Putting the social back in socialism – Erik Olin Wright – Why a truly “social” practice needn’t be anything other

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/23/2012

Taking the Social in Socialism Seriously – Erik Olin Wright

Lots to extrapolate here in terms of seeking justice and equality not necessarily through (explicit) political activism, but through strengthening civil institutions/society or being a good neighbor (Neighborhood Power! as Karl Hess would say). Long, somewhat pedantic, but worth a slog:

Civil Society is the sphere of social interaction in which people voluntarily form associations of different sorts for various purposes. Some of these associations have the character of formal organizations with well-defined membership and objectives. Clubs, political parties, labor unions, churches, and neighborhood associations would be examples. Others are looser associations, in the limiting case more like social networks than bounded organizations. The idea of a “community”, when it means something more than simply the aggregation of individuals living in a place, can also be viewed as a kind informal association within civil society. Power in civil society depends on capacities for collective action through such voluntary association, and can accordingly be referred to as “associational power” or “social power.”

The idea of “democracy”, in these terms, can be thought of as a specific way of linking social power and state power: in the ideal of democracy, state power is fully subordinated to and accountable to social power. The expression “rule by the people” does not really mean, “rule by the atomized aggregation of the separate individuals of the society taken as isolated persons,” but rather, rule by the people collectively organized into associations in various ways: parties, communities, unions, etc. Democracy is thus, inherently, a deeply socialist principle. If “Democracy” is the label for the subordination of state power to social power, “socialism” is the term for the subordination of economic power to social power.

The potential scope for the social economy could be enhanced if the state, through its capacity to tax, provided funding for a wide range of socially-organized non-market production. One way of doing this is through the institution of an unconditional basic income. By partially delinking income from employment earnings, if an unconditional basic income existed voluntary associations of all sorts would be able to create new forms of meaningful and productive work in the social economy…

…the idea of extensive and robust economic democracy through creating conditions in which social power, organized through the active participation and empowerment of ordinary people in civil society, exerts direct and indirect democratic control over the economy. Taken individually, movement along one or another of these pathways might not pose much of a challenge to capitalism, but substantial movement along all of them taken together would constitute a fundamental transformation of capitalism’s class relations and the structures of power and privilege rooted in them. Capitalism might still remain a component in the hybrid configuration of power relations governing economic activity, but it would be a subordinated capitalism heavily constrained within limits set by the deepened democratization of both state and economy. This would not automatically insure that the radical democratic egalitarian ideals of social and political justice would be accomplished, but if we were somehow to successfully move along these pathways to such a hybrid form of social organization, we would be in a much better position to struggle for a radical democratic egalitarian vision of social and political justice.


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