A reader from Finland, Antti Jauhiainen, has made me aware of the work he and others are doing to promote Participatory Economics (Parecon) in Finland. For those unfamiliar with Parecon, it is a vision for a post-capitalist economy, originally developed by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, based on four values: solidarity, equity, diversity and self-management. Visit an essay by Michael Albert on Parecon for more on the vision.
Most of Parecon Finland’s work is in Finnish, but Jauhiainen shared with me an article from 2011 by Tuomas Salonen entitled “Campaigning for Participatory Economics in Finland,” that I think demonstrates qualities of effective activism that the left in the US could learn from. Since I don’t read Finnish I can’t vouch for their current work, but I think the attitude reflected in the linked article is excellent. Specifically, left movements in the US should pay attention to the following about Parecon Finland:
They are open to feedback and criticism: As the article states, Parecon Finland “spent the fall of 2010 gathering comments and analysis from various organizations and people in Finland in order to assess some aspects of the vision of participatory economy and how it would be received here. We were happy to receive serious commentary and help in this phase, and it helped us refine some aspects we wished to focus on in our activity.”
They have a specific strategy of contributing to public discussion: “We believe that participatory economics, and the underlying vision of a participatory society, can create new openings in the public discussion, by introducing the ideas of participatory workplace and democratic planning here, as well as offering a very detailed, authoritative critique of the capitalist market economy.” Moreover, they implemented this with presentations on Parecon on various public libraries and have a website that is updated every business day with appropriate news and media reflecting how their vision applies to the current economic situation in Finland.
While they strongly believe in their vision, they are not dogmatic: They “[encourage] people to consider and reason the structural mechanism of our current economy, by simply providing the participatory economics model as a serious alternative and a tool for comparing and contrasting the current situation with. Forceful advocation and argumentation of a rigid model would provide negative effects in any case, and would be contrary to the values of self-management and diversity we advocate.”
The information presented is rational and reasonable: They obviously are a radical group, yet there are no grand slogans or attempts to shame anyone into supporting their cause. When they make factual claims, it is supported with footnoted evidence.
Left activist groups would do well to learn from this approach. For example, if anti-war groups encourage criticism and feedback, they may receive much jingoistic nonsense, but they will also gain an essential understanding of how the public views them and what adjustments they can make for more effective outreach. Having a vision beyond what they are protesting against will make the public more receptive. If peace groups say they want social spending instead of military spending, that is a partial answer. But if someone asks them “If you want the military to be smaller, how will you ensure the US is kept safe?” they need to be able to answer that as well.
Lastly, anti-war groups need to be rational and reasonable. Compare the following two scenarios, the first one being based on a personal experience and the second my idea for more effective outreach. (1) Israel is in the midst of bombing Gaza and a crowd has gathered in Boston Common to protest it. A person who knows nothing about what is happening in Gaza walks by and hears the crowd chanting “Hey, Israel, you can’t hide, we accuse you of genocide!” (2) Imagine the same scenario except that when the uniformed person walks by, instead of chanting slogans every protester is handing out leaflets that base its concerns in the language of international law and the protesters engage passersby in conversation. Those who think the protesters are crazy would think that way in either scenario, but in the 2nd one many people would surely begin thinking about the conflict in a different way.