Socialist Decision Making 2/7

The simplest definition of democracy is that it is decision-making by the whole people involving procedures such as free and open debate, free access to information, one person one vote, and the accountability of public officials and elected representatives.

 Such a decision-making system can be regarded as desirable because one key aspect of the nature of human beings is their ability to reflect and weigh up options before deciding what to do. In other words, a system in which the people as a whole freely decide what to do is the only decision-making system worthy of humans as self-determining (“free”) agents.

The idea of democracy is also bound up with that of equality, if only in the sense that it is a decision-making procedure in which every human deemed capable of making a reasoned decision has a vote of equal weight. Ensuring each person an equal as possible say in the decision-making process requires a high degree of social equality and not mere equal political rights. ‘Democracy’ under capitalism is different from the generally accepted meaning of the word as a situation where ordinary people make the decisions that shape their lives, frequently summarised as being the ‘rule of the people.’ But democracy is not simply about ‘who’ makes decisions or ‘how’ the decisions are to be made. It is an expression of the social relations in society. If democracy means that all have equal opportunity to be heard, then this not only implies political equality but also economic equality. It further presupposes that people have individual freedom. A genuine democracy is therefore one where people are free and equal, actively participating, without leaders, in co-operative discussion to reach common agreement on all matters relating to their collective as well as individual requirements. We are told we are ‘free’ but in reality our only freedom is to sell our labour power to someone who is ‘free’ to buy it – or not, as the case may be. If we choose not to exercise this freedom then we are ‘free’ to go without or even starve. It is quickly apparent that in capitalism freedom is an illusion because freedom cannot exist when the conditions for the exercise of free choice do not exist.

Democracy is not an end in itself, but a means to an end; and for us that end is socialism. The organisation and day-to-day running of socialist society will be a completely separate issue. It will have been discussed and planned at great length by everybody before the actual take-over of power takes place. Although people in different areas of the world may choose different patterns of democracy to implement their wishes, they will all be keen to maintain control over the production and distribution of products and services that affect everyone’s life. If democracy is to mean more than one vote nationally and another regionally every few years then an alternative system must be devised. An alternative system involving the general public in all decisions which impact upon them, their communities and local environments, one which embraces the notion that all are entitled to be active participants in the local and global community.

A socialist society will be one in which all people will be free to participate fully in the process of making and implementing policy. What has been decided by democratic majority can only be altered by majority decision. We are not looking for “nice” leaders or any kind of leaders for the workers to follow. The essence of democracy is popular participation not competing parties. In socialism elections will not be about deciding which particular party is to come to ‘power’ and form the government. Politics in socialism will not be about coercive power and its exercise and so won’t really be politics at all in its present-day sense of the ‘art and practice of government’ or ‘the conduct of state affairs’. Being a classless society of free and equal men and women, socialism will not have a coercive state machine nor a government to control it. The conduct of public affairs in socialism will be about people participating in the running of their lives in a non-antagonistic context of co-operation to further the common good. Socialist democracy will be a participatory democracy rather than the choice every four or five years, with or without proportional representation, between rival bands of professional politicians that passes for democracy today. Whether decisions about constructing a new playground or the need to improve fish stocks in the North Sea everyone everywhere will be able to voice their opinion and cast their vote. The traditional image of huge crowds with their hands up in council meetings, or queues of people lining up to put a piece of paper in a box, is obviously becoming old-fashioned, even in capitalism. The practical ramifications of this democratic principle could be enormous. If people feel obliged to opine and vote on every matter of policy they would have little time to do anything else. On the other hand, leaving the decision-making process to a system of elected executive groups or councils could be seen as going against the principle of fully participatory democracy. If socialism is going to maintain the practice of inclusive decision making (which does not put big decisions in the hands of small groups) but without generating a crisis of choice, then a solution is required. Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would. it seems unlikely that an appearance of greater participation will actually translate into genuine participation, given that capitalism is only interested in giving us a say when the issue at stake doesn’t really matter. Nonetheless, capitalism’s drive to make its democratic forms look more participatory may be doing socialism’s work for it, so that in the future the technology to debate, dispute, appeal, complain, conference and vote will all be in place – at the touch of a phone button or stroke of a key-board.

We propose different scales of social co-operation such as local, regional and world scales, this is not a question of there being a hierarchy with power located at any central point. What we anticipate is both an integrated and flexible system of democratic organisation which could be adapted for action to solve any proh1em in any of these scales. This simply takes into account that some problems and the action to solve them arise from local issues and this also extends to the regional and world spheres. How would democracy be fulfilled in socialism? This requires the abolition of the state and its replacement by a system of democratic administration. This can only work from a basis of common ownership and production solely for use. Common ownership means that all people throughout the world will stand in equal relationship with each other. This will be an association of all men and women making the decisions and co-operating to produce goods and organise communities in their mutual interests. The democratic organisation of all people as citizens of the world would need to operate through different scales of social co-operation. Locally, in town or country, we would be involved with our parish or neighbourhood. Even now, there are many thousands of men and women throughout the country who work voluntarily on parish and district councils and in town neighbourhoods for the benefit of their communities. But these efforts would be greatly enhanced by the freedoms of a society run entirely through voluntary co-operation. Such local organisation would be in the context of regional cooperation which could operate by adapting the structures of present national governments. Whilst some departments such as those for administering tax and state finances, which are essential to the state would be abolished, others like Agriculture and the Environment could have an important job to do, especially in the early days of socialism. Such structures—adapted to the needs of socialist society—could be part of regional councils and would assist in the work of implementing the decisions of regional populations. During the early days of socialism it is likely that the organisation of world co-operation would need to take place through a world council. Because the things we need now are produced and distributed through a world structure of production, and because its present capitalist nature has brought about immense problems, action to solve them would be required on a world scale, For example, it would be a priority to set up an ecologically benign world energy system as soon as possible. Such world projects could be co-ordinated through appropriate departments of a world council.

The latest in new technology gives the opportunity for the population to keep themselves better informed and to take a more active role in decisions than at any time since the small city-states of ancient Greece. We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global level. What we conspicuously lack is the will and the imagination to look beyond. The managerial system which now dictate how production units such as factories or services should be run would be replaced. Small units could be run by regular meetings of all the workers. In the cases of large organisations these could be run by elected committees accountable to the people working in them. In this way, democratic practice would apply not just to the important policy decisions that would steer the main direction of development, it would extend to the day-to-day activities of the work place.

Democratic control will involve the whole community in making decisions about the use of the means of production. Instead of government over people there would be various levels of democratic administration, from the local up to regional and world levels, with responsibility being delegated if necessary to groups and individuals. But this does not rule out local democracy. In fact a democratic system of decision-making would require that the basic unit of social organisation would be the local community. However, the nature of some of the problems we face and the many goods and services presently produced, such as raw materials, energy sources, agricultural products, world transport and communications, need production and distribution to be organised at a world level. Corresponding to this, of course, there would be a need for a democratic world administration, controlled by delegates from the regional and local levels of organisation throughout the world.

Our aim is not just common ownership; it is democracy. Democracy is not an optional extra or simply a means to an end. It is part of our end. What do we mean by democracy? Amongst other things, a world in which people are not bossed around by a government or told what to do by their “superiors”. More positively, a world where everyone takes an equal and responsible part in making decisions which affect society, without the strife which is inevitable in a class-divided society. That is one reason why we say there will be no socialist society until a majority desire it. As long as most people are content to be told what to do by elected representatives there will be no democracy in the sense defined. Not that an electoral system is completely worthless. The World Socialist Movement asserts that to secure the political power of the proletariat the only sure way to do this was through the ballot box and with his earlier rejection of campaigning for reforms. They adopted the policy of trying to gain control of the machinery of government through the ballot box by campaigning on an exclusively socialist programme without seeking support on a policy of reforms; while supporting parliamentary action they refused to advocate reforms. This has remained our policy to this day.

Socialism and democracy are complementary; more than complementary – indivisible. A society where the means of production were formally the common property of society but where only a minority took part in deciding how they should be used would be one in which “common property” was merely a fiction since in practice the means of production would be the sectional possession of the decision-making minority. In the end the only guarantee in socialist society against the emergence of a new ruling class which would negate the common ownership of the means of production is people using the democratic institutions—the actual democratic participation of all the people in the running of society. This is why it is absolutely essential that those who establish socialism—the majority working class who will constitute also the major part of the people of socialist society—must be fully aware of its implications, being prepared and organised to participate not only in its establishment but also in its subsequent running.