By John Spritzler

June, 1997

Is there a realistic alternative to capitalism and communism? For the last century these two systems have each claimed to be the only alternative to the other. The fact that both are terrible has made fundamental change seem hopeless.

But capitalism and communism are bad for a specific reason: they are both forms of elite rule based on the same profoundly wrong ideas about people. Both social systems view ordinary people as selfish and unfit to rule. Both assume that the highest goal of society is to increase economic production.

With different ideas about people, a different kind of world is possible.


ONE. In a good society the value of any policy would be measured by its impact on human relations. The most important things that people produce are not commodities, but human relations of love, solidarity, mutual aid, and trust. These relations are what make security and happiness possible. When economic production helps fulfill these human relations, it is positive. But economic growth is by no means always beneficial and should not be the goal of human society.

TWO. In a truly democratic society work would be voluntary. The reward or punishment for contributing more or less than one's fair share would be the better or worse quality of relations one has with others as a result. Most people seek to give their lives meaning through work, creativity, and acts that benefit others. People want to do the work that they believe is required to enable themselves and others to live, prosper, and be happy. When people are free to do this they don't need to be compelled. We see this today in all sorts of volunteer work, as well as the countless things people do for each other without even thinking of it as "work." Compulsion, in the form of no pay for no work or more pay for more work, is only required when people are not free and an elite is forcing ordinary people to work for them.

THREE. In a society based on solidarity and trust, the economics of producing and distributing things would be like sharing within a family, rather than buying and selling for profit in a marketplace. The wealth of any society is the fruit of collective efforts. People are naturally inclined to share goods and services according to need with those they trust. We see this sharing today within families, despite the pressure from capitalism to make competition and self-interest the dominant motivation everywhere. The circles of trust within which people share according to need will greatly widen when society is no longer ruled by elites who view human solidarity as a threat to their power.

FOUR. Democracy consists of ordinary people with shared fundamental values actually shaping all of society according to their values. Democracy means that everywhere people live and work, they decide what their own goals are and how they will cooperate to reach them. It means all concerned have an equal say. It means people are free to assemble to discuss anything and everything with full access to all information, and they are free to make and carry out any decision no matter how revolutionary.

What would a society based on these ideas look like? Probably it would look different in various places and change over time as people experimented with different ways of doing things. Whatever the details, it would be a world where people supported and trusted one another, where people felt safe among strangers, where people didn't feel alone in dealing with natural catastrophes, sickness or bad luck, where children were optimistic about their futures, and where people found real meaning in what they did all day.

Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, May-June 1997.


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