DEMOCRACY & NATURE: The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY vol. 5, no. 1, (March 1999)

On a distorted view of the Inclusive Democracy project

printable version




David Curtis’ contribution to the dialogue initiated by the letters of resignation from the Intern. Advisory Board by Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl  is a useful clarification of the theoretical differences between Bookchin and Castoriadis. It could also play a valuable role in giving D&N the opportunity to clarify further its aims.  

This is particularly so when the nature of the liberatory project promoted by the journal is hardly recognisable in Curtis’ distorted description of it. Indeed the very fact that Curtis spent almost half of his contribution to attack vehemently the nature of our project and my own views on it gives the impression that the real aim of his contribution was not to clarify the theoretical differences between Bookchin and Castoriadis but rather to dissociate the Castoriadian thought from the attempted synthesis by this journal. In this, he simply follows Bookchin’s example who, as John Ely pointedly observed in an earlier version of his bookreview article published in this issue, “the interesting attempt to synthesise Castoriadis and Bookchin into a theory of democracy sketched out by Takis Fotopoulos (Towards a New Conception of Democracy, D&N Vol. 3, No. 2) led to Bookchin’s withdrawal from the project in the next issue (vol. 3 no 3); Castoriadis doesn’t need to ‘withdraw’ because he has simply pretended thinker Fotopoulos doesn’t exist.” I would only add here that Castoriadis’ambivalent treatment of our journal becomes obvious by the fact that, although he knew that its aims were very close to his declared aims, this never induced him to support it in any active way, not even in terms of honouring us with an original, unpublished text (Murray, to his credit, did not have such reservations) –something that forced us to rely on a few reprints of his work (for the not always adequate translation of which we have already apologised). 

At the outset, I have to disagree with both Curtis and Ely as far as the ‘personalisation’ of the Inclusive Democracy project is concerned. It is a serious misconception of D&N’s aims to identify the synthesis it has attempted with particular personalities. Irrespective of how important Castoriadis’ and Bookchin’ contributions may have been to the autonomous/democratic traditions and the libertarian/radical green movement respectively, they cannot, surely, be identified with them! But, D&N clearly stated, since its very first issue, back in 1992, that the liberatory project was seen as “a dialectical synthesis of three tendencies that are expressed in corresponding political traditions and movements: the autonomous-democratic tradition (that includes the feminist movement), the libertarian socialist and the radical green movements”. The non-mentioning of any names was not accidental but a deliberate decision not to identify the attempted synthesis with any dogmas or gurus, since such identification would surely not be compatible with the very nature of the new liberatory project.  

Still, Curtis, abridging arbitrarily and quoting out of context a statement included in my reply to Bookchin’s resignation letter, ‘humbly’ submits that ‘this whole personality-oriented way of posing the question of the furtherance of the liberatory project is misguided’. In fact, however, the only statement where I ever related the attempted synthesis to specific personalities is a statement which, if quoted in full, makes obvious to any bona fide reader that its aim was simply to show that the attempted synthesis does not belong to any particular ‘school’. Here is the statement in full: 

both the main (my emphasis)  exponents of two of the major components of the attempted synthesis, Castoriadis and Bookchin, refrained from endorsing my book, when asked to do so, perhaps because both do not see the need for any synthesis involving their respective ‘schools’. In a sense, this might be a significant indication that the attempted synthesis has achieved at least one major aim, that is, to be a real synthesis and not just a ‘Castoriadian’ or ‘Bookchinite’ clone”.  

The reason I wished to make this fact clear was because I was too aware of what John Ely calls “Anarchism as sect ideology” and his statement that “the fate of Bookchin's teaching and Castoriadis' project reflect difficulties establishing a coherent continuity of theory and practice.  Arguably the two most important libertarian social and political thinkers of the twentieth century, their corpus will be completed without one noticing the other outside of tortured attempts to avoid each other's conceptual themes.” As far as Curtis’s insinuations that the project for an Inclusive Democracy may be an attempt for the creation of a new ‘school’, I think that a re-reading of the journal’s statement OUR AIMS and a careful examination by him of the past issues of the journal, which make obvious its pluralistic character, might be particularly instructive.  

Having said that, it seems very ironic that Curtis, of all people, objects to a ‘personality-oriented way of posing the question of the furtherance of the liberatory project’ at the very moment he himself, in the very second sentence of his contribution, not only (unlike D&N) personalises the attempted synthesis but he even ‘finds it inherently appealing‘! Still, when faced with a concrete attempt for such a synthesis, he became utterly dismissive. However, if one examines in detail his criticisms, as I am going to do here, it becomes clear that all his disagreements are related to the fact that the attempted synthesis makes proposals which differ from the ones suggested by Castoriadis in his early work. It is therefore obvious that what attracted Curtis’s wrath is that the attempted synthesis cannot be personalised and expressed as a by- product of Castoriadian thought (as he presumably would have liked) since it includes radical differences from not only the thought of Bookchin, which I examined elsewhere[1] but also from that of Castoriadis, which I will examine here. 

In fact, Curtis himself makes obvious these differences by directing his attack against them. Thus, having attributed to the journal the aim of synthesising the views of two thinkers and having lectured us against this pigment of his imagination, he proceeds to his real aim. That is, to denigrate the project for an Inclusive democracy as a prefabricated ‘model’ to which everybody has to conform. Three points have to be made here. 

The first point is that the nature and the origin of the project for an Inclusive Democracy have nothing to do with the distorted picture of it given by Curtis. This project is obviously neither ‘prefabricated’ nor it came about ‘via the "synthesis" of some people's ideas in a journal’, as Curtis distortedly presents it. The project for an Inclusive Democracy, i.e. for political and economic democracy, as well as ecological democracy and democracy in the social realm, represents the synthesis of existing traditions and movements. It expresses a synthesis of the classical democratic and socialist traditions, whilst it also encompasses the contemporary movements for emancipation: the radical green and feminist movements, as well as the indigenous and radical Third World movements. This is so because its main components cannot even be defined, if separated from these traditions and movements. Thus, 

  • political democracy cannot be defined without reference to the democratic tradition, which originated in classical Athens and re-appeared again in the medieval free cities of Europe, and, in recent times, in the insurrections of the sixties, the new social movements in the seventies and eighties, and the community movements in the nineties

  • economic democracy cannot be determined without reference to the socialist tradition, as developed in the last two centuries and, in particular,  the attempts for workers’ self-management  before and after the second world war

  • ecological democracy, as well as of democracy in the social realm, are simply impossible to be defined with no reference to the social movements (green, feminist, student movements) which have been developed in the second half of this century.  

So, the message is very much formulated, to use Curtis’ expression, “in tandem with and respect for people's present (halting and fragmented) tendencies and aspirations toward autonomy (or, freedom)”. Furthermore, I would add, the project for an inclusive democracy is not a utopia in the negative sense of the word. A liberatory project is not a utopia if it is based on today's reality. And today's reality is summed up by an unprecedented crisis of the `growth economy', a crisis which engulfs all societal realms (political, economic, social, and cultural) as well as the Society-Nature relationship. Furthermore, a liberatory project is not a utopia, if it expresses the discontent of significant social sectors and their, explicit or implicit, contesting of existing society.[2] 

The second point that has to be stressed is that the project for Inclusive Democracy represents a real synthesis of the above traditions and movements and not just a compilation of the tendencies expressed within them. Although the conception of Inclusive Democracy is based on the classical division between the two main societal realms, the public and the private, still, it also transcends this division. Thus, it introduces in the first place a new realm, the "ecological realm", defined as the sphere of the relations between the natural and the social worlds. Furthermore, the public realm itself, contrary to the practice of many supporters of the republican or democratic project, includes in this project not just the political realm, (i.e. the sphere of political decision-taking, the area where political power is exercised) but also the economic realm (i.e. the sphere of economic decision-taking, the area where economic power is exercised with respect to the broad economic choices that any scarcity society has to make). Finally, the public realm is extended to include also part of the ‘social’ realm, (i.e. the sphere of decision taking in the workplace, the education place and any other economic, social or cultural institution, which is a constituent element of a democratic society). Correspondingly, Inclusive Democracy encompasses any area of human activity where decisions can be taken collectively and democratically. In this sense, political, economic and democracy in the social realm are defined as the institutional framework that aims at the equal distribution of political, economic and social power respectively, in other words, it is defined as the system which aims at the effective elimination of the domination of human being over human being. Similarly, ecological democracy is defined as the institutional framework that aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the system which aims to reintegrate humans and nature.  

It is therefore obvious that Inclusive Democracy (sometimes confused by Curtis with ‘political ecology’!) is a much broader conception than the usual libertarian conception of a future society (proposed by Bookchin and other writers) expressed in terms of direct democracy plus a municipalised  ‘moral economy’, in the framework of a post-scarcity society, This is so, not only because Inclusive democracy incorporates political and economic decisions taken by confederated community assemblies, as well as decisions taken by assemblies at the place of work, education etc. But, even more crucial, because the economic decisions taken in an inclusive democracy involve crucial decisions about the allocation of scarce resources and not just, basically, administrative decisions in a society where machines do most of the work, as those assuming that technologically we have already reached a post-scarcity potential maintain[3]. In fact, a post-scarcity society, if it is founded on an objective definition of needs and the technological potential, is nothing but a mythical state of affairs. Even if it was possible to define basic needs objectively, it is certainly impossible to define objectively satisfiers, i.e. the means to satisfy them, let alone non-basic needs, which have become increasingly important in today’s advanced societies. So, a post-scarcity society is not just a matter of redistribution of wealth, as it is naively assumed by many libertarians. This means that for any liberatory project to look realistic and not just a utopia it has to include a visualisation of the institutions, which would allow a democratic decision-taking in the context of a scarcity society. It is therefore utterly inadequate for a realistic liberatory project just to be involved in wishful thinking about how a moral economy will solve, more or less automatically, all economic problems (if the term is appropriate) of a mythical post-scarcity society.[4] It is now obvious that if an alternative to the presently universalised market economy form of social organisation is to inspire today’s demoralised peoples the feasibility of such an alternative society has to be clearly shown. 

The third point that I would like to make is that the project for an Inclusive Democracy is not a ‘model’ to be ‘copied’, as Curtis asserts. Inclusive Democracy simply defines the institutional preconditions for the equal distribution of all forms of power, i.e. for individual and collective autonomy. To describe it as a ‘model’ is equivalent to describing the concept of direct political democracy, (which represents only one dimension of Inclusive Democracy), as a ‘model’. But, then, Arendt, Bookchin, many other libertarian thinkers and Castoriadis himself have to be blamed as exhorting us to conform to prefabricated ‘models’!  

It is only in one sense that I spoke of a model. This was when I proposed a model for economic democracy in D&N no 9. But, then, I made absolutely clear the aim and nature of this ‘model’ as follows[5]

Although it is up to the citizens’ assemblies of the future to design the form an inclusive democracy will take, I think that it is important to demonstrate that such a form of society is not only necessary, so that the present descent to barbarism can be avoided, but feasible as well. This is particularly important today when the self–styled ‘left’ has abandoned any vision of a society that is not based on the market economy and liberal ‘democracy’, which they take for granted, and has dismissed any alternative visions as ‘utopian’ (in the negative sense of the word). It is therefore necessary to show that it is in fact the ‘Left’s’ vision of ‘radical’ democracy which, in taking for granted the present internationalised market economy, may be characterised as utterly unrealistic. But, I think it is equally important to attempt to outline how an alternative society based on an inclusive democracy might try to sort out the basic socio–economic problems that any society has to deal with, under conditions of scarce resources and not in an imagined state of post–scarcity. Such an attempt may not only help supporters of the democratic project form a more concrete idea of the society they wish to see but also assist them in addressing the ‘utopianism’ criticisms raised against them. 

It obviously requires a large element of bad faith to describe a visualisation of economic democracy, preceded by the above statement, as a ‘model to be copied by everybody’, as Curtis does. Particularly so, when Castoriadis himself in his early works described, in meticulous detail, his own model of workers’ management.[6] It is clear that the sole aim of my proposal was to illustrate the feasibility of an alternative form of economic organisation, i.e. one which would not be based on either of the two historical forms of allocation of scarce resources which, both, blatantly failed to create conditions of economic democracy: the system of market economy and the system of socialist planning. The need to show this feasibility is particularly important today when the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ has persuaded everybody, even many of the Marxists, post-Marxists, ex-Marxists et al who still condemn capitalist production relations, about the benefits of the market.  

In this problematique, it is indeed preposterous that Curtis accuses the Inclusive Democracy project as encouraging conformism in the following outrageous statement:

If an international journal of politics and ecology like D&N is committed to the "autonomy project" and/or to "freedom" defined in terms of confederal municipalism, "communalism," or any other extension or restatement of libertarian socialism under present conditions, its main job, in my humble opinion, is to examine closely and elucidate critically what people's exemplary potentials for free or autonomous action are today, not to offer them ideal "models" (a point on which Bookchin and Castoriadis would probably agree) to . . . well, to do what with?  . . . copy. There's enough conformism in the world today without libertarian socialists going out of their way to encourage more of it.   

And the above statement is outrageous on two counts. First, Castoriadis (unlike Bookchin who does not even bother to describe how a future economy may work because he believes in the mythical post-scarcity society) has proposed, as I mentioned above, a detailed description of the model of a socialist planned economy. Furthermore, both the early and the later Castoriadis (the distinction between ‘early’ and ‘later’ Castoriadis, as I showed elsewhere[7] is necessary) has, rightly, insisted on the need to describe the institutional framework of the future society so that its feasibility is demonstrable. Thus, the early Castoriadis stressed that:

Just as we must avoid the fetishism of ‘statutes’ we should also condemn any sort of ‘anarchist’ or ‘spontaneist’ fetishism that, in the belief that the working class consciousness ultimately will determine everything, takes little or no interest in the forms such consciousness should take if it wants to be effective in changing society…the definition of socialist society that we are attempting therefore requires of us some description of how we visualize its institutions and of the way they will function.[8] 

Also, the later Castoriadis, although he rightly criticized any attempt to describe a pseudoconcrete utopia, defended again his right to put down proposals about the shape of an autonomous society as follows:

It seemed to me at the time and it still seems to me now of capital importance to show that the project of autonomy is not just anything, that it can give itself the means for its ends, and that it does not present, as far off as one can see, any internal antinomy, incoherency, or impossibility[9]    

Second, the academisation of later Castoriadis is well known when, after twenty years of work as Director of National Accounts and Growth studies at the OECD, he abandoned not only all political work in the last twenty five years of his life or so, but he also shifted the emphasis of his theoretical work away from revolutionary political theory to abstract theorizing. Not surprisingly, the later Catoriadis is respected today in some academic circles who, however, (unlike Curtis) make no connection at all to the political revolutionary part of his early work and admire him for his insights in philosophy, psychology etc., but completely ignore his revolutionary political essays! It is this academically ‘respectable’ part of his work that united at his death the mass media, politicians etc from all over the political establishment in Europe[10] and not their admiration for the early revolutionary Castoriadis. Furthermore, It was the later Castoriadis who, unlike the early Castoriadis, gave up any effort to visualize the institutions of a democratic society, even though democratic management and workers’ management are not identical, as we shall below. So, to come back to Curtis’ aphorisms about conformism, the question which is raised here is: what is better encouraging conformism, the abstract philosophizing of the later Castoriadis, or the concrete visualizing of the early Castoriadis? If the answer to this question points to the work of early Castoriadis (Curtis presumably agrees on that since he took care to include the early revolutionary politics essays in the Castoriadis’ Reader) the next question is whether his disciples would recognize the right to anybody else, apart from their master, to express any opinions on the matter! As far as Castoriadis himself is concerned, it is indicative that he justified the formulation of his proposals on the basis of ‘openness’: “A movement that would try to establish an autonomous society could not take place without a discussion and confrontation of proposals coming from various citizens. I am a citizen; I am formulating, therefore, my proposals”.[11] This is exactly what I also tried to do attracting Curtis’wrath, often disguised as bad taste irony!      

But, let us now examine and contrast the early Castoriadis’s visualisation of the future economy with that of the Inclusive democracy. There are two major areas of difference between the two types of proposals:

  1. Castoriadis’ proposal presupposes a money and real market economy whereas inclusive democracy presupposes a marketless and moneyless economy and

  2. The allocation of scarce resources in Castoriadis’ economy takes place through planning controlled by the decisions of workers’ councils and through a real market based on impersonalised money. On the other hand, the allocation of resources in inclusive democracy takes place through planning controlled by the decisions of citizens’ assemblies and through an artificial market based on personalised vouchers.  

It is out of these two crucial differences between the two proposals that all other secondary differences arise, at which Curtis directs his attack against the inclusive democracy project. Thus, Curtis asserts that:

A key and enduring element for this "autonomy project" that is found in Castoriadis's writings workers' management (conflated by Takis, too, into "workers' control") drops out, however, and wage equality, a foundation stone for workers' management and a recurring tendency in modern autonomy movements according to Castoriadis, is dismissed as "impractical" and "negative in the utopian sense" (D&N 8: 66).  If we are to accept these perfunctory arguments, we might as well agree with liberal critics who, on the same thin grounds, reject all forms of direct democracy and radical egalitarianism, and so give up and go home. 

As usually, Curtis is caught again distorting my statement on Castoriadis’ proposal by quoting me out of context and selecting just one sentence of the relevant paragraph. Here is the paragraph in full:

Finally, it should be stressed that economic democracy does not just mean, as Castoriadis seems to suggest, equality of income within the framework of an economy where money is still used as an impersonal means of exchange and a unit of value (although —in a way never clearly defined— money will not be used as a store of wealth as well) and where a "true" market is combined with some sort of democratic planning, Such a system is based on a crucial institutional arrangement, what the author describes as "non-differentiation of salaries, wages and incomes"[12]. But, such an arrangement is not only utterly impractical and makes this system utopian in the negative sense of the word; it is also undesirable because, as I pointed out elsewhere, "given the inequality of the various types of work, equality of remuneration will in fact mean unequal work satisfaction"[13]

Although the above full statement makes clear that the reason why wage equality is rejected has nothing to do with liberal conformism, as Curtis suggests, it would be useful to expand a bit on it. Castoriadis justified his equality of wages proposal, first, on the grounds that it implies the dominance of the ‘economic’ element in society, as an end in itself rather than as mere means of human life[14] and, second, on the grounds that the economic hierarchy of wages and incomes reflects the power structures in society and the consequent hierarchical relations.[15] However, as regards the first argument, the very fact that there are other ways in which the ‘economic’ may be dethroned from its present role as an end in itself, without the need for equality of wages (the Inclusive Democracy project is a case in point) shows that this arrangement is not really indispensable. As regards the second argument for wage equality it is obviously not applicable with respect to the Inclusive Democracy project which explicitly assumes the abolition of power and hierarchical structures. We should therefore look elsewhere to find the reason why the equality of wages is necessary in Castoriadis’ visualisation. To my mind, it is the fact that Castoriadis does reject neither the real market nor money, which makes the equality of wages arrangement necessary in his proposal. This is because the dynamics of a money/market economy is bound to lead in his scheme to huge inequalities —similar to the ones present in today’s market economy unless wage equality is introduced. Unfortunately, however, this ‘solution’ to the problem of inequality is not, in fact, a real solution and furthermore it creates even more serious problems than the ones it is supposed to solve.  

It is not a solution, because wage equality can not preclude the use of money as a store of wealth and therefore as a means of accumulating wealth for consumption purposes. In other words, the Castoriadian assumption of collective ownership of the means of production can only prevent the accumulation of capital for productive purposes. The fact, however, that his proposal is based on money, an impersonal means of exchange, means that (save the use of totalitarian methods) nothing could stop some people from accumulating, rather than spending, part of their income (assuming that this is in excess of survival income), which could then be used for luxury consumption by those who inherit this personal wealth. So, the dynamics of a money economy could easily lead to vast inequalities, even if the initial condition is one of income equality. In other words, income equality does not secure wealth equality in a money economy.  

Furthermore, the equality of wages arrangement is problematic because, implicitly, it is based on three invalid preconditions:

  1. an ‘objective’ wage system and —related to this that every type of work is equally desirable

  2. identity of needs and

  3. that everybody is willing to work the same number of hours.

But let’s examine the validity of these preconditions for equality of wages. 

As regards the first precondition, the equality of wage arrangement is based on the assumption that it is possible to evaluate work ‘objectively’—an assumption which was rightly rejected by a long libertarian tradition going back to Kropotkin[16], (who also rejected the equality of wages arrangement) and to Baldelli[17] (who proposed ‘criteria of desirability’ to take into account the desirability of various types of work). It is obvious that the equality of wages arrangement ignores the desires of citizens for particular types of activity and ends up with no mechanism for the allocation of work. It is not therefore accidental that in the Castoriadian proposal there is no explanation of how the allocation of work will take place in an economy where wages are equal, given the significant job satisfaction differentials in the work of a miner, a plumber or a computer expert compared with that of an actor, a lecturer, or a TV journalist. In present society, wages and incomes hardly reflect variations in job satisfaction since, as Castoriadis correctly points out, income differentials simply reflect prevailing power structures and relations. So, the problem hardly arises today. But in a future society the desires of citizens, as producers and consumers, should be definitely taken into account in the allocation of work, for people to be attracted, in the required numbers, to the various types of activity. And the Castoriadian model simply does not provide any mechanism for such desires to be taken into account. Other radical thinkers, faced with the same problem, resort to the usual panacea of job rotation. However, if a small degree of job rotation may perhaps make some sense with respect to simple jobs, it obviously does not make much sense in a technologically advanced complex economy, where simple jobs requiring no significant training are almost non-existent, and massive rotation may easily lead to the regimentation of social life. It is out of this sort of considerations that some diversity in remuneration as regards work in the non-basic needs sector of the economy is suggested in the inclusive democracy proposal. Such diversity is necessary to compensate for the unequal work satisfaction enjoyed in widely diverse types of work and it is proposed to be based on a complex ‘index of desirability’ for each type of work[18] (the more desirable a job, the lower its rate of remuneration).  

As regards the second precondition, even if one assumes identity of basic needs, it would be utterly unrealistic to make a similar assumption as regards non-basic needs, which can certainly not be defined ‘objectively’. The question therefore arises how freedom of choice and consumer sovereignty (which Castoriadis adopts) can be compatible with equal wages and widely varying non-basic needs. Similarly, as regards the third precondition, the question arising here is how freedom of choice could be secured in a system where equality of wages necessarily implies that everybody has to work the same number of hours. It is out of this sort of considerations that the inclusive democracy proposal introduces the fundamental distinction between basic and non basic needs, where what constitutes a basic versus a non-basic need is defined collectively by the citizens’assemblies.  This system allows for the full meeting of the basic needs of all citizens without forcing them to sacrifice their freedom of choice. Therefore, the principle of equality is fully satisfied as regards the satisfaction of basic needs throughout the confederation of communities. It is only with respect to non-basic needs, where, if the citizens of a particular community wish to work more than the minimum required, they should be left free to do so, even if this creates a small degree of income inequality. But, this inequality refers exclusively to voluntary work and not to accumulated or inherited wealth, as in the Castoriadian model—and this makes all the difference! Furthermore, the introduction of a minimal degree of income inequality, as described above, does not negate in any way economic democracy, which has a broader meaning that refers to equal sharing of economic power and not just to equal sharing of income. 

A Castoriadian may object here that the above arrangement simply introduces consumerism ‘by the back door’. Still, this is not the object of this proposal, which simply aims to meet the basic democratic demand for freedom of choice, once basic needs have been met. Furthermore, consumerism requires a specific institutional framework, which will be, absent in an inclusive democracy. Consumerism is not just due to some sort of insatiable need for more consumer goods. It reflects the (‘grow-or-die’) dynamics of the market economy, which leads to the constant creation of new needs, new products and new production methods. Consumerism also expresses the psychological need of today’s powerless citizen to empower him/herself artificially through a wealth of consumer goods and, at the same time, to fill his/her existential void, which the present meaningless way of life creates. There is therefore no reason why a phenomenon like consumerism would re-appear in an inclusive democracy, where neither the reproduction of the economy would depend on its continuous expansion, nor citizens would feel the need to fill their life with consumer goods. Furthermore, the arrangements according to which the overall availability of resources will be determined by the assemblies and that the aim of production will not be growth should function as further safety valves against the development of any consumerist trends in an inclusive democracy.[19]    

However, the real market cum money economy suggested by Castoriadis leads to further potential difficulties, since it cannot avoid the problems that any real market creates, irrespective of whether it is capitalist or not. Competition develops in any real market and not just in a capitalist market, as Castoriadis seems (erroneously) to assume. Even if the collectively owned enterprises use the same technology and production coefficients that Castoriadis assumes, nothing could prevent the workers of a particular factory to be more successful in achieving their fixed targets than those of another factory. Such competition will inevitably lead to the success of some enterprises at the expense of others, the thriving of the former and the collapse of the latter. The outcome of this process could be the rise of local unemployment, which would have to be dealt with by the workers’ councils government, through perhaps a forced movement of labor. This is the sort of problems, for instance, that the Yugoslavian kind of decentralised planning faced and there is no mechanism in the framework of a money market economy, like the one suggested by Castoriadis, to avoid them. This is why, as I stressed elsewhere ‘the issue is how we can achieve a synthesis of democratic planning and freedom of choice, without resorting to a real market, which would inevitably lead to all the problems linked with a market allocation of resources’[20].  

On the other hand, such problems could not emerge in a marketless, moneyless economy, like the one proposed by the combination of democratic planning with a system of personal vouchers suggested by the Inclusive Democracy proposal. Thus, a minimum employment is in fact obligatory, as far as basic needs is concerned, for every adult and able member of society, in a line of activity of his/her choice, so that the principle ‘from each according to ability and to each according to needs’ is implemented. So, full employment is guaranteed for every member of society in the basic-needs sector of the economy and it is only with respect to the production of non-basic goods/services where some employment unevenness may occur. But, production of non basic goods and services is strictly voluntary and therefore any ‘unemployment’ in this sector is also voluntary and has no impact whatsoever as regards the degree of basic needs satisfaction[21] (to which each citizen is entitled, according to the confederal assembly’s decisions) or the citizen’s sharing of economic/political power.  

But, let us now come to the other major area of difference between the Castoriadian and the Inclusive Democracy proposals, the issue of ‘worker’s control’ versus ‘community control’. As regards, first, the terminology I am well aware of the differences between workers’ control and workers’ management and this is why my references to the former are almost always linked to other writers’ discourse on the matter whereas the preferred term in my analysis is worker-oriented models versus community-oriented models. As I pointed out elsewhere[22] with reference to the two types of models:

As regards the proposals of the libertarian socialist Left, there are two main models of decentralized planning which attempt a synthesis of democracy and planning: worker-oriented models and community-oriented models. As far as the worker-oriented models are concerned, it can be argued that they cannot provide a meaningful alternative vision of society for today’s’ s conditions: first, because such models usually express only a particular interest, that of those in the workplace, rather than the general interest of citizens in a community; and second, because the relevance of such worker-oriented models (like that of Castoriadis model for workers’ councils which represents perhaps the most elaborate version) is very limited in today’s conditions of post-industrial society. This is why community-oriented models offer, perhaps, the best framework for integrating workers' control and community control, the particular and the general interest, individual and social autonomy.  

To this I will only wish to add here that it seems to me that a worker-oriented model is incompatible with an inclusive democracy. Not accidentally, Castoriadis himself in his later works changed his terminology and moved from workers’ management to self-management. Furthermore, the way in which he explains this change makes it clear that something more than a change in terminology is involved:

If therefore a new society should emerge from the revolution, it can be constituted only on the power of the population’s autonomous organisations, extended to all spheres of collective activity and existence: not only ‘politics’ in the narrow sense, but production and the economy, daily life etc. Therefore, self-government and self-management (autogestion) (what at that time I called workers’ management and collective management) resting on the self-organisation of the collectivities concerned[23]…. It is inconceivable that (an autonomous society) would institute the self-government of collectivities at all levels of social life and would exclude it in collectivities dealing with production. Self-management of production by the producers is but the realisation of democracy in the domain in which individuals spend half of their waking life[24]

 It is indicative that the later Castoriadis talks about the population’s autonomous organisations and not just the workers’ organisations and about self-organisation of the collectivities concerned rather than just workers management. In fact, as the last quotation above makes clear, the later Castoriadis saw the direction of production by the workers’ councils as just ‘the realisation of democracy’ in one particular domain, the domain of production, which, in turn, corresponds to just one type of collectivity: the one dealing with production. Furthermore, in reply to a question whether he has remained faithful to his prior formulations about the content of socialism, he singles out just one point on which he states his earlier formulations are dated: ‘neither quantitatively nor qualitatively can one attribute any longer to the proletariat, in the proper sense of the term, the privileged role imputed to it by classical Marxism—as had, formally, remained the case in ‘The Content of Socialism II’.”[25] The context makes it absolutely clear that the author was not just referring to the role of the working class as the subject of revolution but also to its role in managing society. It is, in fact, out of the same considerations, which, it seems, concerned Castoriadis himself about the compatibility of his later with his early work, that in my references to his work I concentrated on the former rather than the latter. 

It is therefore obvious that unless we define everybody as a worker (ex-worker, future worker, disabled worker etc), as Curtis does in a tautological way, workers’ management is not compatible with inclusive democracy. This is because in a democracy people should take the major decisions to run it not just as producers (which is the idea behind workers’ management) but as citizens, which is a much broader category than that of a producer. In fact, Castoriadis himself seemed to be concerned by this when he stressed that in services it may not always be possible to create workers’ councils based on working unity and a shared life but instead it may be necessary to rely on associations or co-ops based on occupation[26]. If we take into account that in today’s societies (unlike the fifties when Castoriadis was formulating his proposal) the vast majority of the active population is employed in services the argument for workers’ management becomes obviously so much weaker.  Furthermore, he himself suggested geographically based local councils[27] for the case where home and workplace do not overlap —which is today the rule in the urban conglomerates that developed in the years since the formulation of these proposals. Finally, Castoriadis also stressed the problems which the tension between workers’ councils and political groupings based outside the councils will create and which could easily lead to the atrophy of the former or the latter—a problem that by definition would not arise in an inclusive democracy. 

But, irrespective of what Castoriadis thought, It is clear that it is the citizens participating in the community/confederal assemblies who can better express the general interest and take decisions on the broader economic, but also political, ecological and broader social problems. On the other hand, the worker councils of particular enterprises (even if we extend the definition of worker to include ex-workers, farmers etc) are necessarily expressing the particular interest. Particularly so, if the collectivised enterprises on which these councils are based are engaged in competition among themselves to achieve the fixed targets —a competition which may easily lead them to an effort ‘to cut corners’ as regards social or ecological requirements. So, the proposed arrangement whereby the general interest is expressed by the community assemblies and the particular interests by each particular collectivity’s assembly (to use the Castoriadian terminology) is, to my mind, the best way to reunify work life with community life and, at the same time, transcend the division between the general versus the particular interest. Furthermore, the proposed arrangement would create as many public spaces as possible so that both the particular and the general interest could be expressed, but in a way that will not allow the former to prevail over the latter. 

In conclusion, it is indeed sad that supporters of the democratic project, instead of joining forces to develop a liberatory project for our times, which is perhaps the only way out of the presently emerging new Middle Ages, remain attached to outdated schemes developed many years ago and attempt to stifle any deviation from their ‘Gospels’.

[1] See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, (London: Cassell, 1997), pp. 328-40/
[2] Ibid. ch. 4.
[3] Janet Biehl, The Politics of Social Ecology, Libertarian Municipalism, (Montreal: Black Rose, 1998), p. 132-37.
[4]  Ibid. See, also, pp. 111-120.
[5] T. Fotopoulos, “Outline of an Economic Model for an Inclusive Democracy”, Democracy & Nature, Vol. 3, No. 3 (issue 9), p. 21.
[6] C. Castoriadis,’On the content of socialism II’ (1957) in  Political and Social Writings, (Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 1988) Vol. 2, pp. 90-154
[7] T. Fotopoulos, ‘Castoriadis and the democratic tradition’, Democracy & Nature, Vol. 4, No. 1 (10), pp. 157-63.
[8] C. Castoriadis, ’On the content of socialism II’ (1957), Political and Social Writings, Vol. 2, pp. 96-7
[9] C. Castoriadis, ‘Done and To Be Done’ (1989) in David Ames Curtis (ed) The Castoriadis Reader, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), p. 414.
[10] T. Fotopoulos, ‘Castoriadis and the democratic tradition’.
[11] Ibid. p. 413.
[12] Cornelius Castoriadis, "An interview", Radical Philosophy, 56, Autumn 1990, pp. 35-43.
[13] Takis Fotopoulos, "The economic foundations of an ecological society", Society & Nature, Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 34
[14] C. Castoriadis, ‘Done and To Be Done’ (1989) in David Ames Curtis (ed) The Castoriadis Reader, p. 417.
C. Castoriadis, ‘Hierarchy of Wages and Incomes’ (1974) in Political and Social Writings, Vol. 3, pp. 207-15
[16] See P. Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, (London: Penguin, 1972), ch. 13.
[17] See G. Baldelli, Social Anarchism, (New York: Penguin, 1972), pp.144-45
Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, p. 264
[19] See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 255-70, for further expansion of these proposals.
[20] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, p. 255.
[21] ibid., pp.259-66.
[22] Ibid. p. 253.
[23] C. Castoriadis, ‘The Logic of Magmas and the Question of Autonomy’ (1983) in  The Castoriadis Reader, p. 313.
[24] C. Castoriadis, ‘Done and To Be Done’ (1989), ibid. p. 413.
Ibid. p. 415.
[26] C. Castoriadis, ‘On the Content of Socialism II (1957)” in  The Castoriadis Reader, pp. 88-9.
[27]  Ibid. p. 90.