Originally published on Truthout on August 22, 2014. Interview by Leslie Thatcher.
Longtime activist, historian and political-economic theorist Gar Alperovitz, whoseAmerica Beyond Capitalism was serialized on Truthout, conducted an email interview with us on the occasion of the creation of his new website.
Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Gar, you’ve just created a new website that seems both to sum up the principles of your work on democratic ownership and on building a sustainable and equitable political-economic system and to track your personal trajectory as an activist and thinker over the last 50 years: What are your goals in establishing the website?
Gar Alperovitz: As you know, the Democracy Collaborative does a great deal of direct hands-on work helping establish worker-cooperatives and other efforts aimed at democratizing the ownership of wealth at different levels. The impetus for the website came from one of our lead researchers, Thomas Hanna, who suggested it might be useful to pull together some of the work I had been doing over the past several decades on the theory that informs much of our strategy.
From the late 1960s on, it seemed to me that a serious movement would ultimately have to go beyond simply urging “elements” of the next system (as for instance, simply promoting worker-owned firms, necessary as this is). It will have to begin to develop a clear and explicit larger vision and some quite specific ideas about why the “institutional design and architecture” of that vision would produce results better than the two traditional models – corporate capitalism, on the one hand, and state-socialism, on the other.
The primary goal of the website is to offer some explicit hand-holds (as I see them) for activists and theorists on how we might get serious about what a “next system” might really look like, and why, precisely, it would be better than the traditional models – and better, too, than some of the models that are commonly discussed in rhetorical terms without adequate attention to some of their well-known failings.
Put another way, the goal is to contribute to the discussion that is fast becoming critical: “If you don’t like capitalism and you don’t like traditional socialism, what do you want, and why – specifically, not rhetorically, would it be better?”
We’ve covered this before, but I’d be so grateful if you’d explain what you mean by and how you developed the term, “Pluralist Commonwealth.”
Briefly, I use this term to suggest that a serious next system must be built on the principle of plural forms of common wealth ownership – hence “pluralist commonwealth.” Basically, I’ve been trying to help move the dialogue beyond the oversimplified left debate that poses the only alternatives as either state socialism or worker-owned or worker-self-managed socialism. I think the next system will be much more interesting and complex in its structure – and should be! Especially, if we want to build a genuine democratic community-nurturing system from the ground up.