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Demarchy and a New Revolutionary Communist Movement November 13, 2003 by RedStar2000


This is a further elaboration of the concept of demarchy with specific reference to the movement to overthrow capitalism and establish a communist society.

The kind of revolutionary movement that we build will be reflected in the kind of new society that emerges from our efforts.


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A few weeks ago, I started this thread at Che-Lives...

Democracy without Elections; Demarchy and Communism

As a reminder, keep in mind what demarchy is: it is the selection of ordinary people by lottery to make decisions.

Which ordinary people? Those who put their names into the hat...because they're interested in a particular area of work.

What kinds of decisions? Decisions that apply to specific functions.

And how long do they get to do this? Only for a year or two...then half of the demarchic delegates are rotated out and a fresh bunch comes in, selected at random from those who volunteer.

What about specific expertise? Those who have it can put their names in the hat along with everyone else. If their names are not drawn, they may always act as advisors/consultants to those ordinary people who are actually making the decisions...but there is no "built-in" decision-making power for "expertise" as such.

What about that big mouth know-it-all---Comrade Charisma---who wants to sit in the front of the room and tell everyone what to do on every subject...he calls it "leadership". Well, he's out of a job...unless his name is drawn from the hat for some specific function group or unless some function group is interested in his "advice".

There's no "great leader" or even group of "great leaders" under demarchic communism; there are only function groups...collectives that undertake specific and limited duties for a limited period of time.

If this seems to you--as it does to me--an eminently practical plan for communist society, the natural question arises how do we make that happen after the revolution?

The obvious answer is a revolutionary communist movement organized on demarchic principles.

Demarchy instead of "democratic" centralism. How does that sound?

Let's start by talking a little about revolutionary movements in general. There are studies that claim to show that the "optimum" decision-making group is between nine and twelve people. In Leninist parties, this is usually the size of the "central committee"...the "big dogs" who make policy on a day-to-day basis.

But we don't want or need a "general policy-making" body; what we want are groups that "make policy" around specific tasks...that the whole membership has decided on. Having drawn 9-12 names out of a hat--ordinary members of the movement--we trust them to be a more-or-less accurate reflection of the general views of the movement. We expect them to consult with movement veterans, to read and discuss position papers, to acquire expertise and to make intelligent and representative decisions within the broad policy guidelines that have been set by the membership as a whole.

And of course whatever they may decide is always constrained by a "referendum of practice"...a really stupid or wrong-headed decision simply won't be implemented.

"Functions" may be divided up in any way that seems useful: anti-war work, union insurgency work, anti-racism work, women's liberation, etc.

There can even be a function group in charge of "external relations"--press conferences, television interviews, etc. Instead of a "great leader" speaking "on behalf of the movement", there'll be an ordinary person speaking.

And, of course, demarchy can be "rigged" in certain ways to ensure a desirable outcome. If we want, for example, a majority of women in the function group that deals with women's issues, then we have two hats (one with women's names and one with men's)...and we decide in advance that we'll draw eight women's names and four men's names. If the anti-racist function group should have a majority of people of color, there'd be two hats--eight names from the people of color hat and four names from the white folks hat.

Let's examine a few objections.

Those who wish to become "professional revolutionaries" will hate this idea. It will be a practical impossibility to "make a career" out of occupying "positions of authority" in such a movement. You can't really "build a machine"...a network of supporters who are personally loyal to you.

The various kinds of political "styles" that people are used to using in traditional groups will be pretty useless as well. Your personal charm and charisma have no effect on the drawings. Your manipulative skills may have some limited utility in advancing your preferred policies...but will do nothing to advance your "career".

Skilled and persuasive arguments are your only chance to influence a function group...and, even then, only if they think your views have sufficient merit to be worth listening to.

But won't the function groups fuck up...just because they consist of ordinary people? Yes, that's possible and perhaps in the early years of the movement inevitable. It will take some time for minimal expertise to "spread through" the movement based on the experience of many who have served in function groups. And, it should be kept in mind that "experts" fuck up all the time. There's simply no such thing as "perfect leadership" that "never fucks up".

What if the function groups are "afraid" to make decisions for "fear of fucking up"? That may be an initial problem as well...it comes from the psychological necessity--in traditional groups--of making yourself look good (or at least not look bad). Traditional political groups (including Leninist parties) are all a zero-sum game. The way you "rise" in such a group largely depends on how "bad" you can make your rivals "look".

It doesn't work that way in a demarchic communist movement--you don't gain anything by making someone in a function group look like an idiot...even if they are. Your personal "success" is a matter of chance and will last but a short time anyway. Only your ideas actually matter; if you win the movement to your ideas, then it doesn't matter who is actually in the function groups.

The one way in which you can accrue a kind of informal status in the movement is with constructive advice to the function groups--leaving personalities out of the matter altogether.

If your conception of a "revolution" resembles the October 1917 coup of the Bolsheviks, this kind of movement is not for you either. The idea of planning a real proletarian revolution "in advance" is sheer fantasy. What a demarchic communist movement would be doing in the days leading up to the revolution is encouraging and participating in acts of overt rebellion wherever we could...but it would be the working class as a whole that would be leading the way, not us.

By this time, we would hopefully have spread the idea of demarchic communism across the class and, by our own example and practice, shown it to be both practical and desirable.

The transition to demarchic communism after the revolution would then seem both logical and...inevitable.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 9, 2003
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quote:

What about those individuals people respect? They will have a natural loyal following. These people could possibly use this against delegates and/or collectives.


It's always possible, of course...no "system" can be guaranteed to work "perfectly" under all conditions.

But demarchy does make it enormously difficult for the "influential militant" (as the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists called them) to actually wield power.

Consider the problems "Comrade Charisma" faces in his quest for "leadership" of a demarchic communist movement.

First of all, there's no actual position for him to fill...there's no "General Secretary-ship" for him to be "elected" to. He can be a member of one or even more than one of the function groups if his name is pulled from the hat...but he is but one out of 12.

Of course, his followers may also become members of various function groups...and can promote his ideas and consult with him on a regular basis.

It's even possible that his followers might win a temporary majority in one or more function groups...temporary because half of those people will be rotated out of office within a year or two.

But what will really discourage him, if he is indeed little more than a careerist, is that he can never really "make it" to a position of "unassailable power"...he can't get into a position where all he has to do is "issue orders" and the structure itself will ensure obedience.

Besides these factors, a demarchic communist structure will, over time, create a "culture" in which every member of the movement will expect at some time or another to take part in the "leadership"...it will be a serious responsibility but, at the same time, "no big deal". I think that such a "culture" will be fairly suspicious and even markedly unfriendly to the comrade who "tries to do too much and be too much", if you know what I mean.

Someone who offers the movement a lot of good or at least interesting ideas will be welcome indeed; but someone who demonstrates any kind of noticeable "lust" for the spotlight is likely to find that the light is shining elsewhere...or has been unplugged.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 10, 2003
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quote:

Then there is the habit of counter-posing these set of ideas against the mythical monster, we know as "democratic centralism" and "Bolshevism".


What is "mythical" about it? We've had a century of actual experience to draw upon as well as the observations of "democratic" centralism in our own day.

How it works and what it actually accomplishes is as obvious as shit on the dinner table...and about equally as appetizing.

quote:

I won't go into the details of "demarchy". It cannot be dismissed because it raises old concerns and very important ones at that. At the same time, it is implausible, idealistic and refuses to face reality.


That sounds pretty "dismissive" to me.

quote:

The point I am trying to make is that the enemy we face (assuming of course we share a common enemy) is strong, very powerful and immensely experienced. So the long process of overthrowing the existing social system and the state apparatus is by definition difficult and in the end violent. So revolution, is by no stretch of the imagination a game, or does not or would not allow attempts at discovering and experimenting with the most participatory mode of decision making.


If you think of revolution as a kind of secret conspiracy, then no doubt you have a point. In a highly repressive environment, it would be extraordinarily difficult to put together a demarchic communist movement.

Indeed, that's why Lenin innovated his party of "professional revolutionaries" organized through "democratic" centralism along quasi-military lines...as a weapon against Czarist autocracy.

In western Europe and even in North America, we are not operating under those conditions.

It may, at some future point, come to that...in which case we would have to re-think our position.

But it should be remembered that Lenin's party, for all the care with which he built it, was also heavily infiltrated by the Czarist police, even at the highest levels.

And it was not Lenin's party that overthrew the Czarist autocracy...but the essentially spontaneous uprising of the workers and peasants of Russia that did the job, and would have done it if Lenin and all the Bolsheviks had never lived.

quote:

The whole tone and content of Redstar's series of posts here are so juvenile and impractical, it goes without saying that redstar, who I actually respect very much for the high quality of his posts, has never actually had to face any of the conditions I am talking about.


Quite true...I've never had to function under "secret" conditions and don't anticipate having to do so. There have been certain activities that were "unadvertised"...but nothing to specifically call down the wrath of the FBI.

Those who really want to engage in illegal activities must, if they are sensible, organize themselves into clandestine groups and admit no one whom they do not know and trust. Such groups should probably consist of no more than 9-12 members, who should speak to no one else about what they do at all.

I don't personally think that sort of a thing has much of a future...but it does have a certain romantic appeal to some folks and may contribute a marginal amount to the general development of future revolutionary situations.

But it's not what I have in mind when writing about communist demarchy.

quote:

Logically, some form of organization, some division of tasks, some degree of professionalization is a must.


That's "logical" only if your premise is valid under all circumstances.

I dispute your premise and declare it invalid for the advanced capitalist countries.

quote:

But in terms of working for revolution this is the worst kind of irresponsibility.


I am interested in a movement that is actually responsible to the working class...and not a small group of conspirators who are responsible only to themselves or worse, their leader.

quote:

The most radical revolutions of the 20th century and the 21st were and are being led by (OOPS!) "Leninists", and as far as I know "demarchy" still hasn't anything to its credit. Do we need to ask why?


Well, the first book about demarchy was written in 1985...so it's "early days" yet.

I'm not aware of any "radical" revolutions being led by Leninists in this century...unless you mean the stuff going on in Nepal (overthrowing an old feudal monarchy) or Colombia (an anti-imperialist bourgeois revolution...if it hasn't already degenerated into banditry).

As to the 20th century, the only revolution that has survived--and one could make an argument that it was also the most radical--was not led by Leninists at all...I'm referring to Cuba, of course.

The rest are all capitalist now or quickly becoming so--saving the bizarre oriental despotism in North Korea. And even Cuba is balanced on the "knife's edge".

What is most utterly damning about Leninism is that in the advanced capitalist countries--those most predisposed towards proletarian revolution (if Marx was right)--it has not only failed but failed abysmally.

Today (in the west) the Leninist parties are "cargo cults"...no more capable of revolution than of flying to the moon by flapping their arms. Their actual practice is almost universally social democratic.

I note your disparaging remarks about SDS...with all our many faults, we were light years beyond the crap that Leninist parties advocate today. Our biggest mistake, in retrospect, was embracing Leninism as a "step forward". It tore us apart into a bunch of sectarian and ineffective splinter groups led by poseurs and mountebanks...just like the ones you see now.

This time, perhaps we'll do better.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 10, 2003
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quote:

He admits that under highly repressive conditions "demarchy" would not work (which at present don't apply in N.A & W.E), but advocates crossing that bridge when we come to it (in a manner of speaking).


IF would be a better word than "when". My estimate is that while the ruling class in the advanced capitalist countries will try various repressive measures against revolutionary groups, their measures will prove sporadic and ineffective.

It will be "too little, too late".

Of course, I could be wrong about that...

quote:

I just don't understand why you persist in writing and pretending that the ruling classes will play by the rules and laws of the liberal democratic circus even if they think or know that their interests are fundamentally threatened.


Their "rules and laws" have served them well over the last half-century; they've come up with a brilliant performance, combining the appearance of popular sovereignty and "freedom" while retaining all control in their own hands.

Ruling classes are creatures of habit as much as any humans...and will only reluctantly part with a "winning strategy".

As I suggested above, I expect them to try to suppress the movement...and fail.

quote:

Only a mass movement led by a vanguard can consummate the process of revolution.


Well, this directly contradicts your earlier post, with its emphasis on clandestine activity. Which "kind" of Leninism are you advocating here?

If you want a mass movement, that's public. I think demarchy would work fine in such a setting.

If you want a secretive and tightly-disciplined elite of "professional revolutionaries"...demarchy probably wouldn't be very useful.

If you think your secretive organization is going to "lead" a public mass movement, you are simply confused.

quote:

Basically, Redstar, Lenin and his Bolsheviks led the Russian working classes in this revolution.


Are you speaking here of the real revolution--February 1917--or the coup of October 1917?

If the former, then you are simply wrong.

quote:

Workers who had given an overwhelming majority to the Bolsheviks in all the Soviets of the major cities of the Russian empire at the time.


There were no soviets in February 1917 until after the Czarist regime was overthrown...and when they were established, the Bolsheviks were initially a minority.

quote:

If you, and any of your kind with your emphasis on "demarchy" had been around, you would either have blah, blah, blah...


I "love" those kinds of retroactive "predictions"...since they can't be verified, you can say anything about anybody.

For example, I could say that if you had been around in the 1960s, you would either have been in the "Communist" Party kissing Lyndon Johnson's ass or else farting around with some Trotskyist group sucking up to bourgeois liberals "against" the war.

See, you can't "prove" it wouldn't be so, can you?

Such arguments are actually a pretty good sign of fundamental intellectual dishonesty.

quote:

And don't be so dismissive about "the stuff" (what an irritating Americanism!) "going on" as you put it in Nepal (especially Nepal!) and Colombia. They have achieved much more and against much more difficult odds, than anything you and your kind of "revolutionaries" in the SDS ever did or ever could do.


If you find the overthrow of a minor-league feudal despot "exciting", then you have a rather odd set of priorities, to say the least.

What do you think will be the outcome in Nepal after the Maoists win? If history is any guide, it will be capitalism.

What's exciting about that?

quote:

As for Cuba, I don't know about the others on this site but as anyone with any idea about Cuba would tell you. Castro and the Cuban Communist party are "Leninist".


Yes, but the 26th of July Movement--the group that actually made the revolution--was not a Leninist party.

Even Che himself, certainly the most sympathetic leader to Leninism and even Stalinism (as he understood it), was not a member of any Leninist party.

There is some evidence to suggest that Che was possibly becoming rather unsympathetic to Leninism in his last years...but I have no idea what he would have thought of demarchy.

quote:

So the point I made towards the end of my last post still stands, almost all the great revolutions of the 20th century and the 21st century have been led (I repeat led and not made) by "Leninist" parties.


And my point also stands--all failures in the end except Cuba...which teeters on the edge. And if you think Nepal or Colombia are "great revolutions", then you have much diminished expectations...compared to Marx!

quote:

At the very least a degree of respect, for such self-sacrifice and selflessness is the very least that one would expect.


Why? Aren't there plenty of religious who can make the same claim? For that matter, aren't there plenty of fascists who have done likewise?

To exalt "self-sacrifice" and "selflessness" as abstract "virtues" is "un-Marxist", if I may coin a phrase.

To substitute those "virtues" for a clear Marxist understanding of material reality is a disaster.

For what has all the "communist" self-sacrifice and selflessness actually accomplished? The net result of the Leninist paradigm has been bourgeois revolution.

That's the "verdict of history" and no amount of emotional identification with Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, or Mao can change that.

What Lenin once said about the 2nd International now applies to Leninism itself: it is a stinking corpse.

Like Lenin himself, overdue for burial.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 11, 2003
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