What Could Happen

Part 2: Time for a New Revolution

Read Part 1.

Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia formally designate themselves in their state constitutions as “commonwealths” — a traditional term for a community founded for the common good. This is still the aim of the World Socialist Movement — to create a worldwide cooperative commonwealth.

It should be easy enough to set up a genuine popular democracy in the United States. Libertarian municipalism, as advocated by Murray Bookchin, inspired by New England town-hall meetings, proposes to do so by simply establishing sufficient numbers of general assemblies. There are over 16,000 townships in the United States. Could such a style of democracy meet the needs of Americans? The number of school districts in the United States is approximately 13,000. What if each school district had an assembly that debated and voted on local regional and global issues? Or increasing the sphere of the 3,143 counties of the United States?

The basic building-block can be the community or neighborhood assembly where citizens meet to discuss and vote on the issues of the day. These assemblies elect mandated and recallable delegates who then link up with other assemblies forming a confederated council, a “community of communities”.

The difference between this form of delegate democracy and representative democracy is that in a representative democracy decision-making power is given without pre-conditions to representatives who are then free to act on their own initiative. In a delegated democracy the electing body possesses the power; the delegate follows instructions and can be recalled at any time should the electing body feel that their mandate is not being met. Thus power remains with the people.
These self-governing communities, based on principles of direct democracy, would come together across national borders. This will generate a system of multi-tiered levels of organisation – local, regional and global – polycentric society-wide planning with a greater preponderance of decision-making and planning at the local level where the bulk of issues impacting on our lives tend to arise. More localised control, however, does not equate with local communities taking local resources into local ownership. In fact, if anything, the very notion of “ownership” would die out completely. In de facto terms, there would be no “ultimate control” and that term itself would also be rendered meaningless. Universal common ownership of the productive resources of society means that nobody owns them at all. The means of production cannot be monopolised by any one person or group and we will have a genuine global democracy, a co-operative economy, and the dissolution of the nation-state. In ancient Athens citizens governed themselves. That is democracy in action.

We can only present examples of what is possible as there are many variations of models to choose from to best fit requirements. We are not preparing a blueprint but to demonstrate what is practical and pragmatic by adapting and adjusting what we already have. As in the nickname of Missouri, the “show me state”, we are attempting to show the possibilities that exist in the flexibility of administrative structures. The Industrial Workers of the World, for instance, bases its future administration on industrial unionism, a democracy which concentrates upon workplaces rather than geographic constituencies. Other parts of the world possess their own possibilities such as parish councils in England, panchayats in India. In Mexico, there are the municipal authorities but in the more remote indigenous communities remote far from the formal seat of formal government there are “presidentes auxiliares”, directly elected by local voters without political party participation, responsible for agrarian issues, such as the communal land.

“We have our forms of organizing ourselves that are deeply rooted, and what the law says on paper is one thing, but here everything has to go through the assembly, and we will continue living this way because it has worked well for us,” explained a commissioner of communal resources in a Zapotec community. The land in these towns and villages is communal; it belongs to everyone. There is no private property, not even small plots are sold. The transference of land is done through a transfer of land rights. A father can transfer his land to his children, for example. Everything must go through the assembly. No one can sell the land and no one can buy it.

On the other hand, leaving the decision-making process to a system of elected committees could be seen as going against the principle of fully participatory democracy. If socialism is going to maintain the practice of inclusive decision making which does not put big decisions in the hands of small groups but without generating a crisis of choice, then a solution is required, and it seems that the computer industry may have produced one in the form of ‘collaborative filtering’ (CF) software.

This technology is currently used on the internet where people are faced with a super-abundance of products and services, CF helps consumers choose what to buy and navigate the huge numbers of options. It starts off by collecting data on an individual’s preferences, extrapolates patterns from this and then produces recommendations based on that person’s likes and dislikes. With suitable modification, this technology could be of use to socialism – not to help people decide what to consume, but which matters of policy to get involved in. A person’s tastes, interests, skills, and academic achievements, rather than their shopping traits, could be put through the CF process and matched to appropriate areas of policy in the resulting list of recommendations. A farmer, for example, may be recommended to vote upon matters which affect him/her, and members of the local community, directly, or of which s/he is likely to have some knowledge, such as increasing yields of a particular crop, the use of GM technology, or the responsible use of land by ramblers.

The technology (or a more modern version that has no doubt been developed already) would also put them in touch with other people of similar interests so that issues can be thrashed out more fully, and may even inform them that “People who voted on this issue also voted on…” The question is, would a person be free to ignore the recommendations and vote on matters s/he has little knowledge of, or indeed not vote at all? Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would facilitate democracy.

Socialism will not be a one-size-fits-all type of society but will reflect the rich tapestry of local regional life-styles, customs and traditions of the world. We acknowledge that working people will determine their own means and methods of self-emancipation and that there will be a variety of ways of organizing the actual implementation of socialist administration. Although it is not always emphasized enough, we accept that there will be a large degree of diversity in the manner this is done and that we only lay down guidelines that apply to political and social and cultural conditions that we face here. Other places and other communities will have there own approaches, depending on local customs and traditions. As the socialist message grows and begins to incorporate more peoples, it will change its outward form to meet and fit specific conditions while still retaining its inner core tenets. We cannot think of imposing a Euro-American-centric cultural view of politics and society. As world socialists we too must take notice of the planet’s diversity.

Rather than vote on November the 3rd for the lesser evil candidate, fellow-workers can initiate a new revolution. Only half the public is registered to vote, and only half of registered voters vote. “Of, by and for the people”, is sadly not the reality. Americans are apathetic because of the failure of the system to serve the people and they are also angry because no one is held responsible for their misdeeds.

The present White House incumbent and the challenger remain indifferent to the concept of accountability to the majority. Trump and Biden are complicit in the camouflage of plutocracy by creating the form and appearance of popular government with only a minimum of substance. The role of the people is limited to choosing from among the political elite the representatives who would rule over them.

Article V of the Constitution, in effect, legalizes revolution — the right to alter or abolish the social system and the present form of government.

And according to the Declaration of Independence:

whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness… when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

This is the time for a new revolution for a new type of independence.1

  1. Background reading

    World Socialist Movement
    World Socialist Party of the United States
    The Constitution of the United States — Charles Beard []

Alan Johnstone is a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a companion party of the World Socialist Movement. He contributes to the blogs: Socialism or Your Money Back and Socialist Courier. Alan can be reached at: alanjjohnstone@yahoo.co.uk. Read other articles by Alan.