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

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  •  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

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    •  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

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      •  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

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        •  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

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          •  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

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            •  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

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      •  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

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        •  I haven't read it but I will (0+ / 0-)

          I'm also looking forward to reading his piece on RW youth to see how his impressions stack up with my own experience dealing with such.

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Tue May 14, 2013 at 02:12:48 PM PDT

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