Mutual Responsibility

By Anitra Nelson

From a socialist - as well as many other philosophical perspectives - mutual benefit is the reason for human society. Mutual responsibility is the core value of socialism. Therefore mutual responsibility is the rudder directing progress towards a socialist planet. The extent to which human behaviour, institutions and activities involving non-human nature embody mutual responsibility is the measure of socialist advance.

The right to exercise mutual responsibility is continually threatened by capitalism. Recent proponents of the Third Way (Anthony Giddens, 1998) suggest unacceptable and self-defeating compromises with capitalism that are most clearly revealed by assessing their projects and proposed reforms using criteria that characterise mutual responsibility. At this crucial point in human history those criteria cluster around the capacity of society, i.e. the social structures, to express and facilitate the sharing of human skills, creativity and produce and to mutually care for one another in a way that recognises that non-human nature has been critically damaged by human activities.

Today socialism must become an all encompassing quest for harmony amongst people and between people and nature. The quantitative leap that the planetary ecological crisis presents, added to chronic and enduring social injustices, means a qualitative leap in the nature of socialism itself. Socialism now not only means accepting human incapacities by sharing human potential but also involves healing the rift between humanity and the land.

Exciting proposals for socialist reforms that might better preoccupy leftists include Work Time Reduction (WTR); WTR has the potential to achieve both green and red goals. In Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet (Pluto Press, 2000) Anders Hayden, an academic and practical activist, outlines the theoretical potential of WTR in the context of recent Canadian and European case studies. In this work Hayden discusses why “fundamental differences on the question of growth, and the related question of how to define wealth” between the traditional Left and Green movements “may prove difficult to reconcile” (76).

I can’t be bothered with a critique of Anthony Giddens. For me he represents a stale debate. Within the green left there are more promising works to discuss. I would prefer a discussion group where we each present a short comment like this along with a short reading tract. We could then argue about the potential of the various proposals with the aim of patching together a workable manifesto/constitution/platform for either i) a party with pretensions to compete in the current political system but with radical proposals for changing political as well as economic and cultural structures or, ii) a movement that recognises that it has no hope in the current system but is dedicated to devising successful ways to subvert the current one.