Prospects for 2013: Gar Alperovitz

By Jamie

25 January 2013

The American system of political economy is in a state of crisis from which it will neither collapse nor quickly recover. In the resulting stagnation, writes Gar Alperovitz, a very significant process of radical reawakening is quietly underway.

Part of our series of short contributions from writers and activists looking to the year ahead.

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My attention in the new year is focused on the U.S., which is in a highly unusual state of crisis. On the one hand, it is unlikely to totally collapse. On the other, it is unable—not least because of the long-term radical decline in union density—to mobilize traditional progressive solutions for reforming the system.  The result is decay: growing economic inequality, stagnation, massive structural poverty, and a stalemated national politics.  

Paradoxically, however, this very stalemate is forcing people both to pursue innovative strategies in the short term and reassess longer term visions about where the left is and might decide to go. The coming year is likely to generate a major increase in both activism and the sophistication of activism, as we come to terms with the need to get serious about taking on the structural crisis and building an institutional basis that shores up the traditional left while at the same time laying the foundations for something beyond—i.e. the next system.  

Here a myriad of underreported on-the-ground experiments with new forms of worker and community ownership, with more participatory forms of government and with more sophisticated forms of decentralised planning on the municipal and regional scales, are likely to be taken up by a movement increasingly aware that something fundamental is wrong with the system at a structural level.  Already, the result is a growing understanding of the importance of democratising capital, and of the need to build a movement capable of doing so.    

Precisely because the welfare state and social democracy is so much weaker in the United States than in many advanced systems—and because the country is so large and so decentralised—a different form of evolutionary reconstruction that is neither reform nor revolution may well be in the process of accelerating here. This, too, is laying the groundwork for systemic change around a much more highly decentralised social ownership model than many have as yet conceived. 

I believe 2013 may mark an important inflection point in this trajectory, as the various strands working in this direction—the “new economy” and co-op movements, the leading edges of the labour movement, climate change activists, progressive politicians at the local level, and radicals looking for a way forward—begin to recognise their common task at this moment in history. As the system creates failure and disillusionment, yet does not collapse, a long path of rebuilding of consciousness is also developing. There will be inevitable setbacks, potentially even violence and repression, but a very significant process is quietly underway and is not likely to be easily thwarted as it slowly builds power.  

Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is the author of the forthcoming What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution (Chelsea Green, May Day 2013)

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4 Comments on "Prospects for 2013: Gar Alperovitz"

By Bernard Marszalek, on 25 January 2013 - 20:13 |

To speak of our current situation as a crisis of political economy, and to talk about reforms, revolution, evolution, ownership, or whatever leads nowhere. Our desperation cannot be properly addressed within the confines of the old world redecorated with pleasantries plucked from the manifestos of a previous era. It may be dispiriting for some to hear this, and possibly fruitless to utter it, but only by facing the enormity of our blight and all its cultural ramifications will we recognize our humanity by its negation. To say this another way: it’s not the system in crisis, but our consciousness.

By Rea, on 27 January 2013 - 18:37 |

Bernard: Your long and elegant four sentences had no substantial content. What exactly do you propose we do and what arguments do you have in favor of it?

By Bernard Marszalek, on 28 January 2013 - 01:21 |

@Rea,
Practical measures to address the universalized misery we all endure need to be contextualized by the radicalism of reality, otherwise they simply benefit our masters. So, for example, if we concentrate on the development of worker cooperatives, which Gar and I have been involved with for decades (he as an activist/academic and me as a member/organizer) this means recognizing the historic cleavage associated with worker cooperatives: the “utopian” vs. the reformist currents. Historically worker cooperatives formed as membership organizations to contest the domination of the market, not as “employee-owned” businesses.

But the larger issue to be engaged involves the inevasible radicalism of the aforementioned reality. For me, this comes down to the belief that we have entered a period of vast and incomparable transformation. To be brief: How do we achieve the abundance stolen from us by the rich and powerful, and at the same time unshackle ourselves from the endless pursuit of economic growth? Divorcing income from jobs only begins a process of thinking (and acting) beyond capitalist imposed scarcity so that we can respond to the environmental devastation wrought by the pursuit of profit.

Further, how do we reclaim the original quest for a truly democratic society, where individuality – now enclosed by electoral politics – develops collectively, as in the early 19th century forms of mutuality? And how do we assert our innate creativity, our natural heritage, debased by an educational system in the service of power? To respond to these queries with a metaphorical shrug and a return to our comfort zone of pragmatism betrays our better selves and relegates all inquiry, and especially “politics,” to something approaching play in a sandbox.

By People's Fist, on 01 February 2013 - 00:38 |

“while at the same time laying the foundations for something beyond—i.e. the next system.” 
and “To say this another way: it’s not the system in crisis, but our consciousness”.

Each socio-economic system has three basic characteristics: aim of productive activities, subject -object in scheme for decision making and principle for person’s position in the society. These characteristics of capitalism are the roots of its irreverible crisis. The next system will be based on other principles. Of course, consciousness of the society is also important characteristic for the level of its development and finally it depends on the level of development of sociel sciences.

Unfortunately, present level is much below than the level of complexity of the system. And there should be no doubt, that the next system will be much more complex than capitlism

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