rn- “Democracy & Revolution – the ends are the means”


Richard Moore


                          Democracy & Revolution
                          the ends are the means

                                rkm 10/99

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 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.



    an activist discussion forum - •••@••.•••
    To subscribe, send any message to
    A public service of Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance
        •••@••.•••     http://cyberjournal.org

  **--> Non-commercial reposting is encouraged,
        but please include the sig up through this paragraph
        and retain any internal credits and copyright notices.
        Copyrighted materials are posted under "fair-use".

    Help create the Movement for a Democratic Rensaissance

    To review renaissance-network archives, send a blank message to:

    To subscribe to the the cj list, which is a larger list
    and a more general political discussion, send a blank message to:
    To sample the book-in-progress, "Achieving a Livable World", see:

            A community will evolve only when
            the people control their means of communication.
                -- Frantz Fanon

            Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful
            committed citizens can change the world,
            indeed it's the only thing that ever has.
                - Margaret Mead