Open Socialism: a modern capitalism alternative

Hi, I created open socialism as a new societal system. Capitalism is outliving its usefulness as problems of environmental destruction and wealth inequality worsen. With modern science and technology, we must be able to do better than a 300 year old system.

Open socialism combines ideas of a cooperative society (socialism), rewarding individual effort (capitalism) and a variety of other sources to create a new system.

Open socialism is an open source project, do you want to help?

All feedback appreciated!

Thanks,
Alistair

this is sort of a fascinating approach to me (and i don’t mean that entirely positively). are you trying to apply tech disruption language to socialism? what workers groups have you approached on this? is this just intended to be a post-revolutionary implementation roadmap, or is it supposed to be a piece of agitprop / solidarity work intended to actually bring about socialism?

i’m a communist, but creating an open management-consultant style socialist manifesto sure is an interesting concept.

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Thanks for the reply!

In short I believe that capitalism is failing and that we need a new system. I think in order to institute a new system you need to first define it, then once you have an alternative figure out how to move towards it. Either by baby steps or a revolutionary approach. The focus of the project is on step one.

My idea is that we now have amazing tools to make much superior systems to capitalism, both in terms of technology and new patterns of organizing seen in business and open source software. I do not personally have the knowledge or time to fully design such a system, but as an open source project with many collaborators I think it is possible.

However, I have sketched out a system which I think has a lot of the benefits of communism but mitigates the classical problems.

In terms of ‘socialism’ I take it more broadly to mean a directed and cooperative society, without worrying too much about aligning with classical socialism.

I agree with @trustworthymartin’s comment about a fascinating approach that I don’t mean entirely positively (honestly, probably more negatively). I mean no insult by this (and I’m impressed by how much you’ve put together here and by the confidence to put something like this together), but I feel like I’m seeing a lot of the techbro arrogance in this plan that we see in Silicon Valley firms that have made life so much worse for everyday workers over the past decade. “We should be able to do better than a 300 year system” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, because it implies a kind of disregard for literal centuries of work people have already put into that system. That’s not to say you can’t jettison all of that, but that should be after engaging with it, right?

Anyway, this feels, in short, like a model of socialism designed to prevent the effects of worker-oriented socialism on that SV entrepreneur-class. In some ways buying into the fantasy of ethical consumption. My main problem comes from what little accounting, from the amount I’ve been able to read, this plan has for the failings of what you’re calling “data-based and scientific” decision-making. That page has a pretty simple description:

“It is sometimes easy to get swept up in emotion and then make biased decisions. This is error prone and not an accountable form of decision making. Data and science based decision making is more reliable.”

Which strikes me as incredibly oversimplified and misguided. I work with data-driven processes in a daily capacity, applying this exact type of decision-making to a very specific life decision that most people make that is classically fraught with emotions and gut reactions. And this is about as far from the truth as it could possibly be. Data does not inherently remove bias, and neither does science. In my field, I often feel like I’m grappling with both the failure of data to actually encompass what matters to people in this process and the incompleteness inherent in data, and that those emotional decisions and gut reactions are ultimately just as reliable. Data is always great at providing context, but that context needs people to mitigate it. And sometimes what we know about the past doesn’t project; not everything can be effectively modeled.

Further, this idea depends on the assumption that data and science don’t have the same biases that emotional decisions do. Data and science are biased by the manner in which the former are collected and aggregated, and the systems by which the latter is organized. The choice of what to focus on and study when given limited resources brings inherent bias. Bias is inescapable. Scientific norms and practices depend on a society’s norms and practices; something classical socialism (and I mean back to Marx; a lot of more modern socialist scholars have made strides here) has often been criticized for assuming that solving class will solve race, and many scientific institutions, shall we say, have problems with racism. This plan feels like it falls under that same umbrella where, if we give people a system where they can pursue their own self-interest, those conflicts will somehow up and disappear. And it’s so much messier than that.

Now, I’m of course not saying that data cannot have a large role in decision-making—but it should be a contextualizing role. And I’m sure you’ve probably thought about this stuff. I disagree with other tenets here too—I think you’re focusing really heavily on some heavily loaded and pseudoscientific ideas when talking about self-interest and tribalism and specialization, but I’m not nearly as close to those as I am to this conversation about data.

That all said, I hope you find some people to work with on this, some (and hopefully many) of whom are involved in workers groups, are working class, and have experience in fields other than science and tech (not assuming anything about you, but even one person in that vein isn’t enough).

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Thanks @diglett !

“We should be able to do better than a 300 year system” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, because it implies a kind of disregard for literal centuries of work people have already put into that system. That’s not to say you can’t jettison all of that, but that should be after engaging with it, right?

I wholeheartedly agree. I do not think the best system is entirely new. In fact I roughly think that the best system lies somewhere in the middle of democratic capitalism and communism. I think that communism’s ideas of the state owning the means of production and the whole of society having an aligned purpose are great and necessary for a highly effective system. I think the way capitalism incentivizes striving and the democratic process both have value and should also be incorporated.

I’m sure there is a lot of research and ideas around both systems that a new system could learn from. Do you have any recommendations?

However, I do think there are developments in technology and ways of organizing from business and other areas that also have a lot of good ideas. Most notably the open source model has been so successful that businesses are now adopting it internally.

Data does not inherently remove bias, and neither does science.

I agree. Data-based decision making and science do involve bias and all our humans failings. Nonetheless, I think they are the best systems we have. This is of course a very simplistic explanation. I don’t think removing bias stops here, in fact it is a big focus of open socialism.

In my work as a software developer (you guessed it ;)) my company has a specific process we follow when making decisions to help remove bias. This involves setting context, listing options with pros and cons, maximizing collaboration especially finding varied perspectives and so on. To broaden the point, I think there are lot of problems that can be addressed, over time, by iterating on process and technology. That is if society can be set up to enable this style of continual improvement. This style is not without its downsides though!

This plan feels like it falls under that same umbrella where, if we give people a system where they can pursue their own self-interest, those conflicts will somehow up and disappear. And it’s so much messier than that.

I believe that a lot of conflict and class comes from wealth inequality and education differences. Open socialism is designed to reward great work financially, but in a minimal way so that everyone can have an abundance. It has no form of elite education. Also to clarify, people can choose their profession and role, but they must work for the greater good of society as there is no free enterprise.

That all said, I hope you find some people to work with on this, some (and hopefully many) of whom are involved in workers groups, are working class, and have experience in fields other than science and tech (not assuming anything about you, but even one person in that vein isn’t enough).

Indeed, it is very much lacking varied perspectives at the moment! I know I can’t do this by myself and I know I don’t have all the right ideas, but I think a very good new system can be created as an open source project.

Thanks again :slight_smile:

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Some of the talk about “open source” going on here reminds me of discussions I’ve read about The Zeitgeist Movement, the Venus Project, etc. Have you heard of these projects/movements?

My problem with TZM especially is that it claims it is its own thing, free from the “tribalism” that would split us politically, and yet has many of the same ideas that anarchists and communists have been talking about for forever. At least you’re using the word socialism for your project!

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I don’t have too much time right now so I can’t respond to everything, but a) I really appreciate the full thoughtful response and b) I wanted to isolate this particular point, because I think this is the core of where my trepidations are. How do you define the greater good of society? Because not everyone has the same definition of that, and I don’t think you can bring everyone’s perceptions on that in line even if you eliminate class and education differences. (Maybe we just disagree on this, the same way I think we disagree on whether bias even can be removed—I don’t think it can.)

An easy example—do you plan on eliminating religion as part of this (it doesn’t sound like this plan is compatible with a religious society)? Because that heavily effects what people believe to be a greater good of society. Do you (or, more accurately, whatever governing body would be running this show) think art creation contributes to the greater good of society? Because you’re going to get a wide range of responses to that, as well as ones that cut down to the type of art being made, and what is worthwhile to pursue on that front. Our systems right now funnel most research through a university system that creates fairly inherent inequality on a larger scale (that full disclosure I am 100% a product of and have a lot of problems with)—it sounds like you would get rid of that, but what replaces it, and who decides what gets attention and time (because someone will have to)? Finite resources require choices, and those choices are always going to have some kind of bias involved. I think this is in some ways a lack of imagination on my part, but I and I would be wholly interested in hearing responses to these, but part of my skepticism comes from believing that there isn’t an answer to these that actually creates a different system—just ones that transpose our problems into a new framework.

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@EXWeis Interesting. I had not heard of them! Thanks, I will read about them in detail.

From a quick read I agree that:

  • The current issues we face are systemic problems with democratic capitalism and globalization. We do need a new system.
  • Societies problems are technical problems. Through technology and process we actually can develop a vastly superior system.

I have reservations about the resource based economy approach. Eg. from the venus project

In a Resource Based Economy all goods and services are available to all people without the need for means of exchange such as money, credits, barter or any other means. For this to be achieved all resources must be declared as the common heritage of all Earth’s inhabitants. Equipped with the latest scientific and technological marvels mankind could reach extremely high productivity levels and create abundance of resources.

I consider humans to be communal but at the same time self-serving, which I refer to as normal human corruption. A system that removes personal property entirely and has no means of an individual excelling above their peers is anti-human. Humans need the ability to compete at an individual level and receive some reward.

Although, perhaps this is referring to further in the future where through technology there is such an abundance that everyone can have anything they might want. If so, it still isn’t useful right now as we are not close to being in this situation.

How do you define the greater good of society? Because not everyone has the same definition of that, and I don’t think you can bring everyone’s perceptions on that in line even if you eliminate class and education differences.

This is where I greatly disagree with modern democracy. Who should make a decision that affects the whole of society? The foremost experts on that particular topic! The brexit decision by the UK is a good example where I think it has shown to be a very poor decision and experts could have predicted this outcome.

The dream is that all decisions are made by experts. The reason this doesn’t happen currently I believe is because it is assumed that corruption will follow without the society wide democratic process. However, this is a very blunt solution to the problem of corruption and unnecessary.

More specifically I believe that humans work best in small autonomous teams which I refer to as ‘circles’. Leadership of the entirety of society should be no different, with a small group of expert leaders making decisions for society.

However, this is not a top down bureaucratic system. There is a series of autonomous circles all the way down that have almost complete control of their increasingly narrow purview.

The obvious question to this is “won’t these circles become hugely corrupt?”. This is where corruption is attacked as a specific problem. All information on decisions, both in real time and historical will be publicly available so that corruption needs to happen under the nose of the entirety of society. Also, decisions made by circles are made by voting, so unlike much of democracy where an individual leader can be corrupted, you would need to corrupt over half of a circle.

Also possibly relevant, this what I consider the overall goals of a society.

An easy example—do you plan on eliminating religion as part of this (it doesn’t sound like this plan is compatible with a religious society)?

Religion should have no place in societies decision making, but should otherwise be supported. Part of moving to a new system is dropping some of the baggage. Not everyone will agree with this, but that is ok. Again, the best experts we have should make decisions, not the whole of society.

Do you (or, more accurately, whatever governing body would be running this show) think art creation contributes to the greater good of society?

Definitely. We need art, comedy, recreation and so on. My chosen example was comedians.

Moreover, I believe in basic income.

Finite resources require choices, and those choices are always going to have some kind of bias involved.

I agree, bias cannot be removed, only its impact reduced as much as possible today. And perhaps we can figure out how to reduce it even more tomorrow.

part of my skepticism comes from believing that there isn’t an answer to these that actually creates a different system—just ones that transpose our problems into a new framework.

I feel the opposite. Business has undergone radical change and improvement in the last 50 years. I think it is strange to believe that government and society could not also greatly improve with a rethink. In particular, a cooperative system like the one I suggest is very different from capitalism and thus is not likely to have the same problems. Historically cooperative systems like communism have had different problems such as extreme corruption and difficulty motivating individuals.

lol leave it to a white dude to think the best way to rid ourselves oppressive, genocidal systems is to take a page from “Google” and “Evolutionary Psychology”. I know I’ve always wanted my emancipatory manifestos to sound like something I’d read a Silicon Valley tech start up and never once mention things like gender or race.

Fair point. I think gender/race/sexual preference/etc. equality is to me such a given I didn’t think to make it explicit but I should.

I keep feeling like I’m finding a new core of our disagreement on this, but I think this might actually be it. What I glean from this is that this system is focused on removing the issues caused by flawed individual decision-making, and concludes that all these modern problems can be fixed if only we get the right people to make the right decisions. Targeting corruption as the only problem implies that, in all other cases, these people will make the exact right decisions every time. But how can they do so if there’s no clear “best” outcome in a particular decision. (This is where infinite trolley problems spiral out of my tired brain.)

Beyond that, it doesn’t feel at all like it’s actually building a new system more so than shifting the way power is allocated in the one we already have—which makes sense, you’re repurposing a business-developed system that’s inherently capitalistic and individualistic. If we had people who were always right making a decision, we would never have any problems. But those people are never going to be infallible and that information will never be complete. Who makes these experts? Who certifies them or chooses them? Do they teach the new ones, and how do we do that without stratifying society? What happens when they make mistakes—not corrupt choices, just mistakes? Unless I’m misunderstanding, this system seems to operate on the idea that the only type of stratification that matters is wealth-related, and covering basic needs will alleviate that issue, which is just something we’re not going to agree on.

And to the science point, imagine a system like this in a world where phrenology is viewed as a legitimate science and taught as a legitimate science—it has no failsafe that I can see to prevent something like that from happening beyond faith in the information it operates on being right. If you feed faulty science into it—which there is and always will be—it’s going to propagate that mistake out into the world. If your experts believe misinformation, then there’s nothing to prevent that from happening. If scientific results are not objective—which, and this is where we are by my guess again going to differ, they are not because of a) the choices that result in them and b) the viewer or reader they have to be passed through—there’s no reason to have any faith in this. Which is why I don’t think this really improves on modern democracy; it tries to eliminate an elite class by eliminating wealth but creates an elite class through unequal power. Democracy arguably has a failsafe that’s too powerful; this one arguably doesn’t have nearly enough of one.

I think I’m bled out on this topic—my energy to keep talking about it is pretty much gone, but I appreciate the back-and-forth. You asked for recommendations in an earlier comment but I think the writers that brought me to this point (i.e. largely not believing in the type of objectivity that this system requires to perform) are all fairly basic and listing them makes me feel a bit like a freshman political science major—but Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are the big ones. Fredric Jameson also. There are many more (including ones that are not old white dudes) but I’d need to dig through old books and maybe some old syllabi to remember them.

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All good. Thanks for the discourse! I’ll check those writers out.

Feel free to ignore, but I am curious for a short explanation of what you think a more ideal system might be? Or is it the gradual evolution of democracy and capitalism?

I want to preface this by saying I think you’re coming from a genuine place with your project—you want to make the world a better place. I do too. I don’t think there are people on this forum who would argue otherwise.

That being said, I think you’re maybe operating with different definitions of democracy and capitalism than many of us on these forums do.

You asked above about “gradual evolution of democracy and capitalism” and you keep referring to democratic capitalism but these terms are contradictory.

Democracy—true democracy—is not compatible with capitalism. Capitalism, being the private ownership of the means of production, allows for completely undemocratic control of politics. If you have enough capital you can lobby and buy politicians who will pass laws and policy favorable to the further acquisition of capital. This can look like deregulation or the lessening of consumer protections and workers rights, but no matter how you shake it these decisions are made by those who already have power at the expense of those who do not.

There’s been a growing effort to take money out of politics because of this. People want to lessen the very undemocratic control that capitalist institutions have over the government and their lives. You wouldn’t see the push back from those in power if this wasn’t the case.

Personally, I’d go a lot further than taking money out of politics. I’d abolish money. It’s a societal construct that has outstayed its usefulness as a method of record keeping/exchanging debt, and I believe it to be sad, naive and incredibly unimaginative to say we couldn’t develop anything better.

You ask what we could replace these systems with. What a more ideal system would be. I’m partial to socialism. When I say socialism I’m not talking about social safety net programs. I’m talking about workers owning the means of production. Billionaires should not exist. They should not be able to buy politicians, loosen regulations to increase their profit margin, or continue to cut back on pay or services employees should be getting.

Frankly, for democracy to thrive—for the human race to thrive—capitalism must be completely done away with. It has been argued that capitalism has done much to advance society, both in terms of technological advancement and in terms of social relations—but I would ask: for who?
I would argue that technological and societal advancements would happen regardless of the economic system. What capitalism does is it takes the results of those innovations and gives the rewards to a handful of people who, while they may have funded them, did not invent them and did not make them. Workers did those things. They’d do them no matter the economic system.

All that being said… Here’s the scariest thing for me: capitalism, on top of being entirely undemocratic, very obviously has no end goal. It demands infinite growth and consumption in pursuit of ever more profit on a planet with finite resources.

It’s the driving force of the climate crisis.

It needs to be stopped before it kills us. That is… If it hasn’t already.

I bring the above point up specifically because I don’t believe you have anything on your site about addressing climate issues (correct me/link me if I’m wrong) and I believe it’s imperative that ANY system looking to oppose or replace capitalism does so.

I commend you for wanting to build a better world. I’m not saying any of this to discourage you. But I believe historical context and shared definitions are important for these discussions and I wanted to at least offer some of that perspective to this discussion.

As I mentioned previously, both TZM and the Venus Project have been pursuing and advocating for open source technological solutions to the problems capitalism has caused and continues to perpetuate. They have their problems, but it might be worth it to look more into those projects purely to see what others who share similar goals to you have been saying and doing.

Beyond that, it never hurts to brush up on historical criticisms of the system you’re trying to replace. Many people on these forums are communists or socialists, and while I cannot necessarily recommend reading Capital yourself (the world could have ended by the time you finish it), there are other ways to absorb and digest its materials.

I personally am an anarcho-communist so in addition to the above I’ll recommend checking out The Conquest of Bread. It’s a book so heavily recommended it’s practically a joke at this point but it’s accessible and I think it has some stuff that might resonate with you. Maybe!

Good luck with your project!

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Lyotard’s treatise on postmodernism also does a lot to reveal the problems with the grand metanarrative of scientific objectivism, and it’s a quick read.

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@EXWeis more or less covered everything I would say way more eloquently than I would have been able to say it.

Great post :slight_smile: I agree with all of it.

You asked above about “gradual evolution of democracy and capitalism” and you keep referring to democratic capitalism but these terms are contradictory.

I very much agree, nonetheless it seems to be the most apt term for the system used by most of the powerful countries. Capitalism is the dominant force, but there are elements of democracy (which is corrupted to varying degrees).

I bring the above point up specifically because I don’t believe you have anything on your site about addressing climate issues (correct me/link me if I’m wrong) and I believe it’s imperative that ANY system looking to oppose or replace capitalism does so.

Fair point. I guess my idea is to focus on a new system itself, not so much the current issues. However, I do allude to this in that I consider sustainability to be the absolute primary goal of a society.

As I mentioned previously, both TZM and the Venus Project have been pursuing and advocating for open source technological solutions to the problems capitalism has caused and continues to perpetuate. They have their problems, but it might be worth it to look more into those projects purely to see what others who share similar goals to you have been saying and doing.

Yep, I will read all about these and your other links. I am very interested.

A lot of where I am coming from is that:

  • I agree capitalism is now terrible and potentially fatal.
  • If the system is bad we need a new system.
  • We do not have any compelling alternatives.

To be able to decry capitalism we need some alternative to put forward. Otherwise capitalism becomes the de facto least bad system. Indeed the vast majority of people in the powerful countries do not think capitalism has any remotely viable alternative. And to be honest, I think they might be right.

I have spoken to activists who hate capitalism and they just vaguely recommend ‘Marxism’. I think actually overthrowing capitalism will involve finding a clearly better system and convincing people of it. My system could be way off, but this is my thinking. I have a lot of respect for TZM and the Venus project because they are apparently coming from a similar line of thought.

Thanks again

Thanks. I’ll take a look.

I too believe that you’re coming at this with good intent and have put effort into designing something in order to try and make the world a better place.

However, this approach to social change does sit comfortably with me. To explain why I want to recommend two books that have changed the way I think about the future.

  1. Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence by Leanne Simpson

  2. Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmad

Thanks I’ll take a look :slight_smile: