Pamphlet: We want a new society – and don’t we need it!

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The current system is in crisis, everyone can see this. What we cannot see is an alternative. We wrote this pamphlet for a discussion about alternatives. The first step is to understand where we are coming from, how the current system emerged. We then have to get to grips with how the system works, or rather, how it makes us work. There would be no alternative to this system if it would not show clear signs of crisis – so we have to know what actually causes this crisis. There would be no alternative if those who are exploited and oppressed would not have tried to fight for a better society. We have to learn from those who came before us. 

We don’t write this as experts. We write it as workers, who don’t just want to stare into the headlights of global events as victims. If we don’t question the system as it is, we will fight over the crumbs they throw at us. It will be dog-eat-dog. We write this for discussion with our neighbours and workmates. We might see things wrong, we don’t mind re-thinking stuff. Let us know what you think.

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We want a new society – and don’t we need it!

In today’s society we are reduced to working in whatever job we find, without much say in how things are run. Although we depend on the work of many others, we have no relationships with them. A small group of people at the top make decisions, but as we have seen, they themselves are not really in control of this system.

We can easily imagine a different society. A society where we don’t work for someone else’s profits, but for a good life with everyone. Most of the jobs in the current society only exist because of the need to increase and defend profits: through advertising, insurances, stock-markets, useless goods, military interventions. If we abolish these jobs and focus on what we need for a good life we would have to work much less. Working less means we have more time not only for joy, creativity and inventiveness, but also for making decisions about life together. We would not have to let politicians and pen-pushers decide our fate, who might send us to war or announce another round of cuts.

“Keep on dreaming, mate! Get a life!” You are right, sister, this all sounds pretty airy. Let’s start instead by looking at what’s happening in front of our eyes. What’s happening right here and right now gives us three good reasons to think that a different society is not only possible, but necessary:

1) Current society is in really bad shape!

Despite automation, we work more and are poorer. Huge chunks of our hard work either goes towards lining someone else’s pocket or goes into preparation for wars that we will be the first victims of. Political leaders cling to power by setting us up against each other. Billions of us are trapped in jobs which make little sense, waste our potential and make us depressed. People are lonelier than ever. And let’s not forget climate change, let’s think about the future of our kids. 

2) We have the means to create something better!

There is an abundance of stuff on this planet. We have technologies to make work easier. Most of the knowledge of how to make things would be freely available – if it was not locked up by patents and copyrights or kept behind doors of corporations and universities. We have the modern means to communicate across borders and amongst thousands.

3) People are already fighting and risking their lives.

While we speak thousands of people are taking to the streets and opposing their governments, the police, the military. Hundreds are getting shot on demonstrations against corruption in Iraq, the same in Sudan. In Chile students and workers fight together, in Hong Kong too. In France the spectre of the Yellow Vests still haunts the streets. People fight and take risks, but at the moment they only fight against the state and its plans to squeeze us more. We don’t have a clue yet what we are fighting for.

So after looking at the hard facts of life, let’s start dreaming again.

A different organisation of society

If you plan anything together with others you would use pretty simple, but logical ways to do it. You would ask yourself things like: what is the most effective way to do this? At the same time have the most joy doing this? How can we do this so that everyone involved can have a say? How will the thing we do affect us, our kids, the future and the planet? 

“Yeah, right, you might organise a garden party like this, but a society of six billion? Get real!” You are right, brother. To get six billion people to work together is not an easy thing. But see it this way, at the moment our lives depend on the work of six billion people in one way or the other. How do you get your Nike Vapormax? Where’s that webpage going that you design? The problem is that all these global connections are random, unconscious, unplanned, messy, wasteful, environmentally damaging. We can do better than that!

Let’s start by taking all the useless work out of the equation. If we all had a say, would we spend millions of hours of our time for selling insurance or creating adverts for hundred of types of face-wipe? Let’s cut this short and say that if everyone works and we all work in something that actually creates the stuff and the care and the knowledge we all need, we would all work no more than three hours a day.

That’s already something. We could finally breath, sit together, heal, and think some more. Now that we work less, how can we organise work in a way that makes it more joyful and gives everyone more of a say? Let’s start with a group of 200 people, that is a nice size for various reasons. If you work and live with the same three people, you will get on each others nerves – and you wouldn’t be able to do many jobs. A group of 200 people can get to know each other, you don’t have to feel lonely, but you also don’t have to step on each others toes too much. A group of 200 is not too big a size to imagine making decisions together, organising certain jobs. You can organise work effectively, for example if a group of ten people cook for the rest, this is more productive than everyone cooking for themselves. You can rotate jobs, so you don’t have to be a cook for life. The same is true for childcare, care for the sick, doing some gardening, building a wind turbine. With many things it makes more sense to share it, than to use everything individually. You could have one laundrette, instead of 200 individual washing machines. You can have a small cinema, a nice pub, a decent band.

But then we don’t live in the middle-ages anymore. There are many things that won’t be effective if they are done in millions of small villages of 200 people. There are decisions to be made that affect millions at the same time. And you might not want to stick with the same 200 people for the rest of your life anyway! Things get a bit more complex here, but its not rocket-science – or perhaps it is. We can apply the same main guidelines: effectiveness, joy, decision-making and future impact. We can think about things like agriculture, energy production and manufacturing of the big washing machines for our laundrettes. There are hundreds of possible ways to do this. In the current society profit is the main guideline, which means that some agricultural products or washing machines are transported around the earth, because that’s the way to increase profits, although it wastes time and creates more pollution. We still use a vast amount of fossil fuels for energy production, because profit as a guideline is not interested in what is happening fifty years down the line. Most people waste their lives on the washing-machine assembly line, while management keeps a few others cooped up in engineering departments – mainly for reasons of divide-and-rule.

If we apply our guidelines instead of profit goals there will still be different options to decide. One option would be that 20 ‘villages’… – wait let’s call them ‘communities’ instead, as they are neither town nor village – would pool time and (wo)manpower together and build a local wind farm. They can keep it close to home, many people can engage with the project and it doesn’t create much environmental damage. Another option would be to build a bigger hydro-power plant, which would require the input of 200 communities. 

The hydro-power would be more effective and its production have less environmental impact in the long-run – but the control over the running of it would be shared by a much larger group of people, which means that there is perhaps a less direct say in it. There are two valid options and a decision has to be made. Again, in the current system these decisions are mainly influenced by very removed factors: the share-price development of the energy company, the political career ambitions of the political parties. The whole thing would keep thousands of bribe-taking bureaucrats busy for ten years: do you remember the fuck-ups of the Crossrail, HighSpeedRail2, Berlin airport construction or Heathrow expansion?

We see that we have to think a bit bigger than a group of villages. But that shouldn’t be a problem really – modern means of communication can help us to widen the direct discussion amongst 200 or 2,000 to a much wider scale. Even before the invention of the internet people came up with effective delegate systems to discuss and make decisions about bigger social issues, e.g. through workers’ councils during times of upheaval. Some things might be decided by majority vote of delegates. But in the end things are simple: if five pissy communities think they can mess five hundred communities around by not cooperating, let’s see how they survive on their own. We need each other, this is not always nice, but in most cases it will help in finding the best solution for everyone.

And our lives would not be confined to a group of 200. We will spend some of our time with others developing better robots for the local washing machine plant. Next day we might be organising a festival for a dozen communities in the region. And after having survived the hangover we engage in discussions about whether or not 5% of the available ‘(wo)men power’ of our region can be spent on building a GPS-controlled solar-tractor, which will save us 10% of time five years down the line. This might seem like having five jobs at the same time. But remembert, by focusing on the real stuff we will have to work less hours, we won’t have to do the same thing day in day out, but have our hands in the earth on some days and our heads in the (engineering) clouds the other. And most importantly, we will be surrounded by folks who are not as miserable, grumpy and depressed as our current workmates – because it will be fun!

So let’s zoom out for a moment, and what can we see from up above? We can see clusters of communities, which are mainly consumption units and units of small-scale production and maintenance. Neighbouring the communities we see bigger agricultural areas, communal tech-laboratories and production units that supply a certain region, interspersed with free-for-all spas, rehearsal rooms and amusement parks. There is a lot of wild forest land and race-track for Mad-Max type of vehicles. People work in the production units according to need and preference. Communities and productive units are all linked up with a top-notch intra-web system that communicates supply and demand for goods and labour and exchanges constant improvement suggestions regarding home-made turnip pickles or the latest automated 3D-printing device. Here we finally find a good use for our friends the algorythm and platform technology, who under the current system are mainly used to supply overweight students with KFC junk delivered from around the corner or Instagram-addicted teenagers with live-streamed advice about how to self-harm. If we think systematically, there will be many decisions on a local and regional level, there will be less, but important decisions on a continental scale (e..g. energy and transport infrastructure) and a few big ones that concern the whole globe (e.g. climate change and how to get coffee to Aberdeen and salmon to Nairobi). We won’t need diplomacy, ambassadors and national politics and all that. We only have to decide how to build or maintain certain infrastructure that might affect everyone in a larger region and how we exchange goods that cannot be produced everywhere. In the end we all need each other on this spaceship earth. Not rocket-science.

“Right, rocketman, here is ground-control, what about the slackers, what about everyone just trying to get shit for free without doing their bit?” Sister, the current system gives these people the best opportunities. The current system is anonymous, everyone can get away with shit. If you live in close cooperation with 200 others, they can call you out and kick your arse. In the current system, if you get your hands on money you can order others to kill. In the new system there won’t be no money. In the current system you get cosy with the politicians and they will give you power. In the new system there won’t be no professional politicians. 

They won’t give up their power just like that, just because we’ve got a better idea of how to run things” You are right, the whole thing won’t come out of thin air or by six billion people sitting together having tea. Those who are in power now won’t like all this. And us, who are exploited and without power, have to learn how to get things done. This is why the whole process needs a revolution.

The big scary ‘R’-word

If you hear revolution you either think blood and massacre or a new conditioner that makes your hair grow back. Fair enough. What we mean by revolution is the process to get from this society to a new one. Because one thing is certain, the new society will not grow out of 200 people sitting together and doing gardening. As we have seen in history, one of the main problems of previous revolutions was that people get isolated in too small units. They were either starved or beaten. Neither can these changes be voted in, not by Corbyn, not by Farage, not by anyone. Because what we want is deeply illegal: we want that everything we produce belongs to everyone, and not a few. We want to take back control for real!

Revolution seems a big dirty word indeed. But in a way we mean something that is already happening. When workers occupy their factory because management wants to close it, they take control and learn how to do things together. If 2,000 people in yellow vests in a small town in France come together and block a roundabout, they learn. If these 2,000 then coordinate their actions with people across the region, and that’s what the Yellow Vests did in 2019, they learn. There are struggles everywhere, where working people take back control for a moment. In these struggles we have to build links across sectors and borders. This has happened before, there were many ‘revolutionary international organisations’ – we have seen earlier on why they have failed. Movements like in Chile or Ecuador in 2019 create the experiences of many ‘communities of 200’, in assemblies or occupations. At the same time they create experiences of the big necessary links, through strikes that cross the vast space from universities to copper mines.

We need a vision of change that touches all workers around the globe – in their own conditions. Uprisings in war-torn countries like Sudan, Libya or the Congo are different from mass strikes in the new factories in China or India. People fighting against poverty and violence in poor towns in Detroit or Sao Paolo face different conditions to software workers fighting against their management in Silicon Valley. But we all have something to contribute to this revolution. We need a plan of how we make the best use of our specific weapons: for some it is the fact that if they go on strike they can cripple a whole industry – for others it is the fact that they know how to create neighbourhood assemblies and organise community services themselves. The challenge will be to bring all this together in a movement with a common goal: to take-over the means we need to produce our lives.

“If you touch them, there will be murder, man! You seen what happened to old Gaddafi!”. Never mind Gaddafi, but you are right, brother. Those in power will try and stop us – they always have tried. In all revolutions the armies split. The lower ranks of any army is made up of working class people. If a movement can show that a goal of creating a better society for all, many will be on our side. Our biggest weapon is solidarity. See it this way, brother, if we are quick and united and get our friends in the railways, power-plants, food factories, hospitals and telecommunication centres to take over and thousands to defend and support them, who is in power then?

The main task during the transition from the current system to a new system will be to even out the productive assets around the globe – the energy infrastructure, the modern machines, the knowledge. In the end those in power can only stay in power if they make poor people wage war against each other. We have to make a clear proposal: get rid of those in power and and the revolution will give workers in all regions access to the means to produce and make decisions about their lives. If all this sounds abstract and scary, let’s just look again at what is already happening: since World War II the world has never been at peace, but we have been killing each other for the gains of politicians and corporations. In comparison a revolution is a necessary act to create peace.

And today? Tomorrow?

This is about sticking together when the manager bullies us at work. This is about building groups and organisations that we run ourselves, to oppose the closure of libraries or organise a strike for better wages. This is about feeling solidarity and learning how to organise ourselves here and now. This is about following and learning from what is going on elsewhere, be it strikes at Amazon in Poland or uprisings in Hong Kong. This is about being curious about what is produced where, how, and by whom in our region. This is about finding each other in the moment of struggle and sticking together afterwards. Movements against austerity, against corruption, for better living conditions will erupt again and again, no question – in the current system this is like a law of nature. We have to help these movements find a direction. Instead of banging our heads against the walls of town halls and government buildings we have to prepare ourselves to take things over. In the end it all boils down to the old question: revolution, or waiting for things to get worse.