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Just a Bit of Politics

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Just a few very general theses, an extended improvisation perhaps around the core IOPS values of solidarity/mutual aid and self-management/participatory democracy.


A BIT OF POLITICS: 13 Theses on the Good Society

One’s regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living.


Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.


  • Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891)


1. The Good Society. To save the planet, civilisation and the human spirit from extreme suffering and almost-extinction, ‘all’ that is needed is the institutionalisation of the ‘good society’.

2. Presence. For the emergence of the good society, ‘all’ that is needed is the liberation of the ‘good society’ that is already present, as seed, bud or flower, wherever and whenever people spontaneously practice solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience,  collective ‘autonomy’.

3. Autonomy means self-government, i.e. the negotiating of rules, order, laws (‘nomos’) by the people themselves  in direct democracy (e.g. assemblies). The opposite is ‘heteronomy’: the rule of some over others (‘hetero’). What most usually understand (and distrust and dislike) as ‘politics’ are various versions of heteronomy, even when labelled ‘democratic’ or ‘progressive’: a tedious jockeying amongst a separate political class for positions of status, privilege and power over others.

4. Human Nature. Autonomy, solidarity and disobedience are always present aspects of human nature and potential , in all cultures and at all times. There is a long and inspiring transcultural legacy of autonomous social movements, thinkers and artists throughout history.

5. Heteronomy. Like its various expressions  ‒ possessive individualism, egoism, xenophobia, power-hunger, obedience, authoritarianism, voluntary slavery ‒ heteronomy is also always present as an aspect of human nature and potential.

6. Alienation. Patriarchy, the State and capitalism are, by definition, repressive institutions based on heteronomy, the reinforcing of the alienation of human nature and potential for autonomy, solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation. This alienation from our human nature is a version of our alienation from nature, an alienation of our deep selves.

7. The State has always been based on, and cultivated, heteronomy and tribal/national xenophobia for the purposes of maintaining its ruling power elites.  ‘War is the health of the state.’ (Randolph Bourne).  The modern state represses our autonomy: it wants us to live as isolated taxpayers, mere voters, party members and passive consumers of political spectacles and, when necessary, obedient cannon fodder.

8. The alternative to the State is participatory democracy, an institutionalisation of collective autonomy. This is the grassroots political form of the good society in which the people directly make the rules and call the shots. Any delegation is temporary, specific, recallable, rotational.

9. Capitalism has always been based on, and cultivated, heteronomy and competitive and possessive individualism for the purposes of maintaining the wealth and power of its class elites. Advanced capitalism represses our autonomy: it wants us to live as distracted, isolated consumers and over-worked, competitive workers without solidarity and community or any say whatsoever in investment, production, allocation, workplaces, technology.

10. The alternative to capitalism is worker and consumer self-management in production, allocation and consumption, an institutionalisation of collective autonomy.  This is the grassroots economic form of the good society, direct democracy in the workplace and neighbourhood, and where wider coordination may take the form of self-federation from below.

11. The Abyss. The dynamics of this double institutional alienation, the State and hyper-industrial capitalism, are now leading humanity, civilisation and the planet to the abyss of almost-extinction and extreme suffering.

12. Emergence. The ‘good society’ is globally emergent, and absent. Like most of us, it needs to ‘find itself’, expand and develop consciousness of itself and its tasks, network and communicate more intensively. From this global-local process, this diverse and evolving super-complexity, something qualitatively new, and old, could emerge that might just save us and the planet.

13. The Choice. No tinkering within the old state institutions and capitalist mind-sets that have led us to the abyss can save us. It’s the ‘utopia’ of the good society, or it’s the dystopia of barbarism and/or oblivion. It is the choice between our autonomous and heteronomous natures.

Discussion 4 Comments

  • Lambert Meertens 23rd Feb 2014

    Thanks, Peter, I think that in its conciseness this is a very useful overview of the argument for the kind of liberation IOPS is seeking.

    A few remarks.

    In thesis 6, Alienation, patriarchy, the State and capitalism are listed as repressive institutions based on heteronomy. The roles of the State and capitalism are then treated in the next few theses, but patriarchy is not further mentioned. There is certainly a relation between the State and capitalism: capitalism cannot function unless supported by the State with its monopoly on violence. I wonder, is there also some deeper connection between patriarchy and the State or capitalism? Could / should more be said about patriarchy in the context of these theses?

    Somehow I feel colonialism should have been mentioned, a source of much suffering, in the past and still today, which will take a special global concerted effort to overcome its lasting effects.

    Thesis 10 names worker and consumer self-management in production, allocation and consumption as "the" alternative to capitalism. One essential problem (but not the only one) with capitalism is that the say over what is produced why and how has been removed from the social context and relegated to something called "the economy", of which production, allocation and consumption are generally seen as being the constituting functions. While I believe these functions should be under worker and consumer control at the level of the daily functioning of the economy, there are important social issues that transcend the daily functioning of these economic functions, such as: What is it we are trying to achieve, collectively? How do we balance demand for consumer goods against the ecology? Do we invest in making communities more self-sufficient, or do we seek efficiency of scale in mass production? To what extent must richer communities offer assistance to poorer communities? And so on. Such overarching questions cannot be answered at the level of worker and consumer councils, and neither can they be left to an invisible hand. They must be a subject we all have a say in, or the liberation will remain incomplete.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 24th Feb 2014

    Many thanks for the comments, camerado, perceptive as always. Had written a long reply, then that suddenly disappeared from view, most frustrating. So will be shorter, in case that happens again.

    The theses are intended for a local 'convivium' (pot luck dinner ar someone's place plus conversation on someone's passion). Most people taking part are non-political or social democrats/Green-inclined, as usual. Thought I might try a succinct intro to a different motion of 'politics', focussing on 'part dem' and 'self-man.'

    However have revised the theses using your helpful comments. Have added a second sentence to the thesis on the State: 'The State has always been co-terminous with war, expansion, colonialism, imperialism.'

    Have also added a separate thesis: 'Patriarchy. Patriarchal families, clans and tribes deveoped into patriarchal war-lordism, monarchies, empires, modern states, all firmly anchored in patriarchal kinship relations, religions and violence. No longer necessary for class domination, modern states and capitalism now continue to de-patriarchalise and feminise their kinship, wealth and power structures.'

    Re your last comment on worker and consumer self-management councils, Lambert, I agree with all you write. Might be a misunderstanding. My concept of this self-management is not that it be restricted to workplace or economic issues but that it deal with ALL social issues, especially like the the ones you mention.

    I don't understand this continued separation (alienation) between 'spheres', and particularly the 'political' and 'economic' spheres in Parecon and elsewhere. My vision is participatory democracy not as a separate 'sphere' (like the state) but as a bottom-up network of self-managing communities deciding EVERYTHING, 'economic', 'political', 'ecological'. These communities would also be re-embedded within their natural ecologies.

    Wrote this also as a slight prod to my statist comrades in IOPS, i.e. those who continue to believe in parties, 'progressive' states, elections etc. But as we know there's almost no debate in IOPS really anyway...Ah well. Thanks, again, Lambert, much appreciated.

    • LedSuit ' 25th Feb 2014

      Quote from Peter:

      "I don't understand this continued separation (alienation) between 'spheres', and particularly the 'political' and 'economic' spheres in Parecon and elsewhere. My vision is participatory democracy not as a separate 'sphere' (like the state) but as a bottom-up network of self-managing communities deciding EVERYTHING, 'economic', 'political', 'ecological'. These communities would also be re-embedded within their natural ecologies.

      Maybe it's just the way we talk about stuff. It's hard to talk inclusively of everything always, and sometimes you just leave stuff out. People talk capitalism all the time without mention of the political side. Maybe it wouldn't happen like that in the "real" world. A Simpler Way doesn't separate anything nor Inclusive Democracy. But if a Parecon was to be instituted(which I very much doubt),all other "spheres" would be part of the process naturally. Be there for the ride because they can't not be. Well, that's how I figure.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 24th Feb 2014

    Just three snippets from the mainstream press relating to the above theses.

    Perhaps the libertarian/anti-authoritarian view on 'politics' and the state, as in the above theses, can even be empirically supported by popular opinion, well to a certain degree at least. Here's The Guardian Weekly 23-29/9/2005, p. 7 :

    “Worldwide poll -
    Politicians least trusted people

    Most people believe that their government does not act according to their wishes, a worldwide opinion survey shows. Lack of confidence in governments is highest in the former Soviet bloc, where 75% say their country is not governed by the will of the people. But similar views are held by most Europeans (64%) and North Americans (60%).

    Commissioned by the BBC World Service, Gallup interviewed more than 50,000 people in 68 countries, representative of the views of 1.3 billion people. […]

    Overall, slightly less than half of those surveyed (47%) felt that elections in their country were free and fair. […]

    Worldwide, politicians represent the least trusted occupation, scoring only 13% [i.e. percentage willing to affirm them as trusted people, PLN]. […]

    There is a low level of trust in all types of leaders in Europe, and particularly [in] the media. Religious leaders are most trusted in Africa […]. In the US 50% trust religious leaders and 40% would give them more power.”

    At the same time, heteronomy still rules within most people.
    As a recent expression of widespread xenophobia and heteronomy in Australia, the land of the 'fair go', a poll in January 2014 had 60% urging the Abbott government to actually ‘increase the severity’ of government policies towards asylum seekers, as if the brutality and abuse of human rights on Manus and Nauru were not inhuman enough. (W. Aly, ‘The point of detention is to horrify’, SMH 21/2/2014, p.20).

    And as for the potential for worker self-management, albeit still individually focussed as you woulkd expect from mainstream academic research:

    According to a federally funded research centre at the University of Melbourne, 75% of surveyed employees in Australia believe their workplace suffers from poor leadership and needs better management. 75% also believe they have the knowledge to be a good leader. 84% said they used their own initiative to carry out tasks not required as part of their job. (C. Lucas, ‘The boss sucks: study reveals most workers feel they should be in charge’, SMH 20/2/2014, p. 2)