Sortition eliminates popular participation
While fewer and fewer Frenchpeople bother vote, the membership of parties evaporates, the feeling of powerlessness intensifies, the advocates of stochocracy seem to think that the new selection mechanism could revitalize popular participation. After all, since each person could be called upon to assume political responsibilities, or see their spouse, their neighbor, or their colleague be called to assume them, it is natural that they would grow interested in political questions. Likewise, the disappearance of the political caste would restore the enthusiasm which multiple betrayals have drained over the years. However, this argument in favor of sortition seems unconvincing.
First, everyone must know that the chance of finding yourself sitting in the assembly, or even seeing one of your acquaintances sitting in the assembly, remains extremely small. Using the proposal discussed in the introduction and considering the existing electorate, there are 45 million registered voters (that is without considering those who meet the criteria but are not registered, or expected population growth), the sample selected for exercising the sovereignty for the people in the assembly would represent 0.004% of the electorate. This means that each year only one person in 25,000 would be drawn. Of course, this is better than the chance at the lottery, but it must be admitted that the chances of knowing someone who was allotted remain tiny.
But above all, despite falling turnouts, we see that the French are never as interested in politics as when they are called to vote. Indeed, the elections remain today an important moment of exercising sovereignty. Of course, as demonstrated in the 19th century by a number of anarchist polemicists (Pouget, Mirbeau, Libertad…), this sovereignty is fundamentally illusory. It is nevertheless a fact that asking the French as a whole to make a decision, based on an evaluation of the proposals of each candidate, or even better, make a direct decision on a question through a referendum, still has a profound structural effect on the public debate.
Eliminating elections eliminates what little sovereignty that representative democracy permits. It is a representative system, so there is no direct decision-making, but the consultation process allows everyone to feel, despite everything, a citizen. Adding the fact that each French person has a tiny probability to know someone who was selected by lot, could you really think that stochocracy would be anything other than the death of citizenship and of popular participation?
Sortition eliminates politics and citizenship
Even worse, it can be legitimately thought that the arguments for statistical representation and the illusion that anyone could one day be allotted could be used to annihilate popular dissent. The conflation of the sample with the whole, which affects today the advocates of sortition, can be used to place all those who maintain positions against decisions made, who attempt to oppose a decision or to organize a popular struggle, in a position of illegitimacy, as opposing decisions supposedly made by the people, which in reality are made by a minute part of the it. The argument of the illegitimacy of opponents of elected government is largely echoed by mass media. In the context where the decision makers are part of the people and are conflated with it in the dominant discourse, it seems evident that whoever tries to oppose a law will confront this argument of authority, which is profoundly delegitimizing, that “this is how it is because this is how the people want it to be”, which of course would be an unverifiable claim. Therefore, stochocracy would in effect be the death of conflict, of the debate of ideas, the moving force of politics.
Let it be said: it is perfectly healthy to oppose political decisions, to oppose laws even after they were voted upon, to reject arguments outright, to reject basic principles, to confront their world views. Society is not a peaceful, consensual space, and politics cannot be so. By insisting on the legitimacy of a part of the people making decisions in the name of the whole, and so in effect on the illegitimacy of the whole in opposing the decisions made, the advocates of sortition, without malice, undermine the foundations of politics, creating a society where individuals become again more subjects than citizens.
Sortition does not protect against abuse by the decision makers
While all sortition advocates are in agreement in saying that this system would put an end to corruption, grounds for substantiating this idea remain thin. And for good reason. What person, who was selected by lot, could not be bought? For our opponents, the elected today betray their ideas in order to assure the support of influential financial supporters and opinion makers. However, the voters are the final choosers. If a person is prepared, because of narrow interests, to betray their constituents, and in this way risk provoking their displeasure, Why would someone who was not elected on a platform, and therefore not having to answer to anyone about his positions, and moreover being in office for an extremely limited time before returning to his everyday life, not put his personal interest first and support some project in exchange for a hefty check? Because of idealism, because of self-denial? Such expectations ignore the fact that a person is primarily a product of society, and that self-denial and idealism are frankly not the pillars of existing society; or that because sortition creates a sample that is representative of society, the majority of individuals could, in an economic systems based on the lure of profit, could be bought with difficulty.
But even if we accept that the allotted, galvanized by the task they were selected for, are revealed as incorruptible and play the game earnestly, the fact they would be politically inexperienced, far from being an asset, risks them being in a position where they are manipulated by interest groups. Indeed, we must not forget that society is not a place of social harmony, where everyone defends the general interest. Social or environmental legislation, for example, are of great interest to a dominant class which could exert ideological pressure in order to steer the choices of the assembly made of allottees, who do not know each other, and completely oblivious of these maneuvers, much more easily than with individuals who are experienced with such practices and maintaining a certain loyalty to their base, or at least to their party line. A person extracted from civil society, isolated and confronted with unfamiliar duties, regarding matters which he doesn’t fully understand, could be manipulated with ease and in record time by a lobby which has developed extremely sophisticated language tools and communication techniques, regardless of his degree of honesty.
This also brings up a theory of a fundamental fault of stochocracy advocates: thinking that allotted decision-makers cannot be manipulated is a symptom of the fact that they think that all our troubles are caused simply by the malfeasance of a group of individuals and forget that determining weight of the economic infrastructure organizing life in society.
Sortition denies the division between classes
The state apparatus, as it has gradually been formed, is, remember, one instrument among others of bourgeois rule. But modifying the way it functions does not necessarily imply a break with the bourgeois order. If there is something that capitalism has demonstrated well over course of the centuries is its ability to adapt. Giving the illusion of a society where consensus could exist, where allotted proletarians and bourgeois could come together to build together an ideal society, sortition advocates deny the existence of diametrically opposite interests, which are linked with the nature of the classes of society, and which govern political choices today. This denials cannot but serve the interests of the dominant class, which always engages in class warfare while trying to hide its existence from the majority in society. A society based on the illusion of social compromise and on a diminishment of political conflict is the dream of the bourgeoisie. We think we have demonstrated that stochocracy goes entirely in this direction. Of course it is unlikely that the dominant class will defend the idea of stochocracy, since the existing system suits it well, but if that was the only way to escape a real revolution, both political and social, don’t doubt that it will accommodate to it perfectly. It is vital today to consider radical changes to institutions, but this change must be guided by a materialistic worldview, and not by an approach that could be satisfactory from a purely philosophical point of view, but which ignores the actual power relations at play. With a view to ending the crisis, a proposed political system must allow breaking the back of the dominant class, and to give power to the social majority, not aim for a social peace that is impossible while class differences exist.
This is the reason why, now that we have more or less completed the discussion of sortition, it is important to start considering together a democratic system which fights together with the oppressed and which is inspired not by an idealization of the Athenian democracy, but by the experiences of the revolutionary workers movement.
Toward a democracy in the service of the social majority
As should be clear from the above, the fact that we oppose the false alternative of sortition does not imply that we are fierce defenders of the existing system. The real democracy, power by the people for the people, being wielded without being passed to representatives, did not remain in a state of untouched utopia as it was formulated 250 years ago by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A number of intellectuals, incomparably more talented and interesting than Etienne Chouard, examined this question. Thinkers such as Pierre Kropotkine, Anton Pannekoek, Hannah Arendt, Cornélius Castoriadis, Claude Lefort and Daniel Guérin, whose works can be found without too much difficulty. But above all it is possible to find specific experiments, always fighting with great ferocity with the powers that be. To do this, there is no need to go searching for flimsy examples from the coast of British Columbia or useless neighborhood councils (examples demonstrating the fact that stochocracy can be contained within capitalism), it is enough for us to consider our own history: our social class, its struggles for emancipation and its revolutionary experiences.
We also find the assumptions of direct democracy of the French revolution and the reversal of monarchy within the structuring of the enlightened pre-proletarians, the famous sans-culottes, in their popular societies, before they were broken up by a central authority worried about losing hold of the revolution. We find the idea in the anti-authoritarian current of the International Workers Association. It was practiced in the Paris Commune. In the revolutionary syndicalism. In the Russian soviets of the 1917. In the revolutionary workers councils born during the attempted revolution in Germany and the Spartacist uprising. In Spain, of course, land of anarcho-syndicalism, in the collectives of Aragon, in the factories on Catalonia, and in the committees of the anti-Fascist militias. More recently, during the workers struggles of the 1970’s, at LIP for example, or in the coordinating bodies of the nurses or the postmen in the 1980’s, in the students’ general assemblies and coordinating committees in the 2000’s, or in the pension struggles of 2010, where coordination of general assemblies based on direct democracy was experimented with. Of course, these latest examples are primarily references to simple defensive struggles, as opposed to the Commune or to the Russian or Spanish revolutions, where the question of the organization of the city[?] was posed explicitly. But is that a reason to underestimate them? After all, the partial struggle, aiming for the satisfaction of immediate demands, may very well be “revolutionary gymnastics” allowing the experimentation with forms of social organization pre-figuring future society. And since the individual is oppressed by capitalism, this form of direct democracy is often found, sometimes very spontaneously, within collective movements of resistance and of construction of alternatives, always based fundamentally on a common set of tools:
- The general assembly, or popular assembly, or revolutionary council, the basic decision-making body, gathering the people and allowing to debate and make decisions collectively.
- The coordinating committee, a grouping of individuals appointed by the general assemblies to discuss the points of view of various general assemblies and and make decisions that apply at a large scale.
- The binding mandate, assuring that the people appointed to participate in the coordinating committees, designated democratically by their general assembly, respect the position taken by their designators.
- A-posteriori control and recallability, allowing the immediate sanction of those betraying their mandate.
- The rotation of tasks and mandates, allowing avoidance of professionalization and the withholding of information.
Of course, these are no more than basic principles. The goal of this text is not to deliver a ready-made, state-scale system of direct democracy. We simply want to insist that there exist tools for creating a real democratic system, which is not a utopia. Without doubt there remains a lot to create, or to perfect, for example considering the ways in which new technologies can be used to facilitate the task such as those that today allow our Spanish comrades from Podemos to have a debate and a vote by 15,000 people simultaneously. Nothing is fixed, everything is to be made, preferably together. Perhaps the ideas developed in this paragraph are out of date, and other people will have better proposals.
Democracy is possible, even if it is complicated, and demands much of us. We need to start by not being distracted from our aspirations by ready made solutions and hazy concepts that have nothing for them other than their originality (as if every original idea is necessarily a good one), born the in the brains of intellectuals who are no doubt brilliant, but at least as disconnected from the real world as our politicians are.