Sunday, November 18, 2007

Direct Democracy: Mob Rule

This tired argument, that direct democracy is tantamount to “mob rule,” is nothing more than archaic bourgeois propaganda. The arguments which, after little support if any at all is provided, conclude that “those who own the country ought to govern it,” as John Jay opined, or that the system should “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority” rabble masses, to quote James Madison, the main framer of the United States constitution, are clearly exploitive, authoritarian and vulgar apologetics for elite, highly concentrated centers of power and wealth, whereby said centers of wealth and power are protected over and against the “rabble masses,” who are “too stupid to govern.”


The arguments, besides serving as vulgar propaganda for unjustified hierarchy and domination, are rather degenerate and reveal such a lack of faith in the common person so as to make one wonder about the psychological constitution of those waging the argument. Furthermore, direct democracy, a society governed by the people who reside within it, simply does not constitute a “mob.” It is, to the contrary, highly concentrated centers of wealth and power, as has been amply demonstrated time and time again throughout the course of history, which tends to more thoroughly debase and corrupt decent human capacities and behavior.


Where direct democracy has existed and been implemented, successfully, such as in the pre-Israel Kibbutzim, common people having been freed from the arbitrary and coercive institutions of concentrated power and wealth and the hierarchy, domination and oppression inherent therein, actually exhibited exemplary moral behavior. I am certain that it will be unnecessary for me to run through the verbose index of people and parties who became so violently debased and corrupted through centers of highly concentrated power and wealth that they began to behave as though they were literally evil incarnate. The common saying “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” being apropos.


It is my firm belief that only when such unjustified, arbitrary and coercive institutions of highly concentrated power and wealth, characterized by hierarchy, domination and oppression, whose primary function is to defend the existing edifice of power relations, class domination and the interests of the elite wealthy few, are abolished, will human society then truly begin to flourish. Only with the dismantling of authoritarian institutions, which inevitably repress decent innate human capacities, while stimulating the more base of human capacities and behavior, being replaced by open, voluntary and participatory institutions, will human social and economic structures serve the community, rather than the profit-driven, wealthy, elite few.


With decent literacy and educational levels - which shall surely rise parallel to the abolishment of the drive to privatize education and the dismantling of an educational system which stresses competition and testing over and against cooperation, smaller class sizes and better conditions – and the harnessing of the high-tech industry in order to make the process of direct democracy more fluid, efficient and faster – such as communication networks, the internet for instance – makes the prospects of direct democracy even more feasible and coherent than it has ever before been.

31 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

Not very subtle good addition to discussion about Venezuela. It could also be Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War.

JDHURF said...

Thank you for the kind words. I of course agree with you that Catalonia during the Spanish Revolution is a more than appropriate historical example.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Dave Marlow said...

Overflow from PCF.. Many posts on my blog have been from that. It is a very frustrating bunch, often, isn't it?

I believe in a combination of direct democracy and federalism, because I think both are necessary to protect and safeguard democracy. I, like you, do not believe the mob rule argument. However, some structural government is necessary to management and and organization. Referendum ought to take a greater role in our decision-making process but I think there is still something to be said for the merit of representative democracy.

Though many of the Founders would be considered elitists now, remember that their historical role was not one of bringing about a socialist revolution but rather a liberal democratic revolution from which capitalism could develop. For better or worse, it was a necessary stage of American history.

How do you feel about federalism? What flaws do you see in the system? Do you think it could ever be consistent with socialism?

i.m.small said...

READY FOR CHANGE

Yet even though it all becomes
Unraveled, I am glad--
Hosteler´s pleasures far from home´s--
For travels that I´ve had.

I knew the stay would not last long,
And I am growing weaker,
That even did not start off strong
That have been a truth-seeker.

Now if my country goes to pot
(And it seems on the way there)
Yet I am glad, for I have got
Good memories of a stay there.

So all is transitory--change
Befalls even the greatest,
And hierarchies rearrange:
I´m weary of this latest.

melloncollie said...

Great post, JDHURF!!

I completely agree that the mob rule argument is a stupid one.

Quote: "Only with the dismantling of authoritarian institutions, which inevitably repress decent innate human capacities, while stimulating the more base of human capacities and behavior, being replaced by open, voluntary and participatory institutions, will human social and economic structures serve the community, rather than the profit-driven, wealthy, elite few."

Well said. Awesome blog post.

melloncollie said...

Also, I like your observation that where direct democracy has existed, peoples' moral behavoir has been admirable.

JDHURF said...

Comrade Dave:

Posters on PCF can indeed be some of the most frustrating human beings I encounter.

As I have argued in my Socialism post I do not believe that there is anything to be said “for the merit of representative democracy,” rather, to the contrary. I agree with the likes of Rocker, Pannekoek and Mattick who point out that, to quote Pannekoek “today belief in the party constitutes the most powerful check on the working class' capacity for action. That is why we are not trying to create a new party. This is so, not because our numbers are small -- a party of any kind begins with a few people -- but because, in our day, a party cannot be other than an organization aimed at directing and dominating the proletariat. To this type of organization we oppose the principle that the working class can effectively come into its own and prevail only by taking its destiny into its own hands.”

As far as my views about federalism, I would first need to know what exactly you mean by the term. I agree that a sort of federalism is required, excluding parliamentary parties, and so-called “representatives,” in the form of a federated, decentralized system of free associations constituted by workers’ councils, service collectives and community cooperatives. The councils, collectives and cooperatives would all be run directly by the people and would be organically linked, I agree with a sort of federalism in this sense.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

JDHURF said...

i.m.small:

That was an excellent poem. Did you quote it or did you write it yourself? If you quoted it, who was the original author?

elijeremiah:

Thank you for the kind words, they’re always appreciated.

Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.

a very public sociologist said...

Re: direct democracy, as a socialist my organisation's programme is about extending democracy as far and as wide as possible. However, assuming the new society will remain a complex and advanced (and advancing) industrial society, my question is will there still be a need for some elements of representative democracy?

Dave Marlow said...

I published my Federal Socialism pamphlet, part of which is based on a similar critique of direct democracy as I have posted here. You might find it interesting.

LeftyHenry said...

Jdhurf,

I don't see what's wrong with Mob Rule anyways. A while ago I was doing outreach and someone told me that they couldn't be a socialist because it just amounted to "tyranny of the masses". I was like what? So you prefer tyranny of rich? That's what it comes down to as long as there's a state


Dave,

that's a interesting point on the founders, but the way I see it is that they were just a section of the bourgeois. They set up a bourgeois, racist, and sexist state. Because of that, I don't think anything resembling the US state now can remain if we really want the proletariat to be in control. We can't mold the constitution and mold federalism to our wishes, we gotta tear it down and build our own. That was Marx's point when he said the proletariat can't just grab ready made state machinery. i think its a very valid point.

JDHURF said...

a very public sociologist:

To answer your question, in short, no. I do not believe that an advanced technological society such as ours – ever developing and advancing higher technology and renovation – requires centers of highly concentrated wealth and power – a minority elite class of authoritative rich owners and bosses – to “represent” the people and the workers.

For two main reasons. One, the ever increasing development of higher technology serves to, as I said in my post, “make the prospects of direct democracy even more feasible and coherent than it has ever before been.” And, two, “representative democracy” has never been in the business of representing the general population, the people, the workers and the lower classes, as my quotes from the founders of American “representative democracy” so explicitly illustrate.
The “representatives” are not in the business of representing the people in general. They are in the business of representing the interests of the bourgeois, the business world, the corporations, the CEO’s, the capitalists and so forth; and they are not in the business of either protecting or expanding democracy, they would very much like the opposite to occur, as current events - such the PATRIOT Act and the virtual unanimous vote in favor of the outrageous “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act,” which will in effect turn anyone who is critical of U.S. policy of war and occupation, who are mistrustful of the mainstream media and therefore turn to alternative sources of information online, into a terrorist suspect subject to the treatment as such under the PATRIOT Act and others - demonstrate.

As Rudolf Rocker explains:

“Anarcho-Syndicalists…fight against that political power which finds its expression in the state. They recognise that the modern state is just the consequence of capitalist economic monopoly, and the class divisions which this has set up in society, and merely serves the purpose of maintaining this status by every oppressive instrument of political power.”


Comrade Dave:

That is a substantial piece of work you have there regarding federal socialism. I am going to wait until my day off on Monday to give the work its due.

Comrade lefthenry:

I completely agree with your point that capitalist “representative” democracy is nothing more than the “tyranny of the rich.” That is a great point and exactly what it boils down to.
I also, as is evident in my post, agree with your views regarding the founding fathers.


Thank you all for posting, it is most appreciated.

Renegade Eye said...

As long as class society exists, a state apparatus is necessary.

Actually the founders of the US, were considered class traitors, creating a document as the Bill of Rights.

JDHURF said...

A classless society can only ever be fully realized with the dismantling of the state apparatus, which exists in order to protect and serve the capitalist economic monopoly and the class divisions of that society.

Renegade Eye said...

First classes go, then the state.

JDHURF said...

In my view the dissolution of class and state must be synchronized.
The state is nothing more than the political manifestation of the class struggle, the edifice by which the bourgeois protects the existing class structure, through which is ensured hierarchical power relations and class domination.
Rocker’s analysis, which I quoted in part, as well as Pannekoek’s, are both accurate. Their analyses are best bourn out in the history of the Spanish Revolution, wherein the anarchist and libertarian-socialist spontaneous organizations successfully collectivized industry, but, wherein the Communists and the state engaged in a protracted and eventually successful counterrevolution.

troutsky said...

I agree with jdhurf about "expanding democracy" but am less paranoid about parties. If people organize around collective identities you can call them what you want.I don't think the 21st century will allow us to restrict identities to class alone a la Rocker so politics remains, in fact , should be encouraged. Some of this is playing out in Venezuela as ren pointed out and lots can be learned from CNT history.

Mob rule is anti-politics, in my view, and problematic. Radical pluralist democracy is something most people can get behind.

JDHURF said...

troutsky:


It’s not that I’m “paranoid about parties,” it’s that I recognize a universal trend with regards to so called “revolutionary parties,” be they in Britain, Australia, Spain, Venezuela, France or anywhere else. If you would like to review modern, contemporary evidence of my criticism of parliamentary parties, look no further than the French Socialist party. The French Socialists couldn’t bend over quick enough for Sarkozy.

In any case, no where have I argued that people should not organize around collective identities, in fact, although there is no way for you to know this, I have argued just the opposite with Comrade Dave on PCF.

I agree that a lot can be learned from the CNT and the Spanish Revolution. The lesson to be drawn is that parliamentary parties, even self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and communist parties, will necessarily help mount the counterrevolution, as did the Communist party in Spain.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

blackstone said...

Kudos to you. I completely agree with this blog post.

"It is my firm belief that only when such unjustified, arbitrary and coercive institutions of highly concentrated power and wealth, characterized by hierarchy, domination and oppression, whose primary function is to defend the existing edifice of power relations, class domination and the interests of the elite wealthy few, are abolished, will human society then truly begin to flourish"


Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective.
I'm not sure I'd like to live in a system whereby the majority can just rule the minority, but I do suppose it would get rid of those meddlesome folks who are different!
And there are other benefits. If we look at examples of direct democracy like you say, we can find that diversity can be sqashed and we can get a more uniform culture. If we didn't have that stupid Consititution, we might have been able to weed out the homosexuals and atheists, too!
I know that decline of education will be required to implement your final solution, but don't worry...the public education system is getting more and more funding and falling deeper and deeper into incompetence.

JDHURF said...

Anonymous:

That was a fairly amusing caricature you just presented. Too bad for you direct democracy doesn’t work the way you misrepresent it. There remain laws, guidelines and rights which are unalienable, unalterable and supreme. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is accepted as elementary, although “Representative Democracies,” such as the United States, have a very difficult time even following the most elementary of these, and many of the principles espoused within the United Nations Charter is accepted as is the UDHR. In fact, if you were to do even the most minimal research you would find that libertarian-socialist societies, such as the pre-Israel Kibbutzim and Spain during the revolution had very coherent laws and rights which kept the majority from infringing upon the rights of the minority. If you would like detailed information about such documents and principles, I highly recommend Erich Fromm’s The Sane Society, where he cites the documents from collectives and worker run factories which uphold such elementary rights, laws and principles.

No Gods No Masters

Taffd said...

As I have argued at myverdict.net -

'This 'mob mentality' opposition to democracy is becoming tiresome.

Mob mentality describes the phenomenon of individuals in a group, acting in concert, without direction.'

Direct democracy involves the people, partaking in the formulation of policy and the laws that bind them.

'Representative democracy' is a misnomer and does not address the peoples right to self-determination, enshrined in international law.

Representatives represent constituencies. They do NOT represent constituents. In the UK and the USA at least, there is no statute that suggests that representatives have any duty to their constituents at all.

Which is why we are ignored except for election time.

It's odd how, at an election, a majority vote for a candidate is deemed acceptable and called a mandate but at any other time is deemed mob rule.

Or are they suggesting that their own election to office be deemed illegitimate, due to it having been achieved by 'mob rule'.

They can't have it both ways.

JDHURF said...

Taffd:

Your summary was perfect:

"Mob mentality describes the phenomenon of individuals in a group, acting in concert, without direction.'
Direct democracy involves the people, partaking in the formulation of policy and the laws that bind them."


I have nothing to add. Thank you very much for stopping by and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Hey JDHURF.

Not much to say to the post, agree with it mostly, although I take issue with the notion that the internet enables direct democracy. The internet could be something approaching a virtual utopia, or it could enable the most horrendous authoritarian measures, the like of which humanity has not yet seen.

As recently as the 70s, the computer was seen as a tool of oppression by student activists and the like. It could very easily become that, and efforts are under way to assure it (in the minds of those committing said acts).

Otherwise, fair essay, although I would have perhaps given more examples, e.g. Catalonia during the CNT period.

Keep it up.

binSchmidt said...

Here in New Zealand over the last few years the government, in the face of vocal opposition by the country's tiny religious right and probably also in the face of opposition by the silent majority, has rammed through the legalization of prostitution, same-sex civil unions (marriage), and outlawed people from hitting their kids as 'punishment'.

Depending on your perspective this could be a very good thing. In this case it's New Zealand liberals, not borguise capitalists, who were glad we have a representative democracy instead of a direct one. If we had direct democracy, probably prostitution would still be forced underground, gay couples would have no rights as couples, and people could get away with beating their kids.

It should be a given that "democracy" - rule of the majority - and respecting universal human rights simply don't get along. In my view democracy is not an inherent good, only a means to the end of having just, fair laws and a free society. The question is whether rule by the majority offers more of that than rule by a small group of elected individuals who are paid to examine the issues carefully before making decisions. In my opinion the majority are far too vulnerable to ill-informed voting (I think most people just go for what suits them best without even thinking for a moment what's fairest for everyone), and so a representative system, while flawed, will lead to better outcomes.

JDHURF said...

binSchmidt said:
”Here in New Zealand over the last few years the government, in the face of vocal opposition by the country's tiny religious right and probably also in the face of opposition by the silent majority, has rammed through the legalization of prostitution, same-sex civil unions (marriage), and outlawed people from hitting their kids as 'punishment'.”

In a just socialist society people, women in particular, would no longer ever feel obligated to engage in sexual relations simply in order to survive. The issue of legal and/or illegal prostitution would therefore be negated.
Human beings all have the same rights regardless of culture, nation or government and therefore all have the same rights to become involved in loving and lasting relationships with either of the sexes they are attracted to. In a just socialist society marriage would no longer be tied to many of the government-social roles it now plays in the first place. However, for the short-term here in the United States of America, it is imperative that same-sex civil unions and marriages and the rights therefrom attained be demanded by people organizing themselves, as they are, from the government on a Federal level (in order to ensure that marriage rights to gays and lesbians are not only followed in Vermont, as they already are, but also in Texas and elsewhere).
People should not be hitting their kids, period.

”Depending on your perspective this could be a very good thing. In this case it's New Zealand liberals, not borguise(sic) capitalists, who were glad we have a representative democracy instead of a direct one. If we had direct democracy, probably prostitution would still be forced underground, gay couples would have no rights as couples, and people could get away with beating their kids.”

That you would so starkly contrast New Zealand liberals to the bourgeoisie is a failure of analysis in my view. Looks like my comrades in New Zealand view the political situation of the country a bit differently that you:

Socialism Today: A left government in New Zealand?

ISO Editorial: Where there is no choice, there is no democracy


”It should be a given that "democracy" - rule of the majority - and respecting universal human rights simply don't get along.”

It is not only not “a given” but it has been shown in history that direct democracy immensely fosters the respect of universal human rights (Spain during the so-called civil war being the best example).

”In my view democracy is not an inherent good, only a means to the end of having just, fair laws and a free society.”

I agree that democracy is to be evaluated ethically by the consequences it produces, I disagree that it has been proven the consequences of democracy are, on balance, more harmful than the alternatives.

”The question is whether rule by the majority offers more of that than rule by a small group of elected individuals who are paid to examine the issues carefully before making decisions. “

When you add that these “elected individuals” – elected by whom and by what concentrations of power? corporate-backed representatives of parliament? Workers’ councils? Unions? – “are paid” you are already through a totalitarian literary move confining the coordinates of the society being discussed to a capitalist one. Certainly society as well as democracy functions differently within the coordinates of a corporate state-capitalist society and a socialist society.

”In my opinion the majority are far too vulnerable to ill-informed voting (I think most people just go for what suits them best without even thinking for a moment what's fairest for everyone), and so a representative system, while flawed, will lead to better outcomes.”

You are simply accepting the status quo as the only possible means and even then slandering a majority of human beings as stupid and ignorant of the election process – blindly disregarding the role of the “manufacturing of consent,” the doctrinal restrictions placed on public debate within establishment news papers and so on – when in fact it requires a personal research project to uncover what is many times concealed and/or distorted. Even in the face of all that people are still not so stupid they just accept whatever they are bombarded with repeatedly, but they feel alienated by the political system and process. Social movements as well as workers’ unions must become well organized, very responsive and more and more integrated and internationalized. Better outcomes will come from that for sure.

generic viagra said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rayne Van-Dunem said...

I think that after the debacle in California over Proposition 8, a directly-democratic initiative to ban state recognition of same-sex marriages, the idea of referenda has become a bit of a dirty word.

Everytime someone who is afraid of conservative reaction proposes putting recognition of civil rights before the vote of the people, it is taken as "dog whistle" code for "let's ban gay marriage/civil unions/domestic partnership agreements, because everybody in this state 'knows' that homosexuality is evil".

Also, when interracial marriages were finally constitutionally allowed in Alabama in 2000, over 40% of the electorate voted against the proposition. http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Alabama_Interracial_Marriage,_Amendment_2_(2000)

As a result, it has taken years to get a referendum to repeal Prop 8 in California, because every year, they must wait until enough money is shored up to launch a charm offensive to residents and persuade them in favor. None of the more moneyed organizations want to, anyway, because they're waiting for the Supreme Court to make a final ruling either for or against Prop 8, and fear that it is a safer gamble than a repeat at the ballot that may "tire" the electorate.

So permit me, a commenter to your blog, to offer that in many parts, bad laws are promulgated by direct democracy and take years to repeal them. Permit me to offer that such referenda have made it extremely difficult to remove them.

Permit me to offer that "allowing the majority to rule on minority rights" has been roundly demonized as an "extreme form of democracy" precisely because of Prop 8, a constitutional amendment referendum. It's left a bad, putrid taste in many American mouths, most of whose owners are not rich.

And even if Maine succeeds in getting marriage equality passed by referendum, Prop 8, an act of direct democracy, will not be forgotten.

JDHURF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDHURF said...

Rayne Van-Dunem:

I appreciate your comment and I understand your concern. However, without getting into too much boring minutia and detail, suffice it to say that, as I told an anonymous commenter above, there remain laws and rights which are unalterable and unalienable. Furthermore, we would be considering an entirely different social system and therefore also entirely different social relations. Without a state to “define” or sanction social relations there would be no possibility of such state enforced oppression.

I am not arguing for majority rule democracy within the confines of the current corporate state capitalist system. (Direct democracy may also relate to, on local levels, consensus rule: where everyone has to agree and where everyone cannot agree it must be ensured that no one’s freedom or liberty is being infringed upon and there are various other forms as well) I am arguing for direct democracy within the context of a libertarian socialist society which necessarily implies something quite different.

As for Pop8 and the immediate tasks, see my post The Left and the LGBT Movement: Past, Present and Future.

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Funk said...

I agree with most of what's been said, although, looking at the examples of direct democracies presented, they all seem to have been very small and short lived.

I believe there need to be some inherent breakthroughs in the ways we (all of us) communicate, for direct democracy to scale up to larger countries.

The large majority of people don't even know how to use the internet, or use it in very primitive ways, which in effect would allow their identities to be taken advantage of, or in the best case not make them heard.

There are some radically different alternatives which wouldn't require any significant technological or societal breakthroughs. But that may be a topic for a different discussion...