Solidarity Economics & Participatory Economics

Ethan Miller’s overview of solidarity economics in the July/August issue of Dollars & Sense has started a good discussion of the potential of Miller’s decentralized, action-oriented approach to transforming our economy and Michael Albert’s more fully theorized Participatory Economics model—essentially a model for participatory planning of a whole economy’s production.

Miller asks:

Can thousands of diverse, locally-rooted, grassroots economic projects form the basis for a viable democratic alternative to capitalism? It might seem unlikely that a motley array of initiatives such as worker, consumer, and housing cooperatives, community currencies, urban gardens, fair trade organizations, intentional communities, and neighborhood self-help associations could hold a candle to the pervasive and seemingly all-powerful capitalist economy.

Miller sees solidarity economics’ rejection of “one-size-fits-all solutions and singular economic blueprints,” as a strength, because it encourages the involvement of “those who are most affected” in the solutions to their economic problems. Which facilitates the organizing that Miller believes the movement needs if it is to fulfill its potential.

In a response on ZNet, Michael Albert counters that Miller doesn’t pay enough attention to the larger economy and its effects on the solidarity economy.

An economy of the future will have an allocation system. All economies do. If it is markets or central planning, then that economy will not be a solidarity or participatory economy.

An economy of the future will have a division of labor. All economies do. And if this includes sequestering empowering work into the hands of a few while most do only rote and obedient work, the future economy will not be a solidarity or a participatory economy.

To have solidarity requires classlessness. Solidarity won’t be extensive if some own the economy and others only labor in it. It won’t be extensive if some rule the economy and others only obey in it.

So yes, we need an economy which is the product of the will of its members, of course. And we need an economy that is created by an open and hugely democratic process, of course. But we also need an economy that arrives at institutions that attain its stated aims—or else the aims will only be nice rhetoric, disappearing once contrary institutions push them aside.

Parecon, Albert would contend, presents a model for creating such institutions.

Meanwhile, at, David Schweickart reviews Michael Albert’s latest book, Parecon: Life after Capitalism and details the ways in which he believes Parecon to be too complicated to be practical.

One thought on “Solidarity Economics & Participatory Economics”

  1. I think everyone’s missing the 400-pound gorilla in the room when the PARECON folks talk about the ‘classlessness’ of their system and how it’s required for solidarity.I don’t think it’s classless at all.What Albert and Hanel have done is package an updated anarcho-syndicalism, an outlook which always has some resonance among radicalizing youth, which, in turn, are a critical force in revolutionary change.PARECON tries to represent the anti-hierarchy, anti-authoritarian, radical egalitarian, and other concerns over mass participation that appeal to youth, and others as well. Likewise, these are positive values, to a considerable degree though not absolutely, for any successor-system to capitalism. I don’t think PARECON is the practical way to get them, though. Also, One big misconception in PARECON–there are many–that goes unmentioned is when Albert argues that it is a ‘classless’ society and solution, when it is not. PARECON is a society with one large class, a working class, and thus not classless. We won’t even mention a small minority of small producers.My reading of Marx’s notion of the classless society is that it envisions the abolition of ALL classes, including the working class. This is accomplished through cybernation, where the labor time in commodities approaches zero, abundance is achieved, and markets, classes and states then have the conditions to ‘whither away.’Moreover, Albert has a special antipathy for what he calls the ‘coordinator class,’ which I interpret as the strata of workers, small producers and capitalists with the skills and positions to organize production and innovation.I would agree with breaking up any unmerited, restricted access to, or monopolies on, these skills and positions. I’d also agree that the ‘coordiator class’ has a left, center and right politically. But the left component of this sector has a critical role to play in the transition from class to classless society, which is how I see socialism–-the worker-led class society that’s the bridge between capitalism and communism.In any case, I think this discussion is serious, in certain sectors anyway, and will go on for a while. Not so serious, perhaps, for those actually implementing needed radical structual reforms, but still serious to youth who want a better world, and are trying to envision it in various ways. David Schweickart has had a substantive exchange with Albert on many more aspects of this debate, published first on Z-Net, and now being reposted on I think Schweickart wins the debate, but others think not. In any case, his ‘After Capitalism’ is at the center of the socialist project today, and is widely discussed in many countries. Folks here do best to engage it, one way or another.

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