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with Robin Hahnel:
Peace; Looking Inside the Anti-War Movement
This interview was conducted via email in May 2006 by Marla Renn of the Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective. Robin Hahnel has taught political economy at American University for 30 years. He is a longtime activist and author of many books, including Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation (Routledge, 2005).
Marla Renn: As a veteran of the 1960's anti-war movement, and a participant in today's anti-war movement, what differences and similarities do you see between them? What lessons can be taken from the 60's to help build a worldwide movement for peace now?
Hahnel: The most striking difference between the anti-Vietnam
war movement and the anti-Iraq war movement is that the former started
much smaller, only convinced a majority of Americans that we should withdraw
from Vietnam after ten years of organizing in the face of intense hostility, but
grew steadily in breadth and depth until the US government finally relented
and withdrew all US troops from Indo-China. In stark contrast, the anti-Iraq
war movement held its largest demonstration to date before "operation
shock and awe" even began, in less than a year convinced a majority
of Americans the war was launched under false pretenses rather easily,
and has declined in visibility and influence ever since. If public opinion
dictated policy American troops would have long departed Iraq and the
US presence in Indo-China would have lasted even longer than it did.
As important as public opinion
is, it does not determine US foreign policy. As long as both major political
parties are firmly in the pockets of the military industrial complex,
and as long as both major political parties believe the US should run
the world and only disagree over what tactics to use, it will take more
than public opinion to stop imperial ventures. So until a movement demanding
that our government renounce all imperial ambitions forces those who
preside over US foreign policy to redeploy the vast productive resources
currently devoted to expanding our prodigious war-making capabilities
to peaceful purposes, and to embrace the wisdom of peaceful cooperation
and the rule of international law, anti-war movements in the United
States have no choice but to raise the costs of pursuing particular
imperial ventures if we hope to stop them.
While it pains me to say this,
I believe the leadership of todays anti-war movement deserves some of
the blame for the movement's growing impotence. For example, holding
off on organizing major anti-war demonstrations in the fall of 2004
may have made sense since every progressive organization in the country
was understandably focused first and foremost on re-defeating Bush-Cheney
that November. But failing to call for major demonstrations the following
spring was a terrible mistake. In general I think current anti-war leadership
has been too passive and orchestrated opposition in ways that are too
predictable and therefore too ignorable. In some respects current anti-war
leaders have done better than their counterparts during the Vietnam
War: They have made it clear we are not anti-soldier. They have minimized
the inevitable friction between the anti-imperial and liberal wings
of the peace movement. And they have not gotten suckered into debates
over the details of withdrawal. These are by no means small or insignificant
accomplishments. Nonetheless, a majority of the country wants out. The
opposition party continues to sit on the fence and shows every sign
of continuing to do so right into the next presidential election cycle.
It is up to the anti-war movement to make sure that business in America
does not proceed as usual until the will of the majority is enacted,
and we need leadership who understands this is their job.
On the other hand I do not believe the different trajectories of the anti-Vietnam and anti-Iraq war movements are primarily due to differences in leadership. The anti-Vietnam war movement was part of a rising tide of progressive social activism in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s that began with the civil rights and black power movements, spread to the new left student movement, and led to the re-birth of the women's liberation movement and birth of the environmental movement. The anti-Iraq war movement, on the other hand, has struggled to grow in a political era when conservative social activism and power has reached its zenith. It is pointless to blame the leadership of today's anti-war movement for this underlying problem. The important lesson to draw is that turning the United States away from the path of empire will not be accomplished by an anti-war movement on its own. Only in combination with powerful movements pushing progressive agendas forward in every sphere of social life can the peace movement secure its goal. Nonetheless, it's high time the US anti-war movement kicked some butt!
When Michael Albert and I were young New Left activists studying for
our PhD in economics in the early 1970s, we came to the conclusion that
the vision of a self-managed economy shared by many anarchists, council
communists, syndicalists, and utopian socialists was essentially sound,
but, unfortunately, these economic visionaries had failed to provide
a coherent model explaining precisely how a libertarian socialist alternative
to capitalism could work. Skeptics accused those, such as ourselves,
who called for democratic planning by producers and consumers themselves
of deluding ourselves and others. The famous British economist, Alec
Nove, issued the challenge succinctly: "In a complex industrial
economy the interrelation between its parts can be based in principle
either on freely chosen negotiated contracts [i.e., markets], or on
a system of binding instructions from planning offices [i.e., central
planning.] There is no third way." The model of a
participatory economy was initially developed to prove that skeptics
like Nove were wrong. There is an alternative to markets
and central planning, a "third way" where self-managing councils
of workers and consumers coordinate their interrelated activities equitably
and efficiently through a participatory, democratic planning procedure.
We went on to argue that this "third way," now known as "participatory
economics," is not only feasible but highly desirable.
economy is designed to promote: (a) economic justice, defined
as economic reward commensurate with effort, or sacrifice; (b) economic
democracy, or self-management, defined as decision making power
in proportion to the degree one is affected by a decision; and (c)
solidarity, defined as concern for the well being of others —
all to be achieved without sacrificing economic efficiency while
promoting a diversity of economic life styles. The major institutions
used to achieve these goals are: (1) democratic councils of workers
and consumers, (2) jobs balanced for empowerment and desirability,
(3) remuneration according to effort as judged by one’s work
mates, and (4) a participatory planning procedure in which councils
and federations of workers and consumers propose and revise their own
activities under rules designed to yield outcomes that are efficient
In a participatory economy production is carried out by worker councils
where each member has one vote. Everyone is free to apply for membership
in the council of his or her choice, or form a new worker council with
whomever he or she wishes.
be balanced for both desirability and empowerment. Every economy
organizes work tasks into “jobs” which define what tasks an individual
will perform. In hierarchical economies most jobs contain a number of
similar, relatively undesirable, and relatively unempowering tasks,
while a few jobs consist of relatively desirable and empowering tasks.
But why should some people’s work lives be less desirable than other's?
Does not taking equity seriously require balancing jobs for desirability?
And if we want everyone to have equal opportunity to participate in
economic decision making, if we want to ensure that the formal right
to participate translates into an effective right to participate, does
this not require balancing jobs for empowerment? If some people sweep
floors all week, year in and year out, while others review new technological
options and attend planning meetings all week, year in and year out,
is it realistic to believe they have equal opportunity to participate
in firm decisions simply because they each have one vote in the worker
council? Proponents of participatory economics believe that taking participation
seriously requires balancing jobs for empowerment, just as taking equity
seriously requires balancing jobs for desirability. This does not mean
everyone must do everything, nor an end to specialization. Each individual
will still do a small number of tasks, but some of them will be more
enjoyable and some less, and some will be more empowering and some less.
or sacrifice, is rewarded in a participatory economy because any
other system of compensation is unfair. In capitalism people are rewarded
according to the value of the contribution of the productive capital
they own as well as the value of the contribution of their labor. This
means in capitalism a Rockefeller heir who inherits large amounts of
productive capital but never works a day in his or her life enjoys an
income hundreds of times greater than that of a skilled brain surgeon.
In market socialism "capitalist injustice" may be eliminated,
but people would still be rewarded according to the market value of
the contribution of their labor. Since the market value of the services
of a skilled brain surgeon will be many times greater than the market
value of the services of a garbage collector no matter how hard and
well the garbage collector works, remuneration will be unjust in market
socialism as well. Only if people are rewarded according to sacrifices
they make will the distribution of burdens and benefits in the economy
be equitable. Only if someone works longer or harder, or at more dangerous,
strenuous, or unpleasant tasks, does economic justice require greater
remuneration. Unlike capitalism or market socialism, a participatory
economy rewards people according to the effort, or sacrifice they make
in work as determined by a committee of their coworkers according to
procedures established by each worker council for itself.
Every individual, family, or living unit belongs to a neighborhood consumption
council. Each neighborhood council belongs to a federation of neighborhood
councils the size of a precinct. Each precinct federation belongs to
a city ward, or rural county federation. Each ward belongs to a city
consumption council, each city and county council belongs to a state
council, and each state council belongs to the national consumption
council. The major reason for "nesting" consumer councils
into ever larger federations is to allow for the fact that different
kinds of consumption affect different numbers of people. Some decisions
affect only local residents, while others affect all who live in a city,
county, state, or nation. Failure to arrange for all those affected
by consumption activities to participate in choosing them not only implies
a loss of self-management, but, if the preferences of some who are affected
by a choice are disregarded or misrepresented, it also implies a loss
of efficiency as well. One of the serious liabilities of market systems
is their systematic failure to allow for expression of desires for social
consumption on an equal footing with desires for private consumption.
Having different levels of consumer federations participate on an equal
footing with individual worker and neighborhood councils in the planning
procedure described below prevents this bias from occurring in a participatory
members of neighborhood councils present their consumption requests
accompanied by the effort ratings they receive from their co-workers.
Using opportunity costs generated by the participatory planning process
described below, the social cost of each consumption proposal is calculated
to determine if the cost to others of a person's consumption request
is commensurate with the sacrifices he or she made for the benefit of
others in work. While no consumption request justified by a work effort
rating can be denied by a neighborhood consumption council, neighbors
can express their opinion that a request is unwise, and neighborhood
councils can also approve requests on the basis of need in addition
Planning: The participants in the participatory planning procedure
are the worker councils and federations, the consumer councils and federations,
and an Iteration Facilitation Board (IFB). Conceptually, the planning
procedure is quite simple. (1) The IFB announces current estimates of
the social opportunity costs for all goods, resources, categories of
labor, and capital stocks. (2) Consumer councils and federations respond
with consumption proposals. Worker councils and federations respond
with production proposals listing the outputs they propose to make and
the inputs they need to make them. (3) The IFB then calculates the excess
demand or supply for each final good and service, capital good, natural
resource, and category of labor, and adjusts the estimate of the opportunity
cost for the good up, or down, in light of the excess demand or supply.
(4) Using the new estimates of opportunity costs, consumer and worker
councils and federations revise and resubmit their proposals. Individual
worker and consumer councils must continue to revise their proposals
until they submit one that is accepted by the other councils. The planning
process continues until there are no longer excess demands for any goods,
any categories of labor, any primary inputs, or any capital stocks --
in other words, until a feasible plan is reached.
The IFB does
not dictate what workers or consumers can do. The IFB bears no resemblance
to GOSPLAN in the former Soviet Union which was a central planning bureaucracy
that did have power over who would produce what, and how they
would produce it. In participatory planning workers and consumers propose
and revise their own activities in a process that reveals the
costs and benefits of their proposals for others. Not only does each
worker and consumer council make its own initial proposal, they are
responsible for revising their own proposals as well. The planning procedure
is designed to make it clear when proposals are inefficient or unfair,
and other workers and consumer councils can disapprove of proposals
when they are unfair or inefficient. However, revisions of individual
proposals are entirely up to each individual worker and consumer council.
This aspect of the participatory planning procedure distinguishes it
from all other planning models, and is a critical means of providing
workers and consumers with the opportunity for self-management. Participatory
planning gives individual groups of workers and consumers power over
their own activities. They are only constrained by the legitimate interests
of others whom they affect. As long as what a group proposes to do is
fair to others and does not misuse scarce productive resources that
belong to all, it will be approved by the other worker and consumer
councils because it benefits them to do so.
planning procedure protects the environment as no other system ever
has. Federations of all affected by a particular pollutant are empowered
in the participatory planning process to limit emissions to levels they
deem desirable. A major liability of market economies is that because
pollution is what economists call a "negative externality,"
i.e. pollution adversely affects those who are "external"
to the market transaction, market economies permit much more pollution
than is efficient even by the dubious standards of mainstream economics.
The participatory planning procedure, on the other hand, guarantees
that pollution will never be permitted unless those adversely affected
feel the positive effects of permitting an activity that generates pollution
as a by-product outweigh the negative effects of the pollution on themselves
and the environment. Moreover, the participatory planning procedure
generates reliable quantitative estimates of the costs of pollution
and benefits of environmental protection whereas markets generate no
quantitative estimates whatsoever, giving rise to the need for makeshift
surveys in market economies that polluters and environmentalists argue
In brief, a
participatory economy is not only feasible, it is the best way to secure
economic justice and democracy while protecting the environment.
RH: This question
has long been debated. Many Marxists argued that once capitalism became
the dominant economic system in the world, it also became the root cause
of war in the modern era: "Capitalism means imperialism and imperialism
means war. Eliminate capitalism and you will eliminate imperialism and
war." I have always believed this is too simplistic. I believe
capitalism does drive societies to war in a number of different ways
that are important to understand, and I believe achieving world peace
will remain difficult, if not impossible, until we replace the economics
of competition and greed with the economics of equitable cooperation.
But the roots of war run deeper than economic dynamics alone and replacing
capitalism will not guarantee world peace.
Having said this, it is important
to understand how capitalism contributes to war. Capitalism legitimates
the pursuit of greed through power. Capitalism drives corporations to
expand their access to sources of raw materials and cheap labor. Capitalism
drives corporations to seek customers overseas. And capitalism grants
these same corporations ample means to influence those who guide a nation's
foreign policy. Capitalism concentrates economic wealth and power in
the hands of large corporations, permits these corporations to own and
control the major media, and allows these corporations to use all their
wealth and power to ply politicians to act in their interests. This
has proven to be a disastrous recipe time and time again, leading the
governments of many capitalist countries to pursue imperial foreign
policies that serve the interests of their major corporations not only
at the expense of the citizens of the countries falling under their
dominion, but also at the expense of a majority of their own citizens
who shoulder the lion's share of the costs of empire and receive little
of the benefits.
But it would be a mistake to
reduce the logic of empire to economic calculus alone. Many who fight
in imperial wars do so because they believe their country is threatened.
Many who fight believe they are helping those whose country they invade
and occupy. Many who fight do so because they believe those they kill
or subjugate are racially inferior to themselves. Many who fight believe
there must always be wars and warriors, and being a warrior is part
of what it means to be a man. And finally, many who fight, or who work
in the military industrial complex, do so because they have few alternatives
and that is where jobs are to be found. In other words, imperial war
is as much the result of misguided patriotism, racism, sexism, militarism,
and individual self-preservation as it is the result of corporate self-interest.
RH: Peace movements
cannot stand idly by and wait for the economics of competition and greed
to be replaced by the economics of equitable cooperation. Peace movements
must rage against war and all its causes in societies waging unjust
wars, which are most often societies who also practice the economics
of competition and greed. This means one job of the peace movement is
to dispel the myth that empire benefits the average citizen. It is pointless
to deny that there are material benefits of empire. But it is usually
the case that the distribution of the benefits and costs of empire is
such that, on balance, ordinary citizens are worse off. Moreover, the
dynamics of empire invariably shift the internal balance of power further
in favor of the ruling elite. So it is important for peace movements
to explain that an accurate material calculus reveals that ordinary
people are usually worse off and further disempowered when their governments
pursue imperial ambitions.
However, peace movements should
never make this material calculus their major argument against empire.
It is the first responsibility of citizens to prevent a government that
purports to speak for them from engaging in imperial policies because
imperialism is wrong. It is wrong to subvert the sovereignty of other
nations. It is wrong to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries
-- undermining regimes that strive for sovereignty and propping up regimes
that acquiesce to domination. It is wrong to use military, economic,
and political power to seize the lion's share of the benefits from international
investment and trade from less developed countries. Moreover, empires
never last forever, and chickens always come home to roost. And we can
all live much better in a world of peaceful coexistence ruled by international
law where the benefits of international economic cooperation are shared
equitably than we do in a world of rising and falling empires.
There is no reason to believe
ridding the world of war is an easy task. Humans have waged war on one
another from time immemorial. As we become more numerous, and our weaponry
becomes more deadly and environmentally destructive, the consequences
of failing to kick this uniquely human habit become ever more frightening.
But we are a species capable of reason and we can and do learn from
our mistakes. Nor is the peace movement without its troops. Phyllis
Bennis, who heads a team of anti-war activists at the Institute for
Policy Studies in Washington DC, likes to point out that there are still
two super powers in the world today. The Soviet Union is gone, but the
United States is not a super power without a world-class challenger.
The world peace movement is the other super power, and we should never
underestimate our potential and our power.
What insights can Participatory Economics offer those
working within the anti-war movement? Does it offer any strategies in
terms of movement building and achieving world peace?
RH: Participatory Economics is based on the conviction that people can manage their own economic activities and cooperate with others efficiently through fair and democratic procedures. Moreover, when we do so we can be more effective than when a small elite tells the vast majority of us what to do. That lesson applies to the peace movement as well. The peace movement is made up of millions of individuals and tens of thousands of peace groups and organizations. When peace groups initiate their own activities, and when peace groups form organizations and coalitions governed by participatory, democratic procedures to coordinate their efforts, the peace movement is more powerful. But this is not the way most people are used to working together. People are used to hierarchy. People come into the peace movement with racist and sexist attitudes whether or not they realize it. Just as participatory economics builds institutional correctives for habits that are socially dysfunctional -- like balanced job complexes and minority and women's caucuses -- the peace movement also needs to develop correctives for predictable weaknesses people bring with them from their life experiences outside the movement.
Marla Renn lives in Vancouver and is a member of the Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective. For more information visit the collective at http://www.vanparecon.resist.ca