I frequently get asked what is the alternative to the current neo-liberal capitalist reality we find ourselves in. I have posted several suggestions in the past of what a different future might look like and how we could get there. I will draw on the seminal work by Max Haven (2014), Crisis of Imagination, Crisis of Power, Capitalism, Creativity and the Commons, Zed Press.
The first requirement for change is the adoption of a radical imagination – meaning that we have to be able to think beyond, and challenge, the limits imposed by our current reality if we are to attain a different future. Imagination is not something peculiar to or limited to the individual, imagination is in fact a shared landscape/space or commons we share as communities. An example is the Amadiba/Xolobeni community who refuse to imagine a future with mining, preferring instead to imagine a future that is sustainable, cooperative and exclusive of mining.
Therefore imagination exists between people as they collectively and cooperatively try and work out what is the best way to exist on this planet and in harmony, instead of conflict with the environment, the planet and other communities.
Under capitalism our imagination is shaped by the motive forces of capitalism – which tries privatise, atomise and individualise the imagination – “everyone for himself”, you are in competition with everyone else, you must grab as much as you can and to hell with the rest. Your responsibility is only to your own well being and well fare, you are poor because you are lazy etc. To further divide people so as to effectively exploit them capitalism promotes racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, religion etc. telling people that the differences between them are more important than the similarities – creating us and them scenarios. These are also, imagined differences and they serve oppression, exploitation and exclusion.
The radical imagination is very important in overcoming the conservative and oppressive imagination imposed on us by neo-liberalism. The radical imagination is fed, and feeds the commons. The commons refers to that which we share and commonly and cooperatively own and control. The radical imagination is informed by the logic of anti-capitalism – cooperation, love, collectivism, solidarity and equality). It is a matter of acting otherwise, together, cooperatively. The only way to act differently from the way in which capitalism requires us to act is to come together and working towards the common goal of a different, post capitalist society.
Max Haiven notes that the word radical is derived from the Latin word for root and is concerned with finding the root causes of a problem and finding fundamental solutions rather than temporary fixes to those problems.
The word imagination refers to mental images, ideas and reflections. Most animals are genetically coded to behave in the way that they do, bees make hives, and birds make nests in exactly the same way they have done since the beginning of time, they lack the capacity to be creative beyond their genetic codes, they lack the imagination to be creative and act differently. Thus Haiven points out that for romantic poets the imagination was (a) the quality of humanity that was being destroyed by the advance of industrial capitalism; (b) the wellspring of resistance and rebellion, and (c) the power that could bring about a future society.
All the institutions and relations that subject us to, and bind us to capitalism are the products of imagination/ prevailing ideology. Marx pointed out that prevailing ideology, including law, religion, the state, politics, while being the products of imagination, have their roots in material power relations, relations of social production and reproduction and the institutionalisation of power. The imagery dimension of the structures of society is underpinned by the repressive power of the state and the underlying economic system from which they derive.
Basically Marx says that our imagination is shaped by our socialisation within the economic system within which we find ourselves. Thus Marx wrote that the ruling ideas of any historical epoch are the ideas of the ruling class.And it is on this basis that the capitalist ruling class imposed its ideas as the ruling ideas on the planet giving rise to imperialism, colonial conquest, patriarchy and the legitimisation of capitalism – giving rise to sexism, racism, exclusivism, oppression, exploitation etc.
So if we wish to end the rule of the capitalist ruling class we need to begin to frame questions that would challenge the ruling ideas of that class, based on what is materially possible under current economic and social conditions. We need to ask, according to Haiven “what if?” What if military spending was used on education and health provision instead? What would the work place look like if it was managed/operated by workers without bosses? How would direct participatory democracy work instead of representative democracy? How could we spend our energy budget entirely on sustainable energy instead of fossil fuels and nuclear? What if we did not need central business districts and the majority of us worked from home. What if we all worked less so that more of us could actually work, by cutting the working day in half, and letting half the population work a morning shift and the other half the afternoon shift, thereby eliminating unemployment but giving people more leisure and recreational time? What if we greened our cities and produced most our our food needs within city limits? What if we introduced self governance in service delivery programs? What if policing became a community instead of an institutional responsibility? What if we mined on the basis of need instead of profits and greed?
The ruling class fools you into believing that the moment you have a couch, a television set, a stove and a fridge you are “middle class” . In reality being middle class refers to someone who owns a small shop, a bakery, a panel beaters, a small family farm etc. The vast majority of people in capitalist society own no productive property at all and work for wages or a salary, usually for a corporation that has very little interest in the individual or the collective well being of its workers and is capable of dismissing them at a whim.
What must be understood is that the future is a continually unfolding project, so that it is impossible to produce a fixed blue print as everything changes all the time. What is required instead of a fixed blue print are a set of common values that will inform our common and collective engagement with a future that is ever changing. These values should include: common and collective participation, human beings valued because they are human and they have needs, rather than human beings to be exploited because they can work, love and cooperation rather than hate and competition, respect for the planet and the environment, an end to private property and private accumulation of wealth, the production of needs rather than commodities, and end to exclusivity, racism ,war and violence, sexism and gender discrimination, an end to patriarchy and so on.
A society based on such a set of common values can only be achieved through collective, common action in rejecting capitalism and vapourising the imagined institutions of power of capitalism. Of course capitalism has massive armed and repressive capacity, but deploying that capacity depends on poorly paid policemen and soldiers who could be easily turned against the system to help them imagine a world in which the no longer have to kill and maim their own brothers and sisters in the service of a small wealthy and exclusive ruling class.