A Trip to Ecotopia

A trip to Wikitopia - Richard Greeman -
Remember that childhood game where one kid starts a story and then the next kids in the circle are supposed to continue it? Well, here goes! Please join in and continue this tale about a visit to a world where the economy is based on human need rather than profit.

Adventure One: Arrival
Imagine you’re a Teen Time Traveler who arrives someplace in Wikitopia – let’s say in the French countryside near Chartres in 2100 . From a distance you can see the famous old Cathedral with its two unmatched spires, then a Medieval-looking street scene and many other things familiar from books and picture postcards. But other things seem strangely unfamiliar. You note your impressions as you explore the environment.[Feel free to start your own new adventure here!]

For example, you notice the quiet, the absence of noisy, smelly vehicles, the friendly unrushed look of the people, their elegant, colorful and original clothes, the wonderful smells in the air of bread baking, the cheerful sight of fresh washing on a line, the doors and windows of the houses left casually open. Odder still, you notice bicycles with white handgrips leaning here and there against trees and walls, unlocked and unattended.

On this summer day the old town appears as spruce and as picturesque as a tourist poster, with open markets on the squares and folks in colorful costumes bustling about with wicker shopping baskets and handcarts. You suppose that some smart Chamber of Commerce has convinced the Mayor to create a pedestrian zone in order to attract wealthy tourists. But where are the all gaudy tourist shops with their plastic Eiffel Towers made in China ? (Feel free to continue to explore, that is to invent, your own city.)

Adventure Two: A Conversation with some children
Hungry, and attracted by the smell of crêpes being made at a market stand, you join a line of giggly children waiting impatiently for their mid-morning snack.

You (or rather your Avatar -- let's call her Penny Wonderful, a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Buffy the Vampire Killer) immediately become the object of intense curiosity and half-suppressed hilarity. You attempt to save your adult dignity by asking one likely-looking lad what grade he is in. More giggles and looks of amazement.

“But you do go to school, don’t you?” More hilarity. Finally, a tall serious girl calms the others and addresses you as follows:

“Friend from Afar, please don’t take offense. I see you are a stranger here. The children mean you no harm. It’s just that they don’t understand your antique way of speaking. For them, a ‘grade’ is when a bicycle racer goes steep up hill and a ‘school’ is something fish swim in.” Turning to the others, she adds with an uppity smirk “So they laugh like the ignorant ninnies that they are.”

After the ruckus of protruding tongues and rude noises, the tall girl continues unperturbed: “I am called Alice , and I love reading old stories about life on the planet before the Emergence.”

Turning to the others, she explains: “In the olden days, all young people were forced to spend the whole day sitting indoors in rows learning how to take tests. The grownups called this ‘school.’ I suppose this was because all the children were forced to move in groups, all in the same direction like schools of fish. Is that right, Friend from Afar?”

Not wishing to embarras her in front of the others and in any case at a loss for an answer, you nod your head as Alice goes on with her historical explanation.

“At the end of each year, if a young person succeeded in passing her tests she was sent on to another room full of chairs to prepare for even harder tests, and so on year after year. As they grew up, the children would have to study harder and harder, like cyclists racing up a steep hill. I suppose that is why they called them ‘grades,’ right Stranger?”

Nonplussed, you nod agreement.

“In those days, nothing was more important than winning the race. In one story I read, a Japanese boy’s parents made him get up in the dark and study for two hours every morning before going off to school. Then, after school, he had to go to an expensive cram-school and learn more about test-taking until it was dark again. Worse still, bullies picked on him and made his life at school into a Hell.”

“If I lived back then,” said Tim, the likely lad about whose ‘grade’ you had enquired, “I’d of run off and hide in the woods.”

“You couldn’t have,” answered Alice seriously. “In those days they had tough grownups with sticks and guns called ‘police’ who were paid to catch kids who ran away from school. In another old story I read, a boy who kept running away from his school was punished by being taken away from home by the people with sticks and guns and locked up with other ‘bad’ boys in a cold, dirty place where everyone was mean and did horrible things to him… So the young people in schools were scared to swim too far the right or the left and kept moving in the same direction as the others so they could grow up and swim with the adults in great schools called offices. Then, if they continued to swim day after day in the same direction at the same speed or better still faster than the others, they would receive Urines or Dollers for their pains. Indeed,” said Alice , proud of her erudition, “the old word ‘Doller’ is derived from the Latin dolere meaning to suffer pain. What’s it like where you’re from, Friend from Afar?”

(How would you answer that question? This might be a fun place for you to enter the story)

Adventure Three: An Amazing Bike Ride
Eager to explore the environment, you ask where you can rent a bike. The giggling children look at you like you’re a bit addled. Gesturing toward to a bicycle rack on the other side of the square, Tim answers your question: “Just go over there and pick any bike with white handgrips and off you go, Friend! You can leave it wherever you like when you’re done with it.”

Passing through the suburbs, you notice the absence of sprawl, above all the lack of advertising. You pass through an arch and suddenly you’re out in the country. Behind you, the silhouette of the town under its Cathedral recededs. Before you, the vista of the vast fertile prairie of the Bauce evoked by the Christian poet Charles Péguy in his pious pilgrimage across France’s rich wheat fields to Our Lady of Chartres.
But something seems different. The odor of the fields. The look of the plants!
“Oh my God and Holy Shit ! that’s fucking marijuana growing!” Acres and acres of it. You stumble out into a field, crumble a bud into your hand, roll a joint and light up. YAAASSS ! A hit, a palpable hit as you buddy Hamlet always used to say.

Just at that moment, a tall, lanky peasant emerges from a nearby field, stops, turns and stares at you. Suddenly, you realize you’re doing something illegal. Actually at least three things — trespassing, stealing, smoking dope, and being an undocumented alien! You’re feeling more and more nervous as he slowly ambles over and looks you up and down.

“Bonjour,” you say in your best high school French, remembering to add the necessary “Monsieur” to show respect and appear respectable.

This polite greeting brings of sparks of mirth to the tall man’s crinkly blue eyes. “Humble Salutations, My Lord,” he replies in English, sketching a bow. “But would it be permitted to ask if you are not a stranger here?”

“You see, French people haven’t called each other “Monsieur” since olden times, before ranks were done away with during the Emergence. Now we’re all equal, and folks just call each other ‘Friend.’”

“N’est-ce pas, Amie?” he adds with a friendly grin.

By now you are nearly convinced that you won’t be busted. You stop imagining yourself busted, humiliated, fingerprinted, roughed up and thrown into prison among violent angry men, both guards and other prisoners free to commit violence on your young ass with impunity. Your heart beat slows as these familiar fears receed like dark clouds fleeing before the sunshine emanating from your new ‘friend.’
“Ami,” you reply, “Thee remind me of how the old Quakers used to talk. And do people now everywhere use the familiar tu to each other like the Quakers with their ‘Thee?’

“Tu apprends vite” (“Thee are a quick learner”), he nods with an approving smile.

By now you are totally at ease. And so you are not totally surprised when the dude takes out a pouch and some papers asks you if you wouldn’t prefer to smoke “du vrai shit?”

As he rolls you a joint, he explains to you that the hemp in these fields is not being grown for smoking, but for biomass. He tells you it’s easy to cultivate because it grows so rapidly, is so hardy, requires so few inputs, and is easy on the soil. Plus, it has so many marvelous uses.

“These here are big, hardy, fast-growing plants but their buds – adequate for propagation — are rather small as you can see and don’t contain much THC… We grow a much stronger Herb year-round in greenhouses for smoking and medicinal purposes,” he concludes, proffering you a neatly-made joint.
“What about all those wonderful uses, Ami?” you ask politely, before politely accepting the gift, politely lighting up and taking your first hit off an apparently legal spif.

As you listen wide-eyed, the dude lays out before you a whole new world of Better Living (not “Through Chemistry” as the du Pont Corporation used to advertize) but through Nature’s Miracle, the hemp plant.
“Funny you should mention du Pont, he says. “Did you know that it was the du Pont de Nemours Corporation that promoted the first ban on marijuana in the 1930’s so as wipe out hemp cultivation and create a vast monopoly market for Nylon, du Pont’s new petroleum-based, polluting, chemical substitute for hemp rope. Now here we a century later, the planet out of oil and what do we use to fuel up our few remaining combustion-powered machines and vehicles? Hemp! Hemp distilled into enthanol.” And with a grand gesture, “this hemp right here in our fields!”

As you gaze up at the sky through the tops of the waving rows of hemp plants (somehow you suddenly find yourself lying comfortably on your back on the edge of the field), you hear your new Friend proclaim, as if inspired, that “the whole cycle has turned around.” And indeed, from your point of view everything else seems to be turning around your head as you lie on your back with your eyes focused on the circling tops of the plants.

… As you tune back in to your new Friend, you hear his voice going on to explain to you that hemp is also used in every kind of packaging, a cheap clean substitute for all those ever-present, expensive, polluting, un-recyclable plastic wrappings made from petroleum.

Hemp is also the principle fiber in the paper we use. Because it grows so fast, it provides us many more reams per acre than do more slow-growing trees. In any case, we need all the trees we can grow both for wood, to provide habitat for billions of living things and to fight global warming by sucking up carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.”

At this point the dude sees that you are obviously nodding off, and tells you to enjoy your nap. In any case, he has to go back to tending the field. As he leaves, he tells you his name is Michel but he’s also ‘Mika’ in his band, where he sings, plays the guitar and writes. As he goes back to work he invites you to a concert he and his group are putting on that night in Chartres .

Now it’s your turn to continue the story. Why not show up at Mika’s concert? Or begin another adventure among the Utopians?

A Dream of Ecotopias
This is an earlier version which tries to cover many different aspects of future societies. It is very general and needs to be integrated with the Trip to Ecotopia story (with Penny Wonderful as hero)
and developed with more adventures, characters and incidents. We are also inviting our radical friends to imagine themselves living in the Year 2100 and pretend they are being interviewed by Penny (we can do this on line).

Third Dream: Utopias
The Internet During Reconstruction – Natural Order Re-established – From Improvisation to Planning-Factories -- Development vs Simplicity -– Transportation –- Markets –- The Mystery of Commodities Explained – Monopolies -–Transformation of Work – Education – Cities –The Planetary Festival-- Envoi

The following night I dreamed of Utopias. Plural. For in the fantastic world proposed by my imagination, there were as many different ways of organizing work and daily life as there were cultural traditions, political doctrines and even temperaments. People who were ill at ease in one type of agricultural or urban community or society had only to go work and live in another, more to their own taste, and many people changed place often, simply out of a love of adventure and to see the world.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

Internet During Reconstruction

The survivors of the wars and revolutions of the 21st Century had inherited a scarred and battered earth. Ironically, thanks to the technology inherited from capitalist barbarism, reconstruction was less difficult than had been feared. The dismantling of the armaments industry freed immense industrial resources that could now be put to the service of the people and the planet. As in the ancient prophecies, they “beat their swords into plowshares.” The enormous bulldozers that had once served to demolish Palestinian houses now served to make water available to the Palestinians. Factories for war planes were being transformed into factories for agro-economic transport. Near Hartford, Connecticut (USA) I visited a former tank factory which was now producing tractors.

I asked my hosts how theses transformations had come about. They described to me how at the end of the global general strike, the strikers occupying factories, mines and refineries had taken stock and begun little by little to restart production of goods and materials needed for immediate consumption and to keep other industries supplied. The practice of making decisions democratically acquired during the strike now carried over into an improvised cooperative self-management by assemblies and workers’ councils. Internet links enabled these cooperatives to advertise for the materials they needed and trade them for finished goods they produced. Thanks to this E-Bay system, goods were exchanged through an intricate system of barter.

I asked my hosts how these forms of economic self government operated. They had evolved, I was told, quite naturally out of the various types of organisation that had been thrown up to meet the needs of the strikers during the struggle. The common principles among them were these. Leaders were elected and subject to recall by their constituents. Terms of office were kept short to prevent the creation of a professional political class and to keep representatives in touch with their base. Officials were paid normal workers’ wages, and members of a collective more or less rotated in office. There was no firewall between the executive and legislative functions of self-government. Those who voted measures were also responsible for carrying them out. It occurred to me that the Utopians had revived the ancient Greek ideal of participatory democracy – but no longer restricted to free native-born males.

The Natural Order Re-Established

My hosts also took me out into the countryside. I understood that little by little the natural order was re-establishing itself on earth. In the agricultural countries of the South, the peasants had taken back the good lands expropriated by invaders and used to cultivate luxury products for export to rich countries. It was explained to me that these commodities —coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, bananas, spices – had come from the work of impoverished natives reduced to semi-slavery. Peasants who fed themselves on subsistence agriculture had been pushed back to the least productive land. Their children had ended up in horriblefavelas, bidonvilles, slums and urban projects where they lived on garbage. In the name of “free markets,” rich monopolies had ruined peasant markets by flooding them with produce at the lowest prices. That unfair competition was subsidized by the democratic governments that offered gross subsidies to big agro-business enterprises.

In Africa, I was shown a museum devoted to the chocolate children. Pathetic huts, child drawing, photographs and recorded interviews bore witness to a common early 21st Century practice. It was a memorial of the sufferings of parents too poor to feed their own children who ended up selling them to manpower merchants and never seeing them again. These merchants sold them to cocoa cultivators who starved while making them work endless hours picking cocoa to fulfull contracts with the multinationals. Companies like Nestlé resold these chocolates to children in industrial countries at prices twenty to a hundred times the cost of production. Interviews revealed that none of these children had ever seen, much less tasted a chocolate bar.

During the planetary revolution, these poor peasants of Africa, Latin America, and Asia organized and struggled to take back their traditional lands. Their first goal was to become self-sufficient nutritionally by planting traditional subsistence crops. At the same time on part of the land, they continued to farm the sugar, cocoa, coffee, spices and other commodities that city workers like to eat, to use for trade. It was explained to me that regular trade was re-established spontaneously at the very beginning of the reconstruction period. Sailors and aircrew who brought emergency relief and the technical aid for things like irrigation and communication, didn’t return home with their planes and boats empty. They filled them with good things for workers of the world’s metropoles.

Railroaders, truckers, sailors and aviation crews had played a primordial role by bringing aid. After medication and food came tools with teams of aid-workers and technicians working in cooperation with local assemblies. They helped the peasants dig wells, construct cisterns and irrigate. They proposed iron ploughs to farmers still laboring the soil with wood. They helped push back the hunger, thirst, and diarrhoea that had for so long tortured the Billions in the south of the planet.

Thus the natural rapport between city and country was re-established almost spontaneously in outbursts of solidarity, mutual help and cooperation. For the first time in five imperialist centuries, nobody was dying of hunger either in the rich fields of the earth or in the slums of great opulent cities.

From Improvisation to ‘Planning Factories’

Once peace was re-established on the planet, the Internet revealed itself as a tool just as useful now as during the period of revolution. The first order of the day was to make a rapid assessment of the state of the planet and its population so as to address the most urgent needs, the first wounds to treat.The Net facilitated first the gathering of information and then the matching up of needs and resources around the planet.

Committees of specialists formed in every country to exchange data on agriculture, ecology, migration, refugees, famine, drought. Global data bases were established. Statistics brought together in the data bases permitted specialists working with the assemblies to simplify choices by permitting discussion of alternatives with their advantages and disadvantages. All this system, if it was a system, was improvised in haste. There was a planet to heal, with its human, animal and vegetable inhabitants. Half the people were thirsty and lacked water for hygiene and agriculture.

As reconstruction progressed, this system was refined and elaborated. Research Centers were created on the regional, national and planetary levels to bring together all the economic data transmitted by collectives of producers and consumers and by the local assemblies. These centers also had the task of classifying and analyzing this data, then transmitting the results to the Assemblies in a form readily accessible to ordinary workers. The researchers were also responsible for producing a range of alternative plans in every domain: different plans each with forecasts about the costs in human effort, the time it would take to complete, its environmental impact and the benefits it would bring to individuals and collectivities. These ‘Plan Factories’[[#sdfootnote1sym|1]] as the centers were commonly called, provided the kind of information about alternatives which made possible truly democratic and popular debates all on essential questions of social and economic life.

Later on, the Internet also permitted great planetary referendums on certain fundamental questions: ecology, health, human rights. The choices proposed by the ‘plan factories’ were clear and comprehensible to every voter. There were competing global plans for limiting the extraction and use of fuels emitting CO2 and other gases dangerous to the ozone and the atmosphere. There were proposals for the creation and coordination of sources of alternative energy. There were also plans for saving plants, animals, seas.

Development vs Simplicity

As various projects were discussed in neighborhood assemblies and collectives, the debates generally turned around the choice between plans considered “productivist” and more conservative plans that put the emphasis on the reduction of work time and minimal environmental impact. Some Utopians argued in favor of a greater immediate effort to construct infrastructures that would make life easier in the future. Others opted for a slower rate of accumulation, a simpler life, the least impact on nature, the liberty to dispose of their own time.

Groups of citizens with projects to propose could also ask the ‘plan factories’ to prepare estimates and technically feasible plans. By this process, each consumer, each worker, each local community could clearly see the choices that suited them best. In practice, the great diversity of societies simplified things. Certain regions opted for greater productivity, others for greater simplicity. As long as the basic needs of the environment and the rights of neighbors were respected, there was no problem. The dissatisfied always had the option joining other communities better suited to their ideals and their lifestyles.

Assemblies tried to come to conclusions by consensus, but if a consensus could not be reached, a majority decision might be called for. Even then, if the minority were large and resolute, the decision might be put off or imposed for a limited period only. In any case, all decisions were periodically reviewed. If a plan caused negative or unforeseen results, it could be changed or even withdrawn.


Free transportation had already been put into place in the period of the planetary revolution, and that had happened in the most spontaneous manner. After a series of official strikes, the transport workers had understood that they would only seriously inconvenience other workers by depriving them of trains, buses, subways and airlines. On the other hand, management, government and media were warning the public against strikers who “thought only of themselves.”

So, from general meeting to general meeting, and to the scandal of the unions, the word went out: “Strike on the sale of transport tickets!” By blocking the ticket windows while they were reestablishing service, the workers were depriving the bosses of revenue and attracting the sympathy of travellers. That worked so well that after the revolution, tickets had become so rare that children were collecting and trading these relics of pre-history.

In the domain of interurban transport, trains were more and more replacing automobiles, with gas and diesel fuel now considered expensive, dangerous and pollutant. International travel and trade was conducted via great sailing vessels with computerised navigational and sail-setting systems capable of carrying many passengers and great quantities of materials at speeds up to 25 knots with zero consuption of fuel. It was every boy and girl’s dream to work out on the ocean as a sailor on these swift, silent strong, ships (also well-known for partying).

In countries in the South, light planes were linking communities far from highways and connecting them to villages where you could find markets, doctors, schools. In the metropoles, trains were constructed on the surface of highways. Traffic lanes were left for traffic of bus, truck, taxi, and cars for rent and for the handicapped (most of them gas-electric).

Each exit had its train station, where local bus and taxis left and arrived. Each station had its café, newspaper stand and free stand for bicycles and some vans and cars (for a price). Around the stations, there were outdoor markets where travellers could get bread, fruit, vegetables and dozens of
other products before going home.


The old commercial centers, very accessible by the network of public transport, were transformed into bazaars and surrounded by public park in the place of the old parking lots. A great variety of local and regional businesses were installed in the centers in the place of all those faceless and lifeless stores from multinational chains like MacDonalds, Etam, Jennifer, Zara, Calvin Klein, and Benneton. Artisans could be seen there chatting with their friends and potential customers while working at the same time. Cuisine was both regional and multi-ethnic, and not expensive. Two or three times a week, the old parking lots were transformed into peasant markets where producers sold produce directly from their farms and gardens.

Sundays, there were the flea markets, where people resold their clothes, their books, their furniture when they wanted to change it. Theaters, circuses and traveling shows set up their tents there. And as in urban centers, you could see on the screens films from all over the world. I saw these stations and centers bubbling over with life and conviviality. Vendors, like customers, were generally in good spirits and rarely in a hurry.

On national and global levels, the Internet facilitated wholesale trade in oil, minerals, metals, production tools. At any moment, by going online, you could locate offers and searches, in cotton, sugar, steel, cocoa, of a certain quality and quantity. Each type of production had its site, and you could see exchanges being made in real time. Fascinated, I watched the scene while a chocolate cooperative in Berne in search of 1000 kilos of a certain type of cocoa got in touch with several producer co-ops in Africa, and ended up reaching an accord with peasants in Djambala in the Congo.

While I was looking, a thousand other deals of the kind were in the course of being negotiated, apparently to the mutual satisfaction of all. To save on freight, you generally chose producers closest geographically, but sometimes trade took place across oceans and mountains. Astonished, I asked my hosts: “Comrades, I have always fought against Globalization, and I’ve always believed that the market was a deadly instrument of capitalism that transformed all into merchandise!”

They answered that as there was no more capitalism, there was no more problem. But seeing me at the same time perplexed and sceptical, my friends took me to the Institute of Prehistory, where I found working precisely the scholar who could answer me in the most rigorous terms.

If these explanations don’t interest you, skip up to Monopolies.

The Mystery of Commodities Explained

It was a little laughing lady around 50 who answered me good humoredly:

“Like many militants of your generation, you confuse two things: The natural market, on the one hand, a social institution going back to the beginnings of human culture, and on the other, this dangerous animal that invades society with capitalism, this monster hybrid half-thing and half- abstraction, this fetish of capitalism, merchandise!

”Historically”, she explained, “markets were friendly places where people got together to trade produce while at the same time chatting, exchanging news and ideas, weaving relationships clan to clan, village to country, people to people . . .

“I understand. I’ve just been told that an herbs market had its origin around the year 1000 in the city of Montpellier in the present south of France. Arab and Jewish doctors coming here from Spain found Italians and Bulgarians who brought herbs from India. From the herbs market was born the city, its Faculty of Medicine, and the pharmacy industry has always been very strong in the region. On reflection, you’d have to say the market is the source of civilization. . .”

One of the sources,” my gracious interlocutor answered indulgently.

“ . . . and they sold here merchandise !” I said maliciously.
“Indeed,” smiled the scholar. “You could call merchandise anything natural or manufactured as long as it is traded. The peasant from Mali who happens to feed her family and take to the village market her surplus of yams expects to go back home with things that she doesn’t know how to make herself: a copper pot, a comb. . .”

“I think I understand: those yams of the Malienne are only the, so to speak, occasional merchandise, therefore innocent. But whence come your merchandise-fetishes that are so mysterious and dangerous?”

“They come, curiously enough, not from the market but from the global production system. In order that ALL useful or desirable objects become systematically merchandise, it’s necessary that all over the world, businesses produce large quantities of uniform objects with the goal of selling them for profit on an indetermined market. You can call that the abstract market—in opposition to the natural market of society—for sellers and buyers never meet. Also because the value of the merchandise there depends on the cost of their production, rather than their beauty, their utility or the desire they provoke.

“And just so, in the contact of this abstract world market, all human products become abstract objects embodying a certain amount of market value, this being independent of their utility and desirability. More curious still, contrary to the natural market where humans weave their social relationships, these are goods that maintain “social” relationships as soon as they enter the abstract world market!”

“But what exactly would they have to say to each other, these sacred abstract monsters?”

“Their prices!”

“Indeed, if the goods could speak, they would establish their mutual relationships by comparing their prices. ‘I am worth 56 Euros!’ a chic pullover would say with a proud look. ‘And me, 112 Euros!’ a men’s suit would answer drily. ‘You’d need two of you to buy me, so shit on you.’

“There are the only conversations that you would hear in the abstract market, but they are so numerous that they’d end up silencing the voice of humans, for example that of Lo, the young worker of Shanghai who to feed her child works twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for the subcontractor of a big international brand. Indeed, Lo has no human relationship with Laure, the Parisian secretary who wants the pullover that the young Chinese woman knitted and for which she received 13 cents Euro. Unfortunately, at 56 pounds, the labor of Lo is too expensive for the little Parisienne.

“On the other hand, those conversations stupidly breaking out between merchandise—“I’m worth/You’re worth”—are so intrusive that we have become as well informed about their “social” relationships as about those of our friends and our favorite celebrities. To such an extent that on TV there were consumer games where you won prizes for correctly estimating the price of different goods.”

“I know,” I said embarrassedly. “And even when merchandise keeps quiet behind a window we hear it very clearly. For example, our friend the men’s suit that murmurs, “You know very well that I’m worth two times this vain pullover.” I admit that those animals are vastly intelligent, but what is the origin of their market value? I’d say myself that it’s the amount of human labor that each product has cost. For example, it would have required twice as much time for tailors to sew the men’s suit than it would for Lo to knit the pullover, right?”

“Not completely,” answered the historian, mischievously. “Imagine that the knitter, out of laziness or lack of experience, works two times more slowly than normal. She would put in twice as much labor, but would her pullover be twice expensive?”

“Obviously not,” I admitted, perplexed.

“And if you gave her a machine that permitted her to knit ten pullovers in the time it takes to do one by hand, would she be ten times richer?”

“No, again. So if it isn’t the human labor expended to make the pullover that gives it its value, what is it? The desire of the buyer?

“Of course not, since Laure the secretary found it too expensive!” laughed my charming researcher.

“I give up, explain it to me,” I begged, really distressed now.

“But you knew it already!” smiled the philosophe, indulgently. “It’s only that useful human labor is not, as we’ve seen, quantifiable. The activity of a knitter gives us, after all, only a sweater that’s more or less warm and more or less beautiful. You need abstract labor to create the abstract (quantifiable) value of merchandise. And in order to establish its potential price you have to place it in relationship to other merchandise in the same category that could have been manufactured by machine, and that will embody more or less necessary social labor.

All the same, you wouldn’t be wrong in proposing that the quality of human labor that a product has cost were the origin of its value. But, as we’ve seen, it’s not the quality of concrete labor (an example being the slow knitter) that determines the value of product, but the average quantity necessary to make such a product in competition with others of the same variety on the world market. Obviously, in order to establish the integral value of merchandise, for example the men’s suit, you’d have to add the necessary labor of the peasants who grew the cotton, the labor of the weavers who transformed it into cloth, the labor of the tailors and transporters.

“Let me sum up, Dear Professor: On this abstract market that includes all the unknown producers and buyers of the world where the hand knitters compete with the machine knitters, it’s the time required for the minimum necessary labor that determines the market value of the sweater. . . “

“Yes, and it’s not the quantity of real concrete human labor that determines the abstract value of merchandise. . .”

“. . . It’s the abstract labor!”
“I knew you knew!”

“On the other hand, I’ve never seen an abstract laborer.”

“Rascal! You know very well that this paradox is at the heart of the problem. If a human manufactures something, for example the Malienne her yams, it’s by a concrete labor of the cultivator that it reaches a useful value, as it happens here, edible. But Lo the Chinese girl doesn’t sell the surplus of her harvest, she sells an abstraction, her labor power calculated at X yen per hour for Y hours. And as her time is no longer her own, the product of her concrete labor of knitter is therefore not hers. Fruit of alienated labor, the sweaters of Lo are alienated from her by her boss, Li, Communist Party member, who makes her work as fast as possible in order to have sweaters to sell and maximize his profit by lowering the production costs below the global average. However free, Lo lives her productive life as the slave of Li, except that owners of slaves—just like owners of horses—look after the health and nourishment of their property. On the other hand when Lo, malnourished and weakened by her long work hours, can’t knit fast enough, her boss replaces her with a younger and fresher girl from the country. There you have the circumstances ofalienated labor (abstract labor) embodied in properly so-called capitalist merchandise. . .”

“Good. I agree. It’s therefore not the market, but the alienated labor that gives birth to that capitalist merchandise become universal fetish. But let’s admit that this dialectic was not very well understood in the period of globalization. Each time they talk to us about markets, we know they’re going to have a rough time of it, that they’re going to lose the slim fringe benefits that they have, that life becomes less human, that they’re going to take from us even the air and the water to make merchandise out of them.”


“In the period you speak about, the word “markets” was hiding in reality the effective monopoly of several hundred big multinationals. These groups were so powerful that the annual revenues of just one of them, General Motors, surpassed the GDP of all the Scandinavian countries put together. Thanks to international organizations and treaties (IMF, World Bank, NAFTA) these powerful multinationals had been able to dominate every domain of world economy, agriculture and media. In the name of a sham “liberalism,” these big companies were able to manipulate the market so that exporters of raw materials in the South sold their sugar, coffee and petroleum at low prices. On the other hand, the same multinationals resold these products at high prices to workers in the North, whom advertising pushed into unhealthy consumption.

Thus the big companies destroyed or deformed traditional markets by monopolizing trade and by manipulating prices to their own advantage. Instead of facilitating trade, the “markets” pushed by media and economists in the service of monopolies effectively prevented producers from getting together, and organizing trade.

Even in the rich countries in the North, peasants, fishermen, small manufacturers never managed to hold their own against monopolies subsidized by the state. As governments, media and supermarkets imposed uniform consumption, small business went downhill, bankruptcy became an epidemic and young people who dreamed of creating their own businesses found themselves unemployed debtors.

At the same time, during the revolution and after the fall in the value of money, effectively free markets were being organized almost everywhere in the world. First out of necessity. Under the strain, barter and LE DON GRATUIT turned out to be the sole recourse permitted to groups and individuals in order to meet their needs. Moreover, the attempts at a rational, political control of markets proposed by the Assemblies at the beginning quickly revealed themselves to be inefficient. These restricitons engendered only smuggling, repression, bureaucracy and penury. Remembered now were those command economies in Stalinist Russia, where after 70 years of “socialst construction,” people waited in line for hours for scarce, poor-quality products.

But, into villages and on to town squares people were taking directly what there was to offer. So, at a distance, with the help of the Internet, products found themselves displayed on the planetary public square. From these improvisations, increasingly regular and specialized were being formed around certain sites. People remembered the Local Systems of Trade (LST). People remembered anarchist traditions of thehackers at the beginning of the Internet who defied commercial business on the Web in putting free of charge, at the disposal of internauts, the possibility of trading CDs and software as freeware.

Users of these sites/markets were refining rules of conduct to assure the openness and integrity of trade and minimize fraud. Thus, as reconstruction went on, vast and complicated trade networks were being confidently woven all around the world.

So the merchandise-fetish was disappearing. People were no longer accepting possession as the sole manner of appropriating others; they were losing the habit of putting a price on all things and all human activity. In place of complicated commercial law established by capitalism to keep business monopoly in the hands of the rich, in place of the abstract labor market that transformed men into alienated sellers of work and passive consumers, utopians were putting up a single law, clear and simple:

Man is not merchandise. The sale of human labor for the profit of others is forbidden.”

The Transformation of Work

Everyone was working, but less and less. Many senseless jobs were abolished. There were no more CEOS, no more police, no more attorneys, no more watchmen, no more bankers, no more bank robbers and bank employees, no more cashiers, no more politicians, no more supervisors, no more teachers, no more foremen, no more blackmailers, no more head waiters, no more bureaucrats, no more plutocrats, no more mafia, no more military, no more jailers, no more exchange agents, no more swindlers.

To all these and to the victims of physically exhausting jobs, was offered the choice of rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty and doing their part in socially useful work. For most it was a pleasure and a liberation to return to the productive community. At any rate, if you did not work, you did not eat. But with almost twice the number of effective workers, the necessary man-hours diminished. The normal working week was reduced from 40 to 20 hours.

After the first reconstruction, the point was rapidly reached where nothing was lacking. It was understood that the problem of global capitalism had been overproduction, for example of the wheat with which rich countries flooded poor countries so that false competition produced famine. Thus the overproduction of cars, whose surplus incited firms to forever seek new markets by flooding the media with sexy advertising, having new highways built, sabotaging public transport, forcing themselves into countries in the south, and polluting the atmosphere. Clearly the number of cars already in existence largely sufficed, as long as they were maintained and repaired. Certain auto factories were converted to the production of tramways, while many of their former workers opened repair shops.

These conversions were organized most often by the factory committees which, after having occupied their work places during the big strike, took over management, working with local assemblies of communities where these industries were installed and where the employees and their families lived. Installations judged too polluting, or too dangerous for workers, were closed. Others were cleaned up. There were no more bosses. Cooperatives and work collectives under self-management organized production in ways appropriate to each sector. These management collectives aligned themselves with other self-directed collectives that were both producers and consumers. A wool collective, for example, with a collection of weavers, and so on. Here was work for all. Each person worked at the trade that pleased him or her and with the team that felt right. And when anyone wanted to change trade or location, they were welcome elsewhere.

During the first period of the Utopias, workers in general got from the community what they brought in through their work. (Communities looked after children, of course, the old and the sick.) But little by little, with abundance, that old idea was put into practice: “To each according to his needs, from each according to his/her abilities.” It was working very well. For each practicing disciple of Laforguee’s The Right to Be Lazythere were others so passionate about science, music, agriculture or travel for whom life would be unthinkable without work.

Less and less was being produced, but the little that was being made was more beautiful, durable and useful. Work was becoming a pleasure, production an art. In the autumn, citizens and intellectuals went off joyously to the country to get back together again with the earth by helping in the harvest. Ancient festivals took on new life.

Many people opted to live close to nature while remaining in contact with global culture. Troupes of artists of each culture were crisscrossing the planet, and everywhere you could connect with libraries and concert halls by the Web. Moreover, associations of athletes, musicians, amateurs of wine or postage stamps were flourishing in each locality and undertaking visits and trades. Culture was no longer a spectacle but real life.


Juvenile prisons were abolished, those factories for molding docile employees, passive consumers and ignorant citizens, those stupidity factories that capitalism called “schools.” Children were now free to play and pursue their education to their own liking, according to their age, satisfying their curiosity. Communities put at their disposal all they needed to teach themselves, and adults offered them workshops in math, science, history, music.

Children were also free to participate in the work of the fields, the factories, laboratories. They were proud and happy to accompany their elders part of the day and work alongside them. They were thus learning trades, the social life of adults, and that of the Assemblies. These experiences were giving them a feeling of competence, of participation and of utility, at the same time making what they learned in class more real and understandable.
At the level of advanced studies, the old universities returned to their place as scholarly communities. Scholars and scholar apprentices who frequented them devoted themselves peacefully to discussion and disinterested research. Diplomas, honorable again, simply marked stages in apprenticeship in this universal scholarly society. No more course credits, no more tests, no more competitive examinations, no more rivalry for grades, no more brainwashing. Diplomas no longer opened up bureaucratic careers, no longer brought financial advantage.

At the same time, these centers opened their doors wide to curious spirits of all ages and of all social backgrounds. They radiated their influence out over their regions, with professors who voluntarily offered talks and free workshops in their specialty to localities and associations. The Internet gave long-distance access to libraries and to courses, and specialists spent part of every day responding to software from students and distant colleagues who sent them studies to comment on and questions to clarify.

Beside these formal institutions, artists, dreamers, philosophers, scholars in all fields as well as artisans, engineers, agriculturalists and technicians placed themselves at the disposal of apprentices and disciples who came to learn with a master teacher. Once satisfied, the student could go on to another master or another center. Teaching went on continuously at every moment of the day and in every location. It also went back into active life, for assemblies, production collectives and associations sought out experts to help them resolve problems. The opposition between theory and practice seeming ill-founded now, learning was becoming the common property of everyone.

The Children of the Utopias seemed to be spending the brightest time of their lives, playing, going off into the woods in groups, organizing competitions, parties, enormous projects that seemed mysterious to adults. Casual love affairs came together and then apart. Adolescents and young people were going on trips a lot, working here and there, then continuing their education in more specialized areas that interested them. Nobody felt nailed down to a trade, a job, a locality. Some changed often for the sake of the experience, others contented themselves with familiar settings.


While the country was repopulating itself with nature-lovers who wished to live and work near the earth, the cities were flourishing as during the great periods of city-states such as Athens, Thebes, Syracuse, Alexandria, Florence, Pisa, Toulouse, Montpellier. People began by banning the cars that under capitalism had invaded public space, terrorizing and asphyxiating citizens who were normally pedestrian. As a stopgap, they turned high-rise office buildings into dwellings and workshops to solve the housing shortage. Streets were emptied of homeless hungry people and filled with pedestrians going about their affairs or strolling for the pleasure of showing themselves off and admiring others. The public square became public once more, and speakers could be found there at all hours.

Many people liked to dress to their advantage and much attractive and original clothing was seen. Conviviality reigned, flirtation flourished. Due to walking, people were no longer fat. Arts and crafts flourished, and the old banks and offices housed a large variety of workshops, theaters, and meeting halls. The old parking lots were transformed into parks, gardens and sports fields. Many museums were opened where connoisseurs of history and local geography, ancient musical instruments, science or model airplanes could share their treasures.

Beside teeming inner cities, neighborhoods took on life again. Each had its own character, ethnic circles and restaurants, neighbor networks, tenant associations, local institutions, sports teams, assemblies, courts to settle disputes. Neighbors lived in security now, among people they knew, whom they identified with. Abolished now were artificial divisions between noisy industrial zones, sterile business neighborhoods emptied at night, and residential bedroom communities. Ended along with that were those long exhausting commutes between work and home that capitalism imposed on workers. You could live now where you worked. You could go home for lunch at noon and even take a nap. You no longer had to be afraid of going out at night, because the streets were occupied at every moment by peaceful citizens busy with their own affairs.

The Planetary Party

I saw arts and culture flourishing everywhere, as well as sports and nature activities. Many individuals, freed from the yoke of famine and long days of boring work, were just having a great time. Others simply rested, content to breathe air that was fresher and fresher. Music was being revived, dances, products and traditional legends. New ones were being invented. Remembered now was the pre-capitalist period, when in Europe the Catholic calendar listed 142 days of holiday a year (including Sundays). It was indeed the planetary party.

All were invited to the party. All could be participants and spectators at the same time. In place of that alienating media spectacle, there was conviviality. People were traveling a lot but slowly, to avoid airplane pollution and to get to know the life of the people they were visiting, often Internet correspondents from other countries who shared the same trades and interests. In the media, diversified and controlled by the creators, all world cultures were disseminated, savored. New forms and combinations, artistic and cultural, were being imagined. The planet was beginning to resemble a real “global village.”

There I awoke, very, very happy with my dream, that I give you here as well as memory permits.

Footnoted[[#sdfootnote1anc|1]]Foreshadowed by Castoriadis in “On the Content of Socialism,” published inSocialisme ou Barbarie in 1957 and in Enlish as a Solidarity pamphlet.