How do we keep our movment from getting hijacked?


Richard Moore

2/12/2001, X asked me off list:
    > Unfortunately, most of the time, the people who start
    movements are replaced by people who hijack the movement
    ...which leaves me with a question -- is it possible to
    create a mass movement that can't be hijacked?

Dear X,

Please understand that when I started thinking seriously
about movements and revolutions, the _first central issue
that came to my mind was what I call the 'bolshevik
syndrome' - the tendency of revolutions to be hijacked by
well-organized factions.  It happened in the U.S., just as
in Russia, as Jerry Fresia documents in "Toward An American
Revolution".  It happened with the Christian movement, and
the hijacking culminated in the merger of the Church
hierarchy with the Roman Imperial hierarchy under
Constantine.  It happened with Gandhi's
back-to-the-spinning-wheel revolution, when he was
assassinated and the Nehru / nationalist faction took over. 
It is happening with the environmental movement today, as
mainstream environmental organizations are being co-opted by
corporate funding and by pseudo-consensus dialogs with
industry.  My investigation of movement structures has been
guided _primarily by the requirement that we need to somehow
prevent the bolshevik syndrome from emerging.

But before presenting my so-far conclusions, let's step back
and acknowledge that the problem is actually a much bigger one. 
It is not only most _movements that have been hijacked
historically, but most _societies as well.  Eric Hoffer
could just as easily have written a book called the "True
Citizen", and pointed out how 'members of societies' 'do not
believe in themselves' and find comfort in society so as to
'avoid responsibility', etc. etc.  This would have been
harder for him to see, because he's inside that particular
fish bowl - and for a fish, 'water' is a difficult thing to

Jared Diamond, in 'Guns Germs & Steel', characterizes the
'evolution of government' as going from 'egalitarian', to
'head man', to 'chief' - and then very soon he classes
everything that follows as 'kleptocracy' - governments
organized primarily to steal wealth from the people and
transfer it to a ruling elite.  What we have today, with
hyper-capitalism and globalization, is perhaps the ultimate
evolved version of kleptocracy.

So it seems to me that even before we think about how to get
a bolshevik-free movement, we need to think about what an
elite-free society would look like. What I've come to
believe is that the two problems are really the same one,
and that a solution to one is a solution for both.  If we
know what a non-hijacked society looks like, then we can
organize our movement along similar lines.  And if we can
create a non-hijacked movement, then it can be expected to
lead to a non-hijacked society - in the sense that 'the
means always become the ends'.

Another way to look at it: every existing society has
resulted from some kind of movement - at some point in
history.  Whichever 'bolsheviks' hijacked the movement, in
each case, became the ruling, thieving, elite in the new
society.  If 'we the people' can _genuinely keep control of
our movement, then 'we the people' become the genuine
masters of our new society, and we can put an end to the
bolshevik/kleptocracy cycle.  But 'we the people' must be a
_genuine thing - simply naming something a  'peoples
movement' or a 'peoples republic' does not make it so.


After some investigation, I came to a first conclusion:
centralized, hierarchical power structures inevitably lead
to usurpation of power by elites.  This happens with
centralized movements and centralized governments, as well
as with country clubs and alternative radio networks
(Pacifica/KPFA).  The movement, or the society, might start
out in a very promising way.  But if there is a central
locus of power, that gives ambitious factions a 'point of
attack'.  They wiggle their way into the hierarchy, begin
assuming positions of responsibility - especially near the
center - and gradually take over.  Once in charge, then they
increase still further the centralization of the structure,
to solidify their control.  Thus in the U.S, we see
Washington in the hands of the wealthy, and we also have
seen a gradual centralization of power in the Federal
Government (disempowering States) and further into the
Executive (disempowering Congress).  Globalization is this
'ever more centralization' process being carried out

The natural tendency of hierarchies - whether they be
commercial, non-profit, or governmental - is to seek their
own  survival, expansion, and greater centralization. In
some sense the 'hierarchical form' itself seems to
inevitably 'grow and multiply' like some kind of
meta-organism.  Once people are depending on a hierarchy to
get things done, then the logic of strengthening that
hierarchy - as a way of accomplishing agreed objectives - is
always compelling.  Thus liberals were quite happy to see
States Rights trampled, when it was in the 'good cause' of
civil rights.  They didn't anticipate, however, that the
greater Federal power would stay around to haunt them.

As I see it, the problem of creating a bolshevik-free
movement - a well as an elite-free society - becomes the
problem of how to have a coherent social structure without
hierarchy.  I don't like to use the word 'anarchism' due to
the very negative connotations we've been conditioned to
associate with the term.  Nonetheless, 'an-archy' - the
absence of hierarchy - provides I believe the key to
answering your question.  As regards terminology, I think
the word 'decentralization' means about the same thing as
'an-archy', and it isn't quite as frightening to
contemplate.  So I tend to talk about 'centralization' vs.


There have been two primary problems encountered when people
have attempted to use decentralized structures.  The first
is that such structures can have a very difficult time
surviving if they must compete with centralized structures.
A centralized nation can usually conquer a decentralized
one; a Borders can usually put a small bookstore out of
business.  The second is that we, in the course of
civilization, have not not had nearly as much practice with
decentralized structures as with centralized ones.  All of
us know how to nominate and elect leaders, and how to obey
rules set down by hierarchies - but few of us know how to
work together effectively without leadership hierarchies
when there is conflict within our ranks - as there always
is.  Our unfamiliarity with effective decentralized
structures, however, does not prove that they do not exist.

If we can eliminate hierarchies globally, then our
decentralized structures won't need to compete with them,
and that solves the first of these problems. 

Thus, in our search for non-bolshevik movements and
non-elite societies we are led to one central question: "How
can decentralized systems be made to operate effectively?" 
Or more accurately, we need to discover an answer to: "What
kind of decentralized structures are capable of functioning
effectively and reliably?


In some sense, this comes down to the question of how
decisions can be made in a decentralized way.  How can a
society, or a movement, 'make a decision' if there is no
person or small group which has the authority to act for the
whole entity?  What does it even _mean for a very large
group of people to 'make a decision'?

We must be careful here.  Some people think the answer to
this is easy: we can just use the Internet, and let everyone
vote on referendums - by visiting the
'' website and pressing a button.

What such an approach overlooks is that a decision must be
preceded by appropriate deliberation.  'The people' not only
need to make the final decision, they must also be the ones
that discuss the problems and come up with the alternative
proposals.  Any dictator will tell you: "I don't care who
decides, as long as I get to draft the proposals".

So what we are looking for is a way for 'the people' to
_first deliberate, and _then to decide what they want.

As I see it, this breaks down into two sub-problems:  (1)
How can a _local gathering of people effectively deliberate
and reach decisions?  (2) How can the various deliberations
and decisions of many different different localities be
harmonized in such a way that all of the localities will be
satisfied with the overall result?

How do we 'decide locally' and 'harmonize globally'?


Let's look at 'decide locally' first, since that is
presumably the simpler problem - albeit not trivial.

In the case of a society, we're talking about something like
a 'town hall meeting'; in the case of a movement, we're
talking about the the process that occurs at a movement
planning session.  As we are all aware, such gatherings can
easily degenerate into squabbling matches and accomplish
nothing.  This is especially true when the gathering is not
deciding between prepackaged proposals, but must develop
its proposals as part of its process.  That's why we usually
'solve the problem' by electing central leaders or
committees, to at least draft the proposals if not actually
make final decisions.

My current belief is that there _are workable, proven
solutions to the 'decide locally' problem.

What I've learned is that there _are workable, proven
solutions to the 'decide locally' problem.  Traditional
societies used successful methods (peace-pipe circles and
the like) for hundreds of thousands of years. Quakers
developed methods in their communities, under the name of
'consensus', and these worked effectively for their
purposes.  Successful methods have been used by anarchist
movements in Spain.  Organizers in the anti-globalization
movement have been using effective methods which grew out of
the Abalone Alliance, and whose roots go back to the
Quakers.  Within corporate culture, similar methods have
been developed and successfully applied toward creating more
effective teams and organizations.  The 'technologies'
exist; they are not rocket science; and they work reliably
when they are appropriately and sensitively employed - and
when the people involved sincerely seek to solve the
problems which are facing them.  

The 'technologies' I'm talking about are technologies of
'process'.  There are processes which gatherings can use,
and these processes can be effective in helping the
participants to find common purpose and agreement, even when
at first considerable disagreement exists - and even when
fundamental differences in values exist within the group. 
You can find descriptions of some of these processes on Tom
Atlee's websites:

Scott Peck offers one characterization of these processes,
at a fairly general level, and several of us have been using
his terminology in our recent discussions.  In his model -
which corresponds to how these processes typically function
- a successful gathering moves through four stages: from
'pseudocommunity' to 'chaos' to 'emptiness' to 'community'.
John Bunzl characterizes Peck's stages this way in Chapter 2
of his book, 'Simultaneous Policy':

    "Pseudocommunity can be described merely as the reaction of
    a group of people who are seeking to form a community and
    start off, as soon as they meet, by pretending they already
    are one..."

    "Chaos is the period when the cloying politeness and
    pleasantness of pseudocommunity finally gives way to the
    participants revealing their true prejudices and irritations
    about each other. This manifests itself as well-intentioned
    but misguided and competitive attempts to heal and convert."

    "Emptiness is the stage at which the participants come
    gradually to realise the futility of their chaotic and
    competitive attempts at healing and converting one another."
    "In [the final, community] stage a soft quietness descends.
    It is a kind of peace.  The room is bathed in peace.  Then,
    quietly, a member of the group begins to talk about
    herself...[etc. etc. etc.]...And community has been born."

This does not necessarily mean that a _permanent community
has been born.  It means only that a particular gathering
has 'entered into community space', and is able in that
space to function coherently and effectively as a group in
addressing the problems that face them collectively, and
which brought them together as a gathering.

My current working hypothesis is that the 'decide locally'
problem can be solved.  I am now beginning to work with
others in pursuing research of various kinds aimed at
demonstrating and customizing these processes - and bringing
them to the attention of wider audiences.  We believe that a
few strategically chosen 'success stories' might have a
transformative effect on 'movement consciousness' and lead
to widespread application  - and ongoing refinement - of the
methods.  The processes would spread as a 'meme' - no
centralized 'process authority' or 'facilitation priesthood'
is necessary - or desirable - as those would mean the
introduction of hierarchy and centralization into the 

If the movement succeeds - if we gain the opportunity to
establish new societies - then we will, by that time, be
experts at using these processes.  It will be the most
natural thing in the world to continue using these processes
in our communities, giving us effective _local governance -
that is genuinely 'of the people, by the people, and for the


We are left then with one final problem to solve if we want
to have a bolshevik-free movement and an elite-free society.
We need to understand how we can harmonize the decisions of
'harmonized localities' into a movement-wide (or
society-wide) consensus.  We need to understand how to
successfully move from the local to the global without
introducing authority hierarchies.

The theoretical model is very straightforward.  We simply
repeat the same community-building / consensus process at
successively 'higher levels' - in councils of delegates who
were selected by their communities, and then selected again
at 'lower level' councils.  These delegates are not given
blank-check decision-making authority by the constituencies
which select them - as is done with elected officials in our
existing electoral systems.  Instead the delegates are
empowered to represent only the consensus that was developed
more locally.  The delegates were part of that process, and
they know intimately the considerations that went into the
consensus.  Their presence in the wider gathering, in some
sense, is equivalent to the whole constituency 'being there'
and 'participating directly'.

The delegates, in any given council, cannot agree to
anything substantial unless it has been discussed at the
lower-level councils, and only if the proposed agreement
falls within the boundaries of the lower-level consensus.
Delegates are not selected because they are 'leaders' or
'deal makers', but because they are articulate, they are
trusted by the community, and because they understand fully
the consensus that has been reached locally.  Delegates are
just ordinary citizens, taking time off from their daily
lives - there are no 'professional politicians', who
inevitably evolve into power brokers and end up serving the
interests of hierarchy.

Such recursivive, bottom-up process have been used
in practice.  They were used, for example, by some Native
American tribal nations.  After individual tribes had
reached local consensus, delegations led by the local chief
would go off to regional pow-wows, which again used a
consensus process to arrive at tribal-nation decisions.
These chiefs could not agree to anything their local tribes
had not agreed to, and if such a thing did happen, the local
tribe would simply not back their chief up.

These systems worked effectively, even under the stressful
conditions of warfare with the invading Europeans.  Once the
local tribes had agreed that they would need to go on the
warpath - and this was attested at the central council - the
central council could then get on immediately with the
details of planning a coordinated campaign.  A local chief
could not promise the central council that he could 'command
obedience' from his local tribe, but he could promise
something even more powerful: the willing and eager
participation of his people - who have already themselves 
decided on the fundamental issue. 

A recent successful precedent can be found in Porto Alergre,
Brazil, where for years a participatory process has been
used to manage the city's budget.  People first get together
in neighborhoods, and then delegates get together at higher
levels, and so on until a budget emerges for the whole city.
The process is made possible because the Brazilian Workers
Party has been elected to office in Porto Alegre, and in the
surrounding province.  But the party does not 'run' the
process hierarchically, and does not determine its outcome.
There are one and half million people in Porto Alegre, and
they have found a way to harmonize their various interests
without using hierarchical methods.

There are  other precedents as well, but one must admit that
the viability of 'harmonizing globally' has not been
demonstrated as conclusively as has the more local variety
of harmonization processes.  Nonetheless, we know enough
that we can seek now - while the movement is still coming
together as a movement - to promote the use of multi-tiered
consensus / community-building processes as a way of to help
bring the movement together as a community, and as a way to
keep the movement from developing a centralized,
hierarchical structure.

If we fail at this, then the movement is unlikely to achieve
victory - and if it does, I doubt if we'd be happy with the
result.  Some new leadership cadre would be in charge and we
could only hope this would be 'different' than all the other
centralized hierarchies in history.   But we must go ahead
and try to build a movement - it is hard to imagine anything
worse than where globalization is taking us.  And if we
want the movement to be 'our' movement, and lead to 'our'
society - then we had better learn to make these
decentralized processes work.

There is one final happy episode in this story.  Suppose we
do succeed in building an effective, global, decentralized
movement - and suppose that movement does manage to oust the
global regime from power.  If that happens, then we will, by
that time, be experts at making large-scale decentralized
systems work effectively.  The systems will be proven in
practice, they will be up and running, and nearly all of us
will already be participating in them.  And, presumably,
based on our victory - we will be thrilled with their

In this way, the movement structure, as it develops,
gradually evolves into the new civil-society structure.  
local activist gatherings gradually grow into full local
The community gatherings, and in the experience of handling
its movement affairs, the community learns how to function
so that it can run its own ongoing affairs after victory. 
When community delegates are selected to participate in
higher-levels of 'governance', they will already be familiar
with what it means to come together with other delegates and
harmonize wider agreements.


In conclusion, I would say that it _is possible to create a
movement that cannot be hijacked, and even more important, it
is possible for that  movement to lead to a society that
cannot be hijacked.  It won't be easy, and we cannot be 100%
sure of success, but I do think it is clear in which
direction we need to go in order to maximize our chances of

best regards,