Issue 1 - Summer 1994

The Promise and Peril of the Third Wave: Socialism and Democracy for the 21st Century (page 5 of 7)
By Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris
The Chicago Third Wave Study Group / May 1, 1993

Democracy, Education and Science: The Key To The Politics of the Third Wave

Without democracy, there is no science. Without science, there will be no sustainable technology and economic life. And without sustainable economics, there is no socialism worthy of the name. Scientific inquiry is inherently democratic. It is the open investigation into life and its environment in which knowledge is true or false not because of the declarations of powerful authorities, but because statements can be validated or invalidated as fact by anyone.

Of course, there are powerful scientific elites, which protect the interest of the ruling class. But they are not only anti-democratic they are anti-scientific as well. Their willingness to support the aims of the highest bidder compels them to restrict challenges to established views. It thus impedes the growth of objectivity, and represses democratic debate and investigation.
Because of the information revolution, third wave society will undergo a decentralization of mass industrial patterns. The only path in which the new productive forces can be fully used is one where information is shared through universal education and open scientific discussion. Capitalism's tendency, however, is to own and restrict information, thus increasing the stratification of society and corrupting the liberating potential of the post- industrial world.

Third wave socialist democracy requires a radical restructuring of educational and cultural life. Every citizen needs access to the growing wealth of knowledge in order to pursue their own interests and to enrich the common good. To flourish, such a democracy must affirm opportunities for diversity, since expanded access to knowledge rests upon the empowerment of all races, nationalities and social strata. Multiculturalism is thus a natural component of the third wave, but it can develop best within a socialist and democratic framework.

"Life Long Learning"--the provision of ongoing, affordable, high quality educational resources for people of all ages--is essential to third wave democracy. In a society in which information-rich processes are the key mode of production, access to knowledge is the key to equality. Moreover, the full creative force of society can only be realized through education. The revolutionary use of information in all spheres of life; the expansion of art, science and leisure; the discovery of new knowledge and the saving of the ecosphere--all these challenges of the future require democratic access to knowledge. Lifelong learning, in and out of the classroom, is a condition of survival in the short run and liberation in the long run.

In a third wave socialism, all of society would be involved in scientific debate. Many scientific issues--such as pollution, reproductive rights, or the effect of drugs or chemicals on people--affect everyone in their daily life. By organizing a continuous platform for open investigation and debate, the institutions of science will become stronger, as will the institutions of democracy.

Of course not all issues concern all people equally. But the radical restructuring of education will provide the channels of access for all people to participate in the public discussions that concern or interest them, including scientific discussion. This will strengthen their democratic impulse to participate effectively and fully in societal decision- making. By respecting and drawing on practical life experience coupled with scientific education, all of our institutions can become more open and democratic.

We favor the form of democracy where sovereignty resides in the people themselves. This means no class, party or state institution or social grouping has an unrestricted or unlimited power that can stand over and against the will of the people. Given the vast inequalities of wealth, power and privilege, democracy in this sense is still mainly a goal to be won and established, even in the countries calling themselves democracies.

We agree with the theory that the state throughout history has never been a neutral institution, but an instrument of the dominant classes. The over centralized state power of second wave industrialism especially must be broken up and radically reconstructed if a new popular government is to serve the needs of empowering a new coalition of those previously excluded from government. A participatory democracy of this type, we believe, draws upon the best of the Marxist tradition with American radical tradition of John Dewey and W.E.B. DuBois.

But under a socialist democracy of the third wave, centralization is scaled downward while communications are vastly enhanced. Participation becomes more practical; more power will be decentralized and directly elected officials will run more institutions. Institutions relating to the administration of justice, the care of the environment, the maintenance of universal health care, the upkeep of the educational infrastructure and the control of the police--all these processes can come under the greater supervision of the citizenry.

A healthy and sustainable democracy is therefore one where the people have the power and ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. To be practical, socialist democracy thus must not only recognize each individual's democratic rights, but also the rights of groups of individuals that have been excluded from participation and singled out for oppression over the years--oppressed nationalities, racial and religious minorities, women, gays and lesbians, and others. For the oppressed nationalities, this means political power and self-determination in their areas of concentration.

In this way, socialist democracy means that the legacy of oppression, both past and present, can be worked out explicitly through social policies and grass-roots empowerment, rather than resolved as a mystical or automatic outcome of formal or legal equality. Socialist democracy thus values not only each individual, but takes into account each individual's social identity as well.

Economic Features of Third Wave Socialism: The Democratic Alienation of Control from Ownership

A sustainable and dynamic socialist economy will depend on two key features: first, the separation of ownership of capital from the control of capital and second, and the guided use of markets for the distribution of capital, goods and services.

We acknowledge that this is not an orthodox statement. Marx defined capitalism as the economic system that was driven by the alienation of labor from capital. In other words, the people that created wealth did not own the means of creating it. Previous socialists held that the solution was to unite labor and capital under the control of labor. We believe this view has failed.

We want to argue for a new viewpoint. We see socialism as the economic system that alienates the ownership of capital from its control. Capital is a social pattern of value. Since it is collectively produced and depends on the organization of society for its effective use, it is reasonable to limit what individual, private owners can do with capital. This is not a necessarily a new idea; both eminent domain and product liability laws are based on this notion. More >>

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