The Promise and Peril of the Third
Wave: Socialism and Democracy for the 21st Century
(page 6 of 7)
By Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris
The Chicago Third Wave Study Group / May 1, 1993
view of ownership is that it is an institution of power. If
I own something, I have decisive power over that object. I
should be able to do with it what I want. This can cause problems,
since many of the things that can be owned can also be used
in ways that society must restrict. One example is product
liability law. If I produce and market a product, which is
later shown to be harmful to my customers, I can be held responsible
for the damages and forced to compensate the victims.
society, individual liberty and the private ownership of property
are the fundamental values. Prior to the bourgeois revolution,
most power and wealth belonged to the church and the throne.
Individual privacy, to the extent that it could be defined
at all, was wholly subordinate to autocracy and theocracy.
The rising bourgeoisie had to assert the primacy of private
property into order secure the wealth it was amassing through
the slave trade, manufacture and the looting of the new world.
It wanted to multiply this wealth by recycling it as capital
and thus liberating the productive forces from the restrictions
of medieval or despotic society. Private property in this
sense was a revolutionary force undermining the old order.
this view of private property has some historical justification,
the concept of a formal private ownership that takes precedence
over social obligation does not. The latter is based on the
myth that society has little or nothing to do with the production
of wealth, i.e. all millionaires are supposedly "self-made
men" who got their wealth "the old-fashioned way,
by earning it."
one is self-made. It is our social being that makes our private
selves possible. All of us benefit from and contribute to
society and its institutions. The large variations in wealth
among individuals are not due to inherent differences between
individuals. At best, the differences are rooted in the various
ways individuals are able to access and use society's resources.
At worse, the differences are wholly arbitrary; they are accidents
of birth, or war, or theft.
view of socialism, we affirm the entrepreneurial spirit, the
motivating energy of the market and the right of individuals
to become wealthy through the private ownership of the capital
they have helped to create. At the same time, we fundamentally
reorder priorities in how both property and capital is defined.
While both personal property and capital may still be owned
by individuals. we no longer see ownership as an absolute
power. Property, especially productive property in the form
of capital, is to be seen primarily as a social power relation
that can be guided and regulated, just as other power relations
are regulated for the common good of society. Incomes are
also subject to progressive taxation.
perspective, when a person dies, his or her socially productive
wealth returns to the social commonwealth. The inheritance
rights of one's offspring would be confined to a set limit,
say, $1 million per child. Of course, contrary to any right-wing
hysterics, we are not talking about family homes, or heirlooms,
or personal belongings, or any situation where persons would
not even own the shirt on their backs.
see socialism, the social control of capital takes precedence
over the rights of ownership of capital. In doing so, distinctions
will be made first of all between individual property and
capital. Individual property is owned by an individual for
his or her own benefit (or family or friends), not as a direct
agent for the production of wealth by employing others. Property
becomes capital when it is used for the production of wealth
by exploiting labor power.
property needs to be reasonably protected. But capital needs
to be invested profitably in those areas that benefit society
and sustain the ecosphere. Laws and regulations are among
the tools that a government of radical reconstruction can
use to achieve these goals without "nationalizing"
or "statizing" the ownership of capital itself.
In particular, tax laws can be created to punish capital invested
in unproductive speculation, or in production processes that
pollute the environment, or in factories that prevent unionization.
At the same time, other enterprises that offer or create societal
benefits--such as new environmentally beneficial technologies--may
not be taxed at all for a set period. Finally, some forms
of capital investment--such as schools, research centers and
infrastructure--will be publicly owned.
here is sustainable economics that is both dynamic and innovative.
Under third wave socialism, the laws governing economic transactions
first of all will be geared to sustain and improve the health
of society and the environment. Power relations that are in
harmony with this direction will be reinforced. Power relations
that go against this direction will be retarded.
context, market forces, in particular the drive for innovation
and new profits, will be the major devices used to carry out
economic restructuring. It should be clear by now that the
market is necessary for the practical functioning of any economy.
We will go further: we don't think there are or will be stable
economies without markets, except for small tribal hunter-gatherer
societies or religious communities like the Amish. Wherever
a "command" economy was established on a larger
scale, an unofficial "black" market quickly asserted
itself as the only efficient way of getting things done.
also believe there is no such thing as a "free"
market--all markets operate in uneven fields of power that
have an impact on transactions between buyer and seller. Nor
is a "free" market necessarily desirable, since
unrestrained market forces can be tremendously destructive
to both social and biological values.
where the fields of power are guided by intelligence, however,
can be a dynamic and creative force. But using market laws
to direct the economy toward sustainability will never be
easy. This is why political democracy is so critical. When
new problems arise, laws must be changed or created to reflect
new circumstances. These laws need to be crafted democratically
so that everyone can have an impact on the direction of the
market, rather than just a narrow elite that directs the market
for its own exclusive benefit.
for a New Strategy and Tactics
do we go from here? The road forward is not in the direction
of old ideas about social and political equality but toward
new ones based on the realities of the third wave. This in
turn requires fresh answers to the fundamental question of
strategy and tactics: Who are our friends, who are our enemies?
these questions must be answered anew from the perspective
of the third wave's impact. We offer only a bare outline of
the factors to consider.
wave has caused splits both in the labor movement and in the
ruling classes. Among the capitalists, those trying to create
the new information based economy are often in conflict with
those that are trying to keep the old industrial beast alive.
Among the workers, the situation is more complex. Some high-tech
workers have great hope for the third wave but are dubious
that those in power now will ever allow for change that is
democratic or ecologically sound.
workers fear for the future and fight to retain old ways,
regardless of the consequences to society or the environment.
Finally some under skilled or untrained workers have been
driven from their jobs or excluded from employment altogether:
Their efforts to keep hope alive are often overwhelmed by
despair. More >>