This is another ZNet Free Update. You can add or remove addresses at the
ZNet top page, please.
Three months back we sent out a ZNet Free Update about the new book,
Parecon: Life After Capitalism, from Verso Books. Three print runs
later, things are moving along nicely, but not without problems.
Internationally, many translations are under way and excellent
distribution looks probable. In the U.S. and England cloth sales are way
higher than publisher expectations -- and the book has only been out a
When we sent mailings to this Update list three months back, the book
rose to number thirteen on Amazon. Thank you!
Similarly, I did an author session at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge
MA. For that week the book was modestly displayed in the store. And
while visible, it outsold every novel in the place.
The lesson of those experiences is that with visibility people are
interested in economic vision. They want to read and judge it for
themselves. Of course, the week before I spoke at the Harvard Bookstore,
and the week after, there were virtually no sales because the book was
invisible on back shelves and because there were no reviews or other
visible commentary to prod interest.
Left books generally sell low volume. This isn't because people lack
interest in radical ideas. Rather, left books are overwhelmingly
unknown, untalked about, unreviewed, undiscussed on mainstream media and
often even in left media, and as a result effectively invisible to most
Left books would be sought out far more widely and aggressively if they
were treated to New York Times or other major Book Reviews, not to
mention ads, talk show discussions, and so on. But they aren't. So like
all left authors, I am in the uncomfortable position of trying to
provide some visibility for my book myself. I have to send out excerpts,
interviews, or reviews to give people enough information so that they
can judge whether they are interested or not -- a task we have tried to
accomplish for books by other ZNet authors, as well.
So this message includes a new piece bearing on Parecon: Life After
Capitalism, a lengthy interview of Ezequiel Adamovsky, ZNet's Argentina
commenator. The interview explores the lessons of recent movements in
Argentina and parecon's possible relevance to them.
Should this interview prod your interest, you can access the Parecon:
Life After Capitalism book page which includes some interviews, a table
of contents, some excerpts, comments about the book from many leftists,
reviews, links to purchase, etc. at
http://www.zmag.org/ParEcon/pelac.htm And of course there is much more
about the parecon vision at www.parecon.org
Here then is my interview of Ezequiel Adamovsky about events and
possibilities in Argentina. It is long, but the recent Argentine
experience is complex, profoundly instructive, and hisorically
Argentina and Parecon
Michael Albert Interviews Ezequiel Adamovsky
Albert: It seems to me that if movements want to attain certain
institutions as a part of their goals, they will need to use
organiational forms that foster those institutions and can melt into
them, rather than organizational forms that would be neutral regarding
the sought aims, or that would obstruct their attainment.
I favor such goals as remuneration for effort and sacrifice, self
management, and classlessness to be attained via worker and consumer
councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice,
and participatory planning.
I wonder, whether these aims would resonate in Argentina, your home
country. Can you give us a picture of the movements there that have
formed local assemblies in neighborhoods and in workplaces? Are the
assemblies early forms of workers and consumers councils?
Adamovsky: Four movements emerged in Argentina in the last few years,
which I think are related to the spirit of parecon: the barter markets,
the "Piquetero" movement, the Neighbors' Assemblies, and the occupied
The barter markets emerged as a crazy idea of two guys, who set up the
first experience in their own garage not too long ago. Basically, it was
a simple idea: people who had lost their jobs are therefore where unable
to get any money at all, could still exchange their talents and
capacities with other people in a similar situation. So, for example, a
tailor could repair someone else's clothes in exchange of, say, home
made bread, or Computer training, etc. By using their own "currency"
--at the beginning, badly printed notes called "credits"-- they were
able to exchange goods and services with other people on a
non-reciprocal basis, that is, getting by "credits" from one person, but
buying from another.
In the worst moment of the economic crisis, it was said that over 7
million people were relying in the barter markets to get by.
Unfortunately, barter markes started to decay later on, due mainly to
the fact that some people started to use it as a means to enrich
themselves, for example, by faking the "credits" (which was very easy)
or by getting hold of real credits in areas where they were relatively
cheap, and using them in richer areas, where their value was higher.
These sort of activities made the barter markets more and more
unreliable. Although they are still there, their importance is not what
it used to be.
The Piquetero movement is a movement of unemployed workers, which
started to organize after 1996. It is not one group, but many different
organizations (at least 15), with different strategies. But they are all
known as "piqueteros" because of the road blockades ("piquetes") that
they usually use as a way to put their demands forward. The first
"piqueteros" organized spontaneously to resist neo-liberal policies, and
they did so by gathering in democratic and "horizontal" (meaning without
hierarchies) assemblies. Later on, some Trotskyst, Communist, Maoists
and populist parties "copied" the piquetero strategy, but without the
radically horizontal approach. Some of the piquetero groups, however,
still organize through real assemblies, and make decisions in a
In these cases (notably in the Movement of Unemployed Workers "Anibal
Veron") the assemblies contain elements of what you have called workers
and consumers councils. For example, the MTD Anibal Veron and other
groups have set up their own productive projects, small cooperatives
that produce bread, bricks, cloths, and other products. But production
does not follow market rules, nor is it organized by any "coordinator
All the movement supports the productive projects, and makes decisions
of new investments, etc., and the "profits", if any, do not go for those
who work in them alone, but to the whole movement. The criterion is that
every kind of work is valuable, so all must be remunerated, i.e., not
only those who work baking bread, but also those who take care of
popular education, campaigning, etc.
The Neighbors' Assemblies are a relatively new phenomenon. The
mushroomed immediately after the rebellion of December 2001. In the main
cities, neighbours started to gather in the corners spontaneously, to
discuss and make sense of their own problems. After an initial period of
catharsis -- people simply telling each other their problems, anxieties,
and frustration-- they started to figure out what the causes of the
crisis were, and to discuss possible ways out. In the case of the
Assemblies, there's no clear element of workers councils -- although
some of the Assemblieas, like the piqueteros, also set up productive
Elements of consumers councils are more visible. For example, many
Assemblies organized community buys, that is, buying large quantities of
goods from retail suppliers, and then distributing them btween the
neighbours according to different criteria. Other examples are the
pressure they put on electricity, gas, telephone companies and the like,
to get them not to raise the prices, and not to cut off users who
weren't able to pay the bills.
Finally, the occupied factories is the newest movement. It consists in
workers of (sometimes fakely) bankrupt factories, who refuse to become
unemployed. When the factory owners announce the closure of the plant,
they refuse to leave, occupy the factory, and start to run it
themselves. The funny thing is that contrary to all predictions, and
despite innumerable obstacles, they do it very well. The workers can run
relatively large companies --like Zanon ceramics, for example-- and not
only get them to produce, but also make them profitable. The occupied
factories organize according to different criteria. But generally, the
main decisions are made through horizontal assemblies of workers, and
salaries tend to be more egalitarian than under the old bosses.
Together with these four movements, there are also innumerable smaller
things going on, from peasants occupying lands and producing
collectively, to artists and independent journalists finding
non-corporate ways to produce and distribute their works. In the last
few years, Argentina has been an extraordinary laboratory of new
economic and political ways to orgainze and live together.
Albert: It is sad that such important projects to learn from get so
little international attention -- but it is also entirely predictable.
CNN doesn't want to broadcast Argentina's innovations.
I wonder, do you think large numbers of people espousing a participatory
economic vision like parecon, or say, self consciously advocating
remuneration for effort and sacrifice but rejecting remuneration for
output and of course for power or property, would have helped with the
Adamovsky: The first thing you need to know is that, before all these
movements emerged, we had a strongly hierarchical and leader-oriented
political culture. I am not only referring here to mainstream politics
(think of Peronism and the innumerable military coups we suffered), but
also to Unions (which, in general, are a highly corrupt bureaucracy),
and the left. Almost all previous experience we had was that of Leninist
and national liberation traditions, which are very hierarchical and
When the first piquetero groups, barter markets, assemblies, and vision
emerged, it was not the fruit of years of patient campaigning (there was
almost no-one advocating these kinds of organizations before they were
born), but a spontaneous, I would say intuitive creation. The whole
economy and political system collapsed, the people did not trust any of
the parties, leaders, or unions available, so they simply gathered with
other people like themselves and asked each other "Do you have any idea
of what's going on here? What do we do to protect our lives?" But,
unlike other countries (like, perhaps, the USA) we had no tradition of
talking and listening to each other. We simply did not know how to have
a community meeting. I remember the first meetings of my Neighbors'
Assembly: people were literally fighting for the use of the megaphone. I
mean it: physically fighting.
Taking this into account, I would say that any group with experience in
simple procedures of direct democracy would have been very helpful. We
had to learn everything the hard way, by ourselves. I think the group of
"pareconists" you are imagining would have been extremely helpful had
they been there to share that experience with us. I am afraid, however,
that it would have been impossible to put forward any of the more
elaborate principles of Parecon before we educated ourselves in direct
Nowadays the situation is different. After all the struggle Argentina
has been through, the people in the movements became aware that we are
actually experimenting with a different type of left politics, unlike
anything we had seen in the past. And they are generally eager to learn
about new ideas based in principles of direct democracy, autonomy, and
horizontal organizing. By presenting a vision of a world organized
according to those principles, Parecon could inspire us to gain
confidence and a stronger sense of the direction our struggles are
Regarding remuneration for effort and sacrifice, I believe that the
experiences of occupied factories and, to some extent, also the
piquetero productive projects would benefit from the ideas. I know they
had (and still have) discussions about the best way to remunerate
themselves, and I believe there is a natural tendency towards the sort
of ideas parecon proposes. Undoubtedly, putting the practical issue of
remuneration in the wider perspective of the economic vision that
parecon proposes would have been very helpful for them.
Albert: Do you know the methods they are using now? In the factories,
are they just retaining old salary structures, paying equally or at
least more equally -- as the improvement -- paying by time only, paying
by output, or what? How hard would it be to move toward paying according
to effort and sacrifice? Who would resist it? Who would favor it, do you
Adamovsky: It is said that there are over 200 occupied companies now.
The situation in each of them is different. Many of them are not
producing yet: the workers are still building the preconditions to that.
Others, like Zanon Ceramics, are doing so well that they actually had to
"hire" new workers (which is surprising considering its former owners
claimed it was impossible to make Zanon profitable). But on the whole,
you need to know that many of the occupied factories are still fighting
hard simply to survive, which for them involves fighting two "enemies"
at the same time. Firstly, Argentina's endemic economic crisis.
Secondly, police and judicial harassment, which disrupts production all
In this context, I immagine it would be difficult to risk radical
innovations in the short run. However, as far as I know, there were some
changes in salary structures, at least in some cases. Salaries tend to
be egalitarian, and paying by time only (I do not think that any of the
occupyed factories uses paying by output). I believe that workers would
agree that moving toward paying according to effort and sacrifice would
be more fair. I imagine, however (although this is highly hypothetical)
that, at the moment, they would not feel they are strong enough as to
spend much energy in implementing such a change, which involves finding
accurate ways to measure effort, adding extra meetings to those they
already have for other issues (production, judicial strategy, defence
against repression, political strategy, etc.).
Albert: Okay, what about self management? Do you think having a clear
enunciation of that aim -- that people should influence decisions in
proportion as they are affected by them -- would have helped the
movements? Would understanding that consensus and one person one vote
majority rule and other approaches are tactics, and that the key is to
choose among them to fulfill the principle of self management have been
useful, plus the idea of councils at diverse levels, of course? What
might widespread advocacy of that have impacted in the current practice
and programs, do you think?
Adamovsky: Self management is an old aspiration of anti-capitalist
movements, in Argentina and elsewhere. And, naturally, the idea of self
management includes the idea of direct democracy and councils. But again
in this case, there is little practical experience in Argentina, and
elsewhere too , I think, on how to organize self management. There is a
long distance from general principles to concrete organizing. Take for
example decision-making through assemblies or councils. There is much
magical thinking about this: some people tend to think that all you need
is to get as many people as possible to discuss and vote and, bingo!,
you will always have the right outcome.
But that is not true, as we are learning painfully. Many times in my
Assembly, for example, we faced the situation in which everybody has the
same right to decide on a certain issue (and everybody defends that
right passionately), but then those decisions do not affect all of us
equally. And that unacknowledged difference ends up affecting us in
unexpected ways: people blaming each other when things go wrong, etc.
One day we even had a vote on whether six of us, who were being
prosecuted for trespassing, should appear before the Court or not; that
was a decision in which those six people alone should have decided. But
nobody raised this issue then.
Another example: I remember not long ago I had a conversation with a
worker of Grissinopolis, one of the occupied factories, and they were
facing similar problems. The degree of commitment of the workers to the
project of self management was quite variable --some of the workers did
not trust that they could make the factory work without managers, and
therefore were not willing to take responsibilities, whilst others were
working 24/7 to make their dream come true. And yet, all of them had one
vote in every single issue, which, for the worker I was talking to
seemed unfair. He was visibly upset and irritated. In sum, we still
haven't found the way to relate decision-making power to actual
commitment or to the different consequences of our decisions.
That is why I was immediately attracted to one of the ideas that parecon
puts forward: that people should influence decisions in proportion as
they are affected by them. It is a very simple principle, easy to
understand and relate to, but one that changes the whole logic and
practice of decision-making completely. Likewise, I imagine that the
political engineering that Parecon proposes --councils at different
levels and with different functions -- would have been quite helpful for
the workers of occupied factories and generally for all the horizontal
movements. It would have helped us to figure out concrete and efficient
ways to translate general principles (like direct democracy and self
management) into concrete realities.
Albert: Do you know how decisions are now being made in the occupied
factories. It sounds like in the neighborhood assemblies it is pretty
much one person one vote fifty percent plus one decides. But what about
workplaces? And in them, are there still managers and other conceptual
workers, and do they tend to dominate agenda setting, have daily power,
even have more votes or otherwise greater say in large scale decision
making, etc.? Do you think allegiance to self management could lead to
changes in these matters of decision making relations that are otherwise
not so likely to spontaneously change, and quite likely to fall back
into old patterns?
Adamovsky: Again in this case, each factory is a different world. In the
cases I know, major decisions are being made by workers' assemblies, one
person one vote fifty percent plus one decides. This is not to say,
however, that "conceptual workers" do not tend to dominate the agenda.
As far as I know, the main political figures within the factories, and
those with more knowledge about the productive process tend to have more
power, in reality, than the rest.
But the dynamics of self management and direct democracy can sometimes
reverce this. A few weeks ago, for example, the workers assembly of
Brukman (textile) decided, against the will of its most visible
spokespersons, not to allow any of the workers to run as candidates for
left wing parties. As the 2003 elections for the Congress approach,
trotskyst parties were doing the impossible (including threatening the
workers to withdraw all kinds of support, including financial) to get
workers of self managed factories to run as candidates. Their aim, of
course, is to benefit from the legitimacy that these workers have.
Celia, probably the most active and visible face of Brukman, was
attracted to the PTS (a small trotskyst party), and decided she would
run as a candidate. But her workmates voted not to authorize such a
thing, on the grounds that Brukman should not be the patrimony of one
party, but seek the support of everybody. Curioulsy enough, the PTS
"rediscovered" then the value of individual freedom, and are now arguing
that the workers assembly cannot decide on this issue, because by doing
that they would be affecting the "individual right" of Celia to do as
In sum, there is still a lot to be done in terms of building
decision-making mechanisms which encourage real self management and
egalitarianism, while maintaining criteria of effectivenes and fairness.
Falling back to the beaten track is always a strong possibility. Making
self management real involves a hard and patient work, and a strong
committment to a political vision based in such principle.
Albert: How about balanced job complexes? If that idea of a new division
of labor to permit and support new decision making methods and also the
associated understanding of class relations including not only workers
and owners but also the coordinator class had been prevalent as
struggles grew and diversified, do you think it would have helped define
the structures that were employed and perhaps also some of the demands
that were made?
Adamovsky: In this respect, there is also an almost intuitive tendency
towards the principle that people should share the heavy or unpleasent
tasks. In my Assembly, for example, working people get immediately
resentful if those with better education or higher social background do
not help cleaning the floors, cooking, lifting heavy objects, etc.
Likewise, I know that some of the piquetero groups pay great attention
to this, and generally to the issue of empowering everybody to do the
most complex and qualified tasks --including political skills.
In general, people in the movements dislike the "coordinators" or
"mandones" (i.e., those who are bossy), even if the idea that there
exists such a thing as a "coordinator class" is not at all common. I
also know that workers of the occupied factories share some of the tasks
that were previously the province of specialized workers and of
completely unqualified workers. But old habits die hard. Especially in
the market environment, and with all the media messages, and all the
rest enforcing them. If Argentine movements shared a clear rationale for
chaging the division of labor, and especially for why classless job
complexes would not only get the work done better than before, but even
more importantly eliminate all kinds of harsh hierarchies, it would help
even those who are most committed to that type of change, and it would
certainly help everyone else, battle against those old habits and also
against the individuals wanting to preserve them. Putting this issue in
the perspective of an all-encompassing vision such as parecon proposes,
would be undoubtedly helpful.
Albert: You seem to be saying that the working class constituencies in
these movements would relate positively to the idea of eliminating
coordinator class privilege and power - but would they go along with
doing it by balancing job complexes, do you think? And how much
resistance do you think you would get from the highly educated and
empowered coordinators, if this kind of orientation started to take
Adamovsky: That's perhaps taking things a bit too far. One thing is to
resent coordinators (which most workers do). But there is quite a gap
between that and proposing that the coordinators class should be
eliminated. One of the most pervasive effects of capitalism and
coordinatorism is that workers are disempowered to such an extent that
they do not believe they can be their own "managers". One of the workers
of Grissinopolis once explained to me, with a sad look in his eyes, how
difficult it was to convince his workmates that they could actually run
the company themselves. At the beginning, they thought he was mad. It
took a long time for some of the workers to discover that they were not
worse than any of the managers they had had before, and that, in fact,
they knew their job much better. Actually, half of the workers decided
to leave the ship and try to find a "normal" job under "normal"
I imagine resistance to the principle of balanced job complexes would be
quite hard, not just from the coordinators who would defend their
privileges, but also from the very workers. People who feel disempowered
tend to rely on the "experience" and "knowledge" of those who do not.
And it is a fact of reality that nobody can become the "manager" of him
or herself by a simple act of will. All relatively complex social
enterprises -- be it running a company, organizing a political event,
etc.-- requires a certain knowledge, confidence, and experience without
which the whole thing is likely to fail.
So, if people do not feel they have the capacity to do something, they
will "voluntarily" call a coordinator in. This happened to me in my
Assembly many times. As I am a good speaker, my mates used to want me to
represent them whenever it is necessary. But of course, that gave me the
chance to improve myself as a speaker, whilst my mates remained silent,
which reproduces and reinforces inequality in this specific field. So,
at some point I decided I would refuse to represent the Assembly in some
occasions, which would indirectly "force" other people to come out and
try to do it themselves. But the funny thing is that I had to resist
pressures from them to keep performing this coordinator-like role, and
sometimes they would even get angry at me. "You do it better, why don't
you go" they would say. For some of them, daring to take control and
responsibility was painful, and it was much easier to rely on someone
But, of course, after they broke the inertia and discovered they are
capable of doing new things, they loved it and never again give it up.
In sum, I think resistance to the principle of balanced job complexed
will probably find fierce resistance from above and from below. It will
probably take a long and pacient work of those committed to it, to be
able to share their expertise and empower others, without reinforcing
themselves as coordinators. It is a risky thing, for in the long
transitional period, coordinators may benefit from the pressures from
below I just described to reproduce coordinatorism. Parecon is a needed
visionary pole in this respect, for it provides a very clear analysis of
the negative effects of both the propertied class and the
Albert: You mentioned the existence of various Leninist, Trotskyism, and
otherwise old style parties with members interacting amidst all the
other undertakings. No doubt there have been serious frictions. Do you
think widespread clarity about rejecting coordinatorism, often called
market or centrally planned socialism, would have strengthened the more
participatory and democratic parts of the movement as against the more
centralized parts? Would the injunction that our projects should have
structures embodying our values and consistent with attaining our aims
have put pressure on the behavior and structures of these parties, do
you think, thereby helping contrary approaches?
Adamovsky: Without a doubt. In the experience of my Assembly, some
people had an initial prejudice against left wing parties, some others
had not. But in both cases, they would defend the autonomy and
horizontality of the Assembly against left wing coordinatorism, as you
call it. This was and still is a permanent issue in the meetings of most
Assemblies --I've just read an email from the Assembly of another
neighborhood, with the announcement that, after innumerable problems,
the members of the Trotskyite Partido Obrero were asked to leave the
Assembly and never come back!
As members of the Assembly resisted left coordinatorism, we came across
some texts and ideas that helped us gain awareness that non-hierarchical
strategies were possible and that, actually, the left is pretty much
divided about this issue all over the world. Undoubtedly, Parecon would
have had a similar influence. It would help more people to become
confident in our own non-hierarchical politics and in the principle that
the way we struggle today must look the way we want the future to look.
Means and ends cannot disagree.
Albert: In your brief description of things that were happening, I
didn't see much about struggles within existing workplaces that haven't
been taken over entirely. Struggles against owners and managers for
better conditions, wages, more say, and so on. Does that lind of
struggle within existing government institutions and private
corporations also exist in Argentina? Is it connected with the movements
you describe? And do you think pareconish allegiances could have helped
with those efforts and also the interconnections?
Adamovsky: Traditional working class struggle, as you well know, is
particularly difficult at times of economic crisis and high
unemployment. In Argentina, over 25% of the population are unemployed,
which undoubtedly prevents many workers from going on strike, or
otherwise resisting inside their workplaces. Add to this the fact that
most unions are little but a mafia, and you will get a picture of how
hard it is for workers. And yet, some interesting developments took
place in this field.
Some unions --for example SIMECA, a new union of messengers and errand
boys -- started to organize in horizontal ways, while the workers of
some sections of Telefonica (one of the two main telephone companies in
Argentina) carried out epical strikes against both the owners and the
official unions. There are many other examples. Inasmuch as these
struggles are ignored (or even attacked) by the official unions, they
naturally tended to build bridges with the piquetero and Assamblies
movements. There are many links, all the groups support each other and
For these people, as for the cases mentioned earlier, Parecon provides
both practical ideas for the short run, and a vision of a desirable
future. I believe that the most powerful engines of emancipation are the
legends of past struggles and possible futures. Parecon is in the old
tradition of utopian vision, but it makes utopia look perfectly
possible, waiting for us round the corner.
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