Workers, Owners, and Worker-Owners

Since the end of WWII–and for most of the 100 years prior–politics has largely been presented as a battle between Statism and Capitalism. The former essentially boils down to trusting the government to intervene against exploitative private interests and build a just society, while the latter relies on the freedom of private action to rein in tyrannical government. But what neither of these approaches are is democratic. They both offer us a choice: which elites do you want ruling over you? Neither of them offers a democratic society where individuals, families, and communities really can direct themselves.

Salon has touched on this issue with their “99% Plan” and especially with Alex Gourevitch’s article on the need for progressives to articulate a real plan to challenge the growing inequality in the US. While he raises crucial issues, he also falls into the very trap introduced above: the challenge to free-market-fundamentalism will be an empowered state which will stand up for workers against their exploiters. There’s plenty to such an approach that I could get behind, but fundamentally I’m not interested in kicking out one group of elites for another. I’m interested in building a society where people can really determine their own future and run their own communities.

It shouldn’t be particularly surprising that alternative political solutions are not often discussed. It’s like asking why there are so many diet books outlining complicated and arcane diet and exercise programs: they need something to sell. It’s hard to make money telling people that if they want to lose weight they have to eat fewer calories than they expend. That’s simple, and it’s true, but it’s not marketable. But if your diet plan covers hundreds of pages and is woven together with a complex but catchy theme (caveman, south beach, rockstar, whatever) then you’ve created a product; you’ve commodified diet advice. Likewise, if a politician stands up and announces that they want to help working people build autonomous and truly democratic communities, that politician is announcing themselves out of a job. You can’t remain an important, priveleged elite by granting people the means to govern themselves. You’ve got to hold the reins of power yourself.

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