Category Archives: Strategy

Welcome to Rome.

So, how’s your current approach working out for you? Are you getting the results you want? Do you even know what the results you want are?

I’ve been saying for a long time that the left will not win anything until it grapples seriously with the implications of pareconish theory. I’ve also said that the left — which is deeply classist and deeply coordinatorist — will never do this. It’s the overseers, and has no intention of ever getting out into the fields and doing it’s fair share of picking the cotton under the hot sun.

The left will never, ever even consider the possibility that it should do it’s fair share of shit work. The coordinator-class left wants to overthrow the capitalist class and take over the economy; it doesn’t want to spread the real work equitably. However, the left doesn’t hold any of these views consciously. It doesn’t consciously know that its goal is a public-enterprise economy (either with market allocation or centrally-planned allocation). But this theory explains and predicts everything the left does.

So, in a nutshell, I am saying that nothing will ever change — except that to get worse. I’d like to be wrong about that, but I see no evidence that suggests I am. When I see such evidence, I’ll modify my theory accordingly.

I look for actionable, low-hanging fruit in my own life — things I can control, and I focus on those. Anything else is a recipe for misery and failure. A left that were serious about winning would do the same thing: It would focus on things it can control, particularly the lowest of low-hanging fruit.

I claim this low-hanging fruit is a simple acknowledgement of the existence of pareconish theory. Of course, acknowledging parecon would lead to all sorts of deleterious consequences from the standpoint of the deeply-classist, coordinator-class left — it’s not no simple as simply acknowledging it.

But it is low-hanging fruit. I claim there’s no other way for the left to threaten the system, and I claim that it is sufficient to threaten the system. In the same way that I say parecon is a necessary and sufficient condition for the liberation of the working class, I also say that pareconish theory is a necessary and sufficient condition for building a left that’s capable of winning anything in the United States.

Of course, you have no idea who I am. You’ve never heard of me. What do I know? That’s all true, of course: I’m nobody in the world.

But here’s what I do know: The left hasn’t won anything since Nixon left office. It’s broke. You might try fixing it.

Do I think this will happen? Do I think the left will ever start taking parecon seriously? Of course not. But I’m still right, and no one has presented any other theoretical way for the left to move forward.

If you don’t like my theory, fine. Let’s see yours. Or just stay comfortable with losing. Because things getting worse is never going to be enough to foment change. It wasn’t in Greece. It’s not in Brazil, or Mexico. And it won’t be in the United States. If people don’t stick together in the good times — and they don’t — then they won’t stick together in the bad times.

You need something to transcend all that, but with actual institutional teeth. You need horizontal organizational structure. Without that, you may as well just accept the fact that you live in the declining days of the Roman Republic.

A concrete strategy for victory

No war can be won without an overarching strategy. So here’s one for the left:

Step 1: Acknowledge the existence of participatory economics and deal with its implications.

This is where the strategy fails, of course, because the left is never going to acknowledge the existence of pareconish theory. When I say, “The left is the overseers,” I mean it. Classism is as poorly understood in 2020 as racism and sexism were in 1820, and the left is deeply, deeply classist.

If we model the left as an alcoholic, then the left is the alcoholic that hits bottom, but never changes. We like to talk about alcoholics who hit bottom and then (finally) make the changes they need to turn their lives around. But more common are the alcoholics who hit bottom, yet the only change they make is grabbing a shovel.

Still, for purposes of presenting a strategy, let’s assume a can opener pretend that the left will actually ever change. The implications of pareconish theory are that everyone does their fair share of shit work, and that no one gets to just manage an operation from an air-conditioned office while other people are out in the hot sun doing the actual work of picking the cotton.

Parecon is built on the notions of circumstantial equity and remunerative equity. Those are fifty-dollar ways of saying that everyone gets paid the same (remunerative equity) and everyone has comparable work lives (circumstantial equity). The core of why the left hates parecon so much is because of its insistence on circumstantial equity.

The left doesn’t mind people being paid the same, but it hates the idea of it having to do menial tasks. Dealing honestly with the implications of participatory economics mean the left would have to reorganize itself along pareconish lines. Again, this will never happen, but I’m constructing a fantasy world here to demonstrate that a viable strategy forward — with concrete steps — actually exists.

Step 2: Pareconish organizations can easily merge to create larger, more powerful organizations.

If you’re in a war and vastly outmanned and outgunned, the last thing you should be doing is splintering your resources. Victory is literally impossible in such a situation. But this completely describes the extant left.

And under the current conditions, it essentially impossible for left-wing organizations to merge. Take two left-wing organizations, A and B. That they are presently viable organizations means they each have a revenue stream, and someone who controls that revenue stream.

Suppose these two organizations merge into A+B. Who’s the top dog? Who controls the money? In the real world, when organizations merge it’s generally one much bigger fish swallowing a much smaller one, or two comparably-sized large organizations where the decision makers write themselves huge checks with the money they save by firing a bunch of people.

But pareconish organizations, being truly horizontal, can merge much more seamlessly. Any workplace is just a set of tasks, with tasks bundled to create jobs. In the corporate-style workplaces that exist in capitalism and all forms of socialism, tasks are bundled according to the relative empowerment effects, with cushy and empowering tasks being jealously guarded by the managers who run the workplace.

In pareconish organizations, however, everyone works a fair job (or balanced job complex). There’s no division of labor to jealously guard, because of already-existing circumstantial equity across the workplace. For two pareconish organizations to join, all they need to do is throw the list of all the tasks in the new organization, A+B, back into a spreadsheet and re-divvy up the jobs.

Furthermore, pareconish organizations can easily respect the existing goals and cultures of the merging organizations. If organization A is fighting for workers’ rights and organization B is fighting for women’s rights, but A and B have corporate structures (which all left-wing organizations have in 2020), the new organization A+B (were it able to form at all) would end prioritizing one over the other (likely the one that produced the greatest revenue).

But because all workers in pareconish organizations have comparable power within the organization, such a hijacking would be much more difficult without essentially the entire organization being on board. This is not to say there would not be disagreements or conflicts in A+B — or indeed in any pareconish organization — just that there would not be a permanent managerial class of actors in the organization making the choices (essentially always in its own interests).

Pareconish organizations across the left could unite into smaller, larger, more powerful organizations (or even one very large and powerful organization), with greater resources at its disposal for the fights beginning at step 3.

Step 3: The newly-pareconish left becomes the “threat of a good example” that the capitalist class so fears, and it trumpets this fact.

Three of the most progressive programs in U.S. history are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The ruling class didn’t allow these to become law because they liked them. Rather, they were faced with threats to the system that threatened the one thing they really do care about: control. So, in an effort to keep their control, they gave ground on the second thing they care most about, money.

But these systemic threats only existed because of the existence of the Soviet Union. Some people thought the Soviet system of a public-enterprise centrally-planned economy was “good” and others thought it was “bad” — but everyone agreed it was different. Not only was it different, it was (like Mt. Everest) there.

Today, no example exists of anything good, let alone different. The capitalist system of a private-enterprise market economy is the only game in town, and everyone “knows” it. How is the left supposed to inspire anyone when it can’t articulate a vision of something radically different from solidarity-destroying market economics and authoritarian central planning?

The new pareconish left can not only openly and proudly call for an end to wage slavery and the actual liberation of the working class, it can also show the working class exactly how such a system works in practice.

Workers are more concerned with wages, benefits, and working conditions than they are taking over their workplaces or overthrowing the capitalist system. But regardless of their concerns, they always the same very-justified fear of stepping out of line. Working people generally know very well how easily and quickly they can and will be crushed if they dare to raise their heads.

This is where a more powerful left steps in. Presently, when workers undertake any action for any reason, they get no external support and they are crushed. But a more powerful, pareconish left would have both the incentive and the means to step in and provide defense and support.

In short order, the pareconish left and workers could jointly form goals and strategies to eventually take over the entire economy and remake it along pareconish lines.

Step 4: None of this will ever happen, because the left is deeply classist and has zero interest in working-class liberation.

I’m not stupid. I’m not holding my breath for the left to ever actually acknowledge the existence of pareconish theory. However, notice in the above that I’ve basically said nothing about the ruling class. There’s a reason for that.

If you’re going to win something — anything — you must formulate a strategy that depends on what you do, and not on what anyone else does. The left (pareconish or otherwise) has zero control over anything done by the ruling class, corporations, the government, the media, the police, the military, or anyone else. To win, the left should be entirely inward focused. It should be focused on what it can control, and what it can control is its own choices and actions.

Think of all the time the left spends moaning and crying about how powerless it is, all the forces arrayed against it, how it always loses, and how things just always get worse. Quite honestly, pretty much the entire left is a bunch of excuse-making losers who are too comfortable in the bottle they’ve climbed into to realize they could actually climb out of it if they wanted to.

Stop being a bunch of whiny pussy crybabies, and just go take what you want. You hold all the cards. You have all the power in your hands right now.

Baby elephants are kept in place tied to a little rope. They grow up to be big elephants who could easily snap the rope like a piece of twine but don’t because they’ve become conditioned to think they’re helpless. Just move a little bit and snap the damn string.

To use a gentler metaphor, the magic’s not in the feather…

Stop whining, start winning (part 2).

Caitlin Johnstone writes:

People ask me “Well, what should we do? How do we fix this thing?” And of course my only possible answer is, “Do what I’m doing! Or your version of it.” Of course I’m doing the thing I think we should do to solve the problems of our species. Why would I be doing anything else?

Johnstone does excellent work. But what she does is what everyone else on the left does: They tell you what’s going on. They tell you about the problem.

That’s important work, and somebody has to do it. But talking about problems is all the left ever does. It never discusses solutions.

Can you imagine Bill Belichick spending the entire week before a game talking about what a great team the Rams are, what a great coach Sean McVay is, and what a great pass rusher Aaron Donald is?

If you’re going to be successful at anything, you must spend far more time thinking about solutions than problems. Yes, you need to understand the problem. But somewhere in the world are medical researchers who can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Lou Gehrig’s disease — except how to fix it.

An understanding of the problem is not enough.

Winners focus on the things they can control. Spending any time thinking about what you can’t control is literally waste.

Belichick sizes up the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. He looks at their tendencies, and watches a lot of film. But then he spends all his time figuring out what his team is going to do. He puts together a game plan, thinks of all possible adjustments he might need to implement in-game (always with an understanding that the circumstances of the actual game may force decisions on him he hadn’t been able to foresee), and spends his time having his team practice his game plan.

Belichick’s goal is to force the other team to react to what the Patriots are doing, and not the other way around. If you’re reacting, you’re losing. To win, you have to be the win who is setting the tempo, dictating the terms of the contest. You want to be the one who is imposing your will on your opponent, not the other way around.

The left spends all its time reacting, and having the establishment’s will imposed on it (the left). The left does this because it has no way to play offense. The left has no way to set the terms of the debate. The left has no way to mount an attack, because it spends no time thinking about any solutions.

Saying you’re for Medicare for all (for instance) is not a solution. It’s a wish. Think about it this way: You want Medicare for all. Fine. What’s your plan to get it?

The U.S. ruling class never wanted the population to have Social Security. But because of a threat to the system, they relented. They never wanted the population to have Medicare or Medicaid, but because of a threat to the system, they relented.

If the left is going to win Medicare for all, it has to threaten the capitalist system itself. But you can’t threaten the system by simply saying you hate capitalism. Elites don’t care about your feelings.

You also can’t threaten the system with any form of socialism. Every form of socialism (whether market or centrally-planned) is an economy in which the capitalists are gone and the managers now have the ultimate say in society.

The working class never sees any capitalists, but they answer to managers every day. As a result, workers hate managers far more than they hate any capitalists. Slogans like “the 99% versus the 1%” resonate on the left because the left is made up of managers. But they don’t resonate with the working class. And they never will.

If you truly want to win anything, you’re going to have to start by acknowledging the existence of participatory economics.

The left ignores and actually hates parecon because parecon has implications that the left doesn’t want to face. But parecon is something the left has complete control over. And parecon represents a massive threat to the the capitalist class because it also represents a massive threat to the managerial class. That distaste that virtually all managers have for parecon is precisely what gives it its power.

No power in the universe can prevent the left from acknowledging parecon’s existence, except the left itself. And the left has been doing just that for 30 years. But if the left and those within its orbit actually want to set the terms of the debate — actually want to impose their will on the capitalist class — parecon is literally the only way to do it.

The left will continue to lose until it acknowledges the existence of pareconish theory. Once it does, it will be surprised by how quickly it sees mountains move, and it will start to wonder why it took so long to get started.

I have a theory, and I’m giving you a testable prediction of my theory. But you’re going to have to look in the mirror first.

The system is not broken. It is working perfectly.

You see this sort of thing all the time once you get anywhere in the vicinity of the left, and it drives me nuts:

The Fed has used the coronavirus crisis to double down on a failed strategy of supporting financial markets while the real economy declines.

Were the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan failures or successes? They were designed to go boom and kill a lot of people. They went boom and killed a lot of people. That makes them stupendous successes. The fact that they were designed to do something horrible, and that they did in fact do something horrible, is irrelevant to assessing them as successes or failures.

Our financial system is designed to further empower and enrich the already powerful and rich. And it’s doing that quite well. That makes it a spectacular success. The fact that millions, or hundreds of millions, or even billions of people are suffering tremendously as a result is irrelevant to assessing the success or failure of our economic system. It’s doing what it’s designed to do.

The smart, educated coordinator class the owns, operates, funds, consumes, and produces the content for everything anywhere even remotely associated with the left is virtually always saying some variation of, “The system is broken.” Despite their education and intelligence, they are essentially uniformly incapable of understanding the logic that the atomic bombs were successes, not failures.

Why is that? It is because virtually the entire left are all latent socialists.

What I mean is this: As I have written previously, socialism is the liberating theory of the coordinator class. And the left, as I noted above, is a thoroughly coordinator-class left.

I’m not saying the left is intentionally or even consciously socialist. In most cases, it actually isn’t. But because it’s a coordinator-class left, it makes coordinator-class choices. It implements coordinator-class values. It essentially never does any of this consciously, but consciousness in this case is irrelevant.

Because it’s steeped in coordinator-class logic, what it really wants, deep down and largely unconsciously, is the liberation of the coordinator class.

Saying the system is broken is a way of saying, “Put us in charge and we’ll fix things.” The left is always broadcasting a signal to the working class that says, “Help us overthrow the capitalists, and we’ll make everything right.”

The coordinator-class left does this because the coordinators, by themselves, lack the power to overthrow the capitalists. They need working-class support in order to do it. But they have no intention of actually liberating the working class, because to them, that’s terrifying anarchy.

To use the analogy of chattel slavery: The coordinator-class left is the overseers, capitalists are the plantation owner, and the working class is the field slaves. The overseers (the left) know perfectly well how to run the plantation, but because they don’t own it, they have to do what the plantation owner (the capitalists) tells them.

They resent the plantation owner because he has the ultimate say. They actually run the operation while the plantation owner sits in his mansion and does the antebellum equivalent of hookers and blow, and this pisses them off.

But without the help of the field slaves (the working class), the overseers lack the power to take the operation away from the plantation owner. So they’re constantly telling the field slaves that the operation is broken, but it would work so much better if the field slaves would just help the overseers oust the lazy and parasitic plantation owner.

And of course the plantation owner is lazy and parasitic. But what the overseers never ever tell the field slaves is, “Help us overthrow the plantation owner, and we’ll join you in the fields doing our fair share of picking the cotton.”

Because the overseers have no intention of ever getting out under the hot sun and doing their fair share of picking the cotton.

So too with the coordinator-class left. It has absolutely no intention whatsoever of ever doing its fair share of the shit work. That’s for the working class. Their are many rationalizations the left uses to justify this position, but they are beyond the scope of this essay.1

How does this flow from the logic of saying the atomic bombs were failures and not successes? That is, how does this flow from the logic of saying the system is broken? Because if you say the system is a success, then there’s an obvious next question: “Okay, if the present system is doing what it’s designed to do and therefore a success, what kind of system should we have? What should a system be designed to do?”

And therein lies the rub. What the coordinator-class left wants deep down (and again, largely unconsciously), is some form of socialism. It doesn’t matter to the left if it’s centrally-planned socialism (à la the former Soviet Union) or market socialism (à la the former Yugoslavia). All that matters is that it’s socialism and not capitalism — all the matters to the left is that the capitalists have been overthrown and the coordinators are now in charge.

This explains the absolute invisibility of participatory economics on the left for the past 30 years. In a participatory economy, the overseers would have to do their fair share of picking the cotton.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: The human race will literally go extinct before the left even acknowledges the existence of participatory economics, much less implements it. The left likes to bleat eloquent about the existentialism of things like global warming or the need for radical social change. But the left doesn’t believe any of it.

When an alcoholic truly hits bottom and is not completely bereft of self-awareness, he leaves no stone unturned in his quest for sobriety and to fix all the things in his life that he has so royally screwed up.

The left is not anywhere close to this point, though. Why would it be? The left is basically a collection of small businesses. As long as money is coming in, there’s no existential threat. And once the money stops, there’s no business, so that that now-defunct left outfit stops broadcasting. It has passed the event horizon into the black hole, so whatever it might want to broadcast now is irrelevant.

I’m not saying the left is a bunch of money grubbers. Actually, the overwhelming majority of people on the left are decent, honest, and sincere people. They really do want to help. If they really were money grubbers, they’d have studied business and finance in college instead of English and philosophy.

But they are still coordinators. Their fathers were coordinators. To borrow from Jimmy Dore, they grew up on cul-de-sacs. Coordinatorism is what’s in their bone marrow.

I have very low hopes for the future of civilization. In theory, all this is fixable. But in reality, alcoholics invariably have to hit bottom before they can change — and even then most don’t, because they lack the requisite self-awareness.

I don’t see the left changing. I see civilization hitting bottom (not anytime soon, but eventually), and rule by strongmen springing from the ashes. Not parecon or even socialism will spring from the ashes; chaos favors dictatorship.

But as I write this, it is not too late. The ship could still be turned around before plunging over the falls. It won’t be, but it could be.

It will not and can not happen, though, without — at minimum — an acknowledgment by the left of the existence of participatory economics.

No solution but participatory economics.

I love Krystal Ball. She rightly derides Trump’s “phony populism” and points out that without the efforts of the working class — who it’s no exaggeration to say are risking their lives — the entire economy would stop.

But at the end of the day, this is irrelevant. I’m not saying she doesn’t know this, but it needs to be pointed out. Workers will never have anything in this country until they organize, shut down the economy, and demand it.

But there are two problems here. One is that it’s impossible to win anything without a plan. Saying you’re for Medicare for all (for example) is not a solution — it’s a fantasy.

Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer once said, “Everybody wants it. What’s your plan to go get it?” He wasn’t talking about Medicare for all, but his point is correct.

If you’re a group of workers and you want your company to give you PPE (personal protective equipment) or hazard pay that you’re not getting, well, what’s your plan to make them give it to you?

That leads to the second problem, which is that workers won’t even stick together in the good times. So good luck getting them to stick together in the bad times.

I worked as a nurse aide in the early 2000s (long before the financial crisis of 2008), and I tried to organize the facility. It went nowhere.

In the good times, people don’t perceive they need to organize, and they can’t accept the costs of risking what they have. This is understandable of course. But when things get tough, people really can’t accept the costs of risking what they have.

Many commenters seem to think that the Greater Depression we are entering is going to lead to “progressive” social change like Medicare for all. They are wrong.

What the Greater Depression is going to lead to is hard fascism. People think the Great Depression of the 30s led to FDR’s New Deal, but that’s only partly true. It was this, plus the existence of the Soviet Union as an alternative that led to systemic threats that forced elites to act.

That’s not to say the Soviet Union (especially Stalin’s Soviet Union) was a good place. It wasn’t. But it was different, and therefore served as the “threat of a good example.

Today, there is no good (or different) example that elites are threatened by. People may talk about “socialism,” but either they’re talking about socialism in poorly defined terms (more often), or they’re talking about Soviet-style socialism that was highly authoritarian (less often) that is not going to inspire anyone in the U.S. to fight for it.

Without the threat of a good example, the Greater Depression can’t lead anywhere but hard fascism. Trump will probably win reelection, after which there will be a Democrat in the White House. But after that Democrat there will be huge blowback, and the next Republican president is going to make Adolf Hitler look like a choir boy.1

But this time, there will no external good example for activists to point to like there was in the 30s. This time, the left is going to have to create that good example all on its own.

The only example that can or will qualify is participatory economics. If the left really wants to avoid hard fascism in the United States, it’s going to have get serious not just about acknowledging its own class privileges (which it essentially doesn’t do at all), to actually addressing its own class privileges with new, pareconish organizational structures.

Honestly, I don’t see this happening at all. The left avoids even acknowledging the existence of parecon like the plague. Actually implementing it would make the deeply coordinator-class left apoplectic.

However, if you want a “plan to go get it,” I’ve just given it to you. And my plan is the lowest of low-hanging fruit: There is literally no power on earth — not any corporation, not the media, not the U.S. government — no one — that can stop the left from doing this.

Only the left can stop the left. This ball is completely in the left’s court. This power is completely in the left’s hands. And the barest exercise of this power would put the fear of Jesus Christ into elites.

I say this because the only thing that elites really and truly care about is control. Yes, they want their money. But in times of mass social upheaval, elites are always willing to temporarily part with some of their money so they can keep all the control.

Parecon would be a grave threat to their control, and one that would also inspire workers, because parecon truly is a necessary and sufficient condition for the liberation of the working class.

However, parecon would also rob the coordinator class of their class privileges. And since the left is a thoroughly coordinator-class left, parecon is a non-starter on radical left websites and YouTube shows.

Hence, my hard fascism prediction. But my theory is sound. And if the left considered the threats we presently face to be truly existential (and didn’t just pay lip service to them being existential), they’d at least be talking about parecon sooner rather than later.

Or before it’s too late.