Replying to reviewers part one

By Michael Albert



No Bosses was released about two months ago. I want to thank the numerous reviewers and to take their comments seriously by responding. I will quote selected positive remarks, to hopefully provide reason to visit the book page at nobossesbook.com. I will dwell on criticisms, to hopefully provoke further discussion. Here goes a first take, part two to follow later.


Jerry Fresia: *A Return to Sincerity in the Art World* (ZNet)

This review, the first one to appear, is more a successful painter/artist offering an insightful essay about elements of art and the creation and distribution of art, than it is a review of No Bosses per se. I learned from the review, and from a podcast episode I did with Fresia, and as a result I took to saying Participatory Economics was not only a self managed, solidarity, diverse, equitable, classless, sustainable economy, but also an artistic one. I hope that didn’t overstep. I should add though, that while Fresia advocated No Bosses, for example, when he wrote:

“Imagine an art system where artists placed sincerity above market success, where our work lives were a process of unfolding so that each of us could become who we are most, where beauty was always in conversation with justice. That’s how I think of what Albert has accomplished.”

In contrast to Fresia, my encounters suggest many artists initially have significant doubts about the participatory approach to work and allocation. Succinctly, they worry that participatory economics would diminish artistic creativity and subordinate it to public taste. Such doubts are fully addressed in the book itself. But the short of it is this. Artists aren’t as unique as they sometimes paint themselves to be, though of course their particular talents may be unmatched. Athletes, scientists, doctors, chefs, builders—none are a different category of human who deserve a different standard and different conditions than the rest of us.

In some respects, in other words, one size does fit all—that is, we should all enjoy self management, enjoy equitable remuneration, do a fair share of empowering and disempowering work, and live in a world that attends to all the personal, social, and ecological implications of production, consumption, and allocation. If we have institutions that foster all that, then artistic desires that our activity be in accord with, reveal, and develop our inclinations and potentials will apply to everyone. Human creativity will yield endlessly diverse shapes of human fulfillment and development.


Alexandria Shaner: *Imagine Life After Capitalism* (Counterpunch)

There are three things in a review that should bring a smile to activist authors. First is when a review is brilliantly written. Shaner’s is. Second, is when a review presents really insightful criticisms that push things forward. Shaner’s support doesn’t go there. Third, when a review summarizes points the author made, it does so better than the author, and when a review explains the motivations or desires of a book and its logical approach, it does that so well that the author has to say, okay, someone really got my intentions.

So it turns out that for Shaner’s review I have to thank my stars for such an eloquent reader/advocate. Hell, if you feel you don’t have time for the book, read Shaner’s review. Maybe it will inspire you to make time. Here is how Shaner concludes:

“In the spirit of beginnings, the imagination runs wild after deeply and seriously considering life after capitalism. Though Albert does not explicitly elaborate all the potential ramifications of participatory economics, they are vast. Imagine the effect on the environment (and our survival as a species) if our economic system easily allowed producers and consumers to take environmental costs and benefits into account in decision making, and did not pressure for constant accumulation beyond need or want. Imagine if you and I and all had an economic voice on all matters proportional to how much they affect us, instead of proportional to how much money or power we wield. Imagine a society where things are not intentionally produced in order to dissatisfy or fail so that demand is kept high. Imagine no more mass waste. Imagine no more predatory finance, no more predatory advertising. Innovation that improves the lives of all. Imagine no more unemployment, no more exploitation, no more hierarchy, no more oppression. No more mass incarceration, no more war, no more shanty towns in the shadows of palaces, no more blind obedience. Classlessness. Imagine, ‘incorporat[ing] a non instrumental and an expressive moment into all work, and [incorporating] a social moment into all remunerated art, [making] all work into art and all art into work’ (118). Imagine that this society is not made up of perfect people, willing to always behave altruistically, but it is made up of you and me and all the others. This society instead has institutions and systems that make it automatic, instead of impossible, for us to consider ourselves, each other, the environment, and all the other externalities. It promotes and rewards equity, solidarity, self management, diversity, and sustainability. We will make mistakes and continue to be human, but just imagine if we were no longer set up to fail. Imagine No Bosses.”

Bridget Meehan: *Read “No Bosses”* (Irish Feasta / Resilience)


Equally eloquent, Meehan too advocates No Bosses. She overviews its contents, argues its merits, and translates always into the perspective of seeking change. Meehan writes:

“Written in Michael Albert’s usual poetic and compassionate style, the book envisions a better world free of the ills of capitalism and starts us on the path for getting there. He doesn’t dwell on existing problems. Enough has been written about those and we’re all too aware of them. Navel-gazing about them doesn’t take us out of our predicament; it only tells us how clever we are at analysing our predicament. In No Bosses, there’s no navel-gazing, no retreading of the predictable, no doomism. This book is optimistically and exclusively future-orientated and solution-focused.

So Meehan’s is another review that didn’t offer concerns or criticisms to address. I can only hope she is right when she writes:

“Read No Bosses and you will be changed. Read it and you will have hope. Read it and you will want to live in a Parsoc world. Read it and you will ask yourself, why aren’t we doing this already?”

But there is a rub here, that Meehan may or may not have intended as subtext to that last question. Will the above testimonial cause potential readers to think to themselves ‘I want to give this book some attention,’ or will it cause readers to shy away?

I suspect many otherwise very progressive folks avoid vision because they think there isn’t, won’t, or can’t be one offered that has serious merit, so why read a book about vision? But I also think some very progressive folks avoid vision because, well, what if paying some attention would, as Meehan asserts, raise hope? What if it would generate desires? If you hold one or two jobs, endure ridiculous pressures, and harbor understandable doubts, you may not think much of getting hope that you believe will turn out false, and you may not want to feel desires that you think will go unrequited.

Am I right in this perception? I don’t know, but I think many young people, in particular, shy away from or even aggressively disparage and dismiss being activist much less being revolutionary as if to care about society’s future is uncool or even stupid. Might that kind of view reflect this a negative reaction to having hope, to having desire? If so, how can those who seek change successfully address this reticence?


Mark Evans, *No Bosses* (Common Dreams)


The next review was also very positive and also oriented to activity not just understanding. After providing a road map to the book, Evans writes:

“After reading No Bosses you will come away with a very different idea of what it means – or could mean – to be on the left. Instead of just being ‘anti-…’ this and ‘anti-…’ that and constantly reacting to the disastrous antics of the right/liberal establishment and being caught on our back foot, the clarity of thought that Albert presents means that we have the potential to adopt a much more pro-activist stance, putting our front foot forward and organising to win.“

For Evans, as for me, the point of No Bosses, is to provide a scaffold of critical economic features deemed essential not only as core aspects of post capitalist vision, but also as tools with which to motivate and orient current struggle. Evans continues:

“[No Bosses] points out…an approach to organising that allows us to plant the seeds of the future in the present. If, like me, you read this material and feel inspired to get involved in organising for the kind of economy/society that Albert discusses, then you will be very pleased to see that No Bosses finishes with a list of resources that includes some websites (including: https://www.realutopia.org/ ) that focus on organising for a participatory economy/society.”

Can we share a vision suited to future aims and current needs? Not unless we try. I second Evan’s advocacy of Real Utopia.


Thomas Klikauer, *No Bosses*, (Marx and Philosophy)

The fifth review that appeared raised a concern, though mostly while providing another round of support.

“Overall, Albert’s book provides a sensible, well thought-out, richly illuminating, highly readable, and exquisitely structured argument for what he calls participatory economics…. Unlike the 99% of all books bemoaning the pathologies of neoliberal capitalism, Albert has succeeded in delivering a book that shows, in great detail and very successfully, what the alternative to capitalism is.“

Klikauer’s concern, however, which he registered in considerable detail, is with my using the word “management,” even though I augment it to read “self management.” Klikauer writes:

“Management always implies top-down management. It implies managers and workers, underlings, and subordinates. It implies those who control and those who are controlled. It also implies hierarchy, authoritarianism, macho-management, despotism, and anti-democracy.”

This is, I think, rather like my own concern over whether to use the word “socialism.” I propose an economic vision. Should I call it “socialism” or perhaps “participatory socialism,” or maybe entirely avoid the label? Will “socialism’s” negative connotations besmirch comprehension of what one is offering? Or even worse, will using that label begin to distort what one is offering? It is not an easy call.

I think Klikauer is analogously saying that the word “management,” no matter how you massage it, carries too much baggage to be a useful label for the participatory decision making we seek. I agree with Klikauer’s assessment of management through history. But I think that “self management” used in context of advocating a new participatory division of labor, demolishes the label’s baggage.

Klikauer wants to call what I call “self management,” “self-organizing.” I suspect that beyond the semantics we mostly agree that there is a class between labor and capital. Some call it the PMC, some call it the Coordinator class. But whatever one calls it, this class can rise to ruling status when the owning class is eliminated. More, the current corporate division of labor as well as markets and/or central planning lead inexorably to that new boss result. Since we instead want to establish a classless post capitalist economy without top-down management and with people having a say in decisions in proportion to how they are affected, we must replace both the current corporate division of labor and also familiar markets and/or central planning. This remains the case whether we call our aim “self organization,” “participatory decision making”, “participatory self management,” “collective self management,” or just “self management.”

But more, there is an unavoidable aspect of what we typically call “management” that must occur to get things done. This includes making shared decisions about the timing, methods, pace, composition, means, and character of work. The actual problem a new economy must address is how, by whom, and with what levels of influence for all those involved such decisions should be made.


Alex: Hope for the Future, Inspiration for Today (ZNet)

Alex writes as a young man in Russia. As such he focuses on what distinguishes No Bosses from his country’s past. He writes that No Bosses reveals that “to make the promise of soviets (councils) real, we need to implement what Albert calls ‘balanced job complexes’ that combine tasks in our workplaces in such a way so that everyone is informed and skilful enough to participate in collective decision-making.” Alex continues:

“To me, however, the most important thing about participatory economics, just as about Michael Albert’s work in general, is that it brings you hope and ambition: in the world where everything seems to be on the brink of collapse, you discover a future to work for, a hopeful vision to strive for. And I hope No Bosses will inspire readers to participate in helping all of us to get to a better world.”

And that is the aim, of course. And to hear it from within a country that endured what No Bosses calls not “socialism” but “coordinatorism,” an economy that was ruled by its coordinator class, seems to me a very positive sign.


Michael Albert: No Bosses, Self Review (ZNet)

Aren’t we all supposed to be self reflective? This self review starts: “I wrote No Bosses because I believe we need shared vision to sustain hope, orient strategy, and escalate commitment. I recently wondered, what if I were invited to review No Bosses? What would I say?”

Then I describe what the book intends, what it covers, what it hopes. And I end with this:

“Writing is a hit or miss endeavor. As its author, I can answer interview queries and do anything else in my reach to help No Bosses get read. I can even audaciously self-review it. But what will determine No Bossessuccess or failure will be the book’s readers. Will its readers review, critique, correct, extend, or otherwise actively engage with No Bosses? Will outlets carry readers’ reactions, reviews, and debates? Will outlets address readers’ concerns, extend their extrapolations, evaluate their detractions, and elaborate their extensions? Will individuals, organizations, and media who doubt or already reject capitalism initiate inquiring, critical, creative steps toward together arriving at shared advocacy of a new economy for a better world? Only time and you will tell if that occurs at least in part by way of assessing No Bosses’ participatory socialist proposals.”


Bertrand Bob Guevara: No Bosses, I’m In (Meta)

This review by Bertrand (Russell) Bob (Dylan) (Che) Guevara (and thus actually by me “channeling” them) briefly previews and summarizes their (imagined) comments. For fun, it also amusingly contains many “easter eggs” that either quote, mimic, or paraphrase the three hypothetical authors.

For me to write about my book is questionable enough. For me to do so in the intellectual, musical, and grassroots garb of great historical figures takes it further off the beaten track. But for me to write about me writing about my book? That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? Bertrand Bob Guevara answers:

“No Bosses is not a book about replacing bad people in high positions. It is not a book about reducing corruption. It is not a book about bandaging gushers of pain. No Bosses is a book about eliminating high positions. It is a book about producing integrity. It is a book about removing the causes of gushers of pain and implementing instead fields of dignity and fulfillment. No Bosses is a book about economic and social revolution. It is a book about after our ship comes in.”

And here is how he ends the review:

“Bertrand (Russell), Bob (Dylan), and Che (Guevara) did not write this review but they did write large parts of the history and culture leading to my choosing to write the book. Their actions, ideas, and words did contribute to the contents of the vision No Bosses presents. “Authors matter. I am an author. So what? Mentors, friends, partners, lovers, and mostly readers matter more. I said that. And, dear reader, what do you say? That is what now matters.
“And yes, I am Michael Albert, an aspirant to a new economy for a better world who in a fit of frenzy awaiting No Bosses publication happened to imagine the sentiments offered in this review. Audacious? Maybe. Desperate? For sure. We inhabit a world at a historic crossroads. There is a hard rain we must avoid. There is a dream we ought not defer.

Lucas Alden: Reflections on No Bosses (Meta)


In the last review to be addressed in this Part One response, early on Alden reports that:

“Modern and classical ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ orthodoxy aren’t at a loss for platitudes and pronouncements of liberty, equality, fraternity, justice and democracy. Take a look around. Are our societies overflowing with these principles today? Are they even detectable? Were they in the past? If not, then why not?”

Alden’s review is another that advocates for No Bosses. But he comes at the task a bit differently, vesting a bit more concern into the process of the book which, he says:

“[I]s actually doing the job of an educator, unlike so many so-called ‘educators’ and so-called ‘leaders’ and ‘coordinators’ in workplaces and movements. Which may be more of a critique of the pre-determined roles and heirarchical structures than the individuals themselves. [No Bosses] is attempting to not only lay out an economy and a society in which all are actively empowered, but that we’re capable of realizing this in the first place. That all can and should have a vital say in their collective conditions. That each of us are worth way more than real conditions – or establishment orthodoxy – get us to believe we are. That we are collectively capable of way better. That common concerns – and objectives – far outweigh individual or sectarian priorities. And that all this has a lot to do with reversing and going beyond current reality.”

Alden concludes that “No Bosses—and Parecon—provides invaluable insight for anyone who cares to engage collectively on any level and in any way in the pursuit of a better world.” I hope he is right.

Replying to Reviews, Part Two, to appear down the road a bit, will include reactions to Gavin Otooe: A Muddled Vision; Systemic Disorder: Envisioning A World Without Bosses; Brian Tokar: *Reviewing No Bosses* (Green Social Thought); Will Froberg: Review of *No Bosses* (The Detroit Socialist / Detroit DSA); Caed Stephenson: Review of *No Bosses* (ZNet), and any others that might soon appear. All known reviews are reposted on the No Bosses book page, where there are also many interviews, testimonials, and other materials.

I hope viewing that content will inspire folks to seriously consider the post capitalist economic proposals No Bosses presents for a productive commons in place of private ownership of productive assets; for workers and consumers self managing councils in place of top down decision making; for a new division of labor featuring jobs balanced for empowerment effects in place of our current corporate division of labor; for equitable remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor in place of remuneration for property, bargaining power, or output; and for participatory planning in place of markets and or central planning as a scaffold of key new institutions able to efficiently deliver an economy that fosters diversity, solidarity, equity, self management, ecological sustainability, and true classlessness.

That is surely a mouthful but shouldn’t we each want to determine if these proposed institutions can in fact have these claimed effects? Shouldn’t we each want to confidently agree or disagree with Alexandria Shaner’s assessment that in place of capitalism, this economy would have “institutions and systems that make it automatic, instead of impossible, for us to consider ourselves, each other, the environment, and all the other externalities. Participatory economics promotes and rewards equity, solidarity, self management, diversity, and sustainability. We will make mistakes and continue to be human, but just imagine if we were no longer set up to fail. Imagine No Bosses.”