Gar Alperovitz, Historian and Professor of Political Economy Oberlin
Sydney Allen interviews Gar Alperovitz, co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, in The Oberlin Review. They discuss the Next System Project, Cleveland’s Evergreen cooperatives, and the future of democratic institutions.
Sydney Allen: How did you end up in your field?
Gar Alperovitz: I’m the co-founder of something called the Democracy Collaborative, which is an organization building different ways to transform and democratize the ownership of wealth, the most obvious one being co-ops, but also [things like] city municipal ownership — different kinds of democratic ownership. One of the big projects is called the Next System Project, which is a project of the Democracy Collaborative. That’s attempting to open up a sophisticated, reasonable debate about what is the inevitable next system beyond corporate capitalism, beyond state socialism. What makes sense? What do we want? How do we think about that rationally? What are the stepping stones — projects that we can see that look like they might be a piece of it? It’s mainly about ideas at this stage.
How does that pertain to this conference?
It’s very hard to have democracy if the institutional substructure of the system is so heavily weighted against democracy. In particular, corporate power and the ownership of wealth is extremely concentrated and plays a major role in politics, and it kind of bends away from “one person, one vote” in practice. This has been studied by political scientists forever, but it used to be that labor unions partly balanced the power of corporations and wealth ownership. But they’re pretty much over in the United States and in many parts of the world.
Is there a way to think about, over time, building up the next system that would be democratic, ecologically-sustainable, dealing with racism in a decent, intelligent way, supportive of liberty, dealing with planet changes? The term I like best is “architecture.” What’s the architecture or relationship between worker and company? How would you design it if you were really thinking about democracy and ecological sustainability?
Can you elaborate on the racial component of this?
People don’t realize that we are one of the few pro-democratic systems which is fundamentally divided by race. It was shocking to me that it took 100 years after the end of the Civil War before the civil rights laws were passed. And up until that point, the South was a hostage nation, and a hostage part of the country. Think of it … 100 years after the Civil War.
We’ve got a long way to go, and the thing to notice is that it’s unusual. England isn’t like that; Denmark isn’t like that; Sweden isn’t like that; France isn’t like that. We have a fundamental division on racial grounds based on the history of slavery. It’s a very unusual and dangerous and inhumane system that has to be corrected. Oberlin is a place where the first part of that was dealt with. It has a great history of dealing with race.