Socialist Decision Making 3/7

There will be situations when people simply cannot agree and there are no compromises everyone can live with. There is put bluntly no consensus. What happens in these situations, depending on the situation is either A) The suggestion is blocked or B) The group does nothing faced with a situation.

The idea is that if one has not reached consensus it would be “majority tyranny” to implement a decision over the heads of the disagreeing minority. However, you will see that on the contrary, it is minority tyranny when a minority can block an initiative that is wanted by most of the group. The same is true for the hybrid vote that thinks it is unacceptable for 51% of a group to “dictate” what 49% should do. Therefore the majority must be 2/3 or in some cases even 3/4. Is it democratic for a little bit over 1/3 or 1/4 to be able to block a desired change?

If one uses consensus, anyone who is against a decision can decide to block an initiative. With super-majorities a small minority can but itself in the way of decisions that most of the group want. Put bluntly both make possible minority rule.

It’s not even egalitarian. consensus is a strictly verbal process. This means that the well articulated will be put ahead of the less articulated. Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time in a group utilizing consensus will have noticed that the same people usually talk the most. In contrast with voting you have no way of knowing what is on everybody’s mind unless you employ a round where everybody gets to speak. It could very well mean “talking until we’re sick of it”, with a large amount of uncertainty regarding what was actually decided.

Decision making is done through consensus is vulnerable to informal hierarchies. If the first five to speak about a theme are all for an initiative that you’re against, how easy is it to raise your hand and object? If the meeting has dragged out and you know putting your hand up and voicing your concern will start a long discussion would you make yourself heard! How do you see that a member is not raising his or her hand for fear of too many others disagreeing? How do you see that a member will not speak because of fatigue after a long and fruitless meeting? How do you perceive that someone is silent because they are not comfortable with their own abilities of articulation?

The loose form of the organisation makes implementing formal checks and balances difficult. Loose organization does not rid a group of hierarchy but masks it. Without mapping out and delineating the process with rules, it’s hard to find the kinks and reflect on the consequences of your organisational structure.

In small groups where everybody knows each other, a newcomer to a group, will experience how disorienting the decisions are made without formal rules. The more people there are at a meeting utilizing consensus, the more unmanageable, confusing, and time-consuming the meeting tends to be. It takes a very short time understanding a formalized direct democratic decision making process employing voting. There were simple rules to follow; they were written down, and one could easily observe if everybody followed them. If one wants to engage new people and grow the structure must be formalized and transparent. A group of activist can’t operate as a clique of friends and expect to attract others.

A group votes over what decisions they want implemented. This has the advantage that one quickly knows where everybody is on the issue, either they’re for and vote yes, or against and vote no, or don’t care and refrain from voting. There is no requirement for articulation, or much else for that matter. If a decision wins by a very slight majority and is very important, like changing the platform or rules for example, there can be a formalised rule that in such cases one must open for new discussion before having another, final vote. Anyone can read the rules and participate, and voting takes little time even when there are many present.

The power-structure of capitalism – in which those who control its most important asset, capital, are the ones who control the rest of us – is inherently exploitative and oppressive. But that is not the same as to say that power in itself is inherently bad. Power should be understood as a neutral phenomenon, which exists in any society, whether we like it or not. Democratic power is fundamentally different from state power, because the latter is based on the decision-making powers of a minority. Socialists  far from removing the problem of power from their field of vision, address the problem of how to give power a concrete institutional emancipatory form.

Recent events certainly demonstrate the usefulness of social media. Protesters are able to make and take their case beyond their borders, and tell their story in their own words without having it subject to governmental or media spin. This is something new and very useful that gives activists communicative powers on a level that has never been possible before. But the importance of tools like Facebook and Twitter has been overstated. Social media, by providing a loose network of links that can quickly spread information from friends, to friends of friends, and eventually to total strangers, does not supplant or replace many of the most essential elements of any successful social movement. Successful social movements require a well-organised structure and camaraderie based on face-to-face contact and shared experience. Social media is simply a new tool that can spread ideas. Social media can spread information faster and more efficiently than anything that has previously existed, and is thus a very useful for rapidly spreading the news of an injustice or quickly mobilizing large groups of people. What social media does not change, however, is the best way to utilise these mobilized individuals. The relatively weak personal ties established on the Internet simply cannot provide the sense of solidarity of a party.

For socialists the rule of government can never he democratic. To govern is to direct, control and to rule with authority. Operating as the state this is what governments do. But to say that democracy is merely the act of electing a government to rule over us cannot be right because democracy should include all people in deciding how we live and what we do as a community. Democracy means the absence of privilege, making our decisions from a position of equality. Democracy means that we should live in a completely open society with unrestricted access to the information relevant to social issues. It means that we should have the powers to act on our decisions, because without such powers decisions are useless.

The vote they were compelled to give, though they made a virtue out of necessity and said they gave it because they loved the principles of democracy. But no matter how they got them, the workers have far more votes than their masters. With the knowledge of their slave-position and the courage to organise, these votes can be used as the means to their emancipation. The capitalist class cannot rescind what they have established. The vote was given to secure their own domination; if they discard it they lose control and have no sanction to govern.By constitutional methods the workers can win their freedom. They have no need to go outside the constitution until they finally destroy it. So the party system together with the franchise pave the way for working-class victory.

Democracy is not a set of rules or a parliament; it is a process, a process that must be fought for. The struggle for democracy is the struggle for socialism. It is not a struggle for reforms, for this or that political system, for this or that leader, for some rule change or other—it is the struggle for an idea, for a belief, a belief that we can run our own lives, that we have a right to a say in how society is run, for a belief that the responsibility for democracy lies not upon the politicians or their bureaucrats, but upon ourselves.

Real democracy will come with socialism. The party system will be exposed as a fraud, consciously practised by the ruling class in their own interest . Real democracy, where people run their neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces democratically from the bottom up, never existed in capitalist society . Socialism will involve people making decisions about their own lives and those of families, friends and neighbours – decisions unencumbered by so many of the factors that have to be taken into account under capitalism. Real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else.

Common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions. Democratic control is therefore also essential to the meaning of socialism. Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them. These decisions could be on a wide range of issues—one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production of goods and services. Socialism means democracy at all levels of society, including the workplace. Democracy means having the opportunity to intervene in making proposals, amending them and finally deciding upon them – as well as in implementing them. The more people can exercise a say in those actions, the more democratic the process becomes. Information must flow freely, so all can have an opportunity of reaching a decision, of judging the performance of delegates and appointees, of deciding to challenge the actions of one body in a higher authority; and in real democracy, the higher authorities are those bodies which contain more members of the community concerned. Everyday life must be the signalling system that lets people know what their fellows want, the way of coordinating votes and decisions. A society of common ownership would have no need of constricting decision-making. We would share a common interest, and most people’s actions and decisions would be immediately related to their day-to-day outcomes. Democracy would be an everyday process, just as the management of workplaces is now for the appointees of the owners. Just as appointees now are accountable to and removable by the owners, when we own all the wealth in common we will have structures to ensure that we retain control of all decision-making levels where we feel we have need to intervene, not ritualistically handing that control over to rulers periodically. We say that direct democracy such as mass meetings need not be the only form of democratic control in socialism. For many choices, decision-making by a committee or council of elected delegates will be more appropriate. In socialism there will certainly be elected assemblies and perhaps some elected officials. In the socialist conception of democracy, such elected people would be subject to recall if, in the opinion of a majority of those who elected them, they have failed to carry out the mandate conferred on them. For, in socialism, all elected persons will be delegates chosen by the community to carry out some task on their behalf. It is therefore only normal that, if they fail to carry out this task properly, the people who elected them should have the power to revoke their mandate, i. e. to recall them and mandate someone else in their place.