Some Very Brief Speculations on a Just Society

Let us suppose three general rules as premises:

1) For any group of people, that group will be powerful in proportion as it is organised. A group of individuals, or smaller groups, acting in isolation from each other will be less able to exert much influence.

(This is why, for example, many of the most famous anti-colonial leaders were so keen on the idea of forming large federal organisations for their people – pan-Arabism, pan-Africanism, etc.)

2) For groups above a certain (perhaps variable) size threshold, acting in concert will require some co-ordination by some sort of representative organisations acting on behalf of the rest of the group’s members.

3) For any representative organisation acting on behalf of a smaller group, its tendency to act contrary to its members interests, to be ‘unaccountable’, will be inversely proportional to the independent strength of the individuals and smaller groups that it acts on behalf of.

Then we infer that if accountability demands the strength of the smaller groups, and strength comes from organisation, then the best route to accountability would be through having organised groups at one level down from the top level.

But the same reasoning then applies to those groups, since they would also be in need of holding accountable. So we would want an ongoing succession of such groups all the way down to the level one step above the individual, i.e. assemblies in which the individual plays a direct part in decision making, and which are organised independently so that they can exert ongoing control over their delegates/representatives at higher-level assemblies.

What we have now, on the other hand, is a sort of gulf – there is, for, say, a British citizen, a series of organisations at different levels – the European parliament, the Westminster parliament, devolved parliaments for Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, individual MPs and their constituencies. But then there’s basically a gulf between the MP, the lowest level of direct legislative power, and the individual voter: the voters are organised only in an ad hoc fashion, once every few years, when the government calls them up to it. Because their organisation is not ongoing, they lack meaningful power to hold their MPs to account – we might be able to write them letters, but letters can easily be ignored, and they do little to bring the constituents into organisations so as to really exert their power – and in principle their power over an MP should be absolute.

If the constituency were organised on an ongoing basis, say assembling every couple of weeks or at whatever other interval, they could simply de-select the MP and put someone else in their place – or, more practically, they could pass binding mandates, i.e. “we want you to do X, and if you vote the other way you will immediately be chucked out”. The independence of the representatives would remain only for the detailed work of amendments, negotiating compromises, and various things that the citizens can’t be bothered with. Of course maybe the constituency level is too big – so put in whatever intermediate level of assemblies and delegates you want.

Such a system would also have the following advantage: the independence or federation of each section of the population could be very straightforwardly arranged simply on the basis of this pre-existing infrastructure. The idea of a nation as something that endured for decades and required military skirmishes to re-draw its boundaries would be replaced by a version of ‘re-drawing boundaries’ that was of comparable difficulty to a cabinet re-shuffle. Indeed the very idea of a coercive ‘state’ could very easily melt away. It would also have the advantage of providing an inherently democratic social infrastructure that could then take over management of such things as the entire economy.

This sort of approach is, of course, historically what communists have tended to argue for, and what working-class revolutions have tended to establish (e.g. Paris Commune, early Russian Soviets) before being crushed by counterrevolutionaries Red or White.

2 Responses to “Some Very Brief Speculations on a Just Society”

  1. Civil Wars and Bafflement « Directionless Bones Says:

    […] done by institutions whose democratic mandate is intrinsic to them. People who have read some of my earlier posts may already have guessed what I’m going to suggest as an example: direct democracy, […]

  2. Defining Political Systems « Directionless Bones Says:

    […] straight-out to every single question, regardless of any other considerations. Rather, it means a political system where the direct structure is the dominant structure – where it is applied selectively to the […]


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