Tag Archive: democracy


The VOAG is watching - The VOAG is everywhereOn why we must vote by simple majority and why this protects the rights of the minority. And why the Occupy movement are wrong.  

 GERALD DOWNING , Nov 28 2011  
On consensus: excerpts from Murray Bookchin’s “What is Communalism? The Democratic Dimensions of Anarchism” by Ozaki Takami

‘Libertarians commonly consider democracy, even in this sense, as a form of “rule” — since in making decisions, a majority view prevails and thus “rules” over a minority. As such, democracy is said to be inconsistent with a truly libertarian ideal. Even so knowledgeable a historian of anarchism as Peter Marshall observes that, for anarchists, “the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority”. Scores of libertarians have echoed this idea time and again.
 
What is striking about assertions like Marshall’s is their highly pejorative language. Majorities, it would seem, neither “decide” nor “debate”: rather, they “rule,” “dictate,” “command,” “coerce” and the like. In a free society that not only permitted, but fostered the fullest degree of dissent, whose podiums at assemblies and whose media were open to the fullest expression of all views, whose institutions were truly forums for discussion — one may reasonably ask whether such a society would actually “dictate” to anyone when it had to arrive at a decision that concerned the public welfare.
 
How, then, would society make dynamic collective decisions about public affairs, aside from mere individual contracts? The only collective alternative to majority voting as a means of decision-making that is commonly presented is the practice of consensus. Indeed, consensus has even been mystified by avowed “anarcho-primitivists,” who consider Ice Age and contemporary “primitive” or “primal” peoples to constitute the apogee of human social and psychic attainment.
 
I do not deny that consensus may be an appropriate form of decision-making in small groups of people who are thoroughly familiar with one another. But to examine consensus in practical terms, my own experience has shown me that when larger groups try to make decisions by consensus, it usually obliges them to arrive at the lowest common intellectual denominator in their decision-making: the least controversial or even the most mediocre decision that a sizable assembly of people can attain is adopted — precisely because everyone must agree with it or else withdraw from voting on that issue. More disturbingly, I have found that it permits an insidious authoritarianism and gross manipulations — even when used in the name of autonomy or freedom.

To take a very striking case in point: the largest consensus-based movement (involving thousands of participants) in recent memory in the United States was the Clamshell Alliance, which was formed to oppose the Seabrook nuclear reactor in the mid-1970s in New Hampshire. In her recent study of the movement, Barbara Epstein has called the Clamshell the “first effort in American history to base a mass movement on nonviolent direct action” other than the 1960s civil rights movement. As a result of its apparent organizational success, many other regional alliances against nuclear reactors were formed throughout the United States.
 
I can personally attest to the fact that within the Clamshell Alliance, consensus was fostered by often cynical Quakers and by members of a dubiously “anarchic” commune that was located in Montague, Massachusetts. This small, tightly knit faction, unified by its own hidden agendas, was able to manipulate many Clamshell members into subordinating their goodwill and idealistic commitments to those opportunistic agendas. The de facto leaders of the Clamshell overrode the rights and ideals of the innumerable individuals who entered it and undermined their morale and will.
 
In order for that clique to create full consensus on a decision, minority dissenters were often subtly urged or psychologically coerced to decline to vote on a troubling issue, inasmuch as their dissent would essentially amount to a one-person veto. This practice, called “standing aside” in American consensus processes, all too often involved intimidation of the dissenters, to the point that they completely withdrew from the decision-making process, rather than make an honorable and continuing expression of their dissent by voting, even as a minority, in accordance with their views. Having withdrawn, they ceased to be political beings — so that a “decision” could be made. More than one “decision” in the Clamshell Alliance was made by pressuring dissenters into silence and, through a chain of such intimidations, “consensus” was ultimately achieved only after dissenting members nullified themselves as participants in the process.
 
On a more theoretical level, consensus silenced that most vital aspect of all dialogue, dissensus. The ongoing dissent, the passionate dialogue that still persists even after a minority accedes temporarily to a majority decision, was replaced in the Clamshell by dull monologues — and the uncontroverted and deadening tone of consensus. In majority decision-making, the defeated minority can resolve to overturn a decision on which they have been defeated — they are free to openly and persistently articulate reasoned and potentially persuasive disagreements. Consensus, for its part, honors no minorities, but mutes them in favor of the metaphysical “one” of the “consensus” group.
 
The creative role of dissent, valuable as an ongoing democratic phenomenon, tends to fade away in the gray uniformity required by consensus. Any libertarian body of ideas that seeks to dissolve hierarchy, classes, domination and exploitation by allowing even Marshall’s “minority of one” to block decision-making by the majority of a community, indeed, of regional and nationwide confederations, would essentially mutate into a Rousseauean “general will” with a nightmare world of intellectual and psychic conformity. In more gripping times, it could easily “force people to be free,” as Rousseau put it — and as the Jacobins practiced it in1793-94. 
 
The de facto leaders of the Clamshell were able to get away with their behavior precisely because the Clamshell was not sufficiently organized and democratically structured, such that it could countervail the manipulation of a well organized few. The de facto leaders were subject to few structures of  accountability for their actions. The ease with which they cannily used consensus decision-making for their own ends has been only partly told,6 but consensus practices finally shipwrecked this large and exciting organization with its Rousseauean “republic of virtue.”

It was also ruined, I may add, by an organizational laxity that permitted mere passersby to participate in decision-making, thereby destructuring the organization to the point of invertebracy. It was for good reason that I and many young anarchists from Vermont who had actively participated in the Alliance for some few years came to view consensus as anathema.
 
If consensus could be achieved without compulsion of dissenters, a process that is feasible in small groups, who could possibly oppose it as a decision-making process? But to reduce a libertarian ideal to the unconditional right of a minority — let alone a “minority of one” — to abort a decision by a “collection of individuals” is to stifle the dialectic of ideas that thrives on opposition, confrontation and, yes, decisions with which everyone need not agree andshould not agree, lest society become an ideological cemetery. Which is not to deny dissenters every opportunity to reverse majority decisions by unimpaired discussion and advocacy.’
Gerry Downing is the editor of Socialist Fight magazine.The VOAG

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We’ve Occupied – Now Try Revolution

This article is a contribution from an activist in Occupy Dame Street in Dublin. The opinions reflect his and other people’s experiences and how they see and understand what is happening within Occupy Dame Street.

This article first appeared in Socialist Voice, Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) publication. November 2011
ON 9 October 2011 a group of people pitched tents
on the plaza outside the Central Bank in Dame Street and began a protest against Irish and international finance. Inspired in part by events in New York, as well as the M15 movement in Spain, the Occupy Dame Street protest has become not only a physical stand against bank bail-outs but also an exercise in participatory democracy.

And it is the latter, rather than the former, that has so far managed to hold the disparate group together. The almost  complete lack of democratic engagement by the state with its citizens in relation to the banking crisis is the issue that gives the action coherence.

From the start, Occupy Dame Street adopted a “no banners” approach. This is in tandem with similar calls made by the M15 movement and by Occupy Wall Street. The move has been called counterproductive, short-sighted, and naive, and the criticisms are not without justification. Yet the decision to ban overt political and trade union connections at the Dame Street protest has less to do with a rejection of ideology and more to do with the realisation among the participants that the Socialist Workers’ Party is aggressively pushing to take over the occupation—and is using the call for
trade union banners as its Trojan horse.
 
Bizarrely, the SWP has openly admitted to participants that this is its objective. Whereas other political and trade union groups have respected the “no banners” approach—including the Socialist Party, People Before Profit, Workers’ Solidarity Movement, Unite, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, and the Communist Party of Ireland— the SWP remains committed to infiltrationism. Until that issue is resolved, the distrust of left-wing political groupings will remain.
 
Unfortunately, the ban has left the Dame Street camp exposed to the ideas and conceptual frameworks of conspiracy theorists, who have descended on the camp like locusts. It is not uncommon to hear at ODS that the world is run by Jews and the Bilderberg Group, that fluoride is a mind-control drug, and that 9/11 was conducted by the American government itself. During the first week of the occupation I was informed by a gentleman that Barack Obama was kidnapped from the Kenyan jungle by the Bilderberg Group when he was four, who then raised him to be president of the United States. In the spirit of the premise that it is pointless to argue with a madman, I patted him on the shoulder and quickly walked away.
 
More recently, a group of conspiracy theorists tried to hijack an open assembly. These are held twice daily and are open discussion forums. The pressures facing the camp extend beyond the weather and logistics.Occupy Dame Street is best described as social-democratic in outlook and orientation. There is a istinct lack of class analysis, for example; and a core belief is that the problems facing Ireland have come about through the actions of individuals or politicians rather as a result of the dynamics of the economic and political system itself. The phrase “We are the 99 per cent” is a reflection of this, with the implication that a small group of greedy bankers and financiers are the root cause.
 
This is changing as the occupation progresses, with more focus and debate on the economics of  banking and speculation in Ireland, and the role of the IFSC as a pivot point in international finance. For now, though, class remains a taboo topic at the camp—that is, the idea of class as a power relation. When class is discussed it is usually portrayed as an affliction of the working class and the poor. The view of Ireland’s middle class at ODC is one that sees the middle class as benign participants in Ireland’s class system—not surprising, as the majority of the participants at ODC are middle-class themselves.
 
In general, the Occupy Dame Street camp is a positive development. It may be social-democratic, but such is the paucity of democratic engagement in Ireland that even such a stance has radical undertones. Long may it continue.

Message from Colonel Mu’ummar Qaddafi

Recollections of My Life: Col. Mu’ummar Qaddafi, The Leader of the Revolution.
Published by Pravda, April 5, 2011.

For 40 years, or was it longer, I can’t remember, I did all I could to give people houses, hospitals, schools, and when they were hungry, I gave them food. I even made Benghazi in to farmland from the desert, I stood up to attacks from that cowboy Reagan, when he killed my adopted orphaned daughter, he was trying to kill me, instead he killed that poor innocent child. Then I helped my brothers and sisters from Africa with money for the African Union.

I did all I could to help people understand the concept of real democracy, where people’s committees ran our country. But that was never enough, as some told me, even people who had 10 room homes, new suits and furniture, were never satisfied, as selfish as they were they wanted more. They told Americans and other visitors, that they needed “democracy” and “freedom” never realizing it was a cut throat system, where the biggest dog eats the rest, but they were enchanted with those words, never realizing that in America, there was no free medicine, no free hospitals, no free housing, no free education and no free food, except when people had to beg or go to long lines to get soup.

No, no matter what I did, it was never enough for some, but for others, they knew I was the son of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the only true Arab and Muslim leader we’ve had since Salah-al-Deen, when he claimed the Suez Canal for his people, as I claimed Libya, for my people, it was his footsteps I tried to follow, to keep my people free from colonial domination – from thieves who would steal from us.

Now, I am under attack by the biggest force in military history, my little African son, Obama wants to kill me, to take away the freedom of our country, to take away our free housing, our free medicine, our free education, our free food, and replace it with American style thievery, called “capitalism,” but all of us in the Third World know what that means, it means corporations run the countries, run the world, and the people suffer. So, there is no alternative for me, I must make my stand, and if Allah wishes, I shall die by following His path, the path that has made our country rich with farmland, with food and health, and even allowed us to help our African and Arab brothers and sisters to work here with us, in the Libyan Jamahiriya.

I do not wish to die, but if it comes to that, to save this land, my people, all the thousands who are all my children, then so be it.

Let  this testament be my voice to the world, that I stood up to crusader attacks of NATO, stood up to cruelty, stood up to betrayal, stood up to the West and its colonialist ambitions, and that I stood with my African brothers, my true Arab and Muslim brothers, as a beacon of light. When others were building castles, I lived in a modest house, and in a tent. I never forgot my youth in Sirte, I did not spend our national treasury foolishly, and like Salah-al-Deen, our great Muslim leader, who rescued Jerusalem for Islam, I took little for myself…

In the West, some have called me “mad”, “crazy”, but they know the truth yet continue to lie, they know that our land is independent and free, not in the colonial grip, that my vision, my path, is, and has been clear and for my people and that I will fight to my last breath to keep us free, may Allah almighty help us to remain faithful and free.

Col. Mu’ummar Qaddafi, 2011/05/04
Translated by Professor Sam Hamod, Ph.D.
Copyright Col. Mu’ummar Qaddafi, – Mathaba.Net