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View Diary: Socialism is like total equality y'know. (70 comments)

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  •  NB: (5+ / 0-)

    1) Can you suggest a more fitting definition?  This is merely one entry in an encyclopedia of misconceptions of socialism.

    2) Reading the first part of the Critique of the Gotha Program will clear up this problem.  The "famous dictum" is what Marx imagined for a "higher stage of communism."  The meritocracy is what Marx imagined for the birth-stages.

    3) Reading my last diary will clear this up:

    Third, each government would set up a scheme for genuinely PUBLIC control over the means of production.  This would have to mean that everyone would be given the right to participate in basic production decisions.  There might be votes, but votes (as David Graeber points out in his book on democracy) are in themselves not ways of establishing people power -- there would have to be some elements of consensus process added to the processes of public control.  (If some of you were still wondering, this is why the Occupy movement was run with a consensus process in place.)
    I did cite this diary here, did I not?

    "It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it." Oscar Wilde

    by Cassiodorus on Mon May 13, 2013 at 03:14:15 PM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  A little OT (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, zett

      but just an observation.

      Consensus requires a shared  sense of priorities. Absent this, consensus is unworkable.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Mon May 13, 2013 at 04:06:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The concept is that... (7+ / 0-)

        there should be dialogue to arrive at the widest consensus, not just rote voting.

        The objective  is to achieve the widest agreement possible, not just settling for routine majority rule of 51%. Consensus above 90% may not always be possible, but when votes are taken, it should only be after all have had the opportunity to raise points and objections, with debate, airing everything, so that it truly is a community decision, not just a power play of getting 51%.

        Sometimes slim majorities are the best that can be achieved, but the goal is to reach for greater consensus.

        My take on this from an anarchist perspective.

        "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

        by ZhenRen on Mon May 13, 2013 at 07:48:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would add that consensus is about airing (9+ / 0-)

          all concerns and objections and offering up creative resolutions to get to what people can "live with." Not just what they prefer.

          I don't think it's as critical to have an agreed upon set of priorities as it is to have an agreed upon mission and an agreed upon set of base principles about how best to work together on decision-making.

          •  Right... (6+ / 0-)

            And when the basic "cell" or participatory community (of a larger federation) makes decisions for itself, the members obviously have something in common by virtue of their free association together. When people self-manage the workplace, for example, they are bound together by their work, and thus as a natural consequence will share the same environment, along with similar needs, which makes consensus easier. Hence the term "affinity group".

            Which is why bottom up organizing works so much better. When people are experiencing similar realities and pressures, they tend to find agreement easier.

            "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

            by ZhenRen on Mon May 13, 2013 at 11:36:18 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  This is certainly a laudable ideal (0+ / 0-)

            but the origins of the consensus model are a bit more mundane. It's development on the US left was largely a response to the ability of so-called vanguard organizations to dominate and/or seize control of existing coalitions, running roughshod over any interests that deviated from their own organizational agenda.

            Consensus proved it's worth as a defense strategy in such sectarian struggles but its other claims are more problematic.

            OWS marked a major effort to apply the consensus model to a burgeoning mass movement. The results weren't particularly encouraging. Many, rightly or wrongly, point to it as a cause, even the primary cause, of the movement's fragmentation and marginalization.

            Whether that judgement is correct or not, it is important not to make a fetish of any theoretical model of organization.  

            Nothing human is alien to me.

            by WB Reeves on Tue May 14, 2013 at 11:58:54 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Graeber wrote a commentary about consensus (4+ / 0-)

              Which addresses some of your points. He also goes into some of the historical antecedents to American use of consensus as used in OWS. I think it can serve as a good contrast or rebuttal to your issues with it.

              Here's an excerpt, but the short article should be read in its entirety.

              David Graeber: Some Remarks on Consensus

              1) CONSENSUS IS "A WHITE THING" (OR A MIDDLE CLASS WHITE THING, OR AN ELITIST FORM OF OPPRESSION, ETC)

              The first thing to be said about this statement is that this idea is a very American thing. Anyone I mention it to who is not from the United States tends to react to the statement with complete confusion. Even in the US, it is a relatively recent idea, and the product of a very particular set of historical circumstances.

              The confusion overseas is due to the fact that almost everywhere except the US, the exact opposite is true. In the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania, one finds longstanding traditions of making decisions by consensus, and then, histories of white colonialists coming and imposing Roberts Rules of Order, majority voting, elected representatives, and the whole associated package—by force. South Asian panchayat councils did not operate by majority voting and still don't unless there has been a direct colonial influence, or by political parties that learned their idea of democracy in colonial schools and government bodies the colonialists set up. The same is true of communal assemblies in Africa. (In China, village assemblies also operated by consensus until the '50s when the Communist Party imposed majority voting, since Mao felt voting was more "Western" and therefore "modern.") Almost everywhere in the Americas, indigenous communities use consensus and the white or mestizo descendants of colonialists use majority voting (insofar as they made decisions on an equal basis at all, which mostly they didn't), and when you find an indigenous community using majority voting, it is again under the explicit influence of European ideas—almost always, along with elected officials, and formal rules of procedure obviously learned in colonial schools or borrowed from colonial regimes. Insofar as anyone is teaching anyone else to use consensus, it's the other way around: as in the case of the Maya-speaking Zapatista communities who insisted the EZLN adopt consensus over the strong initial objections of Spanish-speaking mestizos like Marcos, or for that matter the white Australian activists I know who told me that student groups in the '80s and '90s had to turn to veterans of the Maoist New People's Army to train them in consensus process—not because Maoists were supposed to believe in consensus, since Mao himself didn't like the idea, but because NPA guerillas were mostly from rural communities in the Philippines that had always used consensus to make decisions and therefore guerilla units had adopted the same techniques spontaneously.

              ...
              Just one telling example. Justine Tunney recently wrote a piece called "Occupiers: Stop Using Consensus!" that begins by describing it as "the idea that a group must strictly adhere to a protocol where all decisions are unanimous"—and then goes on to claim that OWS used such a process, with disastrous results. This is bizarre. OWS never used absolute consensus. On the very first meeting on August 2, 2011 we established we'd use a form of modified consensus with a fallback to a two-thirds vote. Anyway, the description is wrong even if we had been using absolute consensus (an approach nowadays rarely used in groups of over 20 or 30 people), since consensus is not a system of unanimous voting, it's a system where any participant has the right to veto a proposal which they consider either to violate some fundamental principle, or which they object to so fundamentally that proceeding would cause them to quit the group. If we can have people who have been involved with OWS from the very beginning who still don't know that much, but think consensus is some kind of "strict" unanimous voting system, we've got a major problem. How could anyone have worked with OWS that long and still remained apparently completely unaware of the basic principles under which we were supposed to be operating?

              "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

              by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 12:54:21 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I don't see that these extracts (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                zett

                address the substance of my points at all, with the exception of Graeber's personal anecdote. That made me realize that I erred in in using OWS as shorthand for the Occupy Movement as a whole. While OWS specifically may not have attempted to use absolute consensus, that wasn't the case with my local assembly.

                In our case, the repeated use of individual blocks paralyzed decision making until the assembly gave the effort up as a bad job. Wrangling over this contributed heavily to fragmentation and relapse into apathy.

                This underlines the reality that no one, neither Graeber or myself, can accurately generalize about the practice of the Occupy Movement as a whole based entirely on personal experience. That sort of definitive summing up would require a wide overview taking into account a myriad of local experience.  

                I'd add that references to traditional peasant and village level forms of consensus doesn't really tell us much about the development of the consensus model in the context of US political history.

                Nothing human is alien to me.

                by WB Reeves on Tue May 14, 2013 at 01:30:44 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Certainly... (4+ / 0-)

                  The consensus model was applied differently, according to the understanding of participants in different cities. In fact, it was never expected to be one-size-fits-all.

                  It required experimentation and adaptation. Americans are so accustomed to top down hierarchical models, and being led by a few, that some individuals weren't willing to try a new approach, but for many of us who stuck around, it was a wonderful way of self-managing.

                  What city were you in? How often did you attend meetings? Some people gave up after one or two exposures.

                  In Portland, which had one of the largest Occupy populations, we adapted the model frequently. I personally found it to be one of the most liberating experiences I've ever had, but I do think the approach takes some personal adjustments (especially in the size of one's ego) and many weren't willing to be patient enough to work out the wrinkles.

                  "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

                  by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 01:46:00 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Atlanta (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    zett

                    My own experience with consensus decision making dates to the 1970's. Our Indymedia collective used a form of limited consensus so there's that as well.

                    I didn't attend as many general assemblies as I would have liked but I kept in close contact with those who did. I did witness the attendance at them shriveling from hundreds to a handful though.

                    Nothing human is alien to me.

                    by WB Reeves on Tue May 14, 2013 at 02:18:07 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I understand (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Cassiodorus, Brown Thrasher

                      It's a pity that happened, because I think there is much to learn from direct democracy approaches. I notice Graeber said in his article that with numbers beyond 20 or 30, achieving absolute consensus becomes more difficult.

                      Also, regarding anarchists, not all think consensus in large numbers is workable, but the spirit of listening to all sides, breaking down the barriers of factions, giving each person a voice, using recallable and mandated delegates, and participatory democracy is the ideal, even if absolute consensus becomes impractical in larger groups.

                      In Portland, we adopted a spokes-council model which seemed to help. Smaller working groups and affinity groups (with from as little as 3 or 4 persons up to 20 or so) would use the consensus approach, and would select a delegate or two to attend a spokes-council meeting (which was open and everyone could attend) and the delegates would, in turn, try to use consensus, but in the end sometimes a simple vote was taken and accepted. But everyone tried to honor consensus as much as possible and understood its value.

                      The delegates could not make decisions, but rather would continually go back and confer with their respective groups during the meetings and were mandated/directed to vote according to the consensus of the smaller group. If a delegate ignored the group, inserting his or her own opinions (which occasionally did happen), they could be easily replaced, or rebuked and reminded of the group's intentions.

                      "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

                      by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 02:41:27 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  In the spokes-council model (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Brown Thrasher

                        there were many groups which sent delegates to the council. Probably something like 15 or more groups made up the community. Anyone was free to form an affinity group.

                        "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

                        by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 02:45:27 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                •  Oh, and did you read the entire article? (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Cassiodorus, Brown Thrasher

                  My excepts were merely teasers to get people to click on the link. The article isn't long, and there are some good points he made that aren't in my excepts.

                  "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

                  by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 01:48:13 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

    •  The coercive impulse that lurks (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WB Reeves

      in the desire for consensus is in tension with democracy. To those who demand decision-making by consensus, I say, By all means, try to persuade me. But if I hold to my own opinion, don't hammer at me with the need for consensus. And so long as minority rights are respected, don't use the idea of consensus to frustrate the majority. Bad as it is with a 60-vote requirement (illegitimately) imposed by Republicans, imagine a Senate that could decide matters only by consensus.

      Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

      by another American on Mon May 13, 2013 at 05:40:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Can you tell us -- (4+ / 0-)

        about your experience with "the coercive impulse that lurks in the desire for consensus" in general assemblies in the Occupy movement?  I attended plenty of them, and I experienced no "coercive impulse" in any desire for consensus whatsoever.

        In voting, on the other hand, there is plenty of coercive impulse.  Observe, for instance, the tenor of discussion at DailyKos.com in an election run-up.

        "It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it." Oscar Wilde

        by Cassiodorus on Mon May 13, 2013 at 07:53:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Irrelevant! (0+ / 0-)

          Most families get on great until there's some money to split up.

          Occupy only had to deal with short term problems and long term wishes and wants.  Had they actually won anything valuable the squabbles would have begun.

          If the anarchists were to "win out" and be in charge of the country what would they do with those who still held out for "government?"

        •  I wasn't speaking of (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          WB Reeves, socindemsclothing

          the Occupy movement. But over many years I have participated in too many meetings where the stated or tacit ground rule that the group would decide only by consensus on the one hand gave extraordinary power to a dedicated (disciplined?) minority to coerce a less committed majority (if only by outlasting its members) while on the other hand leading members of a minority, who were entirely willing to be outvoted, to feel a strong moral pressure to satisfy the majority by agreeing not only that the majority had the right to decide but that it actually was right.

          Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

          by another American on Tue May 14, 2013 at 06:14:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What were the context of these meetings? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brown Thrasher

            Business, activism, other things?

            The ISO standard is determined by consensus and they have a pretty good track record. I can see what you're talking about as a problem in some cases, but that's true of most everything. And if people are intent enough on stopping something then there isn't a whole lot to be done.

            If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

            by AoT on Tue May 14, 2013 at 11:14:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  This short article by Graeber (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Cassiodorus, Brown Thrasher

            delves into consensus and dispels some of the myths about the intentions of its use by Occupy.

            And he points out that consensus was never held to be the ONLY form of direct, grassroots democracy.

            Worth a read.

            http://occupywallst.org/...

            "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

            by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 01:12:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I think what's missing here is that when a (9+ / 0-)

        group determines to make decisions by consensus, it isn't about the final vote. It's about learning how to be respectful of all concerned and to become better at generating creative resolutions that everyone can live with.

        We simply wouldn't have the same people in the Senate if we were a society based on consensus. Nothing would look the same.

    •  Perhaps I'm misreading (0+ / 0-)

      what Marx says, or what you wrote.

      You wrote: "Marx, then, was interested in founding the new society on meritocratic principles." From this I understand you to be saying that Marx wanted (was interested) to found a new society "on meritocratic principles." In short, he favored the meritocratic idea.

      But between the passage quoted in your diary and the "from each/to each" dictum, I see Marx referring to the arrangements you he "was interested in founding" as "these defects." Put otherwise, his support for meritocratic principles seems half-hearted, at most.

      In all events, time has proven Marx a man of the 19th century, remarkable in some ways, to be sure, but hardly the measure of all things, even socialism.

      Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

      by another American on Mon May 13, 2013 at 05:52:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Think of it this way -- (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shaharazade

        Why would Marx want to begin the new society on meritocratic principles?  One simple answer would be that he wanted to reward those who did the most to create this new society, and as an incentive for everyone else to do the same.

        "It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it." Oscar Wilde

        by Cassiodorus on Mon May 13, 2013 at 07:58:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  One problem: (6+ / 0-)

          Who decides which persons are deserving of greater merit, and which behaviors should be incentivized?

          One would need a state to do this, it seems. I'm thinking of the peasants in Bolshevik Russia whose agricultural produce was appropriated for urban workers who were considered more deserving and vital, and the peasants were left to go hungry, deprived of the fruits of their own labor.

          And who decides which qualities have more merit? The person who provides levity to the workplace with humor, even if they are less energetic, may be just as vital to a functioning team as the most productive worker. The strong person endowed with brute strength has a place along with the person with a brilliant intellect.

          So when we begin to reward some behaviors, who decides which ones have more merit?

          "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

          by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 12:44:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  To determine merit there must be a purpose (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            zett

            toward which activity is directed. The relative merit then would be in the contribution toward enactment of progress in the direction of the purpose. Many purposes can be imagined. If simply focused on the machine of production with a goal of more then those who contributed the most to creating more would be perceived as being most meritorious. If focused on the health of the whole system, as best we can understand it, processes that produce enough with less work might be seen as meritorious. making or teaching others to make music or write poetry might be seen as valuable if it related to a purpose. It gets more complicated with more complicated purposes.

            Love = Awareness of mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries. Political and economic systems either amplify or inhibit Love.

            by Bob Guyer on Tue May 14, 2013 at 06:51:26 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  This could open the door (4+ / 0-)

              to elites deciding to give themselves more merit and thus more rewards, creating a hierarchy of merit. So, I'm wondering how this would be decided, and by whom?

              It could make people feel manipulated, as if a grand orchestrator were moving them about like pawns in a chess game. Too much like capitalism, and the overarching state.

              "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

              by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 08:15:25 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  This is a practical problem. (0+ / 0-)

                I"m sure there's a solution.

                "It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it." Oscar Wilde

                by Cassiodorus on Tue May 14, 2013 at 08:35:57 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Imagine... (5+ / 0-)

                  A group of workers self-managing an industry. They are discussing and forming consensus on which work and which persons will be afforded more merit, and yet each person (presumably) has an equal voice in deciding this scale by direct democracy.

                  Will they willingly and democratically decide that some members are more valuable than others? And if this is true, will this lead to some members having a greater influence in decision making, if their decisions/work/contributions produce more in the workplace?

                  See where this leads? If we reward merit, do we reward better decision makers? Give them more authority? Once we go down this path, the whole thing unravels into hierarchy. And hierarchy is not compatible with consensus, unless it is a body of elites forming the consensus.

                  "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

                  by ZhenRen on Tue May 14, 2013 at 08:48:54 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  You still haven't explained how defects, as Marx (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          AoT

          calls (what you call) meritocratic principles can be something he was interested in as the foundation of a new society. In the preceding paragraph of the Critique, Marx writes that making the distributional rights "proportional to the labor they supply" (original emphasis) "tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content[.]" This does not read to me like an endorsement of meritocratic principles, which in the very next paragraph Marx calls "defects."

          Nor is this a uniquely Marxist perspective. John Rawls, observing that the distribution of natural assets--what Marx called "unequal individual endowment"-- is arbitrary, writes in A Theory of Justice "no one deserves his place in the natural distribution of assets any more than he deserves his initial starting place in society."

          Without having to get to socialism (although not inimical, I think, to social democracy), much less a higher stage of communism, Rawls presents justice as fairness as a frameowork for reconciling, in lexical order, liberty, a fair equality of opportunity, and the difference principle.

          Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

          by another American on Tue May 14, 2013 at 06:10:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  As I read it (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            AoT, socindemsclothing

            giving incentives to build socialism was for Marx only a temporary measure.

            "It takes great courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still to love it." Oscar Wilde

            by Cassiodorus on Tue May 14, 2013 at 08:54:35 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Incentives, at least as (0+ / 0-)

              I understand them, do not equal an endorsement of, or interest to found society on, meritocratic principles. But we may have taken this conversation as far as it can go.

              Shalom v' salaam; peace and wholeness

              by another American on Tue May 14, 2013 at 09:07:18 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

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