Saturday, July 11, 2015

The politics of democratic communism: overview

How do we make democracy work in a nation of 350 million people? In a world of 7 billion people?

We have very little experience in democracy, none at all on a large scale. England in 17th and 18th century and America in the 18th century employed a particular political structure to structure the dialectic between the elites and the people: the democratic republic. The democratic republic starts with a privileged elite. Sometimes, representatives are chosen from that elite (e.g. Washington, Jefferson, the Bushes); always, representatives fundamentally represent the elite. The role of the people is to choose, as best they can, between factions within the elite. The theory behind the democratic republic is that society will benefit from the wisdom, discipline, and the superior intellect of the elite, while the people's role in choosing factions of the elite will ameliorate the natural tyranny and arrogance that every elite develops.

Democratic republicanism introduced an important concept: popular sovereignty. Prior to republicanism, political power was something to be owned by people: Louis the XIV famously declared, "L'├ętat, c'est moi. Political power was owned by the king and feudal lord, inherited by his (usually) children. The people were the property of the lord. The people had no more say about how the lord used them than my car has to say about where it's driven. The theory behind feudalism is that the lord, having a property interest in his people, would protect them just as one protects any valuable item of property. Democratic republicanism smashed this social structure; the people, the state, was no longer the property of any person, even the representatives; instead, the state became, at least philosophically, the property of the people as a whole, and representatives the agents of the owners, rather than the owners themselves.

Democratic communism takes the ideas of democratic republicanism to their logical conclusion. Economically, like political power, the means of production are no longer something to be owned, but owned by the people as a whole. (In this aspect, communism differs from capitalism, where the means of production are owned by individuals who rent them to workers, and from anarcho-syndicalism, where the means of production are owned by the workers who actually employ them.) Politically, democratic communism takes the idea of popular sovereignty to its logical conclusion: if the people own the state, they should operate it themselves.

But how? The most obvious solution is to simply let everyone vote on everything. Even in a very large state such as the United States, this solution is not impossible because of the internet. Although not technically impossible, I think that this solution is not presently optimal. One important element of politics is personal contact and personal relationships, and it is psychologically impossible to have a personal relationship with 350 million other people.

A better solution, I think, is localization and delegation. We group people into small enough units that they can have personal relationships with each other, and a personal relationship with a delegate to the next larger unit. The delegates of the next larger unit then have a personal relationship with each other, and a personal relationship to a delegate at the next higher unit, and so forth.

It's also important that power is delegated, rather than trustee. In democratic republicanism, the representatives are trustees. Representatives are elected for a term, and what the representative herself decides is the decision of the constituency. No matter how strongly the constituency disagrees with the representative's decision, the constituency has no recourse (save the expensive and rare recall) but to unseat the representative at the end of her term. And even if the representative were recalled or replaced, all of her prior decision still stands as matters of law.

Delegation fundamentally differs from trustee representation. Trustees exercise their own independent judgment; delegates, however, implement the judgment of their constituencies. (They can, of course, always attempt to persuade their constituencies.) A constituency can (and should) easily recall any delegate who does not act according to the judgment of her constituency. Furthermore, the constituency can, as a matter of law, reverse any action of a delegate: a delegate's decision is never by itself absolutely decisive. And finally, delegates cannot use their positions for economic gain, either while acting as a delegate or afterwards.

There are other structural elements that true democracy would require; I'll discuss them in later posts.

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