Democracy and Majority Rule

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Anonymous
Nov 26 2016 11:39
Democracy and Majority Rule

What do you think of the term democracy? It seems that there are two different viewpoints held by anarchists. Some believe that anarchism is superior to democracy because there would be no majority rule in an anarchist society, while others believe that democracy is a fundamental aspect of anarchism that doesn't imply majority rule at all.

potrokin
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Nov 26 2016 15:40

I am of the latter category of anarchist myself. I don't think we have democracy, but oligarchy and see anarchism as a real democracy.

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Noah Fence
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Nov 26 2016 15:48

This made me think and question my views on democracy as part of the anarchist ideal.

https://libcom.org/library/against-democracy-wildcat-uk

Black Badger
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Nov 26 2016 19:49

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/bob-black-debunking-democracy

ajjohnstone
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Nov 26 2016 21:51

If we look at world history over the course of the past several centuries, it is hard to miss the fact that democracy has been advancing, albeit in fit and starts. The notion that people have the right to rule themselves is a near universal idea and it shows little sign of weakening. Democracy has not only extended itself geographically, but it has deepened internally (16yr olds, for instance, voting in the Scottish referendum)

This extension of democracy does not apply to the economic realm. Democratic rights in the work-place have rarely been granted without a fight. Economic democracy (or what was once was called industrial democracy) is essentially off-limits under capitalism.

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jondwhite
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Nov 27 2016 21:19

I'm in favour of majority rule with minority 'rights' for want of a better term, not tyranny of majority or minority.

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Ivysyn
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Nov 28 2016 07:51
Quote:

This made me think and question my views on democracy as part of the anarchist ideal.

https://libcom.org/library/against-democracy-wildcat-uk

I hated that thing. Wildcat has always been incomprehensible to me and this piece was comprehensible, but it was also edgy and stupid. That said, critiques of democracy tend to go that way, whether it's Bordiga's or CrimeThInc's. This is because democracy is really just a form of decision making, and it is the best form of decision making since it allows those who participate in an institution to organize it collectively. I don't see an alternative to it for libertarian communists.

Spikymike
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Nov 28 2016 11:06

The 'Wildcat(UK)' critique of the concept and practice of 'Democracy' was heavily influenced by that of the GCI/ICG group several of who's texts are available and cross referenced on this site. One of the few extended and Marxist influenced critiques of the GCI/ICG formulation is that of Roi Ferreiro in their text 'Democracy Mystified' also available on this site and on which I have briefly commented. Something of value can still be derived by a critical reading of both sets of texts.

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Noah Fence
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Nov 28 2016 11:16
deathspiritcommunist wrote:
Quote:

This made me think and question my views on democracy as part of the anarchist ideal.

https://libcom.org/library/against-democracy-wildcat-uk

I hated that thing. Wildcat has always been incomprehensible to me and this piece was comprehensible, but it was also edgy and stupid. That said, critiques of democracy tend to go that way, whether it's Bordiga's or CrimeThInc's. This is because democracy is really just a form of decision making, and it is the best form of decision making since it allows those who participate in an institution to organize it collectively. I don't see an alternative to it for libertarian communists.

I linked in a comrade to the Wildcat thing and we both agreed that there was a lot of bullshit in there but that it also bought up some interesting points about the nature of anarchist democracy. I intend re-reading it and trying to figure out why it unsettled me on a matter that I thought I was pretty confirmed on my view.
Also, is it just my imagination or was it purposely written in a humorous way? I found it pretty amusing.

zugzwang
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May 25 2018 19:46

.

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Ivysyn
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Jan 8 2017 03:40
Noah Fence wrote:
deathspiritcommunist wrote:
Quote:

This made me think and question my views on democracy as part of the anarchist ideal.

https://libcom.org/library/against-democracy-wildcat-uk

I hated that thing. Wildcat has always been incomprehensible to me and this piece was comprehensible, but it was also edgy and stupid. That said, critiques of democracy tend to go that way, whether it's Bordiga's or CrimeThInc's. This is because democracy is really just a form of decision making, and it is the best form of decision making since it allows those who participate in an institution to organize it collectively. I don't see an alternative to it for libertarian communists.

I linked in a comrade to the Wildcat thing and we both agreed that there was a lot of bullshit in there but that it also bought up some interesting points about the nature of anarchist democracy. I intend re-reading it and trying to figure out why it unsettled me on a matter that I thought I was pretty confirmed on my view.
Also, is it just my imagination or was it purposely written in a humorous way? I found it pretty amusing.

Idk, I didn't take it as a joke. Maybe I was just being naive about that, but.

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Noah Fence
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May 26 2018 16:14

Ivysyn

I never thought the article was meant to be a joke, but having just re-read it and laughed out loud several times I’m convinced that it is intentionally humorous...

Quote:
I think that, in general, demands for rights are an expression of the weakness of our class. Instead of saying to our enemies "if you lay a finger on us you'll get your fucking head kicked in", or even just kicking their heads in anyway, we tend to say "please respect our rights, we don't really mean you any harm".

See what I mean?

Anyways, I actually like the thrust of this article but it seems to fall very short in demonstrating the practical possibilities of organising a libertarian society without some means of democratic decision making.

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Jun 4 2018 21:15
jondwhite wrote:
I'm in favour of majority rule with minority 'rights' for want of a better term, not tyranny of majority or minority.

Jondwhite, if you see this, can you elaborate on what you mean?

What would these minority rights be?

I think majority rules direct democracy is the best way to make collective decisions. That said, I have concerns about tyranny of the majority. I'm very interested in any ideas or insights about how to navigate this risk.

Anyone else who wants to chime in, please do! smile

Edit: Is it just me, or does the libcom smiley face look a bit creepy?

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Jun 4 2018 21:14
Spikymike wrote:
Something of value can still be derived by a critical reading of both sets of texts.

Yeah that's how I see it, too.

I read the Wildcat article. Generally I disagreed with it, but I think they make a very important point here

Quote:
The miners' strike in the UK in 1984-5 provided many inspiring examples of how the class struggle is anti-democratic in practice. The strike itself did not start democratically – there was no ballot, no series of mass meetings. It began with walk-outs at a few pits threatened with closure, and was then spread by flying pickets. Throughout the strike there was an unholy alliance of the right-wing of the Labour Party and the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) saying that the miners should hold a national ballot. The most militant miners consistently rejected this, saying things like: "scabs don't have the right to vote away another man's job"

This shows the value of spontaneous, autonomous action.

I just don't think this is a reason to throw out democracy as a method of collective decision making. Just that we should combine it with spontaneous action and autonomous action.

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Jun 5 2018 01:05

I was listening to a recording of Emma Goldman a few days ago and she made a very strong case against majority rule. Essentially she was saying that the majority will always make the wrong decision, that the majority concerns itself with conformity and being accepted others rather than uniqueness and creativity before doing the right thing. I have to say that my experience certainly bears this out.
One of the first threads I ever started on here was about voting as a decision making method and whilst not entirely convinced I’ve grudgingly accepted the idea of direct democracy as the best way for community decisions to be made. Having heard comrade Emma’s views I’m beginning to have my doubts. Many will say, as I have myself, that in the absence of an alternative that direct democracy/majority rule is the only practical method we can adopt for making collective decisions, but I’m starting to think that this is bullshit. It’s a dilemma for sure but how does that get to become the default position? How do we collectively make the decision on how we make collective decisions even?!!!
Maybe majority rule is the best thing for some decisions and not for others, perhaps positive decisions should be made by the majority but not negative ones? For instance, it seems to me that if the majority of the community decide to build a swimming pool then indeed, a swimming pool should be built(I’m not even certain about this tbh but let’s just go with it). But if the majority then decide that it’s not ok to use the pool after 5pm and that naked swimming is not allowed I would argue that these are tyrannical decisions and would be driven to make a point of going skinny dipping at 6pm!
I read somewhere that the very idea of democracy was not conducive with freedom, that there was no freedom in 70 people telling 30 others what to do. I can’t offer an alternative but that doesn’t mean that I should simply accept that democracy is the way to go. The burden of proof is on the proposers of such a method, not on others to disprove although I have to say, that while she spoke in very general terms, Goldman made a pretty good job of discrediting it.

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Jun 5 2018 01:12
Noah Fence wrote:
For instance, it seems to me that if the majority of the community decide to build a swimming pool then indeed, a swimming pool should be built(I’m not even certain about this tbh but let’s just go with it). But if the majority then decide that it’s not ok to use the pool after 5pm and that naked swimming is not allowed I would argue that these would be tyrannical decisions and would be driven to make a point of going skinny dipping at 6pm!

This is a good example of the kind of thing I'm worried about.

Quote:
Maybe majority rule is the best thing for some decisions and not for others, perhaps positive decisions should be made by the majority but not negative ones?

I can think of cases where this wouldn't hold up. Some positive decisions could result in a tyranny of the majority. What if the swimming pool was built where a garden used to be, and a minority loved that garden? Also some negative decisions (restrictions on behavior) are important to agree on -- like "don't murder people" being an obvious example.

A little story. I saw a thread on the anarchism subreddit where someone made a post asking people what they thought of majority rule vs. consensus. They created a rudimentary poll in the form of two comments. One said:

Vote up if you prefer majority rules!

The other said:

Vote up if you prefer consensus!

Consensus by far got the majority of the votes. But it did not get a consensus. I couldn't help but laugh. By their own standards, both systems lost the vote.

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Jun 5 2018 06:05

Well LBC, your concerns are entirely legitimate. So tell me, considering the points that I’ve made and your own additional points, how do you justify your assertion that

Quote:
majority rules direct democracy is the best way to make collective decisions.

???

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Jun 17 2018 07:56

Noah Fence #15
‘Many will say, as I have myself, that in the absence of an alternative that direct democracy/majority rule is the only practical method we can adopt for making collective decisions, but I’m starting to think that this is bullshit. It’s a dilemma for sure but how does that get to become the default position?’

What the future post-revolutionary world could look like is open to speculation. Rather than injecting theoretical ideals it may be more productive to ask, what can be said about the nature of human relationships? People living together requires a multiplicity of interactions. Each action provokes a reaction. I do not think this will change fundamentally. Let’s look at your ‘for instance’.

‘For instance, it seems to me that if the majority of the community decide to build a swimming pool then indeed, a swimming pool should be built (I’m not even certain about this tbh but let’s just go with it). But if the majority then decide that it’s not ok to use the pool after 5pm and that naked swimming is not allowed I would argue that these are tyrannical decisions and would be driven to make a point of going skinny dipping at 6pm!’

Now for the community to build a pool was a result of some perceived need, as was the ‘tyrannical decisions’ that followed its construction. Otherwise why would anyone bother? Resulting from this tyranny someone goes skinny dipping after 6pm. This could be thought of as an action based on principle. An act of individual protest.

So let’s imagine the result of this protest. Perhaps a reconsideration of the rules, or it’s seen as the act of an eccentric. If we live together we acknowledge our interdependence, or we would leave. There is no such thing as an act of individual protest if you live alone. The community brings the individual into being. There need be no un-reconcilable clash between a communist society and the individuals who comprise its entity. We are all minorities in some respects.

However anyone using the pool as a toilet needs shootin’.

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Jun 5 2018 11:54

Well yes Auld chap, you speak sooth. I guess I was addressing my points to those they propose direct democracy as being an essential part of an anarchist philosophy/ideology in the same way that we would state that no government is an essential. I know there are plenty of sthose and I’d like to hear their response to the questions raised.
Personally, in my 52 years I’ve never voted on anything even once. Whether political elections, referendums, X Factor or my personal favourite Strictly Come Dancing, I’ve made somewhat of a fetish of it. Even the groups I’ve been a member of have operated on a concensus basis.
Whilst concensus can be a brilliantly creative and extremely fair process I can’t see how it can work on a large scale, and even on a small scale it relies absolutely on the good faith, integrity and commitment to the process of those taking part. I’ve witnessed this bring great success but I’ve also seen the coercion of powerful personalities turn it into a farce. Still, I can’t see how a voting process can completely negate problems of that nature.

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Jun 5 2018 12:11

The other thing I’d like to know is what people think about Emma’s assertion that, by its very nature the majority is almost certain to fuck things up. It’s pretty controversial suggestion but when I consider my experience it’s very difficult for me not to concur.

Mike Harman
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Jun 5 2018 12:19
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
I can think of cases where this wouldn't hold up. Some positive decisions could result in a tyranny of the majority. What if the swimming pool was built where a garden used to be, and a minority loved that garden?

Whether to build the pool, and where to build it, seem like two different decisions to me.

Either it's

"I want to go swimming, let's build a pool, OK then but where?"

"What should be done with this patch of land, why don't we turn it into a pool?".

If nothing is contentious, then those being a single decision doesn't really matter, but if it is, then it'd make sense to break down the decision making into steps.

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Jun 5 2018 13:00

Another point of contention - should Che be allowed to bring his dolphin there?

zugzwang
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Jun 5 2018 13:24

I'm not as read up on this as I'd like to be, and my vocab is completely lacking. I think I agree with Auld-Bod, though, especially about being careful saying what a communist society would look like in the smallest details.

I don't think a group/community need to consult the whole of society to decide something that really only affects them, and that really they only care about. If it's a technical decision, developing software for example, people without any knowledge don't really need an input there, unless you want non-functional, potentially dangerous software. (That probably goes without saying.)

I also don't believe all issues are so divisive that a disagreement would cause a break up of the people involved (the swimming pool scenario is a bit trivial). If the minority refuses to accept some decision, then I suppose they could just move somewhere else. I'd echo though that an "isolated existence" is not possible, so people really have to cooperate to some extent.

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Jun 5 2018 14:06
Noah Fence wrote:
The other thing I’d like to know is what people think about Emma’s assertion that, by its very nature the majority is almost certain to fuck things up. It’s pretty controversial suggestion but when I consider my experience it’s very difficult for me not to concur.

I think we need more context of where she said those things. I've seen people use those quotes to argue that she had a very elitist point of view, but likewise, provide very little context.

I mean, is she talking about some hypothetical, abstract 'representative democracy'? A post revolutionary society? If its the latter, I can only assume that those who express such views seem to think people will have the same level of education and values as they do today. That would be inconceivable, because if people remained unchanged, there would be no post revolutionary society to think of.

Anarchists are federalists; we believe people in a post revolutionary society, if it is to be successful, should be capable and pro active enough to settle before hand what types of decisions may need consensus and what types of decisions may need a simple majority. If a method is ineffective or leads to abuses, then people should make revisions and consistently re work things until it fit their needs. In this sense, nothing is set in stone.

I've seen critics of anarchism try to conflate federalism with some kind of democratism, and some anarchists themselves probably do that. But we need to correct them where they are wrong about this. Although this last point is probably for a different discussion.

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Jun 5 2018 14:15
zugzwang wrote:
I don't think a group/community need to consult the whole of society to decide something that really only affects them, and that really they only care about. If it's a technical decision, developing software for example, people without any knowledge don't really need an input there, unless you want non-functional, potentially dangerous software. (That probably goes without saying.)

This is basically pointing towards a discussion of federalism, which is perhaps not well understood. I've always wanted this site to have an introduction on it, but after attempting myself to write one, I'm not really sure it was worth it, so I gave up.

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Jun 5 2018 14:14

Agent, it would be difficult for me to find the quotes as they were in amongst a six and a half hour recording of her writing but certainly she was speaking in abstract terms about the nature of man and not just of man in a representative democracy. It was all very inspiring prose style stuff but I don’t remember her applying it to any particular real life event.
I use the word ‘man’ because that was the word she herself used constantly throughout the recording. That was a shame.

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Jun 5 2018 14:33
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
What if the swimming pool was built where a garden used to be, and a minority loved that garden?

And while we're on this hypothetical scenario, I can imagine the majority and minority might reach a compromise; they decide to creatively combine the garden and swimming pool.

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Jun 5 2018 15:11
Quote:
And while we're on this hypothetical scenario, I can imagine the majority and minority might reach a compromise; they decide to creatively combine the garden and swimming pool.

Now you’re talking! Although ‘compromise’ doesn’t seem to do the idea justice. I’ll call it elevated creativity if it’s alright with you?
I know it’s a trivial example but I’m really excited at the prospect of this sort of creativity and the idea of a community designing it’s own infrastructure and surroundings.

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Jun 5 2018 15:03

Noah Fence #20
‘The other thing I’d like to know is what people think about Emma’s assertion that, by its very nature the majority is almost certain to fuck things up. It’s pretty controversial suggestion but when I consider my experience it’s very difficult for me not to concur.’

I read her article on the rearing of children, ‘The Child and its enemies’ (1906), she makes many valid comments regarding the attempts to mould children into ‘desirable objects’. However no one gets a free pass, as she thinks everybody gets it wrong.

Well, she gets it wrong too, when she asserts knowledge of a child’s ‘soul’ (let’s call it ‘nature’). This was understandable as our understanding of the human mind was so limited (and still is), that people believed all kinds of nonsense. Like the child is an empty vessel into which knowledge should be poured, or the myth of ‘human nature’ as a fixed entity, and we often get locked into a bleak vision of limited possibilities. Thankfully ideas including developmental psychology have come a long way since 1906.

Anthropology shows that human society comes in many forms both social and political. The society we live in and what is termed our nature, is a product of evolution and is therefore subject to change. Once freed from the need to secure the basics of life our ‘nature’ may develop in ways hard to imagine.

From this point of view, what it is to be human is a developmental process – it is not fixed or pre-determined. Who we are or become, is an extension of our individual genetic possibilities interacting with the society in which we find ourselves (a product of nature and nurture).

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Jun 5 2018 15:10

Yes, I also listened to the recording that Reddebrek posted last week. I thought it was pretty marvellous it that was as much for the wonderful language and rythym of her writing as it was for the content.
Another thing I really enjoy about her stuff is how she appears to be simultaneously full of scorn, derision and pessimism and a visionary optimism. I suppose the latter is due to her refusal to surrender at any price.

zugzwang
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Jun 5 2018 15:36
Noah Fence wrote:
Essentially she was saying that the majority will always make the wrong decision, that the majority concerns itself with conformity and being accepted others rather than uniqueness and creativity before doing the right thing.

I think Emma/Goldman had an admiration for Nietzsche. I can't speak much on the topic but maybe that's where such "majority dissing" remarks came from? I haven't read much from Emma (except for writings in anthologies and quotes here and there) and honestly don't even know what kind of anarchist she was. I'm assuming she was an anarchist communist like her partner Berkman.