Lately I've been thinking that there are three "ideal types" of production, that is, three basic models of producing the material condition of social life.
3. Democratic (whether in workplaces or communities)
In history, these are always mixed. For example, market societies rely on command relations in the domestic sphere to reproduce the labor force. Some command economies have tolerated small local markets and even democratic forms of decision making in workplace councils or communes. Sustenance economies can be thought of as a combined form, where units domestic command (patriarchy) link up with other similar units for exchanges (which may be organized as gifts or markets). All three can also be combined with distribution on command (seizure, expropriation, tribute, taxation).
Further, in history and in principle each of these arrangements can be and has been built on a set of suppositions, a kind of dictatorship (ala DeBois in Black Reconstruction in America) that establishes the limits and values of the system (for example, animal rights advocates reject the speciesist suppositions of US capitalism; we could call that a dictatorship of the human). Command economies have been built on the dictatorship of the proletariat. They've also been built on the dictatorship of military-industrial elites. Likewise, markets have been structured for the sake of competition as well as for the sake of imperialism. Democratic arrangements of production (whether directly within workplaces, mediated through laws, or part of local or tribal customs) can be and have been limited by hierarchies within the demos that establish the parameters of what can be done, not to mention modes of inclusion and exclusion.
These three types cut across the binaries of top-down v. bottom-up, especially by resisting the normative value given to bottom-up. Markets can be thought about in both ways (especially when one thinks about US free market fetishism as it rests on suppositions of states' rights and their legacy of slavery and patriarchy). A more benign example would be the romance of the entreprenuer, the small businessman, the do-it-yourselfer. The point here is that even in these bottom-up versions, markets exert a force 'behind the backs' of sellers and buyers. Another way to make the same claim is to say that there is no innocent or free market. Even if a market without a state were possible, the market is not a realm of freedom. Or, "bottom-up" cannot describe an ideal arrangement of a system of production.
Somewhere Zizek notes how bourgeois society represses the relations of domination and servitude that are expressed directly in feudalism. These social relations, then, are expressed as relations between things. We enjoy capitalism, then, in part because we prefer the fantasy of freedom it allows. We fetishize commodities not because of the things (any old thing can be a commodity) but because of the way they enable us to disavow social relations, disavow hierarchy and exploitation.
How many leftists do you know with iproducts? I confess to owning an iphone (and old one) and to buying them for my kids (new ones). I confess to having purchased more than one ipod. I confess to falling in love with idesigns and the aesthetic features of these objects. And, all this knowing the conditions under which they are made. Most of those in my circles who have ithings know that they are made in FoxConn factories where the workers try to and sometimes succeed in commiting suicide.
But this isn't a piece about the horrors of Apple (maybe this is now the moment of disavowal). It's about what non-market economies for us can mean. Can there be economies that produce food, housing, medical care, energy, and transportation, that provide roads and railways, airplanes and flights, that have reliable sewage systems, clean water, and trash collection, that enable and distribute fast and reliable communication, that care for the very young and the very old, that enable a quality of life for people of differing abilities and capacities and that do this directly rather than without the mediation of commodities (not to mention wages or similar such modes of accounting for work input)?
I tend to think that the answer is yes and that a basic structure would involve some kind of complex set of collectives for organizing commons. These collectives would combine in various layers and networks that would enable connections based on locale as well as industry/sector. But even this schematic and idealized first step opens up problems. For example, every locale needs clear water and a good sewage system. So, every locale would need engineers who could evaluate, run, and repair the systems. They would also need pipes and different kinds of hardware, most likely that they would not be able to make themselves but would get from another locale. But what if that locale didn't want to make pipes anymore? What if all the young people moved someplace else to develop software or dance? It's hard for me to imagine what it would mean to handle this democratically: how would it scale? It's less hard to imagine how to deal with it via command.
Extreme capitalism deals with this in two ways. People either move to where the jobs are or they are too poor (or have too many other obligations) to move and so do the work others don't want to do.
Another way I try to think about this is in terms of Detroit: if communists took over the city, dissolved private property and debt, what would the next step be? How would we get through the winter?
At any rate, humanists imply that we can answer these questions with respect: if pay and regard don't result from a higher regard for mental labor, then physical labor won't be onerous. And then what? What decides the distribution of work or tasks? It's one thing to disconnect work from food, housing, health (which is what I take the axiom "from each according to ability, to each according to need" to entail). It's another altogether to proceed as if this disconnection at the same time entailed a kind of freedom from work (that is, from compulsion whether commanded, normative, or by necessity).
I think that the elements of command and chance are unavoidable. Liberalism combines the two in meritocracy/equality of opportunity. But this simply displaces the question of command and contingency onto education and its hierarchies, luck of birth and parentage, the contingencies of life. And communism? At a minimum it has to make command and contingency collective matters. This doesn't eliminate or resolve them. But it means that they are not forces the individual encounters alone or for which the individual is deemed responsible (in terms of award or punishment).