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Who Decides What and How

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Who Decides What and How
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Joined: 07/11/2011

"Does complexity rule out meaningful democracy?

When socialists speak of democracy we mean something very different from the concept the mainstream media provides. Instead of giving you permission to vote for some toff or careerist to serve and define your political interests (improbably) for five years we insist that any meaning democracy must entail the involvement of the community at every level in political/economic decision making"


The concept of the "Community" is a bit like a Russian Matryoshka doll.  There are communities within communities. Hundreds of thousands of them at every level.  The lower the level, the more communities there are.  Will the global community be involved in decisions taken at the level of  the village? Obviously not.  The most appropriate community for that is the village community.  Meaning everyone else outside of that community will perforce tend to be excluded

To arrive at a more realistic or practical model of socialist democratic practice, then, we need to unpack or disaggregate this whole concept of "community".  There is no one single "community" in the abstract


Most of the objections are ideological and do not deserve any serious consideration but there is one that has to be discussed: Does our technological culture depend almost entirely on the expertise of a minority of specialists whose knowledge cannot be easily understood by the ‘layman’ and is therefore inaccessible to democratic debate and decision? Are these ‘technocrats’ the only ones with the talent and ability to make decisions concerning, for instance, scientific research and technological application?...

The decision of the allocation of resources within socialism would have three stages: Dissemination of information, debate and vote.


This last sentence is an important qualification.  It further refines our notion of democratic practice in a socialist society.  Democratic decision making relates to the allocation of resources which affect us all.  Its not really about science or the development of scientific knowledge.  Actually that is a silly idea to suggest that scientific theories should be subject to a democratic because:


1) What would be the point?  If theory A is preferred by democratic vote over theory B to account for some phenomenon should we henceforth abandon any attempt to develop a rival to A on grounds that to do so would be undemocratic?.  Most  people thought the sun revolved around the earth a few hundred years ago.  We would still be thinking this if the development of scientific understanding had to conform to a democratic vote


2) It would be impractical   There are literally thousands of scientific theories coming on stream every year.  How would  you organise a global vote by 7 billion of us on each of these thousands of theories?  Also, to vote on something you have to know what it is you are voting on.  No one, not even the most brilliant and talented scientist alive can know anything more than a tiny fraction of the sum total of human knowledge,  Therefore, almost by definition any vote on any scientific theory, even assuming individuals would be  sufficiently motivated to vote would by default be the vote of a tiny minority who have acquired the knowledge to know what they are voting about

The social division of labour gives rise to specialists and experts , almost inevitably.  This is not to advance any kind of elitist view of science as a whole  - that is , in some supra disciplinary sense.  The expert in biochemistry is not an expert in geotectonics or mechanical engineering,  She is only an expert in her own chosen field. To gain competence in her field requires devoting years of study to it and hands on experience but if we all attempted to become competent biochemists none of us would have the time to become competent mechanical engineers or geologists or whatever.  Society would suffer as result.


We have to allow for this in socialism and enable individuals to specialise and not just become a jack of all trade in socialism.  This has implications for the conduct of science itself.  For the development and refinement of any particular scientific theory it means most of us of necessity are not going to be able to have much of a say in the outcome.  Of course we can always chose to have a say in the development of this theory. That means equipping ourselves with the means to understand what it involves and socialism will presumably not put any barriers in the way of individuals acquiring such expertise.  But that also means we will most likely not be able to develop an expertise in some other branch of science.That stems from the simple fact that there is an opportunity cost for every decision we take

However, all this doesn't matter from the standpoint of socialist democracy, What matters is the application of this scientific knowledge and its implications for the allocation  of resources that affect us all - like the article says. That is where democratic decision really comes into play not in the development of scientific understanding as such,

This too is a constraint on the practice of socialist democracy along with the notion of what constitutes the "community"

Joined: 22/06/2011

A related article and a timely one from Vermont anarchists.  Or are they more Murray Bookchinists?

"I have no country to fight for; my country is the Earth, and I am a citizen of the World." - Eugene V. Debs

Joined: 07/11/2011

alanjjohnstone wrote:

A related article and a timely one from Vermont anarchists.  Or are they more Murray Bookchinists?


This bit in the article is quite significant:  The bottom line is that we, as the majority, are standing at a crossroads at which we can choose the path of capitalist homogenization, or, rather, lead the way back towards direct democracy, local control, and the social advancement of the common good


I think the link between direct democracy and local community needs to be affirmed and emphasised.  The higher the scale of social organisation, the less democratic is it likely to be.  Small is not only more beautiful but more democratic - all things being equal.Of course some things cannot be left to the local community  but these things by their very nature, are far and few between and consequently the need to resort to expensive methods of resolving these matters democratically - for example by means of a global plebiscite which is a massive undertaking  in itself - will be very rare indeed and only confined to matters of the utmost (global) significance.  99.9% of all issues to be resolved democratically  in a socialist society, I suggest, will crop up overwhelmingly  at the local level and then secondarily at the regional level

Its the Leninists  with their fetishisation  of large scale massified forms of production and social organisation that think otherwise and it  is no coincidence that the Leninists are known more for their vanguardism  than their democratic sensibilities

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