cj#996> democracy & revolution – the means are the ends

1999-10-15

Richard Moore

Dear cj,

Some interesting threads have been developing on the social-movements list.
Here's the latest contribution I sent in, in response to comments by Tom
Cahill.

yours,
rkm


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To: •••@••.•••
From: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: social movement theories [Tom Cahill] - electoral process


10/13/1999, Tom Cahill wrote:
    I tend to be very wary, as have many people over the years,
    of anything resembling an electoral process for a place as
    large as the UK (57,000,000) having any substantive
    political meaning at all.  Town councils or village
    elections, maybe.  Possibly even places the size of 'Wales
    or Scotland or Denmark or Belgium or Catalonia.  So I am not
    so sure what you might mean by electoral process.

Dear Tom,

Thanks for the dialog.  I find your comments and questions very
constructive.  In order to explain how our undemocratic electoral process
can be a vehicle of democracy, I need to say a few words about democracy
itself.

The theory behind our current democracy-model is that people - by joining
parties or various other kinds of voting constituencies - can collectively
achieve some measure of representation in the body politic.  As we are all
aware, this process inevitably devolves into a game of power-brokering.
What could theoretically be a bottom-up process of democratic input becomes
instead a top-down process of demagoguery and manipulation.  Such a system
of 'competitive factionalism' is ideally suited to enable power usurpation
by well-organized wealthy elites, and that is precisely what has happened
throughout the West.  In the case of the US, James Madison and other
Constitution-framers were well aware of these dynamics, and it was their
express goal to avoid 'too much' democracy, what they called 'mob rule'.
They felt the nation should be run by 'those who own it.'  They succeeded.
And as you point out, the mechanisms of usurpation work increasingly
effectively as the scale of operation grows larger.

But my own critique of electoral systems, and you may agree with it, is at
a more fundamental level.  Instead of focusing on the corruption aspect,
which is scale related, I suggest that we start by looking at the problem
of democracy in-the-small - the decision-making process at the local level.
Our standard Western model for this process, I suggest, is Robert's Rules
of Order.  That is, proposals are made and voted on, and when a proposal is
adopted by a majority, then the matter is settled.

In this small-scale microcosm can already be seen the phenomenon of
competitive factionalism.  It is a win-lose scenario.  Instead of the
best-solution for the whole community, some majority faction achieves
something favorable for itself - and the rest are simply out of luck.
Majority voting leads to competitive faction formation as surely as fire
leads to smoke, even at the smallest scale.

Robert's rules, in typical practice, are about deciding among alternatives.
My central observation, as regards democracy, is that 'decision making' is
the wrong frame for the democratic process.  I suggest instead that the
proper frame is 'problem solving'.  As one argument for this frame shift, I
- with some irony - point to the process that occurs in a typical working
team meeting in a modern corporate setting.

In such a meeting a group assembles to solve a problem (technical,
managerial, marketing, or whatever).  Ideas and knowledge are pooled, via
discussion, and the group moves toward identifying possible solutions.
Suggestions might be rejected, refined, combined, modified, elaborated,
etc, in a process of open discussion and mutual education.  In decades of
work in industry, I _never saw anyone suggest a vote in such a meeting.  It
would be seen as absurd.  How can you possibly solve a problem by voting?
You can only do it by thrashing out the issues.  I believe the argument for
a consensus-like democratic process can be made more strongly by looking at
these kind of models, than by emphasizing the history of consensus, and its
apologists, in the political domain.

Majority voting functions as a mechanism to externalize the problem solving
process from the official political process.  Problem-solving tends to move
offline, into factional groupings (caucuses, party meetings, etc.) where
legislative proposals (solutions) are worked out by _other processes, not
documented in any rules of order.  Thus society's path (at each level of
scale) is ultimately decided by these other, offline processes - depending
on which faction wins the majority in each case.  Wherever the actual
sleeves-rolled-up problem-solving is done is where the future is designed.
That place - the place where trade-offs are considered - is, in some real
sense, where power lies.

For democracy to work, and I think this could in some sense be rigorously
demonstrated, the problem solving process must be brought online.  That is
to say, the problem solving process must _become the official political
process.  Participatory democracy (suitably defined) is not just a good
idea - it is a provably _necessary condition if sovereignty is to truly lie
with the people themselves.  Genuine democracy _requires that people
collaboratively solve the problems that affect their lives, that they
discuss together the trade-offs of different alternatives.  If they're
'outside the loop', they're out of power.

Consider what this means at the local, community, level.  Presumably we're
talking about some kind of town-hall scenario in which issues are talked
through, leading to an actionable 'sense of the community' regarding the
'best overall solution' to the issues at hand - using collaborative problem
solving instead of divisive voting.  Clearly there are problems to be faced
in making such a scenario workable (modern busy schedules, ethnic divisions
within the locality, etc.) - but for the sake of discussion let's assume
that a town-hall meeting scenario can be made workable at the most local
level.  This very thing does in fact seem to work in Cuba, where upwards of
85% of the population participate actively in such local meetings.
Meaningful involvement in societal problem-solving is inherently motivating
(ref: "politics as 'interesting'"), and the community-collaboration process
helps build a sense of community even in places where we now see only
alienated consumerist family units.

Consider what kinds of issues need to be deliberated at this local level,
in order to achieve a democratic society.  Some might presume that 'local
issues' would be discussed, and that 'wider issues' would be handled
somewhere else.  Not so.  Not if "Genuine democracy requires that people
collaboratively solve the problems that affect their lives."  TNC's affect
my life, GM crops affect my life, the inadequacy of public transportation
affects my life, NATO affects my life, the existence of nuclear weapons
affects my life.  National issues, and global issues, are also local
issues.  The community is the only place where 'the people' can get
together face-to-face, and anything not discussed there will a priori be
decided in some non-democratic way.  It is generally only at the local
level that _you (and _you and _you) ever get to express yourself.  If
something important is not discussed there, then _you have no input to it.

Some problems - the ones usually called 'local' - can be dealt with
_entirely at the local level.  I think it is self-evident that the more
autonomous the locality, the more democratic the society - other things
being equal.  A mandatory 'national curriculum', for example, would be
anethema in a democratic society, as perhaps would be a uniform building
code.  There are many exceptions - areas where laws and regulations need to
be adopted more widely which constrain localities - including
civil-liberties, child-labor, pollution controls, etc. etc.  But by and
large, in a democracy, a community would feel in control of its own
destiny.  The community is the fundamental governmental unit in a
democratic society.

The other problems - those which involve a larger scale of society -
obviously require a more complex process.  I'll skip the theoretical
arguments and simply point out that this process scales up very nicely.
Not only that, but we can see one implementation of the model working well
in practice in Cuba.  The way they do it, after discussing a wide range of
issues locally - not limited to the 'local' - is to select a slate of
delegates to represent their locality at the next 'higher' level of
governemnt.  These delegates are typical community members, sent off
temporarily to represent the positions of the community - as discussed in
session.  They are not full-time politicians who, as in the West, consider
that being elected gives them a blank check to go off and pursue their own
(or their party's) agenda.

In terms of the more abstract model, the system scales up this way.
Besides handling its own affairs, the locality talks through the wider
issues about which the community is concerned, especially those which are
expected to come up for discussion in 'higher-level' sessions.  The goal is
not to come up with hard positions which are to be 'sold' or 'bargained'
elsewhere, but rather to develop a 'sense of the community' regarding their
values and preferences, as regards each particular issue.   Unless the
community discusses an issue, no one can possibly know what its 'sense' is
- and there is no way anyone could 'represent' the community. (One reason
our existing systems couldn't possibly work.)  The 'sense' only exists
because it is developed in community discussion.  Just as in a business
meeting, this is a mutual-education, problem-solving process.  It is
creative _work to come up with a community 'sense', and that is the work of
real democracy - the true meaning of empowered citizenship.

What happens at the next level is again a collaborative, problem solving
process.  This is a fractal model, you might say.  In the local meetings,
individuals don't come in with fixed positions, ready to sell them.
Instead they come in with their own concerns, in all their subtlety, and
participate in a collaborative process to find a mutually advantageous
solution to problems.  Similarly, at the next level, delegates come in
armed with their 'community sense' - which is again a subtle fabric of
'concerns'.  And as in the local meeting, the assembled delegates
collaborate together to find solutions which address the various concerns,
to everyone's mutual advantage.  Threatened minorities (those whose local
interests are somehow in conflict with wider tides of concern), rather than
being ignored as in a majority system, are more likely to be at the center
of the discussion, since their concerns are the ones most problematic to
incorporate into a mutually acceptable outcome.

That's basically the model.  It's collaborative problem solving all the way
down, and all the way up, with common-citizen delegates representing
articulated agendas - and no professional politicians.  There are countless
peripheral issues, such as accuracy of media, which bear on democracy.  But
my investigation of democracy, over several years, both theoretical and
empirical, leads me to this basic model as being both necessary and
sufficient (!), as the core paradigm for genuine democracy.  That is a very
strong statement, and I don't claim to have proven it here.  But I think
the sketch has the approrpriate structure for a more complete exposition.

In Cuba, fortunately for them, this process is more or less the official
government structure.  For this model to be applied in our
pseudo-democracies, with their majority systems, a bit of thought is
required.  And again, there is a real-world example that can be used for
illustration.  It is only on the scale of a single city, but all the
mechanisms are there.  I refer to the "Participatory Budgeting project"
(PB), which operated for a time in in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  The city
officially operated under a majority electoral system.  But there was a
massive grass-roots, bottom-up collaborative process (PB), which was
empowered to work out the city's budget.  PB's process was consistent with
the model I've described, and it was large enough to exhibit several levels
of deliberations.  What happened in practice is that whatever the PB
process came up with, was implemented verbatim by the elected officials.
And the bugetary results were considered, by objective outside review, as
being quite sound.  The system worked.

Speaking more generally, there would be two parallel structures - the
official governmental structure, and the collaborative probelm-solving
structure - the civil-society structure.  The first provides the mechanism
to carry out the bureaucratic necessities of implementing policy; the
second provides the democratic process by which policies are formulated.
Formal elections would become ritual formalities, much like America's
'electoral college' which has no volitional charter.  A slate of
delegate-candidates would be selected, at whatever appropriate level of the
civil-society structure, and essentially everyone would vote for them -
since everyone has participated in the collaborative process and is
invested in its success.  These elected officials would then carry out
their implementation responsibilities using a similar collaborative
problem-solving approach, and representing the articulated agendas of the
constituencies with selected them.

Ironically, this parallel-structure system is extremely close to the system
we already have in the West!   In our current system we have a formal
governmental system, and it acts as the rubber-stamp implementation agent
for another structure - a structure which actually sets policy.  That
'other structure' is the backroom deal-making environment in which moneyed
interests and power brokers work out who the candidates will be, how the
election issues are be framed, how the campaigns are to be be staged, and
what the legislative priorities will be once 'their men' are in office.
Our policy-making process has always been separate from the offical
'democratic' process, a point which I developed above in terms of
'competitive factionalism', 'off-line problem solving', 'corruption', and
'usurpation of power'.

The two-structure scheme is a sound one.  Our governmental structure
functions well in its bureaucratic aspects, generally speaking, despite
neoliberal smear campaigns to the contrary.  The perceived 'bunglings' of
government are due to misperceptions of what governments are actually
trying to accomplish.  Their actual (unannounced) task is to serve the
interests of corporations - and they do a very efficient job of that.  They
only 'bungle' if you believe their pseudo-progressive lies about why
they're doing things.  We simply need to replace the wealth-dominated
structure that currently sets policy with a democratic structure.  There's
no need to storm the bastilles, dismantle the parliaments, nor write new
constitutions.  The official governments can continue to do what they do
now rather competently - carry out policy set by someone else.  In this
case by the people.

That, Tom, is how we can use the electoral process in service of democracy,
and why a peaceful revolution is possible.  At least that's how I see it.

---


    I also
    admit to having a slight failure of imagination as to what
    'the overthrow of capitalism' might look like.  The decay of
    it, I can handle.  The slow replacement, yes.  For sure,
    episodes of violence (which we already have).  I can also
    deal easily with the 'overthrow' of the guy in Pakistan or
    Batista or the Tzar.  But it seems to me that capitalism is
    a different matter.  That's why I don't like the boulder,
    high threshold, suddenly all changes, metaphor.

Good point.  This is why it so important to distinguish capitalism as an
economic system from capitalism as a hegemenous political force.  The two
of course serve each other synergistically, but they are distinct
phenomena.  As an economic system, only gradual dismantlement is feasible -
as in more conventional revolutionary scenarios, where the first directive
of the bandoliered rebel commandante is to tell the banks to stay open and
the mines to keep operating - in the interim.  What can, and must, happen
all at once, is the overthrow of capitalism's hegemony over our political
process.  First we take the reins of the horse... but we don't greet the
horse with a precipitous "Whoa!".

In our case, with our emphasis on creative collaboration, and the
legal-process approach, the overall scenario will be much less combative,
as compared to a French or Russian or Mexican revolution.  The experience
would be more like that of the American revolution, where the civil
society, and colonial assemblies, continued pretty much as before.  The
American 'revolution' was not a revolution at all - the society continued
much as it was, it did not 'revolve', bottom replacing top.  It should
really be called the American 'independence movement'.  What America did
was to divorce itself from its parent, after having already achieved a
functionally independent society.  The royal governors and the redcoats
were kicked out, but the rest of the local governmental infrastructure, and
key personnel, remained more or less intact, with new labels.   The
American colonists simply forced King George to stop telling colonial
assemblies what to do; we need to prevent the corporate elite from telling
our governemnts what to do.  The transition can be a smooth one, as it was
in 1789.

We've already discussed how the official bureaucracy structure can continue
much as it is now.  But that's only the beginning.  Consider the
civil-society structure, that parallel structure which is to set policy.
Where does it come from?  The answer is embarrasingly obvious.  You've
probably already figured it out.  That parallel structure is the matured
revolutinary movement itself.  'The victorious movement' = 'The renewed,
empowered civil society' = 'The collaborative policy-setting parallel
structure'.

That is to say, the model for democracy is also the model for movement
structure.  The means are the ends.  As Gandhi personified it,
paraphrasing, "You must become the future you seek".  The movement itself
must begin as a bottom-up, collaborative, problem-solving process.
Activist groups, the scenario goes, come together and say "What are our
different goals?  How can we combine forces and accomplish them together?
Let us articulate a platform that benefits us all, and promote it
collectively."  From such a seed, everyone can be brought in, for in truth
we are all in this together and all really want the same basic things.  The
process by which the movement plans its strategies and actions serves as
training for how the movement - renamed eventually as 'civil-society' -
continues into its ongoing task of guiding society's evolutionary path.

Consider what happens when the movement becomes significantly large - when
it begins to show up big and bold on elite radar screens.  Let's skip all
the familiar bits about infiltration, agent provocateurs, suppression, etc.
Those are tactical issues and we are dealing here with strategy.  Let's
assume we achieve 'survival' as a potent, viable movement.  That's when the
_real challenges must be faced.  When the elite begin talking to us, and
especially if they come bearing gifts - that's when we need to be most on
our guard.  "No more FDR's!!"

There are three basic ways of responding to elite advances.  The first, as
in the French revolution, is to eschew dialog and prepare the guillotines.
That can be dismissed as being outside the paradigm of a creative,
collaborative, problem-solving, win-win approach to the new world.  The
second is to confuse 'acceptance at court' with victory, and to be seduced
down the garden path of co-option, settling for ephemeral 'reforms' while
leaving power relationships unchanged.  This, I suggest, is by far the most
formidable obstacle facing the movement, and is the moat no previous
Western movement has managed to bridge.  The third response is adult,
intelligent, engagement.  Welcoming of dialog, but clear about objectives,
and willing to wait when necessary for a more opportune moment; always
willing to negotiate, but never willing to compromise on principle.

Jerry Adams, in my mind, exemplifies this third response.  His basic agenda
- as a delegate who knows the 'sense of his community' - has remained
constant, from the time he was dismissed as a 'terrorist', with his voice
not allowed in the media, to today, where he visits #10 Downing Street and
is given prominent coverage in the evening news.  As a legitimate
representative of a constituency which has achieved community solidarity,
he has been solid as a rock in his dealings with the Brits and the
Unionists.  At the same time, he's been a creative proposer of
accomodations, and has been always willing to show up for discussions.  His
procedure has been to work collaboratively with all willing parties,
seeking win-win solutions.  It has been difficult, since the Unionists
don't know how to play that game, and the Brits are clueless, devious, and
more concerned with winning political publicity points than with achieving
a just settlement.   Jerry, I suggest, exemplifies the kind of attitude the
movement needs to show to the current establishment, when the time comes
for dialog.

And that time for dialog will come far in advance of an actual
civil-society victory.  As soon as the pollsters begin revealing the dire
news, and the co-option advances have been rebuffed, serious negotiations
can begin.  The first order of business, obviously, will be to arrange for
a smooth transitionary period...  "We don't indict you for crimes against
humanity, and you don't do anything to destroy the currency or stop the
flow of commodities."   Something like that.


    Incidentally, although many people seem to think that there
    was a 'revolution' in Eastern Europe, I am not of that ilk.

In the final analysis, you're right.  But let's look closer.  The
Solidarity Movement, as I've understood it, was a genuine, vital,
revolutionary movement - the development of a civil-society structure not
far from the model we've been discussing.  They even avoided cooption from
the 'communist' establishment.  Where they blew it is that they bought into
the Western majority-vote model as a definition of democracy.  Just when
they had won, they surrendered their power to a corrupt process - instead
they should have kept Solidarity itself as the permanent policy-making
body.  In flowed German money, funding particular political parties, and
when the dust had settled ye olde 'democracy' was born HIV-positive - that
is, it was riddled with corruption before it began.  I may have telescoped
events a bit, but that's the basic picture and it was repeated clone-like
all over Eastern Europe.

bye for now,
rkm





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