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01 December 2013

Review of After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action - Monthly Review

It’s the System Stupid: Structural Crises and the Need for Alternatives to Capitalism :: Monthly Review

by Hans G. Despain, who teaches political economy at Nichols College, where he is the Chair of the Department of Economics.

On Thursday, December 13, 2012, The Guardian announced Queen Elizabeth finally received an answer to her question—“Did nobody see this coming?”—about the 2008 financial crisis.1 While she was touring the Bank of England, Sujit Kapadia, one of the bank’s economists, informed Her Majesty that financial crises are a bit like earthquakes and flu pandemics: rare and difficult to predict. An impressive answer indeed. Brilliant for its vagueness, spuriousness, and obtuseness.

However, Kapadia is simply wrong not to have explained that many economists, financiers, and regulators anticipated and predicted the financial collapse.2 Additionally, metaphors of natural disasters are highly misleading. Financial crises are not inevitable occurrences, but historical, human-created, and contingent phenomena.

Her Majesty had asked: “Did nobody see this coming?” Perhaps she could have also asked three more questions: Does nobody see the suffering and socioeconomic injustices of oligopolistic-finance capitalism? Does no one see that the problems are structural and systemic? And is there no alternative to a system that generates continuous “quadruple crises”—the socioeconomic, political, environmental, and personal/psychological?3

The conventional wisdom is “There Is No Alternative,” or TINA. For this reason most Americans simply acquiesce to capitalistic social relations and, like Sisyphus, are resigned to performing eternal tasks while enduring the “endless” quadruple crises generated by a pathological system.

The most extraordinary aspect concerning the absence of an alternative is that it is fallacious. The capitalistic system itself must be transformed. To put it into a slogan: Capitalism Is No Alternative, or CINA.

Four recent books provide radical and practical alternative visions for both the workplace and the economy more generally. Rick Wolff’s Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (2012), David Schweickart’s After Capitalism (2011), Gar Alperovitz’s America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy (2011), and Dada Maheshvarananda’s After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action (2012). One important aspect shared by each of these books is that each was either written, or expanded and reissued, in reaction to the crisis of 2008 and the Occupy movement of 2011. All four books provide highly practical calls to action which are capable of transforming the economy and democratizing the workplace.

Before describing this exciting and inspiring work, two points should be underscored. First, these four books are merely the tip of the alternative-society iceberg, and focusing on them specifically is merely a way to put at rest the misconception of TINA and the correctness of CINA. Second, CINA literature has always involved disagreement and debate, but unfortunately, none of the four authors provided other alternative models to CINA besides their preferred one. The intention here is to provide an overview for the existence of highly innovative and practical responses to the economic collapse and ensuing protests. These turbulent last four years are only a beginning to a revolutionary era of transformation away from capitalism. Each of these books is very well-written, well-reasoned, and well-argued, and all of them offer practical models to CINA.

Alperovitz underscores the fact that in capitalism there is a “democratic deficit.”4 In the United States it is proclaimed that there is a democracy in the political realm. But once an individual enters the economic realm—when we enter the typical workplace—democracy is abandoned and totalitarianism runs supreme. Even within the political realm, oligopolization and political lobbying have put at peril any sense of a democratic process, and citizens have almost no say in government.5Wolff reminds us that democracy is inconsistent with the production of surplus-value in capitalism and the profit motive.6Schweickart and Maheshvarananda both maintain that democracy is not possible in capitalistic labor relations, or in financial markets under the hegemony of oligopolistic financial enterprises.7 Thus, there is not only a “democratic deficit” but a “democratic contradiction” within the capitalistic mode of production.

All these authors also underscore the social pathologies generated by capitalism. For example, in the United States one in four workers are employed in low-wage work with no benefits, no health care, no retirement, and no paid sick days or leave for family caregiving. One in two workers make less than $25,000 per year.

Each of these authors point out that the processes of concentration and centralization generate not only massive inequality in income and wealth, but also in opportunity, education, and quality of life. Furthermore, economic inequality has generated political inequality, and has given rise to noxious levels and forms of political lobbying, business predation, venomous forms of rent-seeking, and the emergence of the Predator State.8

Most investments in contemporary capitalism are highly speculative and short-term, rather than productive and long-term. Debt is ubiquitous. Furthermore, there is a strong tendency in capitalistic production to either ignore or exploit the natural environment.

Wolff, Schweickart, Alperovitz, and Maheshvarananda each present practical and detailed blueprints for democratizing the U.S. workplace. They each provide alternative models to socioeconomic pathologies that constitute the ontology of capitalism. These four alternative models are not incompatible with each other, but rather highly complementary.

In parts 1 and 2 of his book, Wolff details the perpetual historical crises of capitalistic development, and the contradictory action of the government in wake of the crisis of 2008. In the third part, Wolff argues the “cure” is worker’s self-directed enterprises (WSDE). Wolff describes how these enterprises will work internally, and fit within market economies in particular, and in modern society in general. He explains how they extend democracy and give workers far more control, self-efficacy, and responsibility for their lives. Finally, he offers a very practical policy strategy to help brings these enterprises into being.

Schweickart’s book may be the most impressive in its combination of practicality, critique of TINA, argument for CINA, and accessibility to the layperson. According to Schweickart, because of the failures of capitalism (i.e., CINA), “counterprojects” are always present as a “challenge to capitalism.”9

Schweickart offers a moral and ethical critique of capitalism, along with presenting the negative socioeconomic effects the dynamics and (law-like) tendencies produce on human beings within the system in the form of inequality, unemployment, overwork, poverty, economic instability, and environmental degradation. Schweickart argues that his alternative model to CINA constitutes “Economic Democracy,” supports workplaces that are “worker self-managed,” offers social control of investment with socialist savings and loan associations, and sees the government as the “Employer-of-Last-Resort.”

Schweickart maintains his model is fully capable of overcoming the moral and ethical problems of capitalism, as well as the negative economic effects of its dynamics. For Schweickart the historical “counterprojects” of capitalism are historical proof of capitalistic failure. In the last several pages, Schweickart demonstrates that his “counterproject” is not utopian but a practical historical result of the failures of capitalism and CINA.

Alperovitz understands capitalism, as well as the “too big to fail” and “too big to succeed” oligopolies, as inadequate for the needs of most people. For him, CINA is the social reality for the majority of people. However, he is less interested than Wolff and Schweickart in detailing the historical facts of capitalistic failure, and far more interested in demonstrating how Americans are reacting to the failure. Alperovitz believes that given the political impasse, whereby the system neither “reforms” nor “collapses” in crisis, there is a (potential) economic revolution underway, in the emergence of “worker-owned firms.” He considers the economic impact and political capacity of these endeavors, and explains how these worker-owned firms change the lives of workers, democratize communities, improve the environment, and promote ecological sustainability.

The United States has 29,000 cooperatives, and the National Cooperative Business Association says they employ over 2 million people, own more than $3 trillion dollars in assets, generate $500 billion in revenue, and pay $75 billion in wages and benefits. There are also hundreds of worker-owned firms, analogous to the Mondragon Corporation of Spain, emerging as viable alternatives to hierarchical, undemocratic, oligopolistically dominated, capitalist enterprises.

Alperovitz urges that we embrace and nurture these enterprises and help to “rebuild” a “pluralistic commonwealth” on the basis of smaller and more human-orientated, worker-owned firms. He maintains that they have the potential to renew a sense of community, and believes they demonstrate that the production process and activity of “business” can be beneficial to workers and community. Finally, worker-owned firms generate values of cooperation, communal responsibility, and social ethics, in addition to personal pride, achievement, and worth.

Maheshvarananda’s book outlines the failures and pathologies of “multinational corporate” capitalism. He argues that Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar’s PROgressive Utilization Theory, or PROUT economics, already exists as a well-developed alternative to both capitalism and state socialism. PROUT has important similarities with both Marxism and Participatory Economics, but its real philosophical basis is in Tantra Yoga, with influences from Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism (especially Zen).

PROUT’s economic principles are that: (1) all citizens deserve the minimum requirements of life of food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education; (2) employment is guaranteed; (3) the progressive use of science and technology and a federal institution geared toward research and development should be promoted; (4) the federal political system must include decentralized planning at the level of the local economy, with balanced development of what is needed by local citizens; (5) a three-tier economic system that supports privately owned small businesses, cooperatively owned medium and large businesses, and government-run large industries must be created; (6) “decentralized self-sufficient” local economies should be maximized; and, (7) crucial to PROUT, are the cooperatively owned businesses.

The cooperatively owned businesses referred to must be locally owned and run. They are meant to replace the above socioeconomic pathologies, and would be the largest part of a Proutian economy. According to Maheshvarananda, they will radically transform class relations, class struggle, and generate new perspectives on class.

Maheshvarananda, much like Wolff, Schweickart, and Alperovitz, believes that the activity needed for the democratization of the workplace and economy is already underway. Maheshvarananda offers many existing examples of Proutian enterprises. Most of these are the same discussed by Schweickart and Alperovitz, including the Mondragon cooperative in Spain and Evergreen in Cleveland. However, Maheshvarananda also offers extensive details of cooperatives in Venezuela, where he has founded a PROUT research institute.

In addition to mending the social pathologies of capitalism, he explains how Proutianism promotes leisure, spirituality, and a new humanistic ethic. He also insists that a transformation away from capitalism is urgently needed for environmental production and a new Agrarian Revolution to save the planet and human life. In this sense, Maheshvarananda is far more ambitious than Wolff, Schweickart, and Alperovitz, and is sure to be far more controversial for left-wing theorists and activists.

Wolff, Schweickart, and Alperovitz have developed models of WSDE, economic democracy, and worker-owned firms as emergent realities, but have given less thought toward the longer term goals. Maheshvarananda has in mind a very long-term alternative to capitalism. It requires not only transformation in the workplace, but transformations in the political dimension. On the one hand, it could be argued his vision is far more remote, while on the other hand, once the transformation within the workplace begins, the ripple effect could be massive and sudden. For this reason Maheshvarananda’s perspective can be understood in highly practical terms and can be seen as complementary to the works of the other three. Indeed Maheshvarananda’s second to last chapter is titled “A Call to Action: Strategies for Implementing Prout.” In his last chapter, “A Conversation with Noam Chomsky,” they discuss the importance of the Occupy Movement, raising consciousness of resistance, extending democracy and cooperatives, and limiting wealth accumulation within North and South America.

Clearly all four of these revolutionary thinkers believe the time to transform society is now, the time to democratize the workplace is now, the time to recognize CINA and finally absent capitalism from existence is now. These books are a call to, and for, action. Their call to action is radically consistent with systemic theories of capitalism, and with the understanding of capitalism’s normal state as stagnation, periodic financial collapse, and individual worker hardship. Although there is certain to be disagreement as to explanations of the quadruple crises of global capitalism and in the models of alternative societies to today’s failed system or CINA, there is no room to claim TINA!

Notes

1. Rupert Neate , “Queen Finally Finds Out Why No One Saw the Financial Crisis Coming,” Guardian, December 13, 2012, http://theguardian.com; Sam Greenhill, “‘It’s Awful–Why Did Nobody See It Coming?’: The Queen Gives Her Verdict on Global Credit Crunch,” MailOnline, November 5, 2008, http://dailymail.co.uk.

2. For a list, although incomplete, see Tracy Alloway, “Who Saw It Coming and the Primacy of Accounting,” FT Alphaville, July 13, 2009; Hans G. Despain “Book Review of Foster and Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis,” Journal of Economic Issues 42, no. 4 (December 2009): 1075–77.

3. The “political” crisis includes wars, terror, and protests. See Hans G. Despain, “Economic Policy and the Rise of Global Violence and Terrorism,” The Humanist: A Magazine for Critical Inquiry and Social Concern, July 2004, 26–30.

4. Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy (Takoma Park, MD: Democracy Collaborative Press, 2011), 50.

5. Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012); James K. Galbraith, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (New York: Free Press, 2008).

6. Richard D. Wolff, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 149.

7. David Schweickart, After Capitalism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 152, 105; Dada Maheshvarananda, After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action (San Germán, Puerto Rico: InnerWorld Publications, 2012), 80.

8. On political inequality, see Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality. Also for an even more sustained argument see Larry M. Bartels, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (New York: Princeton University Press, 2008). The main thesis of Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality, is rent-seeking; see chapter 2. Also see Barry C. Lynn, Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011) for dozens and dozens examples of how oligopolistic firms supersede the constraints of the market and use their sheer size, vast resources, and endless political power to control and direct virtually every industry in the United States, effectively reinstituting the monopoly power of sixteenth-century feudalism. For the “predator state,” see Galbraith, The Predator State.

9. ↩David Schweickart, After Capitalism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield,2011), 5.

24 May 2013

My talk in Baltimore

Stephen Roblin is a Baltimore-based activist and writer. He is a member of the Indypendent Reader collective and the International Organization for a Participation Society (IOPS). He recorded the talk I gave at Red Emma's collective bookstore in Baltimore on April 16, 2013. Watch it here.

01 May 2013

Stumping for Economic Democracy and Prout

What an incredible trip! During 30 days I gave 31 talks in 26 cities in the Eastern United States. The usual theme was "Economic Democracy in Latin America and the United States." I am deeply grateful that the Supreme kept my 60-year-old body going on all the bus and train rides, carting heavy books in my bags.

I got the chance to speak on 10 college campuses: Washington and Lee University, Lynchburg College, Radford University, Virginia Tech, Warren Wilson College, University of Delaware, Washington University, University of Maine, New York University and the State University of New York at Geneseo. The students filled me with hope. At the end I asked what their "take-aways" were from the presentation. Common replies were:
"I didn't know all the positive things that are happening in Venezuela..."
"I learned how successful cooperatives are in Venezuela and the United States..."
"I liked Sarkar's three ways to respond to injustice: silence, reform and revolution..."
"The connection between spirituality and social change seems very important..."
"Now I'm inspired to meditate regularly..."

I also spoke at six and a half co-ops: Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, the Richmond Food Co-op (just starting up), Newark Bike Project, Down to Earth Food Co-op, Circle Yoga Studio, Red Emma's Cooperative Bookstore and Wooden Shoe Books.

The same message about economic democracy I broadcast in five radio interviews: with Clark Webb on Sunny Gardner's "Lightly on the Ground" in Richmond (WRIR), with Mirra Price on Jeff Messer's "The Revolution" in Asheville (880AM), on "Occupied Territories" with Mike Fedder (PRN.FM), and on WGXC in Hudson, (both in English and in Spanish).

Three articles were published during the tour:
1) the War Resisters League WIN Magazine featured a long review of After Capitlalism in their Spring issue, along with my reply.
2) An in depth interview with The Tartan, Radford University's student-run newspaper.
3) "Latin America Notes and Sister City News" of Blacksburg, VA.

I had a LOT of fun leading five cooperative games workshops: in Asheville, Rockville, at the Peace House in Washington DC, at Washington University, and at the new Master Unit in Cairo, NY. I was able to try out some new activities for the next book I'm writing about Cooperative Games.

What were my personal highlights? Screaming my head off while sledding in the Radford snow, swinging on the Warren Wilson College campus, cooking and bottling maple syrup on Germantown Community Farm, sharing my passion for Prout and economic democracy with young and old, recruiting volunteers who want to come to Venezuela, watching the faces of seven individuals who learned a personal meditation mantra, seeing old friends, making many new ones, spending quality time with my traveling companions Clark Webb (first week) and Brian Landever, a former PRIVEN intern (last week).

What were the hardest things for me? Receiving no income some days because college students almost never buy books or make donations. Traveling almost every day. Long waits in Greyhound bus terminals at night. Of course, none of these were as bad as I feared.

How you can help?
Buy books or make a donation at www.aftercapitalism.org.
Volunteer at the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela!
Write a short or long review of "After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action" and post it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing or any other site.
Contact a radio station and set up a telephone interview for me. (I can send a list of potential questions, and you can tell the station that I can phone them from Venezuela, so they don't have to make an international call.)

What are my future plans? Typing up the several hundred emails of people who want to stay connected. Designing exciting Prout courses. Publishing my book in Spanish. Writing a book on cooperative games.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to many friends who helped organize programs and who opened their homes to me: Clark Webb & Phyllis Albritton, Alan McRae & Maggie Barton, Debi Ratliff of the Goshen Public Library, James McCullum, Tyler Dickovick, Richmond Friends' Meetinghouse, Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, Glen Martin & Phyllis Turk, Janaka & Kasturi Casper, Jeshua Pacifici, Laura George of the Oracle Institute, Mirra Price, Anirvan & Uma, Leah Lekich, James Steen, Vishvamitra, John Gross, Felicia Katsilis, Alan Rosen, Dr. Steve Landau, Tapan & Deepa Mallik, Vyasa and the Shanti Yoga community, Dada Vishvarupananda, Randy Goldberg, Nadine Bloch, Andrew Batcher, Feriha Ka, the Peace House community, Annie Mahon, Bette Hoover, Red Emma's staff, Michael Fox, Prakash & Devanistha Laufer, Jonathan McCullum, Audrey Maddox, Fred & Dayabati Wirth, Alex Hall, Kyle Barron, the NACLA staff, Diego & Luciana Esteche, Wiley of Philadelphia, Wooden Shoe Books staff, Brian Landever, Lars Mazolla & Jane Morse, Michael & Loret Steinberg, Briana Gilmore and the Social Justice Center of Albany, Bruce McEwen, Cory Hoffman-Fischer, Sarah Falkner and Dada Rainjitananda.

I concluded every talk and interview with the need for a revolution based on love, and the advice to "follow your bliss." May true happiness and peace be always with you.

Brotherly,
Dada Maheshvarananda

23 March 2013

April Tour of Eastern and Northeastern USA

"Economic Democracy in Latin America and the United States"
For 30 days I will do a speaking tour of 24 cities in Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Maine, Pennsylvania and New York. If you live in any of those states, I'd love to see you! My cellphone during this month will be 336-567-6912.

Wed, Mar 27 Fly from Venezuela
Thur, Mar 28 Goshen, VA 7pm Goshen Public Library, 1124 Virginia Ave
Fri, Mar 29 Lexington, VA Washington and Lee University two morning classes, 4pm public talk at Stackhouse Theater
Sat, Mar 30 Lexington, VA yoga/meditation club
Sun, Mar 31 Lexington, VA
Mon, April 1 Richmond, VA 7pm talk at Friends Meeting House, 4500 Kensington Ave
Tues, April 2 Lynchburg, VA 7pm talk at Lynchburg College, Schewel #214.
Wed, April 3 Roanoke, VA 7pm talk at Roanoke Food Co-op, 1319 Grandin Rd SW
Thur, April 4 Radford, VA 3:30pm Radford University Reed #201, 7pm talk at Bonnie #249
Fri, April 5 Blacksburg, VA 12:30pm Virginia Tech Surge Space Center #104B
7pm talk at Blacksburg Public Library
Sat, April 6 Floyd, VA 11am Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library
1pm Booksigning at NoteBooks, 117 S Locust Street, Floyd
Blacksburg, VA 5:00pm Group Meditation at Center for Creative Change, 205 Washington Street (former location of the Meta-Physical Chapel)
Sun, April 7 Marshall, NC 5pm Collective meditation at Prama Institute, 310 Panhandle Rd.
Mon, April 8 Asheville, NC Warren Wilson College speak to three classes, 6.30pm public talk in Canon Lounge
Tues, April 9 Asheville, NC Warren Wilson College speak to three classes
Wed, April 10 Asheville, NC 4pm radio interview on "The Jeff Messer Show" on 880AM “The Revolution: Asheville's Progressive Talk”
Thur, April 11 Greensboro, NC 7pm Benjamin Branch Library, 1530 Benjamin Parkway
Fri, April 12 Carrboro, NC
Raleigh, NC 8pm Wade Edwards Learning Lab, 714 St Marys St.
Sat, April 13 Newark, DE Newark Bike Project, 7 S. Main St.
Sun, April 14 Bethesda, MD 11:30am panel on Economic Democracy at Shanti Yoga, 4217 East West Highway.
Rockville, MD 7:30pm Cooperative Games Workshop, 2502 Lindley Terrace
Mon, April 15 Washington, DC 2-5pm Cooperative games at Peace House, 1233 12th St. NW (Convention Center metro)
"Mindfulness and Economics", 7pm meditation, followed by talk at Circle Yoga, 3838 Northampton Street NW.
Tue, April 16 Baltimore, MD 7pm Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, at 800 St. Paul Street
Wed, April 17 Personal visits
Thu, April 18 Personal visits
Fri, April 19 travel
Sat, April 20 Orono, Maine “Spirituality and Activism Workshop” University of Maine
Sun, April 21 Orono, Maine
Mon, April 22 New York, NY 4pm NACLA talk at King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (KJCC), 53 Washington Square South, NYU on globalization and the environment
Tue, April 23 Philadelphia, PA 6-8pm Wooden Shoe Books, 704 South St.
Wed, April 24 Geneseo, NY 2:30pm SUNY, Newton 204
Thu, April 25 Albany, NY 6-8pm Social Justice Center, 33 Central Avenue
Fri, April 26 Hudson, NY 7:30-9pm "Spiritual and Economic Democracy in Latin America and the United States", Sadhana Yoga, 403 Warren St. 3rd floor
Sat, April 27 Cairo, NY Introductory yoga/meditation retreat
Sun, April 28 Cairo, NY Introductory yoga/meditation retreat
Mon, April 29 Fly home to Venezuela

08 March 2013

Evaluating the Legacy of President Hugo Chávez Using the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout)

President Hugo Chávez dedicated his life to the poor people of Venezuela. He transformed their lives and transformed their country.

On March 6, the day after his death, I spent 11 hours waiting with friends to pay my respects as his body was slowly transported through the city. It took much longer than expected, as hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets and the giant stadium where the procession ended to get a glimpse of the passing casket. The crowds sang and clapped along with popular songs about “El Comandante”, shouting: "Chávez lives, the struggle continues!" "The people united will never be defeated!" “I am Chávez!” When the body finally arrived at night in the National Military Academy for viewing, the line of people waiting was almost two kilometers (one mile) long!

Why did so many people go? Why were they willing to wait so long? And instead of being a somber occasion with everyone dressed in black, why did so many wear bright red T-shirts, or headbands with the national colors, and why were they singing and shouting slogans?

Venezuela is an example of a country that seems to have undergone a class change through a nonviolent electoral process. Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chávez, a career military officer, organized 130 officers and nearly 900 soldiers, approximately ten percent of the Venezuelan military, to attempt a military rebellion in 1992 to overthrow dictator President Carlos Andrés Pérez and end his reign of corruption, censorship and abuse of human rights. Though they failed, Chávez became a popular hero. After two years in prison he received amnesty, starting an electoral campaign among the poor that won him the presidency at the end of 1998. As of December 2012, his coalition has won 16 out of 17 national elections due to his successful consciousness-raising and politicization among the masses.

The capitalist-led opposition attempted a military overthrow of Chávez in 2002 with U.S. government knowledge and support; yet two days later the masses and the military united and brought him back from the island naval base where he was held prisoner. After that, Chávez became much more strident in his rhetoric about class warfare against the oligarchy, calling them “squalids.” Socialist and military values have influenced the masses to a great extent in terms of participatory democracy, grassroots communal councils, the new national police force and other initiatives.

The heads of the Venezuelan Central Bank and economic ministry are not bankers, but revolutionaries, orchestrating government buyouts of key industries at an accelerating rate, with more than 200 expropriations of private enterprises in 2010 alone. Chávez has announced that he is committed to “the elimination of capitalism”. Government-owned and community media influence the masses with values of solidarity, people’s power and socialism for the twenty-first century. Many capitalists have fled to Miami and elsewhere, and while others remain, they are frustrated and nervous because they are no longer in power.

For the first time in the history of Venezuela, a president used the profits from the country's petroleum sales to fund social programs, such as building schools and hiring teachers so every child would go to school, starting free universities, building hospitals and health clinics in every barrio and country village that have saved thousands of lives each year.

In the hills of Vargas, a group of rural women told me how in the past when someone in their village got sick and died, it would take them two days to carry the body down to the cemetery for burial, and when they returned, sometimes there was another dead body waiting for them, because there was no clinic they could go to. Now there are clinics everywhere. With the help of the Women's Bank, they have formed successful agricultural cooperatives that give them all a steady income. They swore they would never go back to the terrible poverty they suffered before Hugo Chávez changed their lives.

Chávez pioneered barter trade, signing bilateral barter agreements with developing countries, swapping Venezuelan oil for other products or services the country needed, including 50,000 Cuban doctors and dentists who provide free medical care in city slums and remote rural villages.

Chávez put the condition of the poor people on the national agenda. Voter registration has dramatically increased, and polling places have increased. More than 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in the 2012 presidential election (compared to less than 59 percent of voters in the United States who cast their ballot that year). Today even the anti-Chávez candidates say that if elected they, too, will continue the social projects in order to try to win the majority of voters. In 1998, when Chávez was first elected, all the houses in the villages of Barlovento in Miranda, were made of mud and in very bad condition due to regular flooding. The state governor, Henrique Capriles, who ran against Chávez in 2012, made significant loans to the poor people so that now nearly all the houses in the villages are built with cement blocks.

Ten years ago, on June 1, 2003, I was invited to meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on his weekly television show to present the Spanish edition of my first Prout book, which was published in Caracas. I told him that I was inspired by the words of Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, the founder of Prout, at the end of his 1979 visit to Caracas, in which he said, “Venezuela needs good spiritual political leaders. If Venezuela can produce spiritual political leaders, it will not only be the leader of Latin America, it will also be the leader of the planet. Venezuela is a blessed country.”

President Chávez said, “Dada Maheshvarananda has given us a book that we appreciate very much. Your visit has come at such an opportune moment.... Thank you very much, brother, and let’s continue with spirituality, spirit, good faith, morality, and the mystical force that moves the world. Dada Maheshvarananda and other citizens of the world are welcome to visit, especially those who come in good faith and offer their ideas, their spirit and their moral flame to the Bolivarian Revolution. This has attracted the attention of the whole world, especially those that struggle and dream of a better world, just as it says in After Capitalism: Prout’s Vision for a New World.”

In December 2003 and again in 2005 the national petroleum company of Venezuela (PDVSA) contracted for me and other Proutists to give a series of training courses and lectures about the Prout model. Then in 2007 we founded the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela in Caracas as an independent, not-for-profit foundation. A major reason we did this was because of how closely the goals of Prout's socio-economic model were shared by the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by President Chávez.

Prout asserts that the first priority of any economy should be to guarantee the minimum requirements of life (food, clothing, housing, education and medical care), the right to live, to all people. Subsidized food staples are sold very cheaply in government supermarkets throughout the country, and public schools now provide free lunches to all students, both of which significantly reduce the money spent by poor people to feed their families. Free education and health care for all has been achieved, too, with college enrollment doubling. During 2012 the government built more than 200,000 houses and gave them to needy families, and it plans to build a total of two million homes by 2018. His government reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent. Eligibility for public pensions tripled. As someone who has spent his life working with the poor, I am deeply grateful for these very impressive accomplishments – so are the masses who poured out to the streets yesterday.

Community empowerment is another key component of Prout's economic democracy; Chávez initiated the system of communal councils with cooperative banks that decide for themselves which local projects they will fund – 33,000 are now running throughout the country.

Though many complaints have been made in the world media about how Chávez has “destroyed” the Venezuelan economy, economic growth actually increased to 5.6 percent in 2012. The conservative International Monetary Fund calculates the country’s gross public debt last year at 51.3 percent of GDP, but Europe has more than 90 percent! The foreign part of this debt was only 4.1 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings. Inflation is high, but lower than before he came to office.

Food sovereignty, to produce enough food to feed the entire population, has not yet been achieved, but it is another goal common to both the Bolivarian government and Prout.

Chávez wanted to transform the profit-oriented capitalist economy into one oriented towards endogenous and sustainable social development by involving those who had been marginalized or excluded. From 2002 he inspired the phenomenal creation of 262,904 registered cooperatives by the end of 2008, but many of these never became active or collapsed. The national cooperative supervision institute, SUNACOOP, recognizes about 70,000 as functioning, which is still the highest total for any country after China.

The majority of Venezuelan cooperatives have few members who are unskilled. Because of the high rate of failure among the registered cooperatives, in 2005 the president shifted the government’s support from cooperatives to socialist enterprises and worker takeovers of factories. In this way, the government pays the salaries, but keeps the ownership. Prout, on the other hand, supports cooperatives that are worker-owned as well as worker-managed.

Of course there are problems in Venezuela; a couple of them are very serious. Corruption and crime hurt everyone. Their causes are many; to solve these problems requires the help of all the people – for this a major consciousness-raising campaign is required in every level of education, through the mass media and in every government office. Consciousness-raising and popular education are also key to reducing pollution and protecting the environment, another serious problem.

If the impact of these problems was reduced, many more people of the middle class could be inspired to support this revolution. Unfortunately the revolutionary rhetoric of Chávez was often insulting towards his opponents – listening sincerely to valid complaints is necessary to open dialog and build bridges so that an ever greater majority of Venezuelans participate constructively in the Bolivarian project.

Hugo Chávez was a very strong man who led his people through a tremendous social transformation. He has died, but his vision of a more just and more democratic society continues to inspire the masses of Venezuela and remains very much alive.

03 March 2013

GRATITUDE FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS HELPED SO MUCH

Miira Price, also known by her spiritual name “Miirabai”, has been an invaluable colleague in my work for Prout during the last year and a half. She and I co-led the Media Team for the Economic Democracy Conference for about eight months – she was always the more responsible and sincere in that organizing work than I. She arranged more than a dozen interviews with different speakers from the Economic Democracy Conference, including me, on Doug Cunningham's People's Mic radio show, plus a couple interviews on cable TV. She worked with Dedo Kwamina to design a logo and flyer for the conference, and a flyer for my tour. We collaborated in the writing of the media toolkit and several of the talking points, and I included a good amount of that text in my book.

She helped considerably with writing and researching the section, “The Exploitation of Women Throughout History and Today”. She then served as copyeditor for my book, painstakingly correcting my mistakes and patiently trying to teach me correct grammar. The book is much better because of her sacrifice.

Miira also served as my publicist from July to September 2012, and from December to January 2013. She arranged an interview with Rob Neufeld that was published in the Asheville Citizen-Times, and successful talks for me at the Firestorm Cooperative Café and at Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, and at the Lucy Parsons Center Bookstore in Boston. She also fixed an interview for me at "Conscious Living" Jan. 30 program on the Co-op Radio station in Vancouver, BC.

During this year and a half, I have regularly sought her ideas, suggestions and feedback in my articles, correspondence and publicity. She is a deeply dedicated Proutist and the main organizer of the Women Proutists of North America. It is an honor to work with her.

27 February 2013

"Bringing Balance: The Proutist Alternative" by Andy Douglas on Znet: “Balance” is a word you would be hard-pressed to use to describe today’s global economy. Wealth inequality and exploitation, market manipulation and the financialization of investment have created a situation which can only be described as extremely unbalanced, with a lot of suffering in its wake. Many argue that capitalism as it exists is unsustainable, that it cannot, and more importantly should not, survive. Read the full review on Znet:

16 January 2013

Trudge Toward Freedom: A Review of “After Capitalism” by Bill Ayers in "Left Eye on Books"

Dada Maheshvarananda is a monk and a social activist, an engaged intellectual and a writer whose powerful new book, After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action, provides a comprehensive critique of the economic system that grips the planet and suffocates our lives, names the contemporary political moment we’re facing with astonishing clarity, and illustrates with concrete cases and specific examples the practical steps needed to build a radical movement toward joy and justice, peace and love, sanity and balance. It’s a broad and ambitious book to be sure. In just a few pages I felt the brotherly embrace of a comrade-in-arms, a soul-mate, and a companion; further along his fierce intelligence and original insights challenged me to make new connections; by the end I was inspired to re-imagine next steps in my own efforts at movement-making. This is an essential book created by a gentle warrior.

The questions that animate Dada Maheshvarananda’s work are the same ones I saw recently scrawled across a sprawling panorama created by the tormented painter Paul Gauguin—in 1897, after months of illness and suicidal despair, Gauguin produced on a huge piece of jute sacking an image of unfathomable figures amid scenery that might have been the twisted groves of a tropical island or a marvelously wild Garden of Eden; worshippers and gods; cats, birds, a quiet goat; a great idol with a peaceful expression and uplifted hands; a central figure plucking fruit; a depiction of Eve not as a voluptuous innocent like some other women in Gauguin’s work but as a shrunken hag with an intense eye.

Gauguin wrote the title of the work in bold on top of the image; translated into English it reads:

Where do we come from?
What are we?
Where are we going?


These are questions—horrifying for Gauguin, inspiring for Dada Maheshvarananda—that rumble in the background on every page of After Capitalism. How can we see ourselves and our problems/challenges/potentials holistically? How can we connect our personal and spiritual seeking with the practical search for a better world for all? How can we live with one foot in the mud and muck of the world as it is while the other foot stretches toward a world that could be but is not yet? How can we transform ourselves to be worthy of the profound social transformations we desire and need? And how can we build within ourselves the thoughtfulness, compassion, and courage to dive into the wreckage on a mission of repair? We begin by opening our eyes:

Look! says the pilgrim.
I can’t look…
Look at it! Open your eyes for once, for God’s sake, have the courage to at least look, will you?
I can’t look…I’m going to be sick…
You mean you won’t look, don’t you? You can look, but you won’t. It might upset you, it might mess your outfit—or it might ruin your whole day. You refuse to look. Admit that at the very least.
I won’t… I can’t… What’s the difference?
The difference is this: willful blindness is a form of cowardice and indifference, and the opposite of moral is not immoral; the opposite of moral is indifferent.

Wide awake it’s clear that planet earth has enough resources to meet everyone’s basic needs if we share; on the other hand if we hoard we are in for famine, pestilence, war, and mayhem. It’s equally clear that both tendencies live deep within every human being: selfishness and selflessness, me and we, individualism and collectivity. The question at the heart of this book is this: Where do we go from here, socialism or barbarism, chaos or community?

The practical and theoretical work of Dada Maheshvarananda and his comrades is the fight for economic justice, and on the side of sharing. One of the great deceptions of our time is the sham that meaningful political democracy is possible in the absence of economic democracy. “Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice,” wrote Mikhail Bakunin (adding that “socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality”) and it is self-evidently so: there can be no real freedom where huge differences in wealth and access make any voluntary exchange or contract little more than legal larceny and authorized plunder. The traffic in human beings, modern-day slavery, the market for body parts, international adoption—all bear the mark of privilege, exploitation, global injustice, and structural violence. And so do the sanitized schemes of the bankers, the financial wizards, and the ruling class generally.

Economic democracy requires popular control, wide participation, and decentralized decision-making, and it insists that the minimum requirements of life must be guaranteed—food, housing, clothing, education, and health-care. Life is the birthright that transcends borders, and the most straight-forward gauge of the degree of justice available in any society is how power responds to that basic right.

Our struggle is for more participation, more equality, more recognition of human agency, and more transparency as we lean toward revolution. We must rouse ourselves, shake ourselves awake and perhaps shock ourselves into new awarenesses.

But it’s often hard to look, and obstacles spring up everywhere: when we feel ourselves shackled, bound, and gagged or when we are badly beaten down, struggling just to survive, living with dust in our mouths, the horizons of our hope can become lowered, sometimes fatally, and our eyes, then, dim. What kind of world do we want to inhabit? When no alternatives are apparent or available, action becomes pointless.

When privilege obstructs our vision it acts as an anesthetic, putting us to sleep; we must then call upon the aesthetic—the world of the imagination—to combat the numbing power of the sedative.

We all live in our time and place, immersed in what is, and imagining a social scene different from what’s immediately before us requires a combination of somethings: seeds, surely; desire, yes; necessity and desperation at times; and, at other times a willingness to dance out on a limb without a safety net—no guarantees.

Imagination is essential, more process than product, more “stance” than “thing,” imagination involves the dynamic work of mapping the world as such, and then leaning toward a world that might be but is not yet. Most of us most of the time accept our lot-in-life as inevitable—for decades, generations, even centuries; when a revolution is in reach, when a lovelier life heaves into view, or when a possible world becomes somehow visible, the status quo becomes suddenly unendurable. We then reject the fixed and the stable, and begin to look at the world as if it could be otherwise, and we begin the important work of reweaving our shared world.

Choice and confidence is a necessary politics. I don’t want to minimize the horror, but neither do I want to get stuck in its thrall. Hope is an antidote to cynicism and despair; it is the capacity to notice or invent alternatives; it is nourishing the sense that standing directly against the world as such is a world that could be, or should be. Without that vital sense of possible worlds, doors close, curtains drop, and we become stranded: we cannot adequately oppose injustice; we cannot act freely; we cannot inhabit the most vigorous moral spaces. We are never freer, all of us and each of us, than when we refuse the situation before us as settled and certain and determined and break the chains that entangle us.

The tools are everywhere—humor and art, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the angry and urgent thrust—and the rhythm of and recipe for activism is always the same: we open our eyes and look unblinkingly at the world as we find it; we are astonished by the beauty and horrified at the suffering all around us; we act on what the known demands and we also doubt that our efforts made enough difference, and so we rethink, recalibrate, look again, and dive in once more. If we never doubt we get lost in self-righteousness and political narcissism—been there—but if we only doubt we vanish into cynicism and despair. Awake/Act/Doubt! Repeat! Repeat! Repeat for a lifetime.

Revolution is still possible, democracy and socialism, possible, but barbarism is possible as well. Our expansive and expanding dreams are not realized, of course, not yet, but neither are they dimmed or diminished. Every revolution is, after all, impossible before it happens; afterwards it feels inevitable.

The work, of course, is never done. Democracy and freedom are dynamic, a community always in the making. We continue the difficult task of constructing and reinvigorating a public. We must love our own lives enough to take care of friends, children, loved ones and elders, to marvel at the sunset and enjoy a good meal, to run on the beach and dive into the surf, to make love for breakfast and again at noon and wake up in wonder; we must love the world enough to never look away, to never give up and never give in, and to add our weight to history’s wheel.

Dada Maheshvarananda is an extraordinary and sweet revolutionary not because he has a fully worked-out and internally consistent argument as well as a set of concrete action steps that will take us from here to there—there being some vibrant and viable future characterized by peace and love and joy and justice—but because he lives with the necessary sense of perpetual uncertainty that accompanies social learning while at the same time trying to make a purposeful life battling to upend the system of oppression and exploitation, opening spaces for more participatory democracy, more peace, and more fair-dealing in large and small matters. These are revolutionary times, and Dada can explain why and how to join the revolution.

“Excess of joy weeps,” writes William Blake in a possible epigraph for this book…and for us. “Excess of sorrow”—and Lord do we have that excess right now—“laughs.”

W.H. Auden provides another: We must love one another or die.

Bill Ayers is the author of several books on education, as well as a memoir, “Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist,” and the forthcoming “Public Enemy: Memoirs of Dissident Days.”

11 January 2013

KGNU Interviews with Dada Maheshvarananda about Prout

Two radio interviews of Dada Maheshvarananda with Maeve Conran of KGNU Independent Community Radio in Boulder, Colorado, Dec. 11 and Dec. 13, 2012. Listen here and here.

The questions included:
Part 1: Is Prout taking place in any country? Can Prout function in a developed country like the United States? How do we get there from here, how do we establish economic democracy?

Part 2: What is Prout? What are the fundamental differences between capitalism and Prout? Was there ever a time in United States history when there was more egalitarianism? Was there particular moment when the United States turned towards corporate power? When the financial crisis happened in 2007-2008 there was a lot of opportunity for change, and yet, except for the Occupy Movement, nothing happened? Can you give us an example here in the United States of people who are living out this new egalitarian vision? What are your thoughts on the Occupy Movement and its future? Does Prout have more in Venezuela? Talk a little about food access and how that is a security issue? Can you talk about the worker takeovers that have taken place in Argentina? With our current laws is that possible here? In a recent posting you talked about what you called a myth that the rich countries, companies and people are smarter and work harder -- talk about that. How does that attitude affect the debate about the fiscal cliff -- can you connect the dots? Prout has a spiritual dimension, so it should appeal to faith-based communities -- why is it that these communities have not spoken out about the hoarding of wealth? Do you see change coming from the political class?

07 January 2013

How to Organize a Conference on Economic Democracy

On behalf of the Steering Committee of the Madison, Wisconsin Economic Democracy Conference, and with their input and cooperation, I wrote a 4-page document about how to organize an Economic Democracy Conference. You can download as pdf here. CONTENTS: Brief review of Madison conference; Steering committee and decision-making; Working teams; Web page; Finalizing the dates and finding the place; Deciding prices for participants; Budget and Fund-raising; Social media; Media; Program – choosing and inviting keynote speakers; Afternoon workshops and workshop tracks; Posters and flyers; Outreach; Networking; Marketing; Cultural program; Organizational tables/stands; Volunteers; Photographing, recording, filming the event; Action summit; Evaluation forms; For questions and advice contact.