A Muddled Vision


By Gavin O'Tooe BOSSES are many things, but do they comprise a distinct social class nestled between workers and capitalists?

In No Bosses Michael Albert focuses on a middling “co-ordinator class” to restate his vision of a future, classless “participatory economy” that could form the basis of an economic commons, all decision-making, a classless division of labour, equitable income, rejection of markets and central planning, and global participatory budgeting.

To understand this dream, however, we must appreciate how it departs from Marxism which, Albert argues, is economistic, lacks clear vision, and, critically for No Bosses, obscures the existence of a tier between labour and capital that is a ruling class in waiting.

Albert believes Marx’s labour theory of value ignores how market and workplace dynamics reflect bargaining power, and his class theory denies the existence of a co-ordinator class empowered as a result.

Without radical transformation of the corporate division of labour, co-ordinators dominate, as occurred in the centrally planned economies of the Soviet era.

This idea echoes the “professional-managerial class” coined by the Ehrenreichs and has anarchist roots. Unsurprisingly, orthodox Marxists brand it revisionist, mainly because the dialectic involving two antagonistic classes is the engine of history, giving Marxism revolutionary certainty.

There have been operational criticisms of participatory economics over how it determines prices, information management, the exhaustive iteration process in planning, distribution according to effort, and “balanced job complexes” to allocate labour.

None of these are insurmountable, yet aspects of No Bosses remain unfulfilling.

The co-ordinator class deserves more thorough exposition, there is little to explain its historical emergence, and co-ordinators appear to play the same role in radically different societies. Being a boss cannot in itself be a basis for class consciousness.

Albert’s reflections on politics revive anarchist antipathy to the state which, while portrayed by Marx as an excrescence, many Marxists have assumed will prevail in some form.

The pandemic has hinted at the role muscular states can play in supporting workers.

Albert makes few concessions to philosophy, and No Bosses feels shaky on its historical foundations — the point of departure for Marxism.

Last but not least, a vision of a socialist future is already contained within Marx’s writing according to scholars such as Richard Wolff and Peter Hudis.

Such observations require us to position No Bosses, even though Albert rejects labels: he insists the term “socialism” sows confusion, rejects “social democracy,” believes “participatory socialism” may muddle, and eschews “anarchism.” If there is a lodestone, it is probably the anarcho-communism of Kropotkin.

But whatever the lineage, No Bosses has been published for the right reasons, to galvanise anti-capitalist action even if, as the author concedes, “parecon” has never attracted mass support.

One wonders whether this may be because, while it is an optimstic contribution, it does not provide a sufficiently enthralling vision of the revolutionary transformation required to conquer the future. Gavin O’Toole BOSSES are many things, but do they comprise a distinct social class nestled between workers and capitalists?

In No Bosses Michael Albert focuses on a middling “co-ordinator class” to restate his vision of a future, classless “participatory economy” that could form the basis of an economic commons, all decision-making, a classless division of labour, equitable income, rejection of markets and central planning, and global participatory budgeting.

To understand this dream, however, we must appreciate how it departs from Marxism which, Albert argues, is economistic, lacks clear vision, and, critically for No Bosses, obscures the existence of a tier between labour and capital that is a ruling class in waiting.

Albert believes Marx’s labour theory of value ignores how market and workplace dynamics reflect bargaining power, and his class theory denies the existence of a co-ordinator class empowered as a result.

Without radical transformation of the corporate division of labour, co-ordinators dominate, as occurred in the centrally planned economies of the Soviet era.

This idea echoes the “professional-managerial class” coined by the Ehrenreichs and has anarchist roots. Unsurprisingly, orthodox Marxists brand it revisionist, mainly because the dialectic involving two antagonistic classes is the engine of history, giving Marxism revolutionary certainty.

There have been operational criticisms of participatory economics over how it determines prices, information management, the exhaustive iteration process in planning, distribution according to effort, and “balanced job complexes” to allocate labour.

None of these are insurmountable, yet aspects of No Bosses remain unfulfilling.

The co-ordinator class deserves more thorough exposition, there is little to explain its historical emergence, and co-ordinators appear to play the same role in radically different societies. Being a boss cannot in itself be a basis for class consciousness.

Albert’s reflections on politics revive anarchist antipathy to the state which, while portrayed by Marx as an excrescence, many Marxists have assumed will prevail in some form.

The pandemic has hinted at the role muscular states can play in supporting workers.

Albert makes few concessions to philosophy, and No Bosses feels shaky on its historical foundations — the point of departure for Marxism.

Last but not least, a vision of a socialist future is already contained within Marx’s writing according to scholars such as Richard Wolff and Peter Hudis.

Such observations require us to position No Bosses, even though Albert rejects labels: he insists the term “socialism” sows confusion, rejects “social democracy,” believes “participatory socialism” may muddle, and eschews “anarchism.” If there is a lodestone, it is probably the anarcho-communism of Kropotkin.

But whatever the lineage, No Bosses has been published for the right reasons, to galvanise anti-capitalist action even if, as the author concedes, “parecon” has never attracted mass support.

One wonders whether this may be because, while it is an optimstic contribution, it does not provide a sufficiently enthralling vision of the revolutionary transformation required to conquer the future.