Paul Cockshott: Ideas of Leadership and Democracy

Paul Cockshott is offering the Greek political structure as an alternative to the Roman model:

When the American revolutionaries were trying to establish their state – and that is the stable form of bourgeois state that has survived – they looked at historical models. And there were two models available for them, there was Rome and Athens. They had to choose between these, and it is actually no accident that they chose Rome, that the United States constitution is largely based on the Roman ideas of constitution – it’s a republic, it’s not a democracy. It was constructed as a state by slaveholders who saw what had been the most stable slaveholder state in the past: Rome. And they modeled their state on that.

But there’s another model, and that’s the Athenian model of direct democracy, and the Greeks, over a period of hundreds of years, developed mechanisms to prevent aristocratic domination of the state. The first point was that there was no representative democracy. All political decisions had to be taken by the people as a whole by plebiscite. The plebiscite of course if a Roman term, but the power of the Roman plebs to exercise the plebiscite was very limited. In Greece all laws were passed by the assembly. This is exactly what the Erfurt program had been demanding in the 1880s.

Secondly, the executive functions of the state were implemented by a randomly selected council, not by an elected body. The Greeks believed that only if you chose people at random – they actually used random number generators – could you guarantee that the council was unbiased and representative of the population as a whole – or representative of the citizens as a whole, because they’re not the same thing. If you think how a polling organisation tries to determine public opinion, if a polling organisation wants to know what the public opinion is, do they go to the Swedish parliament and ask the opinion of the Swedish parliament? No they don’t, they take a random sample of the population and ask that. If you had that kind of constitution now, the role of political parties would be radically different. They would no longer exist primarily as a body to mobilise support for a group of politicians. Their main job would be to mobilise public opinion towards specific ideological of social objectives, and the people who join the political parties would be joining just because they believe in it. They’d not be joining because there’s covert calculation of their political careers; “if I join this party and work my way up, I can become prime minister”. They’d be joining because they believed in it.

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57 Responses

  1. More than a little confused:

    1) The Greeks were no strangers to slaveholding.
    2) If plebiscite is a Roman innovation, then why use the term to (innacurately) describe the role of the Athenian assembly?
    3) The Greeks made no distinction between executive and legislative functions.
    4) If the legislature was appointed by sortition, why would political parties continue to exist?

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  2. 1. Of course the Greek economy had slaves too, but the relative social weight of the aristocracy who owned large slave estates was much weaker in Athens than in Rome, and the Athenian constitution was explicitly designed to prevent the dominance of this class. In Rome this class controlled the state, which eventually led to the ruination of the independent peasantry and artisans. In Athenian democracy,as Aristotle put it, the poor were in command.
    2. I used the word plebiscite because I was speaking to an audience that were not familiar with Athenian institutions, and I was speaking to Swedes in English. I used the word Plebiscite as I thought that would be the nearest reference that they would be familiar with.
    3. The Boule, was not empowered to carry out legislation but it could do day to day administration, so to that extent it had similarities to the executive functions of a modern Cabinet.
    4. Political parties would probably still exist in order to represent the different social classes in modern society. You would still have parties representing the Labour interest and the Business interest, and probably representing the middle class interest. These would have to operate by the willingness of their rank and file members to actively argue for policies when random selection placed them on an assembly. To gain influence in such a constitution, the political parties would have an incentive to greatly increase their mass membership.

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  3. Thanks for the clarification Paul. I agree with you regarding the ongoing need for political parties to ensure the representation of interests, see my post on this site:

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/the-party%e2%80%99s-over-blueprint-for-a-very-english-revolution/

    Most of the active contributors here argue for sortition as the sole requirement for democratic politics and it’s nice to hear a less dogmatic voice!

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  4. It could be that he does, of course, but I’ve seen nothing in Paul’s writing to suggest that the role he expects parties to have corresponds to the one you want them to have.

    I, too, think political parties are going to remain under sortition, but that is an opinion, not a value judgement. I merely think interest groups, identity groups and factions are not going to go away just because they lose their direct way to power.

    To influence the people is an important way to power for interest groups, identity groups and factions in today’s society. Political parties are rather good at it, it’s only rather recently corporations have had comparable success.

    Under sortition, that way would be the only way to power. Parties, though struck a heavy blow by taking away their role as gatekeepers, will be in one of the better position for seeking that power.

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  5. If you look at the history of the political party, and especially its growth under universal suffrage, it was in direct response to electoral pressures. So if you don’t have elections then you won’t have political parties, only special interest groups. Lobbying tends to take other forms.

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  6. Wait, so you actually disagree with what Paul says in 4. ?

    I don’t think you can extrapolate from the past. Parties are entrenched, and they have a strong claim on the role of selling an ideology to the voters and the politically active.

    Direct lobbying today has a different function. It sells the ideas that can’t be effectively advanced through ideology, either because they’re boring or because they would be unpopular.

    Defining parties to only be “special interest groups” in absence of elections, and then assuming they would behave like today’s special interest groups, seems unreasonable to me. First of all, the situation for a would-be idea advancer would be radically different from today. Second, parties are about a lot more than self-interest, they are about identity and ideology as well.

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  7. I think that Keith is being a little Eurocentric. The biggest political parties in the world The Communist Party of China and the Indian National Congress grew up as mass mobilisation organisations in the 1920s and 1930s under conditions where universal suffrage did not exist.

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  8. I think Paul over-states the role of the Assembly vs. sortition bodies — at least in the more evolved stage of Athenian Democracy. The Assembly did not by any means take all political decisions …The vast majority of political decisions (including deciding what items would even go before the Assembly) were taken by the randomly selected panels (nomothetal) or the Council of 500 (boule). These randomly selected bodies drafted and vetted legislation and decrees. It seems more accurate to describe the Assembly as having a final step veto power, than as being the essence of self-governance.

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  9. Regarding parties: I think we can confidently expect that public advocacy organizations focusing on various issues will continue to exist in the same way that these exist today – Amnesty Intl., the American Civil Liberties Union, Greenpeace, etc. I also think it is likely that the elimination of the electoral parties will increase the variety and influence of these advocacy groups. The question of whether to call these organizations “parties” or “special interest groups” is a matter of terminology.

    BTW, if the influence of these organizations is significant, it would be important to have a democratic, sortition-based, structure within the organizations themselves.

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  10. > The Boule, was not empowered to carry out legislation but it could do day to day administration, so to that extent it had similarities to the executive functions of a modern Cabinet.

    This is true. It is important to realize, however, that like a modern executive, the Boule initiated much of the legislation and determined the Assembly’s agenda.

    I think that in fact the Athenian society was democratic only to the extent that the Boule (and other allotted magistracies) had decisive power. Being a mass forum, the Assembly was the least democratic element of the Athenian system. Like any mass forum, it was a domain that could easily be manipulated by the rich, famous and ambitious – unless the influence of the Boule kept those elite elements in check.

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  11. I think the role of a sortition based council in drawing up proposals to be put to the population is very significant in avoiding the sort of domination of plebiscite initiatives by moneyed interests as has occurred in California.

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  12. Paul,

    I completely agree – powerful organizations and individuals dominate plebiscites both at the proposal qualification stage and at the post-qualification campaign stage.

    BTW, there have been attempts at the state level in California and other states to illegalize paid signature collection – attempts that were overruled by the US supreme court.

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  13. Speaking of less dogmatic, I think there’s a lot to learn from the Paris Commune and other democratic theory in order to make random selections effective:

    – Fusion of legislative and executive-administrative power
    – Sovereign commoner jury system replacing all judges
    – No disqualifications due to non-ownership of wealth, capital property, etc.
    – Sovereign socioeconomic governments (a cruder version of Burnheim’s second half of demarchy, this basically means you’ve got separate bodies for the night watchman state / truly statist politics, for the regulatory and welfare state, for the economic planning state, etc.)
    – Median standards of living for public officials, the median being based on professional and other skilled workers
    – Immediate recall from any of multiple avenues (juries keeping others to the rules, political parties themselves, or pyramidal council hierarchy), especially in cases of abuse of office
    – Shorter workweeks (without loss of pay + benefits and already inclusive of work-related management time)
    – Assembly and association should be free on even a class basis (hence the bankruptcy of liberal sloganeering on this subject)
    – People’s militias with free training
    – A lot of mass media reform
    – Suppression of all state debts
    – Public monopoly on money supply control, realized only by a public financial monopoly
    – Measures against capital flight, investment strikes, etc.

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  14. OK, but (Yoram) how do you square that with our (mutual) disdain for plebiscites? What you have advocated consistently is that the sortive council should draw up the proposals, debate them, judge them and put them into effect (as the executive would also be formed by sortition). David Grant has acknowledged that, absent compulsion, the only democratic aspect of this is the internal workings of the AC, and yet you would grant supreme and unchecked power to a tiny microcosm of the entire citizenry.

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  15. Jacob: “I think there’s a lot to learn from the Paris Commune and other democratic theory in order to make random selections effective: – Fusion of legislative and executive-administrative power; sacking all judges; people’s militias [etc]”

    Sounds pretty scary (assuming you are not being sarcastic). Us liberals seem to be in a small minority on this blog!

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  16. Keith, do you not feel that the population as a whole should have a say in major decisions. I know that one could argue that a sufficiently large random sample will be representative of the population at large, but there is the psychological sense of participation and empowerment that people get by directly contributing to decisions. This will tend to make popular identification with the democracy stronger.

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  17. Keith, let’s just say there are actual socialists on this blog. ;)

    Anyway, I too emphasize random sortition over the referendum as the more important kernel of Athenian democracy, even if I appreciate Paul’s out-of-the-box stuff on Handivote and cell phones allowing multiple referendum options.

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  18. > absent compulsion, the only democratic aspect of this is the internal workings of the AC

    Not at all – I expect to see very low turn down rates of allotted slots (say, less than 5%). If turn down rates are high, and if this is associated with a feeling among certain sectors of the population that they are not well represented, then this would indicate a need for reforms that would aim at addressing this situation.

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  19. Paul,

    > do you not feel that the population as a whole should have a say in major decisions.

    I think that on most issues plebiscites do not actually give the population as a whole a voice, but merely make for political theater. There are relatively few issues on which an informed and considered decision can be made without the concentration of motivation, effort and resources that are not available to the great majority of individuals.

    > there is the psychological sense of participation and empowerment that people get by directly contributing to decisions. This will tend to make popular identification with the democracy stronger.

    I don’t think that the political system should pander to irrational and destructive psychological tendencies. On the contrary, it should attempt to create a situation where opposing – rational and constructive – tendencies are dominant. The feeling that voting is the most natural and direct way to influence public policy is for the most part a manipulative illusion. I also think that it is an expression of an atomistic view of society according to which interests and opinions are essentially private and solidarity doesn’t exist.

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  20. Jacob,

    > Speaking of less dogmatic, I think there’s a lot to learn from the Paris Commune and other democratic theory in order to make random selections effective: […]

    I agree with many of those ideas, but I think we should separate those planks that are necessary for a system of government to be democratic from those that may be essential for a good society (as we see it) but are not necessary conditions for democracy.

    In the first category, I would put sortition based government (including judiciary) and media reform. In the second category, I would put shorter workweeks and basic income guarantee.

    Do you not think that those two categories should be kept separate? Should not the first order of business be to establish a democratic government? Once democratic government is established, society would reflect the ideas of the people. We can then try to convince people that certain policies are better for society – but whether or not we succeed in promoting one idea or another, it is clear that democracy is the correct way to run a society.

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  21. When I think about it, there are some issues that may be more suited to referendums than others. Things that aren’t really about knowledge, but about morality, values. I believe that you won’t become a better person from being well-informed, but then again, there are few pure moral issues – usually there’s some important question of fact which matter for how the moral principle should be applied, and those benefit from deliberation and investigation.

    But while I would possibly trust (or accept) a referendum on such issues, I would also trust an allotted assembly. There are few, if any, advantages to a referendum.

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  22. > there are few pure moral issues

    Exactly – even if we agree on the matter of principle, inferring policy from that issue will usually require much more than that abstract agreement.

    > But while I would possibly trust (or accept) a referendum on such issues, I would also trust an allotted assembly. There are few, if any, advantages to a referendum.

    What about issues on which there are clear potential conflicts of interest between the population and the AC, such as AC member salaries, length of service, etc.?

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  23. Hi Yoram,

    “I agree with many of those ideas, but I think we should separate those planks that are necessary for a system of government to be democratic from those that may be essential for a good society (as we see it) but are not necessary conditions for democracy.
    In the first category, I would put sortition based government (including judiciary) and media reform. In the second category, I would put shorter workweeks and basic income guarantee.”

    Just to clarify, all those planks I put are in the former category. The real reason Marx promoted the shorter workweek was time to participate in political decision-making. It’s not about leisure. It’s not about decreasing unemployment through job-sharing. It’s not about “going green” depending on the hours (32-hour workweek “goes green” while 30-hour workweek doesn’t). It’s not even about workers having work-related management time (“workplace democracy,” “workers self-management,” co-determination, etc.).

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  24. > What about issues on which there are clear potential conflicts of interest between the population and the AC, such as AC member salaries, length of service, etc.?

    I would have the AC decide such things, but make it apply only for the next iteration of the AC. People can’t realistically hope to be allotted twice, so they don’t get to set their own wages. If they still come to systematic disagreement with the people at large, then it’s just because they are better informed after serving for a while.

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  25. Jacob,

    > Just to clarify, all those planks I put are in the former category.

    This is an issue that deserves a thorough discussion – maybe you want to have a post here laying out your position and we can follow it with a discussion in the comments?

    Regarding the specific question of shorter work hours, I don’t find your argument convincing. This argument is part-and-parcel with the standard proposal of having power devolved to small local units, where supposedly people spend much of their time in an activity that is at the same time social leisure and political. I find this proposal deeply flawed (for reasons along the same lines as those argued by Paul in his talk linked to above as well as other reasons) – which is exactly why I embrace sortition as an alternative.

    In a sortition-based system, most people do not have to spend a large part of their time studying and discussing problems over which they have negligible influence – a burdensome and useless activity. The demands of a sortition-based political system on the citizens’ time would not be materially different from the demands made by the current system. In fact, for the “politically aware” there should be more leisure time as the dispelling of the illusion of participation would release such people from the futile activity of following the day-to-day political minutiae (and allow them to spend more time on more meaningful political study, if they choose to do so).

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  26. I never wrote anything about devolving power to smaller, more local units (well, yes I did in my work, but it’s not in the plank above because it’s not crucial for ruling-class political power).

    “The Congress of the International Working Men’s Association at Geneva, on the proposition of the London General Council, resolved that “the limitation of the working-day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive… the Congress proposes eight hours as the legal limit of the working-day.”

    Thus the movement of the working-class on both sides of the Atlantic, that had grown instinctively out of the conditions of production themselves, endorsed the words of the English Factory Inspector, R. J. Saunders: “Further steps towards a reformation of society can never be carried out with any hope of success, unless the hours of labour be limited, and the prescribed limit strictly enforced.”” (Marx)

    That’s the Marx quote I was referring to. I could mention the IWMA resolution too, if you like.

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  27. Harald,

    > I would have the AC decide such things, but make it apply only for the next iteration of the AC.

    This does sound like a good proposal. Although someone would have to decide what decisions fall within the domain of the next-cycle rule – presumably there could be a separate specialized AC with authority for making such decisions. But then what happens if there is a decision that affects the salaries of both those chambers? I am not sure there is really a way around having a truly popular vote.

    > If they still come to systematic disagreement with the people at large, then it’s just because they are better informed after serving for a while.

    Even if this is true, if this situation persists it would undermine the legitimacy of the system and thus its stability.

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  28. > “Further steps towards a reformation of society can never be carried out with any hope of success, unless the hours of labour be limited, and the prescribed limit strictly enforced.”

    It is certainly true that too much work is debilitating, undermining development of rational faculties, etc., and would therefore be incompatible with democracy. But I think that a 40 hour workweek is clearly below that threshold, and further reductions of work hours, while generally a good idea, are not necessary for attaining a functioning democratic government.

    Imagine, for example, that an allotted parliament decides – after collecting data, hearing testimony and having full and open deliberations – that there is no reason to reduce the workweek below 40 hours. Would you say that this would be an anti-democratic policy?

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  29. If we take the Athenian institutions seriously then the popular assembly played a key role, and their decision to have that sort of constitution presumably was based on a belief that the people collectively were the best judge on important issues.

    Take the issue of peace or war — should this not be a matter of popular vote?

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  30. > Take the issue of peace or war — should this not be a matter of popular vote?

    Why should it? I think it is obvious that most people are not in a position to form an independently informed and considered opinion of whether to launch a war. When voting, most people would rely on second, third and fourth hand information, processed by others, evaluated by others, summarized and rephrased by others. In other words, their vote is not a reflection of their own decision – it is the product of manipulation. Why should something as important as war be decided by sloganeering and advertising campaigns?

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  31. BTW, just to make things clear, most people are not in a position to reach an an independently informed and considered opinion not because they are stupid or not “defense experts” or “foreign relations experts”. We have all seen what those expert opinions are worth.

    Most people simply do not have the time, resources, authority and motivation to form their own opinion. The average person can be put in a position in which all those conditions are met (by being a member of an appropriately resourced allotted decision making body), and then that average person would be able to reach an independent opinion that would be much more valuable than the opinions of the purported experts.

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  32. Well the classical argument was that all men had the ability to exercise political judgement on important issues. One might suggest that a vote on war might be limited to those of an age which made them liable to serve, these people’s very life depends on the decision, which gives them the authority and motivation to decide. When the Athenian assembly decided to go to war in Sicily those deciding were those who would serve.

    With modern total war, it is arguable that the life of the whole population is at stake.

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  33. “But I think that a 40 hour workweek is clearly below that threshold, and further reductions of work hours, while generally a good idea, are not necessary for attaining a functioning democratic government.”

    What is the threshold?

    “Imagine, for example, that an allotted parliament decides – after collecting data, hearing testimony and having full and open deliberations – that there is no reason to reduce the workweek below 40 hours. Would you say that this would be an anti-democratic policy?”

    I can see increases in working hours due to war. That’s acceptable. Increases in working hours during peacetime is more problematic.

    “BTW, if the influence of these organizations is significant, it would be important to have a democratic, sortition-based, structure within the organizations themselves.”

    I’m trying to work on this bit in my programmatic commentary, actually. The problem arises with sample sizes. You need decent-sized populations as well as sample sizes of at least 25-30 people. There isn’t statistical representation when you’ve got only a committee of five.

    Perhaps this is where random balloting can come in?

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  34. Paul: “Keith, do you not feel that the population as a whole should have a say in major decisions.”

    Yes I do, that’s why I’ve consistently argued for elections as the first stage, followed by informed scrutiny by an allotted body (the method adopted by Athens in the 4th Century). What I do find puzzling is the idea that the considered verdict of an allotted assembly should then be ratified by referendum, as this priviliges the unconsidered view.

    I’m on holiday at the moment with erratic internet access (and a stupid German keyboard layout) so will have to leave it to you socialists to continue to talk among yourselves.

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  35. Sorry anonymous was me (Keith Sutherland), but you could probably spot me by my rudeness.

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  36. Paul,

    > Well the classical argument was that all men had the ability to exercise political judgement on important issues.

    That doesn’t address my main point: everybody does have the potential for attaining the ability to exercise political judgment, but certain conditions have to be met before that potential is realized. Before judgment can be exercised, the conditions need to allow the person to collect the relevant information and consider it, and need to give the person the motivation to put the time and effort to do so. Without those conditions, the vote is worse than useless.

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  37. Jacob,

    > What is the threshold?

    I don’t have an exact number, but I believe that the current standard of “full time job” and, something at least as important, prohibition of child labor are such that they allow a normal person enough off-work time to develop the faculties needed for independent political thought. Do you think this is not the case?

    Of course, it should be up to a democratic decision making body to set the appropriate work hours based on various considerations. My point is that I don’t see the current 40 hours workweek standard as a hindrance to democracy.

    > I can see increases in working hours due to war. That’s acceptable. Increases in working hours during peacetime is more problematic.

    That doesn’t answer my question. I would be very much against increasing work hours as well, but that is beside the point here. The question is would a decision not to decrease work hours, assuming that this reflects the considered opinion of the a properly allotted chamber, be an anti-democratic decision? Shouldn’t such a decision be within the legitimate decision making authority of a democratic decision making body?

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  38. I think that extra day off (32-hour workweek) would go a long way towards raising political awareness.

    “BTW, if the influence of these organizations is significant, it would be important to have a democratic, sortition-based, structure within the organizations themselves.”

    I hope at some point you’ll have comments on what I wrote on this very internalized subject (I’ve reproduced the material on the Internet, so feel free to play hard ball).

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  39. > I think that extra day off (32-hour workweek) would go a long way towards raising political awareness.

    Why? Do people use their time off now for any activities increasing political awareness? Why should they? The average person has very little influence over public policy. Wouldn’t it always be more rational to spend whatever leisure time you have doing more effective, enjoyable, interesting, fulfilling activities than listening to your neighbors endlessly repeating themselves in meetings that have negligible effect? (I have been in such meetings – they are excruciatingly boring and pointless.)

    I could understand an expectation that moving from 7 days of work a week to 6 would make a difference, but moving from 5 to 4 (again, while being a good idea on other grounds) can hardly be expected to shift political behavior patterns dramatically. The most significant behavioral changes due to a reduction in work hours would likely be more time spent sleeping and watching TV.

    > I hope at some point you’ll have comments on what I wrote on this very internalized subject

    I’d love to. Since you have shared a large amount of material, could you point me at the specific section in your writings which deals with this subject?

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  40. It’s the newest section “Practical Issues and Revisiting the Party Question” in my programmatic work-in-progress (the large PDF file).

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  41. Thanks, I’ll have a look. BTW, if you would like to have a post here presenting your ideas on this matter and leading to a discussion that would be very welcome.

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  42. Jacob, I had a look but I am not sure I understand or agree with the general setup.

    What do you see as being the function of parties in a non-electoral system? My guess is that “parties” would function like advocacy organization do today – like, say, the ACLU or Greenpeace (sorry, I am not familiar with the UK equivalents, but I suppose you get my meaning). Possibly the demise of the electoral parties would propel those organizations to be more ambitious and assume more roles, but the general structure would remain issue specific rather than comprehensive. The activity would remain educational or advocacy-oriented, since – by deliberate design – there would be no way for a party to be “in power”, and their ability to exert power directly on the allotted chamber would hopefully be very limited.

    It seems you see thing differently?

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  43. Paul and I see parties as operating much more like the pre-war SPD or Hezbollah than as smaller cliques like the ACLU or Greenpeace. Those latter two are single-issue groups, while the former not only had/have a broad range of policies, but also organize(d) well beyond electoral activity: cultural societies, recreational clubs, funeral homes, food banks and pantries, etc.

    That part about Real Parties as Real Movements and Vice Versa can be found in Chapter 4.

    In exchange for all this and broader policy, they get activists and dues coming in for voting membership.

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  44. > not only had/have a broad range of policies, but also organize(d) well beyond electoral activity: cultural societies, recreational clubs, funeral homes, food banks and pantries, etc.

    It appears to me that in the West such functions are taken by separate organizations: policy proposals and advocacy are the realm of political parties, academia, think tanks, large corporations or trade associations and single area advocacy groups, while the services you mentioned are provided by the state, by commercial organization, by specialized not-for-profit organizations (the YMCA for example) and by religious organizations.

    What do you think will cause the appearance of such multi-function organizations, given that they don’t exist in the West today, and given that the elimination of the electoral function would seem to reduce further their viability? Do you consider the appearance of such organizations a desirable goal?

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  45. ^^^ Simple: The need for the modern working class to become a class for itself. All these disparate bodies are summed up to not do much, but the sum can be greater than the parts, as the pre-war SPD and inter-war USPD showed. This is the difference between a genuine political party and a mere electoral machine, let alone a mere advocacy group.

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  46. > Simple: The need for the modern working class to become a class for itself. […]

    I would hope that the working class, being a large majority of the population, would be represented by the bodies whose makeup is a statistical mirror of the population – the allotted legislature, the allotted courts, and possibly other allotted bodies.

    BTW, even if we assume the need for such an organization exists, it is still unclear to me what will make such a need for such a catch-all organization manifest itself under a sortition-based system when it does not manifest itself now and when the elimination of the electoral function would seem to diminish this need rather than enhance it.

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  47. Again, like I said in Keith’s blog, demarchy isn’t a catch-all panacea:

    —–
    That’s the same argument numerous “democratic socialists” raised when calling for universal suffrage. The mechanical notion of this leading to the hyped “class legislation” didn’t work in the long term.

    I agree on the sortition, but like the Paris Commune and other examples other measures are needed. The possibility of disenfranchising economic elites from “the ability to influence or participate in political decision-making” is a lot bigger and illiberal in scope than what the Soviet constitution said about who’s not eligible to merely vote or be elected.
    —–

    The elimination of the electoral function would still not obviate the need for such a mass party to *impose* its programmatic policy. During the blood feud with the KPD, the inter-war SPD had militias – just like Hezbollah.

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  48. > demarchy isn’t a catch-all panacea

    Of course not – what is? The question is whether an organization such the one you are proposing is either likely to appear or a desirable phenomenon that should serve as a goal. It is not clear to me it is either.

    With a militia and the various other functions, such an organization appears to be almost like a state within a state. This of course raises the question of how this organization would be different than a state – why would it be a better representative of the people’s interests and wishes?

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  49. A sort of “state within the state” is precisely what I am proposing, especially if both “the state” and “the state within the state” have demarchic models.

    It would be different in numerous ways. First of all, the pre-war SPD carried from Marx the policy of workers-only voting membership policy (so this has nothing to do with “the people” at all). No capitalists or small business owners (among other non-worker class occupations) would be allowed inside the party, let alone voting membership abilities. It is in such a Party-Movement and not the broader society where you can explicitly pursue more narrow memberships (better called Citizenships) than voting and political restrictions in the broader society.

    Second, there are synergies in policymaking and related discussion found in Party-Movements that simply cannot be found in states, especially mere “technocratic” ones like those of today. Compare the programs of Eisenach, Gotha, and Erfurt to today’s dull electoral platforms. This is especially because the discussion can be found in the alternative culture. In other words, all those cultural societies, recreational clubs, food banks and pantries, etc. can serve the additional purpose of being informal Party schools.

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  50. I still see neither a likelihood nor a particular advantage of such organizations existing.

    Programs do not emerge spontaneously from mass movements, they are created by elites. At best, those elites are representative of the masses. Usually, of course, those elites try to dictate to the masses their own interests and opinions. Thus, talk about party schools sounds rather ominous to me: informed and considered discussion is certainly desirable and should be facilitated as much as possible, but having the forum controlled by some centralized organization introduces an oligarchical element.

    By the way, I think effective wide spread political involvement can be fostered by creating democratic mass media.

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  51. The notion of “democratic mass media” is itself programmatic. How it functions, how it’s brought about by pressure, etc. does not emerge spontaneously from mass movements, as well.

    Without a revolutionary program there can be no revolutionary movement.

    That said, I’ve posted this on various blogs, in response to the release of Guy Standing’s book on the so-called “precariat.” I myself don’t agree with this paraphrase of my own because the “precariat” is a very complex subject of discussion (http://www.revleft.com/vb/all-things-precariat-t148669/index.html). However, it’s worth trying for the sake of spreading awareness:

    —–
    Anyway, to paraphrase Marx:

    Considering, that against this combined power of the elite classes the primary producers or precariat cannot unite and act for itself except by constituting itself into a mass party-movement, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties and movements, that this constitution of the precariat into a mass party-movement is indispensable in order to ensure the emancipation of its labour power,

    That such labour power can be emancipated only when, at minimum, the precariat is in collective possession of all means of societal production, all commons, etc., that there are only two forms under which all means of societal production, all commons, etc. can belong to them or return to community:

    1) The individual form which has never existed in a general state and which is increasingly eliminated by industrial progress;
    2) The collective form the material and intellectual elements of which are constituted by the very development of capitalist society;

    Considering,

    That again this collective re-appropriation, or political and economic expropriation of the elite classes, can arise only from the direct action of the primary producers or precariat, organized in a distinct mass party-movement;

    Such permanent organization must be pursued by all the means the precariat has at its disposal.
    —–

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  52. Sources:

    Resolution of the London Conference on Working Class Political Action

    Programme of the French Workers Party

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  53. Having given the matter some thought following our discussion here, it appears to me that a mass movement is only useful to the extent that it is more democratic than the state is – it can then function as a tool for democratizing the state. That is, those “state within a state” functions would serve a useful purpose if they manage to correct the effects of a non-democratic state.

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  54. Our discussion here, or the external discussion material you’ve read from me as well? Following the logic of what you said, indeed you can’t have a DOTP in clear command over its own bureaucracy without a properly functioning “prefigured” DOTP atmosphere within the party itself.

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  55. Jacob – what’s DOTP?

    What I am thinking is that a democratic mass movement should, (1) of course, have a democratic internal governance (i.e., sortition-based), (2) aim to provide those services whose existence is being prevented by the non-democratic governance of the state.

    For example, it could try to create in the US a medical insurance program that would cover all of its members and whose cost would be distributed justly among the members. It could also try to create democratic media (controlled by citizen-editors).

    The advantage of having all those functions within a single organization is, I guess, a matter of concentration of resources and attention. Having multiple governing bodies, one for each organization, could spread resources and public attention too thinly, undermining the effectiveness and the democracy of the organizations.

    The question remains, given that such an organization does not exist today in most countries, what would be the process that would lead to the creation such an organization? I imagine that the process must start with a widespread realization that the state is oligarchical, and that a democratic alternative exists. Then one could argue that a popular democratic organization can and should be created that would act as a surrogate state until such a time is reached at which the state itself is democratized.

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  56. DOTP = “dictatorship of the proletariat” (Marx and Engels)

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  57. Re. the rest of your post: You can still have separate governing bodies for each “state within a state” / alternative culture sub-organization, so long as they are subordinate to the larger organization. Didn’t Burnheim’s demarchy model advocate separation of powers on a purely functional basis (health care, social security, education, etc.)?

    The last question is a harder question. I’ve tried to tackle it in the work I sent you. Nevertheless, the early Communist League and its revolutionary contemporaries, all the way down to the pre-war SPD and inter-war USPD, tried this:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/ideological-state-apparatuses-t146908/index.html?p=1970027&highlight=league

    One of the numerous mistakes of the Bolsheviks early on was rushing its membership into the state apparatus instead of following through on emulating the SPD model re. party-centric alternative culture. Indeed, during this rush, the party proper had a membership dues crisis!

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