Democratic control in socialism: extent and limits

February 2024 Forums General discussion Democratic control in socialism: extent and limits

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  • #83178
    ALB
    Keymaster

    This issue has arisen on another thread. Basically, it's about how far democratic control applies in socialism. At one extreme you have anarchists who denounce any democratic control as "the tyranny of the majority" but then they are not really socialists. Zeitgeist too pourns scorn on democracy but for a different reason and wants to let the experts decide everything with the general public only being able to put suggestions to them. At the other extreme you have people like Parecom who propose that everybody should have a say in what other people consume, a modern version of Etienne Cabet's Voyage to Icaria where the way people dress and lay out their front gardens is decided by a democratic vote (but they're not really socialists either).

    We in the Socialist Party have tended to steer a middle course with decisions concerning a community as a whole to be taken democratically by them, either directly in a general meeting or a referendum or by elected committees. A vast extension of democratic control compared to today, particularly with regard to the use of means of production, but not embracing every single decision. Some other decisions, especially the day-to-day carrying out of what has been decided democratically, can be left to people trained and qualified to make them. Others left to individual choice, eg. what to eat, what to wear, what to consume generally.

    Presumably there would have to be some agreed structure as to what decisions are to be made by society democratically and what are to be left to individuals or to "experts". Perhaps even there might need to be a sort of "Bill of Rights" specifying what decisions can be made democratically and what left to individuals, with an administrative tribunal to decide whether or not this has been respected in individual cases.

    In the end of course, the exact form that democratic control will take will depend on preference of what people living in socialism want and decide. There is no reason why this should be the same everywhere.

    #104803
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    We in the Socialist Party have tended to steer a middle course with decisions concerning a community as a whole to be taken democratically by them, either directly in a general meeting or a referendum or by elected committees. A vast extension of democratic control compared to today, particularly with regard to the use of means of production, but not embracing every single decision.

    This is a statement of 'democracy' that I can agree with.That is, "decisions concerning a community", in which I would characterise 'concerns' as those relating to 'power', 'authority' and 'legitimacy'.So, if any issue involves those 'concerns', I think it should be 'decided by the community', collectively and democratically.This, clearly, doesn't involve 'what people consume, wear, or how they lay out their front gardens'.But, since, for example, 'science' has a "power, authority and legitimacy" within our society, I think that that, too, should be classed as an issue "concerning a community". In fact, the 'world community'.

    ALB wrote:
    In the end of course, the exact form that democratic control will take will depend on preference of what people living in socialism want and decide. There is no reason why this should be the same everywhere.

    Quite right! Those communities who 'want and decide' that Mengele should be allowed to practice on live humans, should be allowed to get on with it!Who are we to impose our collective humanity upon those who don't share it? [/sarcasm]No, I don't think so. I'd argue that some decisions are 'world decisions', for the democratic decision by humanity. After all, we're a 'community', too.

    #104804
    SocialistPunk
    Participant

    An interesting discussion, and one that has been touched on before.It is likely that if world socialism ever came into existence different communities around the world would still have remnants of cultural beliefs and practices. So for instance the issue of age of marriage and consent etc may still differ from culture to culture. We might find that different communities tackle the issue of anti social bahaviour in different ways. There should be no reason to think that the basic guide that our view of socialism advocates, will lead to any kind of sterile social uniformity throughout the world.  But this does present it's own set of problems, as to where the democracy of world socialism begins and ends.

    #104805
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Certainly an interesting subject. How would democracy apply – just as an example – in a casualty department after a massive road incident? 

    #104806
    steve colborn
    Participant

    Triage, as I personally believe the early days of Socialism will be based upon.

    #104807
    ALB
    Keymaster
    LBird wrote:
    There seems to be a widespread fear of the 'masses' on this site, and I find it very unhealthy. I must say, given the SPGB's propaganda line, I'm very surprised.When the SPGB gain a majority in parliament, they are going to disband parliament and hand 'legitimacy' over to the parallel Workers' Councils, to legitimise "Workers' Power", aren't they? So that all the current state organs obey orders given by the Councils?I really am beginning to wonder about the seriousness that posters here place upon Workers (the proletariat) actually running everything. There is an undercurrent of elitism, which is most noticeable in YMS's posts, with his focus on mathematics, etc.Ask YMS who's going to tell him what to do and think under Communism.I'll answer 'My Commune'. I'll bet YMS doesn't – or a few others here.

    {My bold]Are you really suggesting that in socialism people will be told "what to think" by a vote in their local area?Socialism is based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production but that doesn't mean that democratic control will extend to what people should think.Socialism will involve widespread democracy, but it won't be the "totalitarian democracy" your form of words above seems to be suggesting.

    #104808
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    Are you really suggesting that in socialism people will be told "what to think" by a vote in their local area?

    All societies brainwash their members.Sociologists like to call this 'socialisation', but we should be honest, and spell out what 'socialisation' really means. It means 'brainwashing'.We live in a society now in which the central idea of its brainwashing is 'individualism'.So, we have even Communists, when asked "Are you an 'individual'?", will reply "Yes".The answer for a Communist should be "No, I'm not an 'individual', I'm a 'worker'".A 'worker' is a position within an exploitative structural relationship; an 'individual' is someone repeating ruling class ideas.One of the key ideologies within science is 'physicalism', which is the match to 'individualism', because it essentially reduces to the lowest 'component'. The 'real' for this ideology is the component, upon which the structure sits. On the contrary, for those who reject 'componentism' in both science and society, the 'real' is the structures, both 'physical' and 'social'. Thus, 'worker' is a structural identity, whereas'individual' is a component identity. And focus on 'component' hides 'structure'.So, in all societies, "people are told what to think". Within this one, they are told to think "I'm an individual".In Communism, too, "people will be told what to think". That is the nature of human society.But, since we will be fully aware of this necessary brainwashing process, we will ensure that all members are fully aware of the relationship between themselves as a 'component' and their society as a 'structure'.The reconciliation of 'individual' and 'society' is, of course, democracy. That's why it is essential that any elitist, expert, academic, individualist, tendencies with the workers movement are ruthlessly exposed.

    ALB wrote:
    Socialism is based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production but that doesn't mean that democratic control will extend to what people should think.

    Oh yes it will.This doesn't mean 'dictatorship', but a society composed of members conscious of this paradox, rather than a society composed of 'individuals', who really believe that they are individuals. That is the bourgeois wet-dream, not a class-conscious movement which insists on democratic controls by all over all.

    ALB wrote:
    Socialism will involve widespread democracy, but it won't be the "totalitarian democracy" your form of words above seems to be suggesting.

    Once more, the backtracking from 'democracy' to only 'widespread democracy'. Not 'complete democracy', which means, to the 'individualist' mentality, a restriction of their 'freedom'.I've come to realise over the years that many so-called 'Communists/Socialists' are only so because they want to be 'free individuals', but recognise that that aim can't be realised within capitalism, and so turn to an ideology which they think will give them 'individual freedom'. This attitude is rife on LibCom, and seems to be so here, too.When confronted with the tenet:"From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs"they always counterpose the quote, as did YMS, about "free association".But, in a Communist society, 'abilities', 'needs' and so 'contribution' will be determined by our society, democratically, not by 'individuals', who can 'choose' to 'not contribute', or define their own 'ability' or 'need'.To an 'individualist', concerned with 'freedom of the individual', these 'impositions' (although they'll be a part of the 'impositioning structure' through democracy) will be regarded as "totalitarian".The phrase "totalitarian" is itself a product of liberal ideology (and US bourgeois views of society and relationships), but it no longer surprises me that a member of the SPGB should counterpose "totalitarian democracy" to "widespread democracy".Of course, on this issue, I'm a "totalitarian".Not through choice, but because the recognition that society will always 'brainwash' its members is actually a step on the road to individual enlightenment.'Individuals' are produced by society, and we have to ensure that we build a society of 'individuals'.That is, 'we' are compelled by 'us'. We have to define what 'we' want from our 'individuality'.But it's not the choice of 'isolated individuals', merely embracing 'bourgeois ideology', but the act of a society conscious of itself and controlling itself, by democratic means. Totally, not 'widespread'.

    #104809
    ALB
    Keymaster
    LBird wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    We in the Socialist Party have tended to steer a middle course with decisions concerning a community as a whole to be taken democratically by them, either directly in a general meeting or a referendum or by elected committees. A vast extension of democratic control compared to today, particularly with regard to the use of means of production, but not embracing every single decision.

    This is a statement of 'democracy' that I can agree with.That is, "decisions concerning a community", in which I would characterise 'concerns' as those relating to 'power', 'authority' and 'legitimacy'.So, if any issue involves those 'concerns', I think it should be 'decided by the community', collectively and democratically.This, clearly, doesn't involve 'what people consume, wear, or how they lay out their front gardens'.

    In view of what you've just said, why doesn't it?

    #104810
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    LBird wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    We in the Socialist Party have tended to steer a middle course with decisions concerning a community as a whole to be taken democratically by them, either directly in a general meeting or a referendum or by elected committees. A vast extension of democratic control compared to today, particularly with regard to the use of means of production, but not embracing every single decision.

    This is a statement of 'democracy' that I can agree with.That is, "decisions concerning a community", in which I would characterise 'concerns' as those relating to 'power', 'authority' and 'legitimacy'.So, if any issue involves those 'concerns', I think it should be 'decided by the community', collectively and democratically.This, clearly, doesn't involve 'what people consume, wear, or how they lay out their front gardens'.

    In view of what you've just said, why doesn't it?

    Because I didn't think that we'd want to tell each other what we consume, wear or how we garden.But that's only my off-the-top-off-my-head opinion, expressed in the context of your post.With further consideration, though, I can imagine all sorts of reasons why what we consume, wear or how we garden, would be interfered with by our community, local or world.Consuming humans (cannibalism), wearing nothing (street nudity in front of kids), or introducing plants which are damaging to the local environment (Japanese knotweed) could all be forbidden by a democratic vote.As I've said, I'm a 'totalitarian' when it comes to 'democratic controls'. My ideology is Communism, not Liberalism.Anyone who longs for 'individual freedom', should stick with capitalism, become a billionaire, and live the life of a 'free individual'. And bollocks to society and democracy, eh?The people for whom 'widespread democracy' is code for 'democracy, unless it involves me being told what to do'.

    #104811
    ALB
    Keymaster

    Of course education and child-rearing policy would be subject to democratic decision-making and control in a socialist society. And there will no doubt be things that people will be told they cannot do. But what you said was that people could be told what to think. That's a different matter altogether.If all you are saying that people in a socialist society will be brought up and taught to respect certain values and codes of behaviour, fair enough, of course. But in the context in which it was uttered (a vote on some scientific question) you gave the impression that people would be obliged to think the majority position. That wouldn't be possible anyway. You can't stop people thinking what they think. All you can do is get them to keep silent about it and pay lipservice to the majority view.What this thread is aimed at discussing is how far would/should democratic control extent in a socialist society and would there be any limits to it. You seem to be arguing that there won't be any. That's a position, the opposite of the individualist anarchist one which says that there should be no democratic control but only "individuals" free to do what they want. I can't see people in future socialist society accepting (democratically of course) either of these extreme positions, though I would imagine that what they decide will be nearer your end than the anarchists'.

    #104812
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    And there will no doubt be things that people will be told they cannot do.

    As long as this is a democratic decision, that's the way things must be. It's the same for every society.

    ALB wrote:
    But what you said was that people could be told what to think. That's a different matter altogether.

    But this is contradicted by:

    ALB wrote:
    If all you are saying that people in a socialist society will be brought up and taught to respect certain values and codes of behaviour, fair enough, of course.

    To me, 'brought up and taught' 'values and behaviour' involves 'telling people what to think'. All societies do this, and I think we should be honest with ourselves (and to me our 'social consciousness' demands honesty, to be totally aware of what we are doing, when we necessarily brainwash our members), rather than pander to the 'individualists', and give them false hope of 'individual sovereignty'.I think we're either lying to others or unclear ourselves, if we don't make our aims for 'social consciousness' as clear as possible.

    ALB wrote:
    But in the context in which it was uttered (a vote on some scientific question) you gave the impression that people would be obliged to think the majority position.

    Well, I've already made clear on the other thread about the necessity for diverse opinions, unlike, for example, Vin, who argued for Kuhn's 'single dominant paradigm' model, whereas I've argued for 'multiple, competing research programmes' from Lakatos' model. Why no outcry at Kuhn's (and thus Vin's) "totalitarianism"? Your use of that term regarding my views is entirely ideological, rather than merely your 'personal opinion'. You've been brainwashed your entire life (as we all have) to repeat ruling class modes of thought, like 'complete democracy is dangerous', and so you opt for the softer 'widespread democracy', so you don't frighten the 'individualist' horses in the party.To me, the Mengele crowd can 'think' all they want in private of their 'elitist fantasies' of 'human vivisection', but they won't be allowed to 'do it'. And if they even attempt to spread their 'fantasies', I'd argue that we prevent them, by armed means if necessary. So, I openly declare that some 'individuals' and 'their ideas' will be suppressed.

    ALB wrote:
    You can't stop people thinking what they think. All you can do is get them to keep silent about it and pay lipservice to the majority view.

    That's right. The Mengele crowd will be 'kept silent and be compelled to 'pay lip service to the majority view', if only to demonstrate to them our power.

    ALB wrote:
    What this thread is aimed at discussing is how far would/should democratic control extent in a socialist society and would there be any limits to it. You seem to be arguing that there won't be any. That's a position, the opposite of the individualist anarchist one which says that there should be no democratic control but only "individuals" free to do what they want. I can't see people in future socialist society accepting (democratically of course) either of these extreme positions, though I would imagine that what they decide will be nearer your end than the anarchists'.

    Yeah, as long as it's 'what they decide', and not a minority or an individual, I regard that as democratic control.Those who argue that there will be 'limits on democratic control' must specify who determines this argument. I think that it's those with a 'fear of the mob'. They don't really believe that the vast majority of our society can really be trusted to make decisions that affect them as individuals.If the majority don't set these 'limits' (which they themselves can do, because if they can impose them, they can lift them, too), who is the minority or individual outside of any democratic controls whatsoever?As I've said before, to me Communism isn't Liberalism. To me, Communism is the only way to get anywhere near the ideals of Liberalism. In effect, 'Liberalism' is actually 'Liberalism for the Few', whereas 'Communism' is 'Liberalism for the Many'. But we must build a society which produces critical social thinkers, rather than individual passive consumers (of both ideas and commodities).This is a collective social task, not an isolated individual task.Thus, democracy. Plain, unqualified 'democracy'. No 'if and buts' like 'widespread'.

    #104813
    SocialistPunk
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    Those who argue that there will be 'limits on democratic control' must specify who determines this argument. I think that it's those with a 'fear of the mob'. They don't really believe that the vast majority of our society can really be trusted to make decisions that affect them as individuals

    LBird, I think you've just out out democratized the most democratic party in the country.I do recall on a thread about morality, ALB referred to the process of socialisation.

    #104814
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    LBird wrote:
     Well, I've already made clear on the other thread about the necessity for diverse opinions, unlike, for example, Vin, who argued for Kuhn's 'single dominant paradigm' model, whereas I've argued for 'multiple, competing research programmes' from Lakatos' model. Why no outcry at Kuhn's (and thus Vin's) "totalitarianism"? Your use of that term regarding my views is entirely ideological, rather than merely your 'personal opinion'. You've been brainwashed your entire life (as we all have) to repeat ruling class modes of thought, like 'complete democracy is dangerous', and so you opt for the softer 'widespread democracy', so you don't frighten the 'individualist' horses in the party. 

    Kuhn's analysis was mainly descriptive. I was merely drawing an analogy with socialial scienceI make no apologies for arguing that most of the world's population will have to be socialist  before we can have socialism but as LBird is not a socialist or a democrat, then he can't understand my position. What is your ideology Lbird Does it requiredemocracy as a precondition for socialism?You have made it  clear that you do not believe that the working class will have to agree, adopt or take on a socialist 'theory', 'position', 'paradigm', 'perspective', 'ideology' or 'view of the world' en masse in order to move on to socialism?Your alternative is that 'communism' can be imposed on a working class with 'competing theoreticaal perspectives'? Stinks of Leninism to me.  

    #104815
    DJP
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    One of the key ideologies within science is 'physicalism', which is the match to 'individualism', because it essentially reduces to the lowest 'component'. The 'real' for this ideology is the component, upon which the structure sits. On the contrary, for those who reject 'componentism' in both science and society, the 'real' is the structures, both 'physical' and 'social'. Thus, 'worker' is a structural identity, whereas'individual' is a component identity. And focus on 'component' hides 'structure'.

    So the structure is "real" but the components are not?Nonsense about reductionism and individualism being the same aside. You do know that there is such a thing as "non-reductive materialism" and that is what the supervenence thing is a part of?

    #104816
    ALB
    Keymaster
    LBird wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    What this thread is aimed at discussing is how far would/should democratic control extent in a socialist society and would there be any limits to it. You seem to be arguing that there won't be any. That's a position, the opposite of the individualist anarchist one which says that there should be no democratic control but only "individuals" free to do what they want. I can't see people in future socialist society accepting (democratically of course) either of these extreme positions, though I would imagine that what they decide will be nearer your end than the anarchists'.

    Yeah, as long as it's 'what they decide', and not a minority or an individual, I regard that as democratic control.Those who argue that there will be 'limits on democratic control' must specify who determines this argument. I think that it's those with a 'fear of the mob'. They don't really believe that the vast majority of our society can really be trusted to make decisions that affect them as individuals.If the majority don't set these 'limits' (which they themselves can do, because if they can impose them, they can lift them, too), who is the minority or individual outside of any democratic controls whatsoever?

    So you are saying that in socialism/communism literally everything (including for instance what people should eat and what they should wear) will in principle be subject to democratic social control and that only a democratic social decision can make exceptions to this?So the sort of "basic law" of society would be: the individual is only free to decide individually what society decides they can. In other words, society decides to grant certain "rights" to individuals rather than the classic Liberal position that it is individuals who grant certain rights ro society (the social contract myth)..The end result would be the same of course: that in practice democratic control would not be applied to everything (eg not to what people should eat or wear), i.e would be widespread not total. There will be limits but they would be self-imposed.

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