After my last post on the tactics of Occupy movement an old friend called and berated me (nicely) for not giving an alternative vision to capitalism. So here goes. And before you put the kettle on and settle down for a long read, no need. I’ll be brief:
I don’t know. Nor do I feel the need to know. What I do know is that capitalism doesn’t work. It preys on the worst aspects of the human psyche – limitless greed and the desire to hold power over others.
We need to clear the decks, pause and take stock. We need to make space for alternatives. So my alternative is making space for alternatives. Cop out? Stay with me. Whatever exists post-capitalism needs to be defined in its own terms, not with reference to capitalism. Like the black consciousness movement, or feminism, or indeed any liberation struggle we need to refuse to frame the conversation in the language of the oppressor, or with reference to the oppressor’s values. Let’s get rid of capitalism and not rush to fill the void. That void doesn’t have to be a vacuum, sucking in a new ‘system’ whole and complete.
What I do know about my personal vision is that it involves autonomy and diversity. And it involves continuing, and continuous (r)evolution
Autonomy and diversity?
Many folk involved in grassroots direct action will tell you that when we work in affinity groups we’re not only confronting injustice, but we’re living a structure that provides an alternative to the unjust systems we confront. The autonomous affinity group, often working in a collective with many other groups. That’s my picture of the future, but for affinity groups read communities.
And diversity? You can’t impose autonomy. So other communities may disagree, they may organise in ways that don’t work for me. It’s not just likely, it’s an inevitability. If I can’t tolerate that diversity, then life’s going to be tough, because persuading each and every one of you that I’m right and that I have the one truth is going to take more of my time than I’m prepared to give, and the broad beans won’t sow themselves.
And yet one of the biggest issues for groups that subscribe to this same model of autonomous affinity groups working in collaboration seems to be an intolerance of diversity, an inability to use consensus (understood to be the core process of such an approach) in groups with significant degrees of difference. A challenge then for life post-capitalism.
A wise and radical Methodist theologian of my acquaintance once wrote words to the effect of revolution not being the answer. Revolution, to his mind, implied a single turn of the wheel, moving on a fixed point and replacing it with a different fixed point. Regime change. He advocated being radical rather than revolutionary and thinking in terms of a constant motion of the wheel. Doesn’t every generation have its revolution only to find that its children feel the need to revolt against the new world order their parents created? Yet somehow we find ourselves thinking in terms of regime change rather than expecting, inviting and preparing for continuous change.
Only last week I was discussing utopia with Carl, my Rhizome co-founder. We’re meeting in early November with 5 or 6 others who are interested in getting involved in Rhizome (we’ll tell you more about that as it happens) and we’re planning an agenda that allows genuine space for dialogue about what Rhizome is and could be. It was refreshing to agree that we didn’t have a utopian vision that all potential Rhizome folk have to sign up to, and to acknowledge that our own visions and values already differ considerably anyway. I’m enjoying that diversity and look forward to more of it. Hopefully we can do a little bit of modeling the possibilities of autonomy, diversity, and ongoing reflection and change.