Thursday, November 29, 2007

What is Participatory Democracy?

There is a misconception among students at my university about what Students for Democratic Society stands for politically. Some think it stands for communism, some think socialism. Others think Marxism. This is all wrong.

SDS is basically an expression of participatory democracy. This is a democratic system of governance where members participate in the political decision-making process at many many levels. There is usually an emphasis for action in the public sphere. The emphasis is on the community and what is important to the broader range of community participants.

It can also mean that all members of a society have a voice and veto-powers in decision-making politics. Majority-based voting would not count as participatory since this excludes minority-based votes and group-differentiated votes from the decision-making process. So that means representative democracy is not participatory either.

Participatory democracy typically works by building consensus on legally-binding decisions and other decisions about policy. If consensus cannot be reached, these laws or ordinances cannot be passed since they violate individual and group-differentiated rights.

Many participatory democracies can choose to be socialist or communist or other ways of thinking about wealth, and there is no contradiction. All the decision-making can happen within a socially cohesive group of people, and the sources of decision-making are connected to the social bond.

Under the participatory framework, I would consider myself a socialist. But this should not be perceived as being a totalitarian, since that is against the principles of participatory politics. The broader framework I operate in is a form of libertarianism, with an emphasis on community-based participatory politics. In other words, this can be seen as a form of anarcho-syndicalism.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Great post, Joe. However, I would suggest that there is a conventional distinction between the economic and the political that could be elaborated on. I mean: socialism, capitalism, and syndicalism, as examples, are primarily seen as economic systems. As such they can conceivably abide a variety of political systems, which can be illustrated by the various forms of democracy, republicanism, and totalitarianism. It follows that socialism doesn't necessarily entail totalitarianism in the same way that capitalism is not necessary for democracy. And, because of the ever-expanding nexus of ideological frameworks -- economic, political, and cultural -- we arrive at dynamic and descriptively named theories like libertarian-communism and anarcho-syndicalism. The two-parts in the names correspond to political and economic tendencies, respectively.
To me, if we take SDS at name-value it is simply an advocacy group for democratic practice, which would limit it to political action. But as you and I know, SDS pushes the general conception of democracy beyond this, opening up to democratic cultures and economic policies.