We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Monday, March 17, 2008

Direct Democracy vs Parliamentary Democracy: The Spanish Revolution

The following article discusses direct democracy from an anarchist's viewpoint in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War and the direct democracy and collectivism instituted in republican controlled areas of Spain. The successes of this movement in Spain in the 1930's is pointed to as an example of a successful model of direct democracy that unfortunately was robbed of the opportunity to continue and flourish by the fascist forces of Franco. - Editor

Parliament or Democracy?


Throughout history there has been an alternative idea of democracy - this is the idea of direct democracy. It surfaced during the Paris Commune (in 1871), it surfaced in Russia during the early part of the revolution there, and it was put into large-scale practice in Spain between 1936-37. It is the method often used by workers in a strike; it is the method that often arises 'spontaneously' when people confront the State or the bosses. Direct democracy is the democracy that anarchists advocate.

Direct democracy is different to parliamentary democracy in a number of important ways:

1.Direct democracy is about 'originating' ideas as much as it is about 'approving' them. In parliamentary democracy, people are never asked for their own ideas - they are only asked to 'approve' or 'disapprove' of ideas already prepared for them. Direct democracy is radically different in that way. Direct democracy is based on the realistic notion that 'people know best how to look after their own situation'. We don't need specialists to tell us how to run our places of work or our communities. Anarchists argue that we are quite capable of doing this ourselves. All we need are the resources and the right to do this. Direct democracy is the method.

2.Direct democracy is based on delegation not representation. The crucial difference between delegation and representation is that delegates are only elected to implement specific decisions. Delegates do not have the right (like TDs or MPs) to change a decision previously made by an assembly of people. Delegates (unlike representatives) can be immediately recalled and dismissed from their mandate if they don't carry out the specific function allotted to them.

3.Direct democracy is as much about the workplace as it is about the community. In parliamentary democracy, the workplace is 'immune' to democracy (save what rights workers have won through their unions). In direct democracy, the operation of a factory or a plant or an office will be via a general assembly of all workers. This body will decide on conditions of work, will elect re-callable managers, and will organise how work is done. It will also elect people (as delegates) who will co-ordinate with the other places of work and with the broader community. Regional organisation will be managed through a federation of workplaces using a delegate structure.

Could such a form of democracy work and what would it be like? As mentioned earlier, Spain provides one of the best examples of how far we can go in organising a new type of society. The collectives that were built by the workers of Spain between 1936-37 were highly democratic. But they also showed the massive potential that we have if freed from the constraints of capitalism. It seems obvious (though it is impossible under capitalism) that we should all have a say over the work we do, how we do it, when and in what way. When we do have these rights, the quality and nature of our work changes enormously - and this is one of the things that was achieved in Spain.

Democracy and work should always go together - and it is one of the singular failures of parliamentary democracy that this has never occurred - nor is it ever likely to occur because of the threat it poses to capitalism and the rule of the boss... To read the full article click HERE

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