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Creating Alternatives to Capitalism

At a recent workshop, I reminded people of something that Harvey Jackins had pointed out. He said that the new system always develops within the existing system. This means that as we witness the collapse of this economic system, we may also see elements of an alternative system developing alongside the collapse.

I mentioned some exciting and hopeful things that are happening in Greece, Spain, Chiapas (Mexico), Bolivia, and other parts of the world. It was clear that some people were not familiar with at least some of these. They asked for more details.

I talked a bit about Chiapas, where Indigenous people are practising direct democracy and self-management on a large scale. I quoted someone from Chiapas who described it as similar to the Paris Commune* but on a much larger scale and over a much longer period of time. People at the workshop found this very hopeful.

At a time when lots of things could cause us to feel hopeless, I think it makes sense for us to learn about the various signs of hope that are also present in the world. I would like to invite you to search for examples of attempts to resist, or to build alternatives to, this economic system. The examples could be at a local, national or international level.

Seán Ruth
International Liberation Reference
Person for Middle-Class People
Stillorgan, County Dublin, Ireland


Thanks for this important perspective, Seán, and the reminder to seek out the good news from around the world. I accept your invitation to share stories of success.

I would refer people to my article “Leading Is Just a Job You Learn How to Do” in the pamphlet A New Kind of Communicator. It tells how we used the four organizational forms of RC—the session, the support group, the class, and the leaders’ group—to organize our group of hand sewers of shoes, and other workers.

For years at workshops I have been saying that our work is to build within the oppressive system the structures that will remain in place after the current oppressive structure has collapsed. You can see people doing this in every dysfunctional and collapsing society, and in times of war. People are resilient. I am reading an article about how ordinary people in Sierra Leone and Liberia are creating their own organization in response to the Ebola epidemic, as the international community’s aid has been too inadequate and too late in many instances. What is exciting is that we could do this in a more deliberate and organized way in a time of relative peace, not just when the situation forces us to. That was my goal in going to work in the factory, and I am pleased with what I was able to do.

At workshops, after I’ve talked about the inevitable collapse of capitalism, people have asked me, “What do you think the rational classless society of the future will look like?” Many have asked for a picture of an alternative economy. I do not think that that’s the key issue. I think that the economy, and all other issues, will sort themselves out once we have figured out how to relate to each other in a human way. (I don’t mean that we should not be experimenting with new models. I’m just saying that the best models fail under the force of human patterns and that it is key that we learn to keep the patterns in check until we can discharge them.) I think the most significant transformation will not be in the economic structure but in the way that humans relate to each other. When asked the question, “What will the future classless society look like?” I say, “Well, very much like this workshop:

  • Everyone has a job.
  • Lots of work gets done. People do it willingly, without a lot of supervision.
  • There is lots of room for initiative and creativity.
  • Leadership is encouraged. Anyone can propose and lead a group on any topic, and there are also many designated leaders.
  • People are listened to with respect. People agree to listen to things that are upsetting and may challenge them to change the way they act and think. People have agreed to welcome the upset in the interest of ending oppression.
  • Lots of concrete problems get solved relatively easily. We do a lot of significant things in a short amount of time.
  • We try to face everything that humans struggle with.
  • Despite the hard work, we usually come away inspired and energized.”

Using the organizational forms of RC, without a union or visible organization, my co-workers and I were able to encourage initiatives such as the following:

  • We held strikes that increased our pay and met our demands for being treated respectfully.
  • Sections of the factory were turned over to me and our “organization” while supervisors went on leave.
  • We got one of our workers on the management and engineering team that reorganized the whole factory to use a better and safer production process. It was based on a method our team had invented and used secretly during a very oppressive time and that had then spread secretly through most of the factory. (One day our very oppressive vice president “took a session” in front of a meeting of all the workers. He said that he could not understand why every good plan he had [for making things more oppressive] died when it came to our building.)
  • We eliminated many manifestations of sexism and racism. Forty-seven of us white working-class hand sewers went to management and proposed that we work only four days a week to save the jobs of the three Korean-immigrant hand sewers who were the last hired. The management agreed, and those people kept their jobs.
  • I organized a sports league in the factory, and we played every day on breaks and during lunch. We used it to organize ourselves in a visible way that would not scare management. I had won people’s agreement for a handicap system that would allow each team to play as equals to the other. This allowed women and immigrants who had never played the game to participate as equals. At the end-of-season tournament my partner, another white man, and I were playing against two women—one an immigrant from Taiwan, the other from Korea. Lots of workers came out to watch the game, and everyone was cheering for the two women. A young man who had been a drug dealer but had cleaned himself up came up to me almost in tears saying he had never been in a place where working-class people were appreciating each other—even when competing in games.

The transformation of the relationships, the ending of sexism and racism, and the ways that people related to each other were the significant change from which all the other successes followed.

Factory Worker
Reprinted from an RC
e-mail discussion list

* The Paris Commune was a revolutionary socialist government that ruled Paris (France) from March 18 to May 28, 1871.


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00