15 Theses on Liberation

By Collective 20

[Collective 20 is a group of writers located in different places throughout the globe. Some young, some older; some long-time organizers and writers, others just getting started, but all equally dedicated to offering analysis, vision, and strategy useful for winning a vastly better society than we currently endure. The members of Collective 20 hope their contributions concerning social, political, economic, and environmental issues will generate more useful content and better outreach through a collective publication effort as opposed to individuals doing so on their own. Collective 20’s cumulative work can be found at collective20.org, where you can learn more about the group, see an archive of its publications, and comment on its work.]

The following essay transcribes with some modifications most of the 120th Episode of the podcast RevolutionZ. The topic of the episode was Liberation, as in the liberation of humanity from oppressive insanity and toward truly positive conditions of actual, civilized, life. 

The episode offered 15 succinct theses which arose from activist history and were vetted, we suppose you might call it, by many many interactions with diverse others to inform and refine. The theses began with vision, ultimate aims, and moved on toward strategy, insights relevant to winning the ultimate aims. To us, in Collective 20, the outcome of all those interactions feels uncontroversial but instructive. It seems to us to be ready to further massage, elaborate, refine, and try to improve. So we have done just that, in hopes that others, in turn, will further enrich the result until it becomes a shareable view that agents of change could give life and passion to, to orient practical steps, demands, program, and campaigns. 

To begin, the podcast noted that polls show that by growing majorities people worldwide, and young people in particular, now reject mainstream relations and instead desire new political, economic, kinship, cultural, ecological, and international relations. The podcast also noted that polls show that people worldwide have little shared clarity about positive aims or shared means to win the full gains they desire. The podcast hoped that the 15 theses might provide some help to seeking shared clarity about positive aims and means to win them. We hope our refining and here offering the results might aid that possibility.

Thesis One: Liberated Long-Term Aims Must Be Comprehensive

Liberating society requires liberating polity, economy, kinship, culture, relations to environment, and international relations. To be liberating, shared aims must address all these focuses, not one or another, not one above another. This is intersectionality writ large.

It is not enough, indeed it is not even sensible, for our collective efforts to aim for only one or another type of change. Arguments over this or that part of life being more important, more fundamental, only distract from the real task. Yes, an individual may be more enmeshed in one area of concern than others. An individual and indeed a specific campaign may focus more on polity, economy, kinship, culture, relations to environment, or international relations. But in sum, the overall effort to win a better world should not be more enmeshed in one area of concern than others. In sum, the overall effort to win a better world should not focus more on polity, economy, kinship, culture, relations to environment, or international relations.

This is because, first there is no hierarchy of injustices. There is nothing that should come first because it hurts most. Second, there is no hierarchy of strategic relevance. There is nothing that should come first because the rest all derive from it.

The dynamics of polity, economy, kinship, culture, relations to environment, or international relations are all so unjust that it makes no sense, in the large, to ethically elevate any one above the others. It is a fool’s errand. They are all ethically paramount.

But even beyond ethics, if that is possible, the mutual causality of polity, economy, kinship, culture, relations to environment, or international relations each reproducing the tenacity of the rest is so profound that it makes no sense, in the large, to strategically elevate any one above the others. That too, is a fool’s errand. They are all strategically paramount.

We need a multi focus effort. To sum to that, we need to say something about each focus.

Thesis Two: We Need Liberated Future Polity

Polity is the part of society centrally responsible for legislation of shared norms and rules, for implementation of collective projects, and for adjudication and resolution of disputes and violations.

To liberate polity will require implementing new participatory political institutions that ensure that political relations take account of and benefit all citizens equally. That is the nature of political justice.

It follows that to eliminate political injustice, liberated polity will need to establish transparent mechanisms to carry out and evaluate political decisions and to convey to all citizens information, confidence, and self managing say proportionate to effects on them. 

That kind of political participation and parity of all participants will in turn entail establishing local, regional, and national grassroots based assemblies, councils, or communes, where people develop and discuss and decide on agendas, by way of frequent direct participation or, when needed, recallable representation and delegation.

It will entail utilizing voting options such as majority rule, two thirds needed, other voting algorithms, or consensus, each used as needed to convey self management to all. And it will entail advanced public education so that everyone is well prepared to participate in self managing decisions in proportion as they will be affected by them. 

To benefit all equally, and not some above others, new political institutions will also need to guarantee maximum civil liberties to all, including freedom to speak, write, worship, assemble, and organize political parties. New political institutions will likewise need to welcome, facilitate, and protect dissent and diversity. They will need to guarantee individuals and groups information and means to pursue their own goals consistent with not interfering with the same rights for others. 

New political institutions will additionally need to foster solidarity but also to provide inclusive means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively adjudicate disputes and correct violations of agreed norms to preserve justice while promoting rehabilitation. New political institutions will need to be revolutionized with details emerging from practical, successful experience, but with the broad contours of a shared vision serving to guide the instructive, successful practice.

To win their agenda, movements for a new liberated future polity will need to share and deeply organize and act on broad flexible continually developing vision of a new revolutionized polity.

Thesis Three: We Need Liberated Future Economy

Liberating economies will require implementing new workplace, neighborhood, and allocation institutions that ensure that no individuals or classes are privileged above or dominate others and that all workers and consumers are able to participate fully in determining their own economic lives.

But for all workers and consumers to participate fully in determining their own economic lives, they will need venues in which they propose and decide on their actions, new, self managing, workers and consumers councils and federations of councils.

Clearly there cannot be a few who own means of work and decide terms of work and accrue the bulk of the products of work, while the rest do not. It follows that to attain such classlessness, new economic institutions will need to preclude owning productive assets such as natural resources and factories. They will have to ensure that ownership plays no role in decision making, influence or share of income. Rather new economic institutions will need to treat society’s natural and built productive assets as a Commons that all people borrow and share from, but that no people own.

But to attain classlessness, it turns out that new economic institutions will also need to ensure that all workers have a say in decisions to the extent possible proportionate to effects on them, sometimes best attained by majority rule, sometimes by consensus or by other arrangements. This will in turn entail eliminating corporate divisions of labor that typically give about a fifth of workers predominantly empowering tasks while consigning to four fifths mainly rote, repetitive, and obedient tasks. Instead of placing one fifth above four fifths, a new division of labor will have to ensure that five fifths all participate comparably in determining economic outcomes. To that end, new institutions will need to ensure that each worker enjoys a socially average share of empowering tasks via suitable new designs of work that convey to every worker sufficient confidence, skills, information, and access to participate effectively in decision making.

Simultaneously, to attain material equity, new economic institutions will need to ensure that workers who work longer or harder or at more onerous conditions doing socially valued labor equitably earn proportionately more for doing so, and that no one who works earns payment according to property, bargaining power, or the value of personal output, while ensuring that all who are unable to work receive full income nonetheless.

Likewise, to elaborate and ensure classless self managing aims, new economic relations will need to avoid both market competition and top-down planning, since each produces class rule, alienation, and ecological nightmare. New economic relations will instead have to find ways to conduct decentralized cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs via workers and consumers councils and federations of councils, exchanging and settling on a worthy and workable plan with additional facilitating structures helping the cooperative process as needed.

To win their agenda, movements for a liberated future economy will need to share and deeply organize and act on broad flexible continually developing vision of a new revolutionized economy.

Thesis Four: We Need Liberated Future Gender/Sexuality

Kinship involves birthing, nurturing, and supporting new generations as well as maintaining all peoples conditions of daily life in living units and sexual and personal partnerships of diverse types.

To liberate kinship and sexuality will require new kinship institutions that ensure that no individuals or groups are privileged above or dominate others, whether by gender, sexual preference, or age.

To attain that participatory end, new gender and kin institutions will have to not privilege certain types of family formation and living units over others, but instead actively support all types of families consistent with society’s other broad norms and practices. New gender and kin institutions  will need to promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all its children, including affirming the right of diverse types of families to have children and to provide them with love and a sense of rootedness and belonging. They will need to minimize or eliminate age-based permissions, preferring non-arbitrary means for determining when an individual is too old (or too young) to receive benefits or shoulder responsibilities.

New gender and kin institutions will need to respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but will need to reject such ties as ways for sectors of the population to gain financial benefits or social status. They will need to respect care-giving as a central function of society including making care-giving inside living units and throughout society a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities not least to ensure equitable burdens and benefits among men and women for all household and child raising practices, but also to universally foster the enrichment of personality and social affirmation that caregiving beyond living units conveys.

New gender and kin institutions will also need to centrally affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, and mutual intimacy while they simultaneously ensure that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others including providing diverse, empowering sex education and legal prohibition against all non-consensual sex.

To win their agenda, movements for new liberated future kinship will need to share and deeply organize and act on broad flexible continually developing vision of new revolutionized familial and sexual social relations.    

Thesis Five: Liberated Future Culture/Community

Culture/Community encompasses the ways that racial, ethnic, religious, national/geographic and other communities define themselves by language, holidays, celebrations, and a multitude of shared cultural practices and affirmations. 

Liberating culture and community requires implementing new participatory cultural/community relations that ensure that no individuals or groups–by race, ethnicity, religion, nation/location, or other cultural community identification–are privileged above or dominate others.  

As means to that participatory end, new cultural and community institutions will need to ensure that people can have multiple cultural and social identities and will need to  provide space and resources for people to positively express their identities however they choose. 

New cultural and community institutions will need to recognize that which identity is most important to any particular person at any particular time depends on that person’s situation and assessments.  New cultural and community relations will also need to explicitly recognize that many rights and values exist regardless of cultural identity, so that all people deserve self management, equity, solidarity, and liberty, even while society also protects all people’s right to affiliate freely and fosters diversity. New cultural and community relations will also have to guarantee free entry and exit to and from all cultural communities including affirming that communities that guarantee free entry and exit can be under the complete self determination of their members so long as their policies and actions don’t conflict with society’s laws.

To win their agenda, movements for new liberated future culture/community will need to share and deeply organize and act on broad flexible continually developing vision of new revolutionized culture/community social relations.    

Thesis Six: Liberated Future International Relations

International relations are simply inter relations among societies across the world.

Liberating international relations requires implementing new international institutions that ensure that no nations or geographic regions are privileged above others.  

New international institutions will therefore need to end imperialism in all its forms including colonialism, neo colonialism, and neoliberalism. They will likewise need to steadily diminish economic disparities in countries’ relative wealth. They will need to protect cultural and social patterns interior to each country from external violation, and to facilitate international entwinement and ties as people desire. 

New international institutions will need to foster equitable internationalist globalization in place of exploitative corporate globalization. They will need to elaborate the equitable, self managing accomplishments of revolutionized or indigenous societies—of revolutionized polity, economy, kinship, and culture/community, beyond within parts of the world to the relations among those parts. Not just war and exploitation no more. Internationalism forever.

To win their agenda, movements for new liberated international relations will need to share and deeply organize and act on broad flexible continually developing vision of new revolutionized international relations. They will need to manifest the wills and voices of people worldwide, across borders, listening and learning from and supporting each other’s efforts.   

Thesis Seven: Liberated Ecology

Ecology is the world we live in, are part of, impact, and are impacted by.

Liberating ecology requires implementing new participatory ecological norms and practices that reverse resource depletion, environmental degradation, global warming, and other ecosystem disrupting trends, not only for liberation, but for survival. 

To become sane much less wise, new ecological relations will need to facilitate ecologically sound reconstruction of society that accounts for the full ecological as well as social/personal costs and benefits of both short and long term economic and social choices. New ecological relations will have to facilitate populations to sensibly decide levels of production and consumption, duration of work, modes of self reliance, patterns and methods of energy use and harvesting, means of stewardship, pollution norms, climate policies, conservation practices, consumption choices, and other aims and activities as part of their populations’ made decisions about future policy. New ecological norms and practices will also need to foster a consciousness of ecological connection and responsibility. They will need to help future citizens understand and respect the ecological precautionary principle and be well prepared to decide policies regarding such related matters as animal rights or vegetarianism that transcend sustainability, consistently with broader agendas for other social and economic functions.

To win their agenda, and to survive, movements for liberated ecology will need to share and deeply 

organize and act on broad flexible continually developing vision of new revolutionized ecological relations.    

Visionary theses are fine but if we take them seriously we have to ask what organizations could enact our seven theses, properly refined, improved, and elaborated, to win entwined, mutually supportive, revolutionized political, economic, kinship, cultural, international, and ecological relations?

Thesis Eight: Liberation Requires Liberated Organizations

Liberated organizations are needed for groups to work effectively together with shared intentions while learning, retaining, and collectively applying lessons from their own past.

There is no path to liberation without organizations that seek liberation. Therefore establishing organizations seeking liberation is essential to win liberation.

Thesis Nine: Liberation Organizations Are Self Managed

To be liberated, an organization’s structure and policies, while of course regularly updated and adapted, nonetheless must always strive to implement the self management norm that “each member has decision making say proportional to the degree they are affected.” 

To that end, to be liberated an organization needs to be internally classless including structured so that a minority who are initially disproportionately equipped with needed skills, information, and confidence do not form a formal or informal decision-making hierarchy, leaving less prepared members to follow orders or perform only rote tasks. 

Likewise, over time, to be liberated an organization must apportion empowering and disempowering organizational tasks to ensure that no few individuals control the organization by having a relative monopoly on information or position, and that no subset of members has disproportionate say whether due to race, gender, class, or other attributes.

Thesis Ten: To Be Liberated An Organization Must Favor Diversity

A liberated organization must monitor and work to correct instances of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia as they may manifest internally, including having diverse roles suitable to members with different backgrounds, personal priorities, and personal situations.

A liberated organization needs to celebrate internal debate and dissent as positive. It needs to make room, as possible, for dissident views to be tested alongside preferred views. It needs to guarantee members’ rights to organize “currents” or “caucuses” and to guarantee “currents” and “caucuses” full onus-free rights of democratic debate. 

Likewise, a liberated organization needs to ensure that national, regional, city, and local chapters as well as sectors of the organization can respond to their own circumstances and implement their own programs as they choose so long as their choices do not interfere with the shared goals and principles of the whole organization or with other groups addressing their own situations.

Thesis Eleven: To Be Liberated An Organization Must Be Participatory

A liberated organization needs to provide extensive opportunities for members to participate in organizational decision making, including engaging in deliberation with others so as to arrive at the most well-considered decisions while implementing mechanisms for carrying out collective decisions and monitoring that such decisions have been carried out correctly. It must expect members to actively participate in the life of the organization, including taking collective responsibility for decisions and presenting a unified voice in action. 

To those ends, a liberated organization needs to establish internal structures that facilitate everyone’s participation including, when possible, offering childcare at meetings and events, finding ways to reach out to those who might be immersed in kinship duties, and aiding those with busy work schedules due to multiple jobs or with difficulties due to disabilities.  A liberated organization needs to also provide full transparency regarding all actions by elected or delegated leaders including placing a high burden of proof on secreting any agenda whether to avoid repression or for any other reason. And a liberated organization needs to  provide a mechanism to recall leaders or representatives who members believe are not adequately representing them while also providing means for fairly, peacefully, and constructively resolving internal disputes.

Vision and organization, okay, but what about organizing?

Thesis Twelve: To Win Liberation Requires Liberated Organizing

To win liberation requires 1) always incorporating seeds of the future in the present, 2) growing membership with growing commitment among the class, nationality, and sexual/gender constituencies to be liberated, and 3) winning reforms without becoming reformist.

Thesis Thirteen: Liberation Organizing Must Always Plant Seeds Of The Future In The Present

To incorporate seeds of the future in its present class, race, gender, sexual, age, and power relations, liberated organizing needs to not only constructively address the ways it’s members act but also to actively establish internal norms and support to build exemplary workplace, campus, and community institutions that represent and refine the values of the movement and which the organization can present as liberating alternatives to the status quo it combats. 

The main aims of its seed planting are to enhance hope, test and refine ideas, and learn experiential lessons that can inform strategy and vision.

Thesis Fourteen: Liberation Organizing Must Always Grow Membership And Commitment

To constantly grow membership among the class, nationality, and gender constituencies it aims to aid, a liberated organization needs to always learn from and seek unity with audiences far wider than its own membership. 

It needs to emphasize attracting and affirmatively empowering young people and, most difficult, but also most essential, it needs to organize people currently critical and even hostile, not least by participating in, supporting, building, and aiding diverse social movements and struggles beyond its own immediate agendas, but also by explicitly addressing critical and even hostile constituencies in communities, on campuses, and at work, by socializing and being supportive and developing emotional and practical connections.

To constantly enlarge commitment, a liberated organization must accomplish two tasks simultaneously. First, it must reach out and grow, which includes reaching folks not earlier supportive, not earlier interested, and in fact earlier hostile. To do this it must listen to those groups, hear those groups. and communicate effectively with those groups, speaking and writing to be heard and read, not to evidence erudition. Second, it must move new members not only into being mobilizable for events or demonstrations, but into becoming themselves able to mobilize others. It must move members from vague support to informed, committed, sustained initiative and involvement. It must deep organize. 

Thesis Fifteen: Liberation Organizing Must Always Aim To Win Reforms But also Avoid Reformism

Liberation seeks changes in society both for citizens to enjoy immediately, and also to establish by the terms of its victories and by the means used in its organizing, a likelihood that citizens will pursue and win more change in the future.

It seeks to connect efforts, resources, and lessons across continents and from country to country, even as it also recognizes that strategies suitable to different places, and different times will differ. It seeks short term changes by its own actions and programs and by support for larger movements and projects as its affected members decide, both internationally, by country, and also locally, including addressing global warming, arms control, war and peace, the level and composition of economic output, gender roles, racial relations, agricultural relations, education, health care, income distribution, duration of work, media, law, legislation, policing, etc., as its members choose. It seeks to develop mechanisms that provide financial, legal, employment, and emotional support to its members so that its members can enjoy steadily better conditions and be in a better position to participate as fully as they wish and to negotiate the various challenges and sometimes negative effects of taking part in radical actions.

It works to substantially improve the life situations of its members, including aiding their feelings of self worth, their knowledge, skills, and confidence, their mental, physical, sexual, and spiritual health, and even their social ties and engagements and leisure enjoyments. It seeks means to develop, debate, disseminate, and advocate truthful news, analysis, vision, and strategy among its members and especially in the wider society, including developing and sustaining needed media and means of face to face communication. It uses diverse methods of agitation and struggle from educational efforts to rallies and marches, to demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, and direct actions, to win gains, build power and organization, and build movements.

It places a very high burden of proof on utilizing violence, including cultivating a decidedly non violent attitude. It assesses engaging in electoral politics case by case, including cultivating a very cautious electoral attitude. And in all outreach and internal projects it seeks to organize deeply, not solely for the moment, for immediate mobilization, but also for sustained commitment based on emerging shared values and long term aims. 

Can we forge a shared vision, a shared sense of and broad approach to strategy, a shared identity of struggle for short and long term aims? This is a rhetorical question because whatever must be done to accomplish that level of solidarity, it must be done. Losing is not an option.

[INITIAL SUBMISSION: Peter Bohmer and Bridget Meehan | AUTHOR: Collective 20 (Andrej Grubacic, Brett Wilkins, Bridget Meehan, Cynthia Peters, Don Rojas, Emily Jones, Justin Podur, Mark Evans, Medea Benjamin, Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Oscar Chacon, Peter Bohmer, Savvina Chowdhury, Vincent Emanuele)]