form of two ancient digital media sources: “The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah” and the “eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues”.
The first of these exposed and documented the cosmology of a small sect of believers who were able to acquire immense power over the planet many millennia before. While archaeologists encountered evidence that there were various versions of The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah, the only source they found was the so called Free Market Version which, they later discovered, was used as the official source of dogma for the dominant group’s cosmology. Its name appears to have derived from its beginning invocation ‘Hear, O heavens, O earth: this is the vision of €e.$i¥.Ah’, and it is structured into five sections: Hear, O Heavens, O earth; The Test; The Strong and the Weak; They Shall Beat their Plunder into Shares; EWM (Electronic War Music).
The eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues, on the other hand, consist of three parts: a critique of €e.$i¥.Ah’s vision, the formulation of an alternative cosmology and a short epilogue of hope. Further investigations shed light on the origin of the Dialogues, traced to a global and diverse collective group, which encompassed a large cross-section of the population of the planet contemporary to the dominant minority group.
Together, The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah and the eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues offered the archaeologists a picture of the planet’s state nearly nine millennia before their arrival and helped them understand its present.
Voices from samples available in the public domain: Aja Barber, Grace Blakeley, Noam Chomsky, Christian Felber, David Graeber, Chris Hedges, Ann Pettifor, Kate Raworth, Asad Rehman, Arundahti Roy, Elif Shafak, Wole Soyinka, Guy Standing, Yanis Varoufakis, Richard Wolff.
Special appearances from samples available in the public domain: Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ronald Wilson Reagan, Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Donald John Trump.
Samples from De Wolfe XV Series Effects Collection (licensed to Keele University).
Synthesised voices created with Balabolka, https://balabolka.en.lo4d.com/windows.
The author’s own recordings.
‘Orchestral’ passages created by the author are inspired by chord progressions in What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.
Concept €e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision, pronounced /ɪ ‘zaɪ əs ‘vɪʒən/, is an electronic work for performance over eight speakers (octophonic) or stereo. It offers a critique of the current neoliberal establishment, which became the dominant economic, social and political force in the planet during the last fifty years. Correspondingly, the name €e.$i¥.Ah is a ‘monetised’ transformation of the name Isaiah. In a contemporary world where information is overabundant, manufacturing of consent is unprecedently sophisticated, and authoritative messages often conceal lack of substance or evidence, a critique articulated by means of an artwork must overcome new challenges if it is to avoid becoming mere unsubstantiated form. In this context, the conception in €e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision aims to articulate the affective power of music without sacrificing content and to present a coherent formulation of its critique through this affective power. It also aims to transcend such critique by introducing viable ideas for alternatives to the neoliberal order that may help us overcome the faults and instabilities generated by the latter and prevent further deterioration.
Content In order to encourage the listener to assume a detached view of the state of our present world, €e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision is set in the future, when interstellar archaeologists arrive to an unnamed planet in a remote corner of a distant galaxy (see programme notes below). As they endeavour to discover the history of the planet, the archaeologists come across two ancient digital media sources: The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah and the eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues. Together, these findings offer the archaeologists a picture of the planet’s state nearly nine millennia before their arrival and help them understand its present. The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah exposed and documented the cosmology of a small sect of believers who were able to acquire immense power over the planet. Alluding to Isaiah, the Old testament prophet, The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah’s religious connotations relate to the neoliberal quasifundamentalist belief in a godlike market which is supposed to solve all our existential problems. In this context, it is used as metaphor to articulate the music’s affective power in the first part of the musical piece: the texts used are assembled as parts of musical phrases; for example, as words of an electronic dance of war (see EWM below) or as words of gospel preached by intelligent artificial beings in a sanitised utopic environment (see They Shall Beat their Plunder into Shares below). The Vision of €e.$i¥.Ah consists of five sections:
Hear, O Heavens, O earth – an invocation of the vision of €e.$i¥.Ah amidst a background of environmental destruction.
The Test – nonsensical text that illustrates lack of content in a political leader’s speech.
The Strong and the Weak – elaborates on the maxim ‘the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer as they must’ attributed to Thucydides (fourth-century BC).
They Shall Beat their Plunder into Shares – intelligent artificial beings2 preach from the gospel of €e.$i¥.Ah in a sanitised utopic environment. The text consists of modifications of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. For example, Isaiah’s ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks’ becomes ‘They shall beat their plunder into shares, and their loans into pruning hooks’. As this section develops, the artificial beings end up sounding more “human’ than actual samples of real people.
EWM (Electronic War Music) – free market eulogists participate in an electronic dance piece made of war sounds.
The title of the second part of €e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision, eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues takes its name from a hybrid between ‘eco’ (ecologic, economic, ecosystems, etc.) and the Old testament book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), and focuses on the explicit arguments of the critique. While affective power still plays a role throughout its sections, the words articulated by various contemporary thinkers take centre stage. Together, the many voices form a single narrative achieved by the collective contributions of each of the individuals. This contrasts the role of the uncoordinated voices that feature in EWM (Electronic War Music), countering neoliberal individualism with the synergy achieved by means of collective action. The eCo.Helet Collective Dialogues consist of three sections:
This is the Vision – a textual critique of €e.$i¥.Ah’s neoliberal capitalist vision
We Have Collective Power – the formulation of an alternative social, political, and ecologic cosmology, achievable by means of collective action.
A Portal – a short epilogue of hope.
€e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision is not intended to provide a prediction. It does not attempt to estimate the fate of neoliberalism and whether it will be replaced by the alternative vision it proposes or by something completely different (e.g. extreme forms of neo-feudalist power based on the exclusive possession of data, or power by control over automation, etc.). It rather aims to instigate discussion in wider public circles than those of social and political scientists, economists, philosophers and other intellectuals. It is intended to foment reflection on our current pressing existential problems (inequality, environmental extinction, nuclear holocaust, etc.). For these reasons, it never reveals the state in which the archaeologists found the planet. The latter’s fate is left unclear, in an effort to let the listeners decide on the nature of our actual planet’s present and infer its possible future … and if they deem it necessary, to take appropriate action!
Genre and Style €e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision is an musical work for loudspeakers. Given its scope and content, it incorporates the articulation of materials from different genres. For instance, but not exclusively, it incorporates components from genres such as electroacoustic (e.g. The Strong and the Weak, etc.), radiophonic (e.g. We Have Collective Power), dance music (e.g. EDM) and postdigital (e.g. The Test). These are adapted to fit within a coherent musical narrative.
Realisation Performance using a circle of eight speakers enables the realisation of an immersive experience for the listeners. Ideally, multi-speaker sound systems assume a listener sitting at the sweet spot in the centre of a circle. However, this is not possible for every member of a large audience; especially in concert venues where the listeners are dispersed around the centre. Also, in the case of larger spaces where the speakers are relatively far from the centre of the circle, a ‘hole’ is perceived, with sounds appearing to come from the periphery.
In order to mitigate these issues, two strategies were used in the realisation of €e.$i¥.Ah’s Vision. Firstly, the material is composed purposefully to avoid the need to pinpoint accurate sound location. Rather, the spatial distribution of the sounds focuses on their relative positions and actual movement; their spatial counterpoint. Secondly, the effects of large venues with dispersed audiences were also mitigated using panning algorithms developed by the composer. These forfeit the flexibility in speaker positioning of systems such as Vector Base Amplitude Panning (VBAP)3 and higher order ambisonics4 in favour of an approach that involves a wider cross-section of interlinked speakers. This means that the speakers should be positioned approximately within the current conventions used worldwide for octophonic sound projection. Also, the algorithms implement additional auditory cues for moving sound in the form Doppler Shift calculated with respect to the position of a listener relative to the speakers.
An economy is a system of production and consumption activities connected via allocation mechanisms. Simply, it is how people produce items and services that other people later consume. Economies are also inextricably entwined with the wider spheres of life bearing on political, communal, kinship, and ecological relations. For those who dislike or even detest capitalism and all of its societal effects, what better economy can we seek? Is there a better alternative?
We propose the following set of five features, based on the values of self-management, equity, solidarity, diversity, and sustainability, as a foundational framework for a good economy for all, an economic vision known as participatory economics. This presentation is intentionally brief and should engender more questions than it gives answers. It should inspire further engagement towards an economic vision that seeks to achieve human fulfillment and wellbeing within ecological bounds.
Who Owns What?
In any economy, workers use equipment, resources, venues, and diverse skills and knowledge that have accumulated over years, decades, and centuries to produce items and services. In capitalism, these “means of production” are overwhelmingly owned by roughly two percent of the population. We call them capitalists. They include Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. Capitalists are human, of course, but they occupy inhumane roles. Countless books, essays, videos, etc illuminate all the ways that private ownership of productive assets has been and continues to be destructive, so we will not elaborate on that here. Instead, we will move on from what we reject, to what we want. A worthy post-capitalist means of production should compose a Productive Commons, that no one owns but that people utilize, to produce outputs which they and others later consume. Inhumane economic roles and their associated outcomes should be replaced.
Capitalists currently decide workplace production. Without capitalists, who will run workplaces? Without Bezos, who will run Amazon? We propose, why not Amazon’s workers and consumers?
Who Decides What?
Where will workers gather to make decisions about what their workplaces and industries produce and about how workers, in teams and individually, do the producing? And where will consumers gather to make decisions about their personal consumption (shoes, ice cream…), their living unit consumption (couches, homes…), their neighborhood and city consumption (subways, schools…), and even their state and whole society consumption (pandemic prevention, highways…)?
We propose that sometimes people will make production decisions individually or in work teams. Sometimes people will make consumption decisions individually or in families or other local groups.
But what about larger scale decisions whether for workplaces or industries, or for neighborhoods, cities, or states?
People will need to make those decisions collectively as members of what we call “workers and consumers councils” and “federations of councils”.
To make their decisions, will workers and consumers use consensus, or majority rules, or some other method? And is it really all of them who will decide?
We propose, sometimes workers and consumers will use consensus, sometimes they will use one person one vote, majority rules, and sometimes they will use other means of deliberation, voting, and tallying.
Why not always use one preferred optimal way?
Because the councils exist to seek self management, by which we mean that all people should have a say in decisions in proportion as they are affected by them. The exact forms of deliberation, voting, and tallying that councils opt for regarding different decisions are just various tactics councils might choose so as to self manage.
Self management is best achieved in diverse contexts via diverse means. Workers and consumers are all affected by acts of production and consumption, but not all to the same extent in every situation. Therefore, all workers and consumers should have a say regarding outcomes, but at different times, in different places, and for different issues, sometimes decisions should be private, sometimes collective. When collective, sometimes one approach is best for attaining self management, while sometimes another approach is best – again, methods of deliberation, voting, and tallying are a set of tactics and tools for achieving self management. Different approaches can accommodate different impact on different participants. For example, at work, I decide what I wear, our work team decides our team’s internal operations, the whole workplace council decides overall policies.
Self managed councils are the second feature, after a productive commons, that we propose as a set of defining features for a good post capitalist economy.
Who Does What?
If workers and consumers are to decide economic procedures and outcomes, they will need to wisely consider diverse matters. If not, bad decisions will hurt everyone. What will ensure that workers and consumers are wise decision makers?
To start, what prevents everyone from being wise decision makers in diverse situations now? Partly, it is a lack of training before going into work in the first place. This would need to change. But there is another more revealing and instructive factor. All economies necessarily combine bunches of tasks into jobs that people do. But how do economies pick which tasks to bunch together into which jobs? That is where issues arise. In current workplaces we have what we call a hierarchical or “corporate division of labor.”
Utilizing the corporate division of labor, economies combine “empowering tasks” into one set of jobs such as high level manager, accountant, lawyer, professor, doctor, engineer, and so on. Simultaneously, economies combine “disempowering tasks” into another set of jobs such as factory assembler, short order cook, nursing home and hospital staff, automotive repair, delivery services, garbage collector, and so on. An economy’s empowering jobs convey to managers, accountants, and others who do them decision making skills, knowledge, access, confidence, ties to others, and readiness and energy essential to making workplace decisions. An economy’s disempowering jobs reduce the decision making skills, knowledge, access, confidence, ties to others, and readiness and energy essential to making workplace decisions of assemblers, drivers, and others who do them.
To prepare us for the corporate division of labor even before entering the workforce, our education provides what the economy needs. Our education prepares twenty percent of us to expect to fill coordinator roles, and prepares eighty percent of us to expect to take orders and endure boredom.
There is undeniably a fuzzy borderline, but we call employees who are made ready and willing decision-makers by their doing empowering jobs the “coordinator class”. We call employees who are distanced from and unprepared for decision-making by their doing disempowering jobs the “working class”. By virtue of their empowering circumstances, the former, roughly twenty percent, coordinators dominate the latter, roughly eighty percent, workers. The coordinators determine agendas, hash out policies, and determine outcomes. They give orders. The workers hear about outcomes and implement decisions others make. They follow orders. This dynamic can occur with the ruling capitalist class situated above both coordinators and workers, as happens in capitalism. It can also occur when the coordinator class occupies the top spot, due to capitalist ownership having been eliminated but the corporate division of labor having been maintained, as has happened in various iterations of twentieth century socialism.
Does this division of labor obstruct self management?
Yes, even with a productive commons and even with workers and consumers councils, if a new economy retains the familiar corporate division of labor, the composition of its jobs will preclude roughly eighty percent of employees from being prepared and ready to decide outcomes. A retained corporate division of labor will ensure that only twenty percent of employees decide outcomes. Under capitalism, this coordinator class resides between labor and capital. With capitalists gone, the corporate division of labor, as we have seen historically in twentieth century socialism (better named coordinatorism) and even in non-profit businesses inside capitalist economies, elevates the coordinator class to become a new ruling class.
Does that mean hope for self management for all is an unattainable dream? Does it mean that to have viable production and consumption, we must have a coordinator class above and a working class below? Coordinators empowered and enriched? Workers disempowered and impoverished? Is it inevitable that among humans, a few will order and the rest obey?
No. But it does mean that to get rid of class rule we not only have to eliminate private ownership to end rule by rich owners, we also have to eliminate the corporate division of labor to end rule by empowered coordinators. We need to complete our effort to eliminate systemically produced class division. In other words, to foster self management we must consider not just who owns what, but also who does what, in order to equitably empower all to participate in who decides what.
The intention seems admirable, but first and foremost we have to get stuff done. If eliminating the corporate division of labor means we self manage chaos and endure poverty, most people would rightly vote to maintain what we have.
Fair enough. And that means we need to get rid of the corporate division of labor but nonetheless produce and consume wiser and better. No chaos. No poverty. Our desire to eliminate class hierarchy means we have to get rid of a skewed distribution of empowering tasks. To achieve that, instead of having only about twenty percent of employees do all the empowering tasks, we propose to combine tasks into jobs so that every job is comparably empowering as all others. Each job has some empowering and some disempowering aspects in a balanced mix that roughly equalizes the empowerment effects of all jobs. These “balanced job complexes” remove the basis for there being coordinators above and workers below.
All workers and consumers make decisions in their councils. They are empowered to do so by prior training and by doing a fair share of empowering tasks. It sounds good, but is it viable? Won’t it underutilize surgeons, for example, by having them spend some time cleaning up? And can everyone who now cleans up do balanced work well?
Consider an example. If Joe can do thirty or more hours of surgery (or accounting, or managing, or whatever) but in his balanced job he could only do, say, fifteen or twenty hours of surgery (or accounting, or managing, or whatever) because he also has to do other less empowering tasks, then with such a proposed change, it is true that we would get less total worth of surgery output from Joe. More, one in five employees in current economies are like Joe, responsible for a monopoly of empowering tasks. So, if we would lose a percentage of valuable output from these folks, why change?
Because for the other four out of five employees, this change liberates their current unused potentials. This change liberates more than enough gain to offset the loss. Plus, and this is the primary motivation, with this change we also end class rule. We end robbing four fifths of employees of dignity and efficacy. We end elevating one fifth of employees above to dominate four fifths below. We get more overall productive potential and creative capacity from our society, and better still, we get more self management, a greater diversity of thought and practice, and more solidarity and dignity for all. This change results in a huge net benefit.
Still not sure if this is viable? What makes advocates of participatory economics believe the four fifths will have sufficient talents and capacities liberated by this job balancing, even with improved schooling, to offset potential losses due to others not fully exercising their talents due to their having to do some disempowering, as opposed to only empowering, tasks?
Fifty years ago, medical schools and law schools in the U.S. were overwhelmingly male and white. The common belief/rationale to explain that was that it was because women and people of color were unable to be productive doctors and lawyers. Someone hearing about the overwhelming white male preponderance could think: Others don’t become doctors or lawyers. Obvious explanation, others can’t heal the sick or practice law. That explanation would have indeed been correct for some people, because of course, not everyone is suited or inclined to be a doctor or lawyer. But there was another, better explanation. People of color and women, writ large, didn’t become doctors, lawyers, scientists, managers, and so on, not because of some kind of underlying intrinsic incapacity, but because social arrangements reduced and denied their capacities, as well as excluded them. Everyone should have easily discerned that was the case, yet many, indeed most, did not discern it was the case. Even many (of the few) people of color and female doctors and lawyers, much less most of the great many white male doctors, lawyers, scientists, and managers often thought the issue was capacity, not subjugation. What prevented many people from seeing what should have been obvious? Pervasive sexism and racism.
Flash forward fifty years, working class people do not do empowering jobs. Someone might say, Jim or Sue can’t do surgery or write a legal brief because workers can’t do empowering tasks. In our society, about 80% of the population is channelled, often by home life, certainly by training, and then on the job, to take orders and endure boredom. Just as progress towards overcoming racism and sexism has led to people of color and women thriving as lawyers, doctors and in diverse empowering pursuits, so will overcoming what we might reasonably call classism lead to the 80% becoming more than able to do their share of empowering tasks in balanced jobs.
Therefore, we propose balanced job complexes as the third feature of a desirable post-capitalist economy. Yes, we will lose some productivity and innovation that we could have gotten from 20% of employees doing only empowering tasks. On the other hand, we will gain classlessness and all the dignity and solidarity that will mean. And we will also gain the productivity, diversity, and innovation freed by 80% of employees developing and utilizing their capacities rather than succumbing to the dictates of a corporate division of labor.
Interview with IMZ (Iniciativa mestni zbor) in Slovenia about the citizens assemblies movement, vision, & strategy
Citizen assemblies are valued and promoted by a wide spectrum of advocates for increasing grassroots participation, democratization, diversity, solidarity, inclusion, sustainability, public health, community resources, transparency and many other benefits to society. They are a favorite social prescription from prominent activists, academics, and organizers, yet are rarely actualized and sustained.
I spoke with representatives from The Initiative for Citywide Assembly (Iniciativa mestni zbor – IMZ) about the non-partisan, self-organized municipal assemblies in Maribor, Slovenia that have now been active for 10 years. IMZ shares their rich experiences, offering insights into organizing and facilitation, organizational structure and culture, community, diversity, intersectional activism, vision for the future, and more…
Would you introduce us to the citizen assembly movement in Slovenia? How and when did it begin? What was the context in which the project was conceived and launched?
The Initiative for Citywide Assembly (Iniciativa mestni zbor – IMZ) are a group of citizens whose aim it is to promote non-partisan political self-organization at the city district level in the Municipality of Maribor, Slovenia.
The initiative was formed in turbulent times at the end of 2012, when people, deeply unsatisfied with local as well as state governance, took to the streets. Civil unrest, which erupted here in Maribor and spread over Slovenia, resulted in two resignations. The first one to step down was the mayor of Maribor, Franc Kangler, followed by the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Janez Janša.
We were convinced that the civil revolt and various actions of civil disobedience must be followed by new, creative and far-reaching steps towards a kind of development that would empower us to effect change in our streets, districts, local communities, cities, the country and, finally, the world. The People should play the primary role in shaping and influencing development policies in our cities and nationwide, rather than leaving them in the hands of city councilors and parliamentarians. Since politicians obviously understand their role in society quite differently, it falls to us to put them in their place and present to them our positions and demands, and in doing so take over the responsibility for the functioning of our communities, the municipality and the entire country.
Describe the structure and values of IMZ and of the citizen assemblies themselves… Does IMZ draw on certain theory or organizing traditions? Are you rooted in any political or social vision?
Our aim is to regain the co-determination and co-management that was taken away from us at the local, municipal, and national levels. This is achieved by exerting pressure on the ruling structures in various ways – but most effectively through direct democracy.
We believe that the solution lies in self-organizing, debate, sharing information and education, which enables us to critically, directly and creatively respond to the degeneration of our political and social system.
The initiative (IMZ) and citizen assemblies are both structured the same way. They are both horizontally organized, without directly appointed leadership. Participation in both the initiative and/or citizen assemblies is voluntary. Neither IMZ nor local assemblies are a formal organization of any kind.
Members of IMZ must not be holding any leading positions in any political party. Political preferences and ideologies of people attending assemblies are never a point of discussion, since they hold no bearing in the process of building evolved, more equal, solidarity-based community. It is often what sets this process back. The same goes for positions and functions people hold in their professional life – they should be left at work and not be abused to overpower a discussion at assemblies. The power of the argument should always prevail, not the argument of power.
Problems are widely debated to ensure an array of views, opinions and information. Decisions are then formed through consensus rather than voting. We believe it is worth investing more time to reach a decision which is acceptable for all (levels of acceptance may vary, but it’s still acceptance) than take a shortcut and let a majority win over a minority by voting.
We also find the “direct action principle” (which we understand to mean that when someone proposes some action they have to help carry it out) to be an important method in community engagement. This principle prevents situations where people try to get others to solve their problems. Instead, it engages them into solving perceived problems with the help of others.
From the early days of the project through the first 10 years, what was the development like? How many citizens participate? Who participates in the assemblies, and what does that mean for them? What were some notable experiences, challenges, and achievements?
The assemblies started to happen in the times when there was a general feeling (in Europe) that everything was possible. After the economic crisis, municipalist movements came to life and older ideas of different political and economic systems (socialism, communism) became a possibility again. People suddenly realized that representative democracy really doesn’t work and that alternative ways of decision making closer to communities are needed. This new optimistic wave of democracy was extremely strong in Maribor, which meant that a lot of people wanted to be part of the change. This resulted in a really high level of participation at citizens’ assemblies at the beginning. However, it must be said that even then mostly older generations, who still remember how self-management (at the workplace and at the municipal/city districts level) worked in Yugoslavia participated. In the first year, turnout at the assemblies was mostly between 20 and 60 people per assembly, taking place twice a month in 11 out of 17 Maribor city districts. Through the years and the realization that the assemblies fight the long fights that need a lot of stamina, the numbers have reduced to between 5 to 30 participants per assembly in each city district (now there are assemblies in 10 city districts). Still mostly older generations participate and it depends on the assembly, but the number of older men and women are approximately the same. This is probably the result of two things:
-remembering the self- management in Yugoslavia,
-assemblies are also considered a form of socializing outside your circle of friends or family (or maybe you do not have a close family or that many friends anymore and the assemblies are your connection with the outside world).
In 2016 social researchers from University of Ljubljana came to Maribor and did a study of the effects that self-organizing had on participants. They specifically focused on the ones that participated in the struggle that resulted in participatory budgeting being instituted for the first time in Slovenia in 2015. Their research found that the participants developed skills important for acting as part of a community, including active listening, improved argumentation, etc., as well as had some of their values changed in a way that made them respect the needs and opinions of other people more, put stronger faith in community solutions to problems. The research showed that the participants even increased their overall life satisfaction and even on average doubled the number of friends they had.
What the assemblies have managed to achieve and what is quite an important achievement at that, is that Municipality of Maribor has become more responsive to inquiries of the citizens and is even a little bit afraid or annoyed (depends on the municipal department) when they get a letter from an assembly requesting answers (which happens quite a lot). What is also an extremely important achievement of the assemblies is the introduction of participatory budgeting to Slovenia in 2015. Assemblies have also achieved many improvements in their direct living environments and have influenced a lot of municipal politics and strategic documents.
What we did not manage to achieve so far is to include Roma people in the assemblies or other groups of people who really live on the edges of the society. However, the assemblies proved to be a potent political space to defuse some of societal antipathies towards the marginalized groups. One strong example of that was in 2014, when it was announced that the first Roma restaurant in Slovenia was to open its doors in Maribor. The mere announcement triggered racist protests of several hundred people, as well as smaller counter protests. The mayor organized a citizen assembly where the participants were overwhelmingly against allowing the restaurant to open. Two days later the IMZ assembly was carried out and even though a lot of the same people (who fervently opposed the restaurant) attended, it nevertheless after 2 hours of debate reached a unanimous decision to support the opening of the restaurant.
One of the great strengths of capitalism, we’re told, is the individual and corporate freedoms it gives. Compared to other systems, we’re told, like feudalism or communism, capitalism allows us enormous latitude to make decisions about how we live our lives: we are free to innovate and create, free to voice our opinions, free to get an education, to apply for a job and to quit it, free to buy what we want, go where we like, choose where we live.
Whenever the topic of replacing capitalism is discussed, freedom becomes a focus of conversation, even if the conversation is with people on the Left who generally believe capitalism is harmful. Across the political spectrum, many believe that if we jettison capitalism, we also stand to jettison the tremendous liberty capitalism affords us. How can any other economic system ever provide that same level of freedom no matter how benign, no matter how just, no matter how protective of the environment, it may be? Can we really take the chance on an alternative that gives us no guarantee that we’ll keep the freedom we enjoy in capitalism, despite its other flaws?
If we consider freedom to be the absence of power and coercion over people, and as having the liberty to do the things we want to do, as described by Rob Larson in his book Capitalism Vs. Freedom, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the aspects of freedom under capitalism because things might not be as they seem.
Take employment. In capitalism, we’re told that we have the freedom to apply for any job we want. Technically, that’s true. There’s no legal impediment preventing me or you from applying for a job. However, having the freedom to apply for a job and actually securing a job are two very different things. I might not be able to find any suitable jobs where I live or the jobs that are available have unsociable hours or are otherwise unfeasible. And if I apply for a job I’m not qualified for, I’m not going to get it—although that would be true for any economy.
The logic of capitalism will of course have answers to all of these stumbling blocks. If there are no jobs where I live, I can move away or commute for hours each day. If the hours are unsociable and conflict with my caring responsibilities or the job is too dangerous or otherwise unworthy, I should get over myself, this is only to be expected of working life. The only thing standing in the way of taking any of these options is me.
And if I’m not qualified, well, hey, I can go and get qualified. Because in capitalism, I’m completely free to gain a qualification or a skill in whatever profession I wish. The opportunities are boundless. Though maybe not.
Assuming I have the academic acumen to gain the qualification or skill I’m after, there are other barriers that will get in my way. In most countries, earning a college qualification or acquiring a skill is costly. If my government doesn’t subsidise or cover the costs of course fees and sustenance, I’ll have to pay them myself; and if I don’t have the money I’ll have to borrow it. Any loan I take out is unlikely to cover all my costs so that will mean making up the deficit by working part-time, not to mention that once I finish my training, I’ll have student debt that might take most of my working life to pay off.
And there’s a deeper set of obstacles. Say I was raised in an impoverished home where my parent, parents or guardian worked two jobs each to provide the essentials and hadn’t time to nurture pre-school learning. Say that meant, when I started school, I lacked the basic developmental skills for my age, putting me at a great disadvantage. As I went through school, no one really noticed I was falling behind. Not at home because they were stressed out making ends meet. Not at school because classes were overcrowded and under resourced; not to mention that the system is set up so most kids fail, leaving them perfect to take on the menial jobs required by capitalism. I fell so far behind that it reached a point where I couldn’t catch up. This made me feel stupid and useless and I ended up leaving without any qualifications. After that experience, the freedom to go and get qualified doesn’t seem very tangible.
But let’s say that my impoverished parents had been able to give me the attention I needed so that I did achieve academically. Even then, I’m guaranteed nothing. It’s a fact that social mobility isn’t that easy without resources and connections, and it’s more and more the case that we don’t move far from where we start in life. We might get lucky but the odds are against us because of the 80/20 rule: that is, 80% of the jobs in capitalism are low-skilled, low-paid, rote and disempowering; and about 20% of the jobs are skilled, higher-paid and empowering (although even these are experiencing an ever-downward push on salaries and working conditions). The upshot is, if lots and lots of us don’t end up qualified or reaching our full potential, that’s better for the system. Capitalism, for all its boasts of freedom, needs a large army of serfs.
Putting that aside, let’s say I’m in the 80% and I gain employment in a low-skilled, low-paid job. My workplace will most likely be hierarchical and I’ll have no autonomy or say over what happens. I’ll be told what to do by my ‘superiors’ and my working day will be filled with sameness and monotony. I’ll know nothing about the business so I won’t have the information needed to make decisions that impact on daily operations and the future of the business; not that I’d be allowed to make decisions like that anyway. Essentially, I’ll do what school trained me to do: take orders and endure boredom. While I might live in a formally democratic society (as much as any society is democratic) my workplace will be a veritable dictatorship. As for freedom, I can leave that at the door.
In such an oppressive environment, I’ll have no opportunity to be creative or innovative. My ‘superiors’ certainly won’t need that from me and they’ll probably discourage any kind of independent or creative thought. I might find that my brain is so dulled by the monotony of what I do and my body so exhausted with the long hours and the pressure of not having enough money to get by, that I won’t have the energy or time to pursue innovative or creative pursuits.
Of course, if I don’t like my work situation, capitalism tells me I have complete freedom to quit that job and go find another. So, yes, I can do that. I can leave my low-paid, low-skilled, rote and disempowering job anytime I want. But with the same lack of qualifications, my new job will probably be low-paid, low-skilled, rote and disempowering too. I’ll simply leave one dictatorship to go into another dictatorship.
That said, capitalism has produced people like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Because of capitalism, people like this have freely innovated and become insanely rich. We’re told that any of us can achieve the same if only we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But is that really there for the taking? For all of us? In truth, the richest people in the world rarely start at the bottom, like in a single-parent family from the Projects, and work their way up. They are more likely to come from families with means, attend the best, or at least good, schools and colleges, and have opportunities and doors opened to them. Not to say that some don’t have talents or ability but those alone don’t take anybody to the top.
The story is told about the guy who started selling books online out of a humble garage and ended up one of the richest people in the world. Sound familiar? Yeah, you got it. This is the story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Only it’s not quite what it seems. While he was the son of a teenage mother, his grandfather was regional director of the US Atomic Energy Commission and owned a 25,000-acre ranch. He didn’t come from the richest background but it was affluent enough to give him opportunities that somebody from the Projects wouldn’t have; opportunities that made attending Princeton possible, which is a pretty good start. And when he and his wife founded Amazon, yes, from a garage, he’d previously been vice-president of a hedge fund earning over $500,000 a year.
Regardless of how capable, innovative, or hard-working a person is, without resources and connections, it’s nigh on impossible to achieve materialistic success on this scale. A tiny minority of people might start at the bottom and climb to those levels but behind their story will be found a lot of good luck. It’s much more common for those starting at the bottom to stay at the bottom regardless of their work ethic, their abilities or their creative ideas. Having vast numbers of people at the bottom is actually welcomed by capitalism. Remember the 80/20 rule: if we’re all insanely wealthy and at the top of the totem pole, who does the grunt work?
Of course, there’s a physical constraint to consider too. We’d need two-and-a-half planets, maybe more, to make it possible for everybody to live like a Jeff Bezos. As it stands, there simply aren’t the resources to accommodate even the 1% of people who have this immense wealth. For every one person afforded a life with too much wealth and resources, millions must live in poverty.
The above brings into question the very notion of a system that allows such concentrations of obscene wealth. Something is terribly wrong when one person can lavish millions of dollars on a work of art while another can’t afford to feed her children. But that’s exactly how capitalism works. In the first instance, capitalism sets out the false promise that we can all be rich. Then it tries to indoctrinate us into believing that being rich should be our life’s ambition and only measure of success, when actually the truth is we cannot all be rich and striving to be rich at all should repel us rather than be our greatest desire.
And now we come to that pinnacle of individual and corporate freedom unique to capitalism: the gift of the free market. According to the rules of the free market, we all have complete freedom to consume and produce at will. As long as governments are prevented as much as possible from imposing nasty regulations that fetter production and consumption, the world is our oyster. It doesn’t matter if what we consume or produce harms the environment or wastes resources or creates poverty. Thanks to capitalism, if I have the means, I’m free to build a 50-bedroom house with a pool, a tennis court and a mammoth carbon footprint, even while others live on the street with a cardboard box for shelter. On the other hand, for those of us with limited means, the free market is much less free. If we earn a low wage or even a modest wage, we’re greatly restricted by what we can consume, and have no say over what is available, in any case.
Because the market is entirely profit-driven and dominated by powerful corporations and wealthy individuals, other problems arise. Public goods, such as roads, social housing, public transport, energy infrastructure, education, primary research, are not as profitable as private goods. So unless government contracts are tendered to supply them, the market neglects these goods. Moreover, for goods that should be public but where private interests have muscled in, they’ve done so because they see an opportunity to turn a profit and delivering the right service or product becomes an afterthought. This has happened for example, in healthcare, in energy, in banking. In these areas, we’ve seen crises and it’s no coincidence that they’re dominated by private interests. We had a financial crisis in 2008; we’ve just come out of a Covid crisis; and we’re currently in an energy crisis—Richard D. Wolff would tell us these are all crises in capitalism. If we had real freedom of choice, the majority of people might prefer that health, energy and banking were public goods; so that access to life-saving vaccines would be free rather than available only to those who could afford them; so that no one would go without heat when at the same time energy companies raked in unprecedented profits; so that banks wouldn’t foreclose on mortgages while squandering their government bailout. We have the power to make none of that happen and that shows we have no freedom at all when it comes to the market.
The irony is that although many of us are convinced capitalism offers tremendous freedom, the vast majority of us have little or no freedom at all. In reality, we don’t decide what is produced, how it is produced, what incomes we get, and therefore what we consume, even individually, much less collectively. And while capitalism is better than feudalism with its advances in science, technology, medicine and living standards, who’s to say that these same advances wouldn’t have happened anyway with the discovery of fossil fuels and the unimaginable abundance of energy they gave us? Under a different system, a more egalitarian one not driven by greed, instead of becoming addicted to fossil fuels and ignoring the harm they were causing, we might have focused on finding safer alternatives. Under a different system, instead of allowing gross wealth and income inequalities, we might have distributed wealth more equally and put a limit on outrageously high incomes. Under a different system, instead of enslaving 80% of the population in drudgery, we would have nurtured their creativity and reaped the benefits of a society where everybody, not just a few, was allowed to invent and innovate. Under a different system, instead of letting profit and whims dictate production, we might have created products with social, environmental and cultural value such as community-owned renewable energy or patent-free medication. Who’s to say that without capitalism, we might have had all the advances we have now but without the impending extinction of our species?
The freedom we so cling to in capitalism, that one good thing we believe it offers, is really an illusion. And it follows that the pervasive belief that any alternative to capitalism will take away our freedom is another illusion. When we think of alternatives to capitalism, like Participatory Economics (Parecon), we should acknowledge that far from being a threat to freedom, these have the potential to make genuine freedom a reality.
Parecon promotes economic self-management and justice and ecological sustainability by embodying the values of solidarity, self-management, equity and diversity, and by replacing private ownership of the means of production with social ownership of the productive commons.
Under Parecon, we would have universal social provision of public education. Everyone would have the opportunity to develop their preferred skills and talents. With this as a foundation, we wouldn’t have the scenario where some kids are denied the opportunity to self-develop and nurture their talents. By the time they’d leave school, they’d be in a position to pursue the vocational or academic training of their choice without accumulating student debt; and once qualified, would be in a position to secure a decent job. No more would jobs be out of reach and unattainable. Parecon proposes a “full employment” economy ensuring everyone would be guaranteed a job, something that’s entirely achievable in an economy not driven by profit. All of us would receive a full average societal income and a little extra (or less) for working longer (or shorter) hours than average hours or for doing more (or less) onerous tasks. Those unable to work would receive a full average societal income.
Workplaces would look radically different too. The capitalist and coordinator classes would no longer exist, and with them economic hierarchy and authoritarianism. In their place would be non-hierarchical, democratic workplaces, self-managed by worker councils. The corporate division of labour would be replaced with balanced job complexes where each worker would do a fair mix of rote and empowering work. Instead of being based on reward for owning productive property or “human capital”, income would be based on effort and sacrifice, on how hard and long you work, and on the onerousness of the conditions under which you work. Implementing these practices would nurture co-operativism and solidarity in Parecon workplaces.
In a Parecon workplace, none of us would be condemned to a life of working in low-skilled, low-paid, rote and disempowering jobs. None of us would have to take orders. We would have autonomy to make decisions and the scope to innovate and be creative. And if for any reason we wanted to change jobs, we’d be free to go and find another workplace where we’d have all the same opportunities and desirable working conditions. Far from denying us freedom, we would enjoy freedom beyond anything we could hope for in capitalism.
Instead of a market, free or otherwise, Parecon proposes the use of participatory planning to carry out the function of allocation. This process would create a production and consumption plan where productive resources would be used efficiently. The plan would be achieved through an “iterative” procedure in which worker councils, neighbourhood consumer councils, and federations of councils request the goods and services they want by making “self-activity” proposals in response to ever more accurate estimates of the full social and ecological costs and benefits of producing and consuming different goods and services. In this way, “externalities” that are ignored in current market prices would be incorporated into Parecon prices and we would be forced us to make choices about what and what not to produce based on the best use of resources.
Requests for public goods and services would also be made through the production and consumption plan and presumably, without the profit-motive and private gain, we’d make decisions about which of those goods and services to produce based on actual need and benefit to society.
It’s clear from this short description that participatory planning would curtail certain choices that the market doesn’t. Freedom to produce and consume what we choose, regardless of the consequences, would be denied. Because everyone would receive a full average societal income, it would mean no one has to go without the essentials required for a decent standard of living—something the free market doesn’t guarantee. In Parecon, I’d have the freedom to consume what I need. I wouldn’t have the freedom to build a 50-bedroom house with a pool and a tennis court but I would have a home to live in and maybe my community might collectively pay for a tennis court we could all use.
So, yes, the participatory planning in Parecon does curb certain choices. But unlike now, those choices would be curbed by decisions we make ourselves, collectively, and not by wealthy elites who have power over us. And those choices would be curbed in the interests of protecting our environment, our resources and our society. So in a sense, restricting the freedom to have reckless consumption and production would actually open up other kinds of freedom: the freedom to live in a world that isn’t being destroyed; the freedom to live in a society that takes care of us. How does that deny us freedom, the kind that matters at least?
The greater levels of income equity afforded by Parecon would mean that no one has unfair advantages allowing them to become extremely rich. In fact, profiteering would be pointless since participatory planning would prevent anybody from spending excessive amounts of money. The creativity and innovation nurtured in self-managing workplaces would allow workers with ideas to thrive and pursue their ideas, and be recognised for their achievements. But they wouldn’t be awarded ridiculously obscene amounts of money that create the gross wealth and income inequalities we have today. That doesn’t diminish or remove anybody’s freedom, except for a tiny percentage of people who right now have far too much but, who under Parecon would have the same freedoms as everybody else.
When we take an honest look at what freedom means in capitalism, it’s obvious that we have to strip away the rhetoric and the myths that surround this entire concept. In capitalism, freedom is an illusion for most of us and for those who have it, it’s costing the earth. If we honestly believe there is no better alternative to capitalism, we must ask ourselves who or what benefits from us believing that? It would seem it isn’t the 99% or the wonder that is planet earth. Isn’t it about time we let go of capitalism’s illusion of freedom and shifted our focus to another system that has the potential to give us real freedom?
I remember an interview I once did, back about five years, for a British outlet and its first, opening question, went like this: “Since Occupy, said the interviewer, it has become fashionable for progressives to talk about the 1% vs the 99%. This two class analysis, however, has a much longer history. For example, Marxists typically highlight two classes—the capitalist class and the working class—and like Occupy focus people’s attention on the problem with an economic system that runs primarily in the interests of an economic elite – whether it be called the capitalists or the 1%. We have seen this kind of analysis, the interviewer continued, during the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US and here in the UK with Momentum—which is the organisation behind Jeremy Corbyn. I want to ask you about this analysis in light of the victory of Donald Trump in your country and Brexit in mine. But before doing that, I was wondering if you could comment on the efficacy of this analysis?”
So, asked the above, how would you have answered? Here is what I said about an issue, which is, to my mind, of considerable contemporary importance.
What the two class analysis explicitly says is up to a point correct and profoundly important, though sometimes obscured a bit by rhetoric. What the analysis leaves out, however, is also profoundly important and its absence severely undercuts the value of the positive insights.
The correct part is that by virtue of owning the tools and resources that society uses to sustain itself, “capitalists” dominate much of social, political, cultural, and of course economic life. Owners profit off others’ efforts. Owners control major centers of power and influence and have vast wealth with which to buy whatever they want and influence how everyone lives. To have an equitable, classless economy, we would have to eliminate monopolization of productive property into few hands. That is, equitable classlessness requires that we eliminate private ownership of productive assets. More, this is not just words, or clever slogans. It is demonstrable, and in fact by this time it is a virtually self evident fact. When individuals own resources, factories, and other means of production they have dominion over economic life. They hire and fire workers at will. They govern workers actions and conditions. They amass great fortunes for themselves, and then, with their great wealth, they buy and sell whatever they desire, including politicians. Of course, to realize this much about class can inform realizing a great deal more, but even just this main theme summarized in so few words is more than enough to evidence the critical importance of the two class view.
What the two class view leaves out, however, is that capitalists are not the only class that has major relative advantages. Below capitalists, but still above what I call the working class, resides what I call the “coordinator class,” which many call the “professional managerial class.” This group between labor and capital doesn’t monopolize means of production. This group between labor and capital monopolizes empowering roles in the economy. This group between labor and capital does tasks that convey to it skills, knowledge, confidence, social connections, and access to levers of decision making power, all of which leaves its members equipped and inclined to make decisions.
Employees who reside below this empowered group, the working class, in contrast do tasks that diminish their skills, delimit their knowledge, drain their confidence, sunder their social connections, and isolate them from levers of decision making power, all of which leaves them unequipped and also disinclined to make decisions.
The “coordinator class,” though hired and fired by owners in capitalism, have vastly more influence, greater bargaining power, higher incomes, better conditions, and more social say than workers below. Within capitalist economies, coordinators are a class between labor and capital. They are, as well, a class that can rise to rule when capitalism is replaced by an alternative that removes private ownership but does not remove the basis for a coordinator class above workers. This describes what has been called centrally planned and market socialism—whose economies should arguably be called, instead, centrally planned and market coordinatorism.
To attain an equitable, classless economy therefore requires not only that we eliminate a domineering capitalist class by eliminating people privately owning means of production, but also that we eliminate a domineering coordinator class by eliminating people monopolizing empowering tasks.
Now hearing that response, you, like the British interviewer, might well reply as he did, that “I know that this is something that you (and your old friend and collaborator, Robin Hahnel) have been talking about since the 1970’s and yet little on the Left seems to have changed. Could you speculate on why that is? What might be the reasons for resisting the kind of analysis that you have presented? Who might stand to gain by ignoring this analysis?”
And if you were asked that, how might you answer? My answer was, well, sometimes a new viewpoint takes a long time to garner substantial support because it is seriously complicated or, though it is reasonably accessible, it is quite far from familiar. But, I would add, is that really the full answer in this case?
Consider the claim that if 20% of society monopolizes all the empowering tasks in the economy than that 20% will, by virtue of that monopoly, accrue more confidence and influence than those below, accrue more power than those below, accrue more wealth than those below, and, based on its power and wealth, enjoy considerable daily direct control over economic and social life, especially over the lives of those below.
Put more specifically, consider the claim that doctors, lawyers, engineers, high level managers, and so on, due to their position in the economy doing mostly empowering work, will have far greater income and influence over social life than assemblers, short order cooks, and delivery workers will have, due to their position doing only disempowering work.
Can anyone sensibly contest that? You might say it is a good thing or you might say it is a bad thing, but can anyone sensibly say it isn’t true?
Consider as well the claim that if we eliminate private ownership of the means of production but we retain the old corporate division of labor that hands all the empowering tasks to 20 percent and leaves the other 80 percent with only disempowering, repetitious, and obedient tasks—then the former class will dominate the latter class. The 20 percent will dictate to rote workers from above. Again, not only is this self evident as a hypothesis, in fact, almost a truism, but it has been repeatedly born out in practice.
So, I believe these claims are not particularly complex and should be clearly evident from even a perfunctory look at history and current relations. I also believe that while the claims are incredibly far from the common sense assumptions of members of the empowered coordinator class, they are potentially obvious, sometimes spontaneously but often only when directly investigated, to most members of the disempowered working class.
If all that is correct, it follows that it probably isn’t only conceptual difficulty that prevents this kind of analysis from spreading. But what other factors may be at play?
To start to answer, presumably we can agree that everyone has inclinations and biases that stem from our beliefs and habits, not to mention from our outright material interests. These beliefs, habits, and material interests in turn come in large part from how behaviors that our circumstances impose on us impact how we come at issues and problems.
For example, if you are white in a grossly racist society, then even if you are sincerely intellectually against racism, nonetheless, the way you have been brought up, the circumstances you have experienced, and very probably the messages you daily receive will tend to limit and skew your understanding. For example, you may intellectually and even morally and emotionally reject racism per se, and yet, at some level, nonetheless you may harbor certain of its rationalizations and habits.
It is also true, however, that if you are black in such a society, again, the horrible structures around you will likely have also impacted your beliefs and habits. The effects of racist structures and their rationalizations on the dominant group, but also on the subordinate group, are real and serious and only dissipate with real effort and especially due to countervailing experiences.
The same holds for gender attitudes, of course, due to sexist patriarchal structures, and about gender too, every progressive knows all this quite well, and often quite directly.
Suppose we try to translate these type understandings to the realm of class. While there is considerable progressive attention to the existence of owners and workers, there is very little attention of any sort to the specific existence and role of a coordinator class between owners and workers, much less is there explicit understanding of the structural roots of the coordinator class’s existence, or of the character of the relations it has with workers.
As a result, it is commonplace that people of all sorts literally take for granted that some people are born to make decisions and other people are born to obey. This seems to most observers to be what they see. It seems to most observers to be foreordained and written in stone. Indeed, the belief is so prevalent that it doesn’t even need to be enunciated. And this is like, a half century ago, most people thinking that women had no capacity beyond serving husbands and birthing children, or that blacks had no capacity beyond using muscles to obey orders. The class analog is to think that people who assemble things, tend tables, drive busses, carry boxes, and on and on, have no capacity for doing more varied and empowering tasks, and that those who do more varied and empowering tasks are solely and uniquely suited to those pursuits.
The social cause of the class division between the empowered coordinator class and the disempowered working class is hidden behind an assumed high capacity for the former class and an assumed lack of capacity for the later class, just as the division between Black and white, say, or male and female, has also been thought to be born of different intrinsic capacities and not imposed by contingent social structures.
Since the misconception that the different circumstances, incomes, and power of the working class on the one hand, and of the coordinator class on the other hand, comes from differences in intrinsic capacities rather than being imposed by contingent institutions is prevalent, the lack of attention to the contrary idea is no longer so hard to understand. Proposing the existence and importance of the coordinator class and expecting a serious hearing becomes a little like telling people that trees can fly and expecting people to take time off from their other pursuits to examine and then support your claim.
To claim there is a third critically important, structurally-created class, in other words, is off the charts for most people and not worth any consideration. Most people, including all too many progressives, and especially folks who are in or who aspire to be in the zone between labor and capital, find the claim ludicrous. This dismissiveness protects a self image that coordinator class members need to believe to justify their advantages and to feel good about themselves even as they benefit from unjust monopolization of empowering work. Indeed, to obscure this class division also corresponds in part to working class needs to find ways to survive their disadvantages without exploding into furious anger in a context where options to furiously fight back are horribly limited. To deny coordinator class existence fuels the tendency to deny working class capacity to do empowering tasks just as to deny racism and sexism fuels the tendency to deny the positive capacities of women and minorities.
The derivative fact that the coordinator class also occupies positions of power vis a vis media and communications means it largely determines what is and what isn’t widely communicated in society‘s media, including in our own progressive media. This in turn causes media to overwhelmingly ignore this class issue, partly as a matter of material and social self defense, and partly as a matter of manifesting coordinators’ deep-rooted, self-serving assumptions.
Fifty years ago white and male leftists, at the heads of various kinds of movement organizations and structures, resisted efforts to elevate discussions of racial and gender hierarchy. Partly they were defending their positions because they believed that they were doing great work and their replacements would not do great work. Partly they were acting on reflex, expressing ingrained assumptions. Fifty years later such racism and sexism isn’t entirely gone within the left, but it is vastly diminished. In contrast, on the class axis, the analogous behavior regarding coordinator dominance over workers persists virtually unaddressed. Working people serve coordinator class leaders even inside anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-capitalist movements.
Hearing the above, the interviewer replied, “Okay, so how does your analysis relate to current events? What, for example, does it tell us about Brexit and Trump? Why are so many working people seemingly turning away from progressive politics?” How would you answer such questions?
My own answer was that many factors and variables play a role, of course. But one pretty simple factor which almost always plays a role, including in these cases, seems to me to be whether progressive politics is believable to working people. Suppose a mafia boss comes to town and claims he will raise the well being of everyone by his policies if you will only give him free space to do his own business as he chooses. The promise, taken alone, may ring enticing. If the mafia accomplishes what he claims, it would have benefits. But you would probably say no, I won’t support the mafia boss, because I don’t trust his flowery rhetoric. I don’t trust that the mafia will do as he says. I believe, instead, the mafia will do what the mafia always does, pursue mafia gain.
Okay, so what if a clear cut emissary of a class that daily dominates you in ways that of late have been getting steadily worse comes to town and says he or she will serve not his or her class, or even higher classes still further up, but you? You could reasonably have grave doubts. What if someone else then comes along, and he is rich too, indeed even richer, but he is the only other choice and he sounds more like you? He seems to understand your pain better. He appears to carry less official baggage. His promises seem to you more believable and to go further. He doesn’t call you deplorable. And so on. The rejection of mildly progressive policies when they don’t register as honest shouldn’t be too surprising. To gravitate toward abstention seems obvious, and has been predominant for ages. To gravitate, instead, toward monstrous views requires further explanation—but not too much more explanation if the monster does a good job of appearing to be other than he is regarding what you take to be central concerns. We have seen that often, too. And if the monster also marshals fear and hate effectively, that will add to his momentum. And we have seen that too.
We might ask, what would have been different if Sanders had run in the U.S. instead of Clinton? I think the main thing would have been that far more people—on all sides—would have believed Sanders meant what he said. Which, indeed, I think would have been true. With Clinton, far fewer people thought she meant any of the progressive stuff she said, so much fewer, that in many states, she lost to a lying lunatic, and as a result she lost the overall electoral college count.
Again, lots of variables operated, but one, which I think was clearly visible, was many voters’ justified distrust of and even anger and hostility toward the coordinator class and its culture and dismissiveness. To have an emissary of that class advocate progressive policies causes the policies to lose legitimacy by the association.
This has been occurring for a long time, especially in the US., but elsewhere too. Left ideas have reached into diverse race and gender communities, yet not as much into working class communities including blacks and women in the working class—and the three class analysis says one reason for that could be that sadly, and often accurately, class conscious anti-coordinatorist working people find the left unattractive due to its coordinatorist dismissiveness toward working people.
The British interviewer here went from description to prescription, asking, “Are the current structures of progressive organizations in line with the kind of values and goals we espouse? What does this say about the current structures that dominate progressive political organizations? How might we organize in a way that brings about the changes we say we want?”
Those are good questions. My own reply is that to be in line with our most worthy values our institutions need to be feminist, anti racist, anti authoritarian, and also anti classist, and not just in words, but in their very definition and structure. This needs to be the case, both so our institutions will lead toward our full goals, but also so they will appropriately respect, involve, and empower all potential present day allies, and not alienate and exclude or mistreat them.
Movements have tried very consciously and with considerable though so far incomplete success to pursue the racial and gender and even authority parts of the needed agenda, but movements have focussed less if at all on the class parts of that agenda, most often not even trying, at least regarding coordinator class dominance over workers.
Too often our projects still utilize internal divisions of labor and decision making methods that elevate coordinators and that say to workers, this movement really isn’t about your liberation. This movement elevates others above you. This movement leads somewhere you don’t want to go. This movement treats you as subordinate along the way. This movement is not your movement.
It seems to me the answer to how to organize more successfully is to do so in ways that foreshadow and are consistent with attaining feminist, anti racist, self managing, and also classless goals.
Regarding a classless goal, I think the main step is not only to define movement responsibilities so that internal training and roles elevate working class members while countering the presumptions of coordinator class members. It isn’t coordinator skills, talents, and knowledge that need opposition. It is the idea that those skills, talents, and knowledge should belong to a few, and not to all who work. The problem is the corporate division of labor that allots empowering tasks to about 20% of the population and disempowering tasks to about 80% of the population. The problem is not the people who benefit from this division of labor, much less is the problem their expertise per se. The problem is this division of labor itself. The solution for a future economy is to adopt a new division of labor that apportions empowering and disempowering tasks so that all employees, which mow means all workers, are prepared and inclined by their circumstances to make decisions. The implication for movements is that to plant the seeds of the future in the present and to represent and elevate working class participants, they should redefine their own allotment of tasks and responsibilities and also incorporate into their program demands addressing worker subordination in their daily circumstances as they seek post capitalism.
Trump was elected in 2016. People wonder, why, what went wrong? Many leftists offer answers that point to faults and failings of others. And, indeed, to point at mainstream parties and media as the cause of recent horrors has some logic. But what about admitting that something about our overall radical approaches, our radical words, our radical styles, and our radical organizations has prevented our affecting huge numbers of working people even enough so they wouldn’t support vile insanity, much less enough so they would by now be active participants in and definers of progressive and revolutionary agendas? And yet, if we want to win, aren’t our own choices where we need to look most closely for what we can change in order to do better?
For those who wonder why to take the idea of a third class between labor and capital further and why to consider its broader implications for seeking a better world—perhaps consider this.
If we see and highlight two classes, we will tend to perceive and highlight two economic systems in competition—one that elevates the owning capitalist class and one that elevates workers and eliminates the ownership relations imposing a class above it.
In contrast, if we see and highlight three classes, we will tend to see and highlight three economic and social systems in competition—one that elevates the owning capitalist class, one that elevates the empowered coordinator class after removing the owning class above it, and one that elevates all employees as workers after removing private ownership relations but also the division of labor that imposes a second class above workers.
The first of the three economic systems is capitalism, which we currently endure and suffer.
The second of the three economic systems is called by many market socialism or centrally planned socialism, but is really more accurately called coordinatorism.
The third of the three economic systems, a classless possibility, is a proposal for post capitalism and post coordinatorism that some call participatory economics.
I mentioned at the outset of this article that some activists call the third class the “professional managerial class” or “PMC” while others, including myself call it the “coordinator class.” Why the different labels? Is there anything at stake in choosing one or the other?
Put differently, why in a book titled Between Labor and Capital that was literally built around Barbara and John Ehrenreich’s essay titled, “The Professional Managerial Class,” did Robin Hahnel and I use the label “Coordinator Class” instead of the label “PMC”?
The answer is that we felt the PMC label would orient folks to highlight credentials, education, and attitudes—ideology—as the basis of the class between labor and capital, over and above, and perhaps even to the exclusion of highlighting the centrality of job structure and the division of labor as the basis of the class between labor and capital. We felt that regardless of intentions, which were then shared, the PMC label could tend to overly focus attention on rebutting the third class’s supporting rationalizations, but might obscure the parallel and entwined need to structurally replace the institutional basis of those rationalizations.
We wanted a label that would focus attention at least equally on how the existing corporate division of labor apportions empowering tasks into about 20 percent of jobs, thereby elevating members of the class between labor and capital above workers who are left with only disempowering tasks. We wanted a label that would name the class between labor and capital, but that would also focus attention on the need to create a new division of labor to apportion empowering tasks comparably into all jobs as part of a new classless self managing, equitable, diverse, solidarity, sustainable, classless, participatory economy.
It seems to us, from the other side of the Atlantic, that the United States find themselves in a profound state of discord — politically and socially alike. And the Democratic party isn’t quite in its most leftist stage in history, in spite of previous hopes with the rise of Bernie Sanders. Is this an opportune time for movements in the US to claim a different future?
Well, yes, it is arguably the worst of times. High water is rising, hard rain is falling, lies are multiplying. But it is also arguably the best of times. Workers, women, and youth distrust and reject the old. They resist. Slowly, people even seek new. So I think it is an excellent time to foresee, advocate, and seek a different future because without doing so cynicism will smother activism and activism will lack direction. But, truth be told, in those respects these times are quite like other times. What is different now is the stakes. Now the stakes are not only liberation but also survival.
What about Europe, or the EU to be exact? It seems to be locked up in a largely bureaucratic procedure, rather than a properly speaking political one. How should the peoples of Europe take up the struggle, in your view?
I think that the answer to how people should take up struggle is broadly the same everywhere. Listen for and address the ecological, political, economic, and social needs of today. Link suffering dissident constituencies with one another. Listen, explain, organize, and demand in ways conceived to not only win gains now, but to also elicit desire for and prepare to win further gains later, right up to winning a different, worthy, viable, future.
In other words, don’t win an immediate gain and go home. Win immediate gains, then fight on for more. But that broad answer, while general enough to be relevant everywhere, when fleshed out in actual worldly practice becomes different everywhere. The needs people feel today and the obstacles to winning gains to meet those needs that restrict us today differ from place to place. The precise words and tactics we need to use to win gains today, closely depend on local relations. They thus also differ from place to place,
Greece finds herself after a decade of harsh austerity, on top of which the pandemic and the Ukraine war ensued, as well as a major government-sponsored surveillance programme. In your view, is there any end in sight?
I suppose what one sees down the road depends on ones temperament and understanding, as well as on visible evidence. Buzzards or fundamental change? For me, the answer is yes, I certainly see a very real possibility of massively growing resistance and, in time, fundamental change. In some ways, I even suspect considerable resistance will be almost automatic. After all, otherwise, we are in a slip slide to hell. The hard part will be having our considerable resistance grow into truly massive resistance. The hard part will be to have that massive resistance lead where we want to go. The hard part will be to have that forward oriented resistance be resilient, flexible, and committed enough to successfully stay the course for as long as it takes. but this is not optional. Not only does having a different future that we seek require such informed, visionary, committed continuity, but having any future at all requires it.
People in Greece are not that much acquainted with Z Network, a hub of radical politics in the US. Could you introduce them to it?
The site ZNet is now at znetwork.org. It combines articles, interviews, debates, video, audio, and much more to hopefully inspire and provide tools needed for winning social change all the way to a different future. I would say as its distinguishing characteristic it tries to emphasize vision and strategy equally for economy, polity, kinship, culture/community, ecology, and international relations. It calls the future that it seeks, participatory society.
Your 2022 book, NO BOSSES, has just been published in Greek and will be launched next week in Athens. Any message to Greek readers of the book?
Well, I very much hope you find the No Bosses vision, called participatory economics, inspiring and useful for Greek readers. Participatory economics centers on proposals for a communal approach to natural and built productive assets; for self managed economic decision making by workers and consumers councils; for a classless division of labor and organization of work; for equitable distribution of income, responsibilities, and opportunities for all; and for participatory, cooperative allocation that supports all that and properly accounts for the personal, collective, and environmental consequences of production and consumption.
It claims the five core institutions it proposes will provide the defining core of a classless and free, worthy and viable replacement for dignity robbing, soul stealing, suicidal capitalism. Will they? Well, that is for you to judge and I would love to hear your criticisms, refinements, questions, and really whatever you would like clarified or you think might be useful for participatory economy’s advocates to hear to improve our efforts to advocate the participatory economic vision the book proposes. I am at [email protected]
Mark Mazzetti is a Washington investigative correspondent, and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He is the author of “The Way of the Knife: the C.I.A, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth.” @MarkMazzettiNYT
Matina Stevis-Gridneff is the Brussels bureau chief for The New York Times, covering the European Union. She joined The Times after covering East Africa and previously Europe for The Wall Street Journal. @MatinaStevis
The market for commercial spyware — which allows governments to invade mobile phones and vacuum up data — is booming. Even the U.S. government is using it.
The Biden administration took a public stand last year against the abuse of spyware to target human rights activists, dissidents and journalists: It blacklisted the most notorious maker of the hacking tools, the Israeli firm NSO Group.
But the global industry for commercial spyware — which allows governments to invade mobile phones and vacuum up data — continues to boom. Even the U.S. government is using it.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is secretly deploying spyware from a different Israeli firm, according to five people familiar with the agency’s operations, in the first confirmed use of commercial spyware by the federal government.
At the same time, the use of spyware continues to proliferate around the world, with new firms — which employ former Israeli cyberintelligence veterans, some of whom worked for NSO — stepping in to fill the void left by the blacklisting. With this next generation of firms, technology that once was in the hands of a small number of nations is now ubiquitous — transforming the landscape of government spying.
One firm, selling a hacking tool called Predator and run by a former Israeli general from offices in Greece, is at the center of a political scandal in Athens over the spyware’s use against politicians and journalists.
After questions from The New York Times, the Greek government admitted that it gave the company, Intellexa, licenses to sell Predator to at least one country with a history of repression, Madagascar. The Times has also obtained a business proposal that Intellexa made to sell its products to Ukraine, which turned down the sales pitch.
Predator was found to have been used in another dozen countries since 2021, illustrating the continued demand among governments and the lack of robust international efforts to limit the use of such tools.
The Times investigation is based on an examination of thousands of pages of documents — including sealed court documents in Cyprus, classified parliamentary testimonies in Greece and a secret Israeli military police investigation — as well as interviews with more than two dozen government and judicial officials, law enforcement agents, business executives and hacking victims in five countries.
The most sophisticated spyware tools — like NSO’s Pegasus — have “zero-click” technology, meaning they can stealthily and remotely extract everything from a target’s mobile phone, without the user having to click on a malicious link to give Pegasus remote access. They can also turn the mobile phone into a tracking and secret recording device, allowing the phone to spy on its owner. But hacking tools without zero-click capability, which are considerably cheaper, also have a significant market.
Commercial spyware has been used by intelligence services and police forces to hack phones used by drug networks and terrorist groups. But it has also been abused by numerous authoritarian regimes and democracies to spy on political opponents and journalists. This has led governments to a sometimes tortured rationale for their use — including an emerging White House position that the justification for using these powerful weapons depends in part on who is using them and against whom.
The Biden administration is trying to impose some degree of order to the global chaos, but in this environment, the United States has played both arsonist and firefighter. Besides the D.E.A.’s use of spyware — in this case, a tool called Graphite, made by the Israeli firm Paragon — the C.I.A. during the Trump administration purchased Pegasus for the government of Djibouti, which used the hacking tool for at least a year. And F.B.I. officials made a push in late 2020 and the first half of 2021 to deploy Pegasus in their own criminal investigations before the bureau ultimately abandoned the idea.
In a statement to The Times, the Drug Enforcement Administration said that “the men and women of the D.E.A. are using every lawful investigative tool available to pursue the foreign-based cartels and individuals operating around the world responsible for the drug-poisoning deaths of 107,622 Americans last year.”
Steven Feldstein, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, has documented the use of spyware by at least 73 countries.
“The penalties against NSO and its ilk are important,” he said. “But in reality, other vendors are stepping in. And there’s no sign it’s going away.”
Arsonist and Firefighter
For more than a decade, NSO sold Pegasus to spy services and law enforcement agencies around the world. The Israeli government required the company to secure licenses before exporting its spyware to a particular law enforcement or intelligence agency.
This allowed the Israeli government to gain diplomatic leverage over countries eager to purchase Pegasus, such as Mexico, India and Saudi Arabia. But a mountain of evidence about the abuse of Pegasus piled up.
The Biden administration took action: A year ago, it placed NSO and another Israeli firm, Candiru, on a Commerce Department blacklist — banning American companies from doing business with the hacking firms. In October, the White House warned of the dangers of spyware in its national security strategy outline, which said the administration would fight the “illegitimate use of technology, including commercial spyware and surveillance technology, and we will stand against digital authoritarianism.”
The administration is coordinating an investigation into what countries have used Pegasus or any other spyware tools against American officials overseas.
Congress is working on a bipartisan bill requiring the director of national intelligence to produce an assessment of the counterintelligence risks to the United States posed by foreign commercial spyware. The bill would also give the director of national intelligence the authority to ban the use of spyware by any intelligence agency. The White House is working on an executive order with other restrictions on the use of spyware.
But there are exceptions. The White House is allowing the D.E.A. to continue its use of Graphite, the hacking tool made by Israel-based Paragon, for its operations against drug cartels.
A senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House executive order being prepared would target spyware that posed “counterintelligence and security risks” or had been used improperly by foreign governments. If any such evidence emerged against Paragon, the official said, the White House expects that the government would terminate its contract with the company.
“The administration has been clear that it will not use investigative tools that have been used by foreign governments or persons to target the U.S. government and our personnel, or to target civil society, suppress dissent or enable human rights abuses,” the official said. “We expect all departments and agencies to act consistent with this policy.”
Similar to Pegasus, the NSO tool, Graphite spyware can invade the mobile phone of its target and extract its contents. But unlike Pegasus, which collects data stored inside the phone itself, Graphite primarily collects data from the cloud, after data is backed up from the phone. This can make it more difficult to discover the hack and theft of information, according to cybersecurity experts.
An official with the Drug Enforcement Administration said Graphite had been used only outside the United States, for the agency’s operations against drug traffickers. The agency did not respond to questions about whether Graphite had been used against any Americans living abroad or to questions about how the agency handled information about American citizens — messages, phone contacts or other information — that the agency obtained when using Graphite against its targets.
D.E.A. officials met in 2014 with NSO about purchasing Pegasus for its operations, a meeting reported earlier by Vice News, but the agency decided against purchasing the spyware.
Paragon’s sales are regulated by the Israeli government, which approved the sale of Graphite to the United States, according to an official aware of Israel’s defense export licensing agreements.
The company was founded just three years ago by Ehud Schneorson, a former commander of Unit 8200, Israel’s equivalent of the National Security Agency. Little public information is available about the company; it has no website. Most of the company’s executives are Israeli intelligence veterans, some of whom worked for NSO, according to two former Unit 8200 officers and a senior Israeli official.
Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, sits on the company’s board, and American money helps finance its operations. Battery Ventures, a Boston-based fund, lists Paragon as one of the companies in which it invests. A representative for Paragon declined to comment.
Even as the U.S. government purchases and deploys Israeli-made spyware with one hand, the Biden administration’s move to rein in the commercial spyware industry with the other has frayed relations with Israel.
Amir Eshel, the director general of the Israeli Defense Ministry, said Israeli officials had been trying to find out the U.S. government’s redlines on commercial spyware.
Despite these efforts, Mr. Eshel said, “senior government officials are not ready to answer us, address the issue or explain their point of view.”
The Biden administration’s move to blacklist NSO and Candiru has had a financial impact. To prevent the blacklisting of other companies, Israel’s Defense Ministry has imposed tougher restrictions on the local cybersecurity industry, including by reducing the number of countries to which those companies can potentially sell their products to 37 from 110, according to two senior Israeli officials and an Israeli tech company executive. With fewer countries available as potential buyers, many Israeli spyware companies, most famously NSO, have taken a severe financial hit. Three others have gone bankrupt.
This new landscape, however, provided new opportunities for others to seize.
Tal Dilian did just that.
A former general in Israeli military intelligence, Mr. Dilian was forced to retire from the Israeli Defense Forces in 2003 after an internal investigation raised suspicions that he had been involved in funds mismanagement, according to three people who were senior officers in military intelligence. He eventually moved to Cyprus, a European Union island nation that has become a favored destination in recent years for surveillance firms and cyberintelligence experts.
In 2008 in Cyprus, Mr. Dilian co-founded Circles, a company that used an Israeli-perfected snooping technology known as Signaling System 7. He sold it off and went on to set up other companies selling surveillance products. He prided himself on recruiting the best hackers, including former spyware experts from the Israeli military’s most elite cyberintelligence unit.
Mr. Dilian did not respond to requests for an interview or to written questions submitted to him directly and through his lawyers in Cyprus and Israel.
For several years after the sale of Circles, Cyprus was good to Mr. Dilian. Then, in 2019, he gave an interview to Forbes from a surveillance van driving through the Cypriot city of Larnaca. He gave a mock demonstration of the van’s ability to hack any nearby phone and steal WhatsApp and text messages from unsuspecting targets.
Asked about human rights abuses committed when using his products, Mr. Dilian told Forbes that “we work with the good guys.” He added, “And sometimes the good guys don’t behave.”
Cypriot authorities soon issued a request for his arrest through Interpol, the global police agency, for illegal surveillance. His lawyer ultimately succeeded in settling the episode with a 1 million euro ($1 million) fine paid through Mr. Dilian’s company, but he was no longer welcome to do business in Cyprus, several Cypriot officials involved in the case said.
Mr. Dilian wasn’t done. He decamped to Athens and set up Intellexa there in 2020, which is when he began to aggressively market his new spyware product, Predator.
Predator requires the targeted user to click on a link to infect the user’s phone, whereas Pegasus infects the phone without any action from the target.
Predator infections come in the form of carefully crafted, personalized instant messages and the bait — infected links mimicking established websites. An investigation into Predator by Meta listed about 300 such sites that experts had found were used for Predator infections.
From spring 2020, Intellexa operated from offices along the Greek capital’s Riviera, its southern coastline favored by surfing digital nomads and international sports stars. According to confidential employment records reviewed by The Times as well as staff LinkedIn profiles, the company hired at least eight Israelis, several of whom had a background in the country’s intelligence services.
Mr. Eshel, whose ministry oversees export licenses for spyware, said he had little power to control what Mr. Dilian or other former Israeli intelligence operatives did once they set up businesses outside Israel.
“It certainly disturbs me that a veteran of our intelligence and cyber units, who employs other former senior officials, operates around the world without any oversight,” he said.
Intellexa also looked out for opportunities that used to be in NSO’s domain. Ukraine had previously tried to acquire Pegasus, but the effort failed after the Israeli government blocked NSO from selling to Ukraine out of concern that doing so would harm Israel’s relationship with Russia.
Intellexa swooped in. The Times obtained a copy of a nine-page Intellexa pitch for Predator to a Ukrainian intelligence agency last year, the first full such commercial spyware proposal to be made public. The document, dated February 2021, brags about the capabilities of Predator and even offers a 24/7 help line.
For 13.6 million euros ($14.3 million) for the first year, Intellexa offered Ukraine a basic package of 20 simultaneous infections with Predator and a “magazine” of 400 hacks of domestic numbers, as well as training and a round-the-clock help center. If Ukraine wanted to use Predator on non-Ukrainian numbers, the price would go by an extra 3.5 million euros.
The New York Times obtained a copy of a nine-page Intellexa pitch for Predator to a Ukrainian intelligence agency in 2021, the first full such commercial spyware proposal to be made public.READ DOCUMENT
Ukraine rejected the pitch, a person familiar with the matter said. Ukraine’s reasons for passing on Predator are unclear, but that did not appear to dissuade Intellexa or Mr. Dilian. Freed from the strictures of Israeli government regulation and running with virtually no oversight in Athens, the company expanded its clientele.
Meta, as well as the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organization, detected Predator in Armenia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Vietnam, the Philippines and Germany. These locations were determined through internet scans for servers known to be associated with the spyware.
A Greek Drama
Over the past few months, Predator has also roiled public life in Greece, where it was found to have been used against journalists and opposition figures. The Greek government has repeatedly described the spyware as illegal and said it had nothing to do with it.
Despite the denunciations, Greece admitted to backing Intellexa and its spyware in a vital way: by licensing the company to export Predator to Madagascar, whose government has a history of cracking down on dissent.
Alexandros Papaioannou, the spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry, confirmed that a division of the ministry issued two export licenses to Intellexa on Nov. 15, 2021. In a hint of the pressure the country is under, Mr. Papaioannou said the ministry’s inspector general had begun an internal investigation after reports in the local press about the company. European Union legislation treats spyware as a potential weapon and calls for authorities to grant export licenses after due diligence to prevent its abuse.
Just off the coast of East Africa, Madagascar is the world’s fourth-poorest nation. It struggles with corruption, especially in the mining and oil industries that bring in billions a year for corporations. Malagasy officials did not comment.
The saga began in April, when the Greek outlet Inside Story reported that Predator had been used to infect the phone of a local investigative reporter. The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab forensically found the infection. Two opposition politicians soon confirmed that they, too, had been targeted, each with forensic evidence to back the claims.
All three suspect that the Greek state ordered their surveillance and have filed lawsuits. Thanasis Koukakis, an investigative reporter, has sued Mr. Dilian and his Intellexa associates.
The conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has denied ordering surveillance using Predator and maintains that the Greek government does not own the spyware.
Even so, Mr. Mitsotakis’s nephew, who had political oversight of the national intelligence service, resigned over the spyware scandal in August, although he denies any role in it. Around the same time, the prime minister fired the national intelligence chief.
The same month, Intellexa dismissed most of its Athens-based staff.
In November, Mr. Mitsotakis admitted that somebody is running covert operations using Predator inside Greece — he just does not know whom.
“To be clear, I never claimed — and the government has never claimed — that there were no hacks and no forces using the Predator software,” he said, adding: “There’s illegal spyware all over Europe.”
A member of mέta’s Advisory Board, Michael Albert is a founder and current member of the staff of Z Magazineas well as staff of Z Magazine`s web system: ZCom. Albert`s radicalization occurred during the 1960s. His political involvements, starting then and continuing to the present, have ranged from local, regional, and national organizing projects and campaigns to co-founding South End Press, Z Magazine, the Z Media Institute, and ZNet, and to working on all these projects, writing for various publications and publishers, giving public talks, etc. Albert is the author of 21 books. Most recently these include: No Bosses: A New Economy for a Better World (Zero Books, 2021), Fanfare for the Future (ZBooks), Remembering Tomorrow (Seven Stories Press), Realizing Hope (Zed Press) and Parecon: Life After Capitalism (Verso). Many of Albert`s articles are stored in ZCom and can be accessed there along with hundreds of other Z Magazine and ZNet articles essays, interviews, etc. This is his interview with Greece’s The Press Project:
Why NO BOSSES? Is this a utopian vision or a concrete and realizable roadmap?
I think it a vision composed of five proposed future institutions. But I think it is not utopian in the sense of impossible or unattainable. In my view, it seeks a worthy, attainable, classless, and self managing post capitalist economy. No Bosses isn’t a roadmap either. For one thing the participatory economic vision will be continually updated by experience. Over time, countless contingent features will be implemented differently in different places. Also, there won’t be just one way to attain the envisioned new economy. Broadly similar obstacles to going beyond capitalism exist all over, but details differ from place to place. For that reason, the paths travelled to overcome obstacles will also differ.
You call for participatory economics, participatory planning, a collective, decentralized, cooperative, self managed way to go. Could you describe this in a nutshell?
Participatory economy, often called parecon for short, has five defining features: a commons of society’s productive assets; workers and consumers self managing councils, a new way to divide up labour called balanced job complexes; a new approach to income called equitable remuneration; and, as you note in the question, a new approach to allocation called participatory planning.
Advocates of Participatory economics, myself included, claim that these core features are mutually compatible and supportive. We claim they can deliver output suited to human well being and development and properly attentive to ecological and social consequences. We claim that the core features will, when implemented, eliminate class division and rule. They will not only eliminate poverty but apportion circumstances and goods and services fairly. More, they will accomplish all that while delivering to both producers and consumers a say over the economic decisions that affect them proportionate to the effect on them. It’s a mouthful, to be sure, but advocates of parecon believe we need its features for our economic future.
Why ‘participatory economics’? What would be the difference from socialism? And what’s the background (the people, the story) in this collective endeavour to articulate a participatory economics?
I guess we called it participatory economics because one identifying attribute is the self managing participation it affords people.
How is it different from Socialism? Well, all variants of socialism discard private ownership, but most replace it with state ownership—and not with a productive commons from which people request to use parts to produce on behalf of social well being.
Likewise, some types of socialism have had workers councils, a few have had consumers councils, and some have even celebrated these as centrally important. The difference in this regard is that socialism’s favoured approaches to decision making were typically very far from the self management participatory economics proposes.
Also, no version of socialism I am aware of had or even explicitly proposed to have what we call balanced job complexes to replace the corporate division of labour that is ubiquitous in both capitalism and twentieth century socialism. Jobs are always combinations of tasks, and in both capitalism and twentieth century socialism the formula for how to combine tasks into jobs, is to make each job a combination of either overwhelmingly empowering tasks or overwhelmingly disempowering tasks. As a result, in both approaches, about 20 percent of all employees—engineers, managers, accountants, and so on—have a near monopoly on empowering tasks that in turn convey to them information, access to tools of decision-making, connections to others, confidence, and other attributes critical to decision making. Advocates of participatory economics typically call this empowered 20 percent the coordinator class. Then there are also about 80 percent of all employees who are left with jobs that diminish their information, access to tools of decision making, connections to others, confidence, and other attributes critical to decision making. Advocates of participatory economics typically call this disempowered 80 percent the working class.
With this corporate division of labour, even if there is “employee control” via councils, the empowered coordinator class will make proposals, set agendas, do the talking, make the decisions. They will rule. Before long, even in the unlikely event that workers are invited to council meetings, they will not wish to be merely powerless bystanders and for that reason they will avoid attending. Because of the corporate division of labour that ensures they are disempowered, the working class will have little choice but to follow orders or seek fundamental change. But what fundamental change?
The participatory economic alternative to coordinator rule over workers is to do the obvious: apportion empowering tasks among all jobs so all jobs are comparably empowering, and so all employees, now all workers, are comparably prepared to participate in decision making. These new type jobs are called balanced job complexes.
Similarly, past socialisms have typically mostly remunerated actors not for property, a step forward, but most often still for output or bargaining power. Participatory economics instead remunerates for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labour.
And what determines what is socially valued? Allocation. And for allocation socialisms have typically opted for either central planning, for markets, or for elements of both, though some socialists have urged the need for democratic planning. Participatory economics explicitly rejects both central planning and markets and proposes in their place what it calls participatory planning which is a decentralised, cooperative process that takes account of full personal, social, and environmental costs and benefits to arrive at production and consumption that advances human well being and development.
So this vision is called participatory economics, and books that present it, like No Bosses, now available in Greek, further describe and argue the viability and worthiness of participatory economic proposals for economic life after capitalism.
What are the objections that are usually raised by the average reader of NO BOSSES/PARECON and how would you answer those?
Objections typically take the form that participatory economics would do more damage than good. Reasons offered vary. I briefly summarised the five core features above, but to briefly summarise answers to people’s concerns is not my preferred way because it doesn’t do justice to all their concerns and doesn’t give full answers to any. Still, with the proviso that to really address critics’ concerns, which is to say to fully explain the character of participatory economics and why it would be worthy and viable, is the agenda of books about the vision—here, in an interview, I can only hope that any reader who would like to achieve a worthy and viable post capitalist, classless, equitable, self managing, sustainable economy, will please consider longer treatments. For the moment, however, to at least foreshadow a more complete answer to your question, I will try to briefly summarise a broad response, very loosely, to critics’ main concerns.
Critics say: To make productive assets into a commons of built and natural productive assets would remove the most industrious actors, who are of course capitalists, from deciding outcomes, and would thereby lose their unique innovation and their steadfast devotion to efficiency.
I reply: Capitalists are, first, not the most industrious much less most innovative of citizens. They are instead virtual dictators in the firms they own, and together rule society as well. They amass gargantuan wealth while others suffer inadequate or even barely livable incomes. They don’t seek innovation, they seek to preserve their wealth and power. Their version of efficiency is to maximise their profit while they do not waste things they value. And since they don’t value workers lives, social well being, or ecological balance, they routinely violate each in pursuit of profit-making efficiency. The idea that by making capitalists’ productive property a Commons under collective social control we will lose something that only capitalists can provide, and that that loss will offset the multitudinous benefits of our escaping their authoritarian control and ending their vile enrichment, is ludicrous. But in that case, why are they on top?
Some capitalists are merely lucky in their parentage. Sometimes, capitalists have a lucky idea, or indeed sometimes they work hard. But mostly, to defend and enlarge their wealth and control, they all all operate like cutthroat pirates or, very rarely, at best, like personally nice pirates. While libraries of books address all these matters bearing on the ills of private ownership of productive assets, here, to avoid turning an interview into a book, I offer only the above brief reaction. We get rid of capitalists’ power over all. We get rid of capitalists’ self enrichment. We get rid of capitalists’ perverse priorities. We get rid of all that to the good of society. One ruling class gone, one to go.
Critics add: To have workers and consumers councils self manage would gain participation at the cost of bad decision making. More, to balance jobs to try to get better decision making would end coordinator rule, and indeed it would end the coordinator class per se by making all employees self managing workers, but balanced jobs would also horribly diminish output because workers would have to do empowering tasks they can’t excel at and coordinators would be wasted having to do disempowering tasks beneath their status.
I reply: This idea that worker and consumer councils would inevitably make stupid decisions assumes that workers and consumers are genetically dumb, or at least unavoidably ignorant, that workplace and community decisions are like rocket science, and that therefore this change would bring about classlessness but would simultaneously cripple output and innovation. It would get dumb decisions and thus usher in classless poverty.
This is like the argument, decades back, that women couldn’t be surgeons, but could only be subservient housewives who sometimes unexpectedly rise to do mindless tasks outside the home as well. That sexist view mistook women’s lack of knowledge, skills, confidence, etc. to be an unavoidable outcome of their genetic endowment. It ignored that patriarchal institutions and sexist training prepared/repressed women to fit subordinate or caring roles and no others. Decades have now shown that to elevate women (so far only in part achieved) hasn’t reduced productivity and destroyed quality by underutilizing men, but has instead begun to utilise the capacities of a repressed, exploited, subordinated half of the population, women, (as well as to utilise some new qualities of men no longer diminished by men’s perverse elevation), and so has increased productive capacity, and mainly made progress toward liberating half of humanity. The analogy to concerns about class hierarchy is strong.
That is, coordinator overseers mistake workers’ lack of knowledge, skills, confidence, etc., as being due to workers’ genetic endowment instead of having been imposed by classist institutions and restrictive training that requires 80 percent of the workforce to obey orders and endure boredom and that accordingly stifles their capacities and inclinations. In fact, to balance jobs will call forth training that empowers all future employees and will then itself empower all employees so as to liberate and utilise the in those way’s unleashed talents and potentials of 80 percent of the population heretofore suppressed and underutilised. This new productivity will more than outweigh the productivity lost due to prior coordinators having to do their fair share of less empowering tasks. To balance jobs as a means to eliminate the basis of coordinator class existence, and to therefore have all employees become empowered workers prepared and inclined to self manage, will not only eliminate the coordinator/worker class division and its many horrible injustices, which is its main gain, it will also as a kind of collateral benefit liberate the capacities of all instead of only a fifth of employees, thereby increasing productive potentials.
Continuing the analogy, those (men and sometimes women) who argued against women doing work outside the home sometimes literally believed, sincerely though ignorantly, that women just weren’t capable of more. Other times they were defending old ways that benefitted them and were fine with restrictions on women that kept them down despite that they had no actual reason for thinking as they did other than defence of their selfish interests. Similarly, sometimes arguments against balanced jobs and for maintaining the coordinator worker class division are based on sincere belief of low capacity of workers. Other times, however, they derive from desires to maintain coordinator class status, and to restrict the education and development of workers, despite lacking any real reason for the stance other than selfishly protecting old ways and the benefits they accrue to the coordinators.
Critics also argue that to remunerate equitably for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labour would take away the possibility of getting rich and for that reason would insufficiently incentivize people to become doctors and the like.
I reply that to the extent that work needs an incentive, and that people need to enjoy a fair share of the social product, what we need to remunerate is peoples’ effort and sacrifice at socially desired labour, not their property, bargaining power, or even output. If you get income for working longer, harder, or doing more onerous socially valued tasks, then you have an incentive to do those things, or not, as you choose. If you are paid for property, it isn’t for what you do, but what you own. You have an incentive to retain what you already own and to own more, but that incentive, is, when viewed soberly, to defend and enlarge injustice. If you get paid for bargaining power you can try to increase your own and reduce other peoples, but that is again enriching self by harming society. If you get paid for output that rewards you in part for luck in the genetic lottery (being stronger, more talented in one dimension or another), or for luck in having more productive equipment, or in that you happen to be producing something more valued, and so on. There is again no useful incentive effect. Nor is it, for people who advocate participatory economics, socially positive to pile material rewards onto those who are already benefiting from luck. On the other hand, all workers getting income for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labour justly rewards effort and provides an incentive for what one can actually choose to increase. It provides sound incentive while it delivers just remuneration.
And finally, says the critic, to decentralise planning, with no markets to drive accumulation and orient allocation or no experts in charge of planning choices, would opt to produce less and would take infinitely long and no doubt horribly diverge from sensible choices.
I and advocates of participatory economics reply, first you better be wrong because both markets and central planning impose the corporate division of labour and thus the coordinator worker division with rule by the former. Both central planning and markets horribly violate the ecology to the extent of literally first slouching and now sprinting toward global suicide. Both operate with unjust remuneration that further enriches the already rich and further impoverishes the already poor. And both orient economic outcomes toward the maintenance of existing social relations and the benefit of dominant classes. It is actually, in each case, much worse than these brief words suggest, but we only have so much space.
In contrast, the most complicated or complex part of participatory economics, called participatory planning, utilises diverse tools and methods—but mostly self managing worker and consumer councils—to work compatibly with other participatory economic features to deliver and allocate goods and services in accord with self managed proposals while simultaneously properly accounting for personal, social, and ecological implications. It does all this via a kind of cooperative negotiation of workers and consumers activities. Rounds or iterations of proposing worker and consumers activities, assembling the implications, and proposing anew in light of new information, leads before long to an agreed plan. There is no top and no bottom. No centre and no periphery. There are workers councils who propose their workplace activity, and consumers councils and federations of councils who propose their personal, living unit, community, state, and national consumption, with each workers and consumers council receiving new information with each new round of proposals. Obviously, for this component of participatory economics, like for the others, only more so, further presentation of its many aspects (for example, bearing on the how’s and why’s of making worker and consumer proposals, on how the proposals come into accord, on how they take into account external effects such as those on the environment, on how they properly allocate income claims on output, on how they assemble and utilise qualitative information, and much more) as well of discussion of concerns about each aspect would be necessary for a compelling case.
Do you happen to have any relevant examples/‘pilots’ in which such an experiment has succeeded and constitutes the answer in practice.
There is certainly no whole society that has ever attained participatory economics. That, of course, doesn’t mean it is impossible, only that it hasn’t happened yet. There are, however, countless partial experiments bearing on elements of the vision, often, and in fact nearly always, without any awareness that the whole vision even exists. Thus there are thousands of coops with more or less equitable remuneration, and some with attempts at worker control and even balanced jobs to avoid class division. There are also attempts, in some places, to cooperatively negotiate relations between productive communes and neighbouring consumers, as well as efforts to involve communities in budget allocations. And there are even a few workplaces that adopt their relations in full awareness of the participatory economic vision.
NO BOSSES is published by TOPOS books in the series by mέta, the Centre for Postcapitalist Civilisation, where you are a member of its international Advisory Board. How did this synergy come about, and how is it progressing?
I think it perhaps came about, at least proximately, though I am not entirely sure, by way of a series of interactions between myself and Yanis Varoufakis. But it was, in any event, a very nice and natural fit given our quite similar priorities vis a vis transcending capitalism into a better future. Since getting going, the partnership has continued with my main contact being the very formidable and quite brilliant Sotiris Mitralexis of mέta.
Any particular message to a Greek audience of readers?
Greece has undergone so much turmoil. It is a remarkable country, at least in my admittedly mostly very distant view of it. Greece has been the origin point of so much. Having recently skated so close to being a point of origin, again, this time of going beyond all that sucks the life out of humanity, I hope the participatory economic vision proves helpful in on going Greek efforts, and I would love to hear Greek readers’ reactions to it: your criticisms, extensions, questions, and indeed whatever you might want to hear more about, and whatever you think might help participatory economy’s advocates do better in our efforts to advocate it.
Radical economist Robin Hahnel joins our co-op for a virtual discussion with Ferdia O’Brien about his new book, A Participatory Economy.
A Participatory Economy is written for people who desire an equitable, ecological economy, but want to know what an alternative to capitalism could look like. It presents a fascinating, new alternative to capitalism. It proposes and defends concrete answers to how all society’s economic decisions can be made without resort to unaccountable and inhumane markets (capitalism) or central planning authorities (communism). It explains the viability of early socialism’s vision of an economy in which the workers come together to decide among themselves what to produce and consume. At the same time, Hahnel proposes new features to this economic model including proposing how “reproductive labor” might be socially organized, how to plan investment and long-term development to maximize popular participation and efficiency, and finally, how a participatory economy might engage in international trade and investment without violating its fundamental principles in a world where economic development among nations has been historically unfair and unequal. Robin Hahnel is a life-long radical activist and economist whose work emphasizes environmental sustainability and is best known for his work on alternatives to capitalism. His books include Democratic Economic Planning, The ABCs of Political Economy, and Economic Justice and Democracy. Hahnel is a contributor to participatoryeconomy.org. Ferdia H. O’Brien is a futurist and host of After The Oligarchy, a political economy podcast and YouTube channel dedicated to exploring deep solutions to humanity’s problems. He is writing a book with Anders Sandström presenting a detailed model of a democratic socialist society.
Ferdia is a founding member of the Democracy in Europe Movement’s (DiEM25) Post-Capitalism Collective. He trained as an electrical engineer and lives in Ireland. You can find his work at aftertheoligarchy.com and on Twitter: @afteroligarchy
Firestorm Books is a collectively-owned radical bookstore and community event space in Asheville, North Carolina: Twitter | YouTube | Website.