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…


Friday, May 30, 2008

Venezuela: Moves are Taken to Maintain Grassroots Democracy Within the P.S.U.V.

While these political battles permeate the creation of the PSUV, we must consider who is controlling the Bolivarian Revolution and who should be controlling the Bolivarian Revolution. People have differing opinions as to whether a political party is even a valid mechanism for uniting social movements to elected leaders, and it is important to note that is what these disputes are about: whether or not elected officials are truly representing the will of their popular base. When so much of the focus is on elections and how they will be run fairly or on the selection of candidates, the people become frustrated by the frequent disconnects between the motivations of bureaucratic elected officials and/or candidates and those of the people and the movement. While it is important to weed out corruption and bureaucracy, instead of focusing on the downfalls and about-faces of elected officials the party could be working more on education and empowerment at the grassroots level so that communities come to understand the importance of defending the revolution, and have the skills and organization to continue toward participatory democracy for all with people power at it's core. -Editor

Controversy Erupts Over Nominations for PSUV Candidacies in Venezuela

May 26th 2008, by Kiraz Janicke -


Caracas, May 26, 2008, ( – A controversy surrounding the exclusion of the popular Mayor of Torres Municipality, Julio Chávez, from the list of pre-candidate nominations for governor of Lara within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s (PSUV) internal elections was resolved yesterday with Mayor Chávez’s nomination being reincorporated following the direct intervention of President Hugo Chávez.

As part of a nominations process open to all PSUV members, Julio Chávez (no relation to President Chávez), registered his pre-candidacy for governor of Lara on May 14. Days later, three high officials from the PSUV national executive met with Chávez and asked him to renounce his candidacy in favor of Henri Falcón, (currently Mayor of Barquisimeto), instead, they suggested, Chávez should run again for mayor of Torres Municipality.

Despite Mayor Chávez’s rejection of the proposition, the subsequent list of pre-candidates released to the media by the PSUV national executive on May 23 showed that he had been excluded from the list of pre-candidates for governor of Lara, but included in the list of pre-candidates for Torres Municipality.

On the same day Falcón also announced to the media that Chávez had withdrawn his aspirations for governor.

However, in a signed declaration, evocative of President Chávez’s declaration during the short-lived April 2002 military coup in which he confirmed he had not resigned as president, Mayor Chávez confirmed that he had not withdrawn his nomination.

The exclusion of Chávez from the list of pre-candidates provoked outrage amongst the rank and file PSUV members in Lara who saw it as a bureaucratic attempt by the national executive to override internal democracy within the party and impose a candidate from above.

Hundreds of PSUV members mobilized spontaneously and surrounded the party’s regional headquarters last Thursday and Friday chanting the infamous slogan celebrating the defeat of the coup; “Uh ah, Chávez no se va! Uh ah Chávez no se va!” (Chávez is not going), however, this time not in reference to President Hugo Chávez, but to Mayor Julio Chávez.

The PSUV national executive was forced to back down and on Sunday met with Mayor Chávez in the local government offices in Torres to rectify the situation and reincorporate him back onto the list of pre-candidates for governor of Lara. President Chávez, who has repeatedly called for candidates to be selected democratically by the members of the party, telephoned the mayor directly to assure him that the situation had been corrected.

Underlying the dispute is not only the question of candidates, but of two competing and completely different political projects.

“With Henri Falcón we go towards the right wing… The national leadership doesn’t know what’s going on in Lara. They are guided by opinion polls,” “It is necessary to respect the will of the grassroots,” members of the PSUV regional leadership commented to Aporrea on May 25.

Earlier this month PSUV vice-president Alberto Müller Rojas announced that Falcón had been expelled from the PSUV for allegedly violating party regulations and launching himself as a candidate for governor without having been democratically chosen by the members.

Falcón then said he would continue his campaign for governor of Lara through the For Social Democracy Party (PODEMOS), once part of the “Chavista” alliance, now in the opposition. However, before that happened, Muller Rojas announced that it was an “error” and Falcón had not actually been expelled from the party.

According to an April 30 article on the website of the newspaper Panorama, Falcón has support among both government and opposition sectors, with various opinion polls indicating he has a good chance of winning the governorship in the November regional elections.

However, supporters of Mayor Chávez argue that Falcón is the “visible head” of the endogenous rightwing of the Bolivarian revolution in Lara and contend that he has implemented a neo-liberal program during his time as Mayor of Barquisimeto.

On the other hand, while Mayor Chávez is loathed by opposition sectors, particularly local business elites and the private media, he is extremely popular amongst the grassroots and the poor for being the only mayor in Venezuela to have transferred control of the majority of the municipal budget directly to organized communities and for implementing a process of radical transformation and democratization of the entire governance system of his municipality.

His municipality served as a testing ground for the implementation of the direct democratic communal councils that were launched nation-wide in late 2005.

Controversy also continues to grow surrounding the pre-candidacy of the current governor of Bolivar, Francisco Rangel Gómez, who is running for a second term.

On May 21 Hector Herrera Jimenez, a pre-candidate for governor, and PSUV members and lawyers Atilio Tapia and Francisco Sierra accused Rangel Gómez of corruption and of using public money for his own political campaign with in the PSUV internal elections.

Tapia also argued that an investigation should be opened of Rangel Gómez, relating to an incident on March 14 when the National Guard, acting under orders from the governor, violently broke up a protest of striking workers from the SIDOR steel plant.

This was followed by a call from José Gregorio Beria, a PSUV member and pre-candidate for Mayor of Caroní, for Rangel Gómez to withdraw his nomination, saying the party is headed for an “electoral debacle” in the state of Bolivar if Rangel Gómez is chosen as the candidate.

Today National Assembly Deputy Adel El Sabayar, also a pre-candidate for governor of Bolivar, denounced that Rangel Gómez is utilizing public resources in a “gross and abusive” manner and confirmed that he lodged a formal complaint to the regional and national leadership of the PSUV over the multiple irregularities that are alleged to have occurred.

According to El Sabayar, the conditions exist for the immediate annulment of Rangel Gómez’s candidacy due to his violation of party regulations.

In particular, El Sabayar criticized as a “show” an event organized on May 18 for the presentation of pre-candidates, from which many pre-candidates were excluded and governorship employees were obliged to wear t-shirts saying “Rangel for Governor.”

El Sabayar also denounced that PSUV members who are employees of the governorship in the state of Bolivar are being “intimidated” to vote for Rangel Gómez on June 1.

“In the different institutions of the governorship of the state it has been said to the workers that it is possible to know who they voted for in the internal party elections,” he said.

However, the National Assembly Deputy assured, voting in the PSUV internal elections is by direct secret ballot and members should not be intimidated.

In a separate press conference today PSUV members Elio Sayago, Yaritza Rodríguez, Francisco Sierra, and Gervasio Coronado assured that they have documentary proof that Rangel Gómez has violated party regulations including the use of the figure of President Chavez to influence the opinion of voters, as well as using public employees and public funds to promote his candidacy.

The PSUV militants will hand over the document and are demanding the immediate disqualification of Rangel Gómez in the party’s internal elections.

Sayago, a worker from the ALCASA aluminum plant and pre-candidate for Mayor of Caroní, said the demand for Rangel Gómez’s disqualification has been endorsed by a “good part” of the workers in basic industry and especially by the workers at the SIDOR steel plant.

According to Yaritza Rodríguez, Rangel Gómez does not guarantee the development of the revolutionary process in the state of Bolivar. “He has worked in function of his own interests,” she said.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Swiss Immigration Referendum: Should Direct Democracy Determine Naturalization Case by Case?

Switzerland has a longstanding tradition of direct democracy, but a debate is currently raging in Switzerland over just how that direct democracy should apply when the result may be in violation of Switzerland's constitutional provisions. A referendum has been introduced by the right wing Swiss People's Party aimed at reducing the influx of foriegn immigrants into the country. The move would allow individual communities to decide naturalization cases on a case by case basis locally rather than by the central government using constitutional guidelines which attempt to eliminate discrimination. It is the opinion of this editor that the measure, if passed, would clearly allow discrimination to occur, and that that practice would be unconstitutional. Therefore, in order for these local votes on naturalization cases to be a valid exercise of direct democracy, the constitution itself would have to be amended by a nationwide referendum so that it would allow such discrimination to be an accepted part of the fabric of the Swiss nation. - Editor

Who Decides Who Is Swiss?

Tuesday, May. 20, 2008 By HELENA BACHMANN/GENEVA


Walking along Rue de Cornavin, near Geneva's main train station, Nesim, a 34-year-old immigrant from Turkey, stops to look at a poster plastered to a wall. It shows five dark-colored hands grabbing a stack of Swiss passports above the phrase STOP MASS NATURALIZATIONS.

The message is not lost on Nesim, whose dream of becoming a Swiss citizen is turning into a nightmare. Although he has fulfilled all the criteria necessary for naturalization — a 12-year residency requirement, fluent language skills, solid employment record as a mason, and good cultural integration — "I feel ostracized," he says. "I wonder whether I'll ever be 'good enough' to become Swiss."

The answer to Nesim's question may come on June 1, when the voters will decide who should have the final say in naturalization procedures: the authorities or the local people.

The controversial initiative was forced by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), which put up the poster that unsettled Nesim and has collected the obligatory 100,000 signatures required under Swiss law to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote. It seeks to overturn a 2003 Federal Court ruling that deemed ballot box votes on naturalization an infringement on the rights of would-be citizens. The decision was handed down after residents of the town of Emmen in central Switzerland repeatedly voted to reject citizenship applications from non-Western European nationals living in their midst.

A staunch proponent of tighter immigration policies, the SVP says Switzerland naturalizes more foreigners than any other European nation, and official figures seem to support that claim. The party charges on its website that more than half of all citizenship requests — in 2006, approximately 50,000 were granted in this country of 7.5 million — go to immigrants from the Balkans and Turkey. The SVP claims those immigrants commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes and abuse Swiss social and welfare benefits. Some official statistics do attribute the rise in serious infractions to resident foreigners, but the numbers are not clear. For example, official statistics show that in 2007 nearly 70% of all prisoners in Switzerland were foreigners, but some experts say that is because foreigners are considered a flight risk and are more likely to be sent to prison than local criminals.

The SVP argues that in a country based on grassroots democracy where voters can challenge any legislative decision by launching a referendum, the people, not what the party considers to be lenient government authorities, must approve each citizenship request. Each community must pick a competent panel to decide who among the local applicants is eligible for naturalizations, with the final decision left to the voters, the SVP says. While this system may be more difficult to implement in large cities, in small towns and villages, says Francis Matthey, a former socialist parliamentarian and currently President of the Federal Commission on Migration, "it would play right into the SVP's hands, because of the party's strong agrarian base." Under the current system a rejected candidate for citizenship has the right to appeal; the SVP wants any such decision to be irrevocable.

To Nesim, who is planning to apply for naturalization at the beginning of 2009, direct democracy is a double-edged sword. He worries that the new law might open the floodgates to subjective and harsh judgments. "What if someone doesn't like the fact that I am a Muslim?" he asks. "He or she will vote against me based on their personal bias."

Not so, says Christian Girard, a 19-year-old high school senior who is the vice-president of SVP's youth section in Geneva and supports the initiative. "Direct democracy has been a Swiss tradition for 150 years and we know how to vote responsibly," he says. "Naturalization must be a political, not an administrative process. And in a political process, people should be the ones to decide."

This stance does not resonate with Matthey, who says the system proposed by the SVP is flawed and open to discrimination. "It would give the voters in each community the power to decide, arbitrarily, another person's future, without so much as justifying their reasoning," he argues. "In a democracy, the voter should have a say in the issues relating to laws or principles, not to other people's lives."

Matthey says that the SVP neglects the fact that Switzerland needs immigrants to boost its labor force, and, in fact, the country has a long tradition of opening its borders to immigrants and refugees; at present, some 22% of the population is foreign-born, one of the highest rates in Europe.

"Naturalizing these people is not a matter of simply doing them a favor," he says. "A person who becomes a citizen will be more involved and respectful of our laws and values."

Girard insists that he — and his party — is not against granting citizenship to foreigners who are assimilated. "But we should be more selective in this process, rather than just handing out Swiss passports like candy to anyone who asks."

As the debate rages on, Nesim ponders his future. It is of some relief to him, he says, that the government as well as Switzerland's other parties, are urging voters to reject the SVP's initiative, deeming it unconstitutional and difficult to apply in practice. He hopes that, come June 1, the people will heed the advice. "I have waited a long time to be able to apply for citizenship, but the thought of townsfolk weighing in on it scares me. Should this initiative be accepted, I just won't apply for naturalization. Still," he adds, "whatever happens in the end, I will always love this country. It's a paradise."

Soon enough Nesim will find out if his love is reciprocated, or whether he's destined to remain a stranger in paradise forever.

Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia: A Book by Ben Dangl

Control of land and natural resources determines the economic position of peoples and governments and often creates conflict between these two entities. A privileged, and often foreign, elite has always controlled the natural resources of Bolivia and continues to do so today. But there has always been resistance among the masses who have been exploited as workers and peasants that is culminating in great upheaval today. Their struggle for control of resources and their economic sustainability does not end at the ballot box, where an indigenous and self-proclaimed socialist president was elected. Now more than ever, as the struggle between the central government and the indigenous poor against the separatist elite centered in Santa Cruz who seek to restore control over natural gas resources and wealth heats up, these popular movements are even more politically relevant. The book reviewed in the following piece reveals how social movements in Bolivia participate in the struggle for control of resources and a more equitable distribution of the wealth they generate. -Editor

Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia

Published by AK Press


New social movements have emerged in Bolivia over the "price of fire"—access to basic elements of survival like water, gas, land, coca, employment, and other resources. Though these movements helped pave the way to the presidency for indigenous coca-grower Evo Morales in 2005, they have made it clear that their fight for self-determination doesn't end at the ballot box. From the first moments of Spanish colonization to today's headlines, The Price of Fire offers a gripping account of clashes in Bolivia between corporate and people's power, contextualizing them regionally, culturally, and historically.

Advance Praise:

"Ben Dangl takes the reader on an unforgettable and inspiring journey through Bolivia and neighboring countries, providing a window on the revolutionary struggles of the poor and dispossessed, and particularly on the resurgence of indigenous resistance and leadership."—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War

"Most Americans know nothing of Bolivia, an ignorance that only plays into the hands of empire. Ben Dangl's book is both informative and inspiring, a cure for the apathy that grows from that ignorance. A must-read for those already interested in solidarity with Latin America and indigenous people."—Tom Hayden, author of The Zapatista Reader and Street Wars

"Ben Dangl has found himself under the skin of the Bolivian freedom struggle: he accurately represents its constraints, its opportunities, and its hopes. On your feet, Bolivia! We're ready to march with you."—Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World

"With lively narrative and unpretentious but intelligent analysis...The Price of Fire is not yet another bleak "tell-all" account of globalization, its pages are filled with stories of resistance, struggle and, above all, hope."—Teo Ballvé, editor of the NACLA Report on the Americas and co-editor of Dispatches from Latin America

"With great empathy and lucid prose, Dangl captures the exemplary courage that has put Latin America in the vanguard of the new internationalism and has made it one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal global landscape."—Greg Grandin, author of Empire’s Workshop

"I highly recommend this book for working people, students, and radical democrats to hear the voices of South American people and their chronicle of grassroots democratic empowerment."—Peter Phillips, Director of Project Censored

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The French May: Fifty Years Later

It is imperative to reflect upon revolutionary moments in the past so as to improve movements and organizing now. Looking back on 1968 is especially popular among socialist groups, but everyone can take away lessons from the mass revolts in France and the causes behind them. Here we see that participatory democracy played a role and should continue to do so in foreseeable rebellions. -Editor

The French May


May 15, 2008

This month marks 40 years since the titanic struggles of May 1968 in France. What started with protests by students at a few universities set off a mass rebellion that paralyzed Paris and other cities--and the largest general strike in history to that point.

Joel Geier, the associate editor of the International Socialist Review, spoke on the French May and the other revolutionary events of 1968. His speech was the basis for an article in the ISR, "Year of revolutionary hope"--part of a series on 1968 that has appeared in the magazine. Here, we print an excerpt from that article.

1968 WAS a year of revolutionary hope.

Most of the time, people have little hope. They accept or adapt to existing conditions around them, even miserable ones. They feel powerless; they don't think they can change things.

Most of the time, revolutionaries are a small, marginalized minority, considered unrealistic and utopian. Revolution is seen as being impossible; people, we are told, are too apathetic or ignorant--they'll never fight back. The working class has been bought off, it's fat and contented; so forget it, relax, enjoy your own life, that's the best you can hope for.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, out of nowhere, there are huge explosions from below, in which millions of people heroically engage in radical struggles that totally transform the world, politics and themselves. They reach for revolutionary solutions to the oppressive conditions they live under, and large numbers of them come to revolutionary consciousness.

In this country, for example, millions of people thought of themselves as revolutionaries in the late 1960s. By 1970, 40 percent of all college students said a revolution was necessary in the United States. A majority of young Blacks identified with the Black Panther Party.

What else to read :
Joel Geier's article "Year of Revolutionary Hope" can be read in the International Socialist Review.

It is part of a series of articles in the ISR chronicling key points in the revolutionary year of 1968. Others include "Tet: Turning Point in the Vietnam War" by Joe Allen and "Martin Luther King's Last Fight" by Brian Jones.

One of the best histories of May '68 is Prelude to Revolution: France in May 1968 by Daniel Singer, which combines an eyewitness account of events with an analysis of the social forces at work. For another view, see Revolutionary Rehearsals, which contains a chapter on May 1968 by Ian Birchall.

The veteran revolutionary Tariq Ali chronicles the struggles of 1968 through prose and pictures in a book co-authored with Susan Watkins titled 1968: Marching in the Streets. Ali also writes about 1968 in his Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties.

We're told those things can't happen in the United States--that millions of people could consider themselves to be revolutionaries--but they did. Large numbers of people wanted not just any change; they wanted a sweeping radical, revolutionary socialist change. They didn't just want to elect somebody different; they wanted to do away with rulers and ruled. They wanted to do away with rich and poor, with bankers and bosses. They wanted to run their own lives, in what was called participatory democracy.

Participatory democracy was the idea that we should have the right to make the most important decisions that affect our lives, and that we should determine the conditions under which we live. And the key word of 1968 was liberation--national liberation, Black liberation, women's liberation, and gay liberation....

Friday, May 23, 2008

2008 e-Democracy Conference in Talin, Estonia

Upcoming conference in Tallin on the heels of the expanding use of e-democracy in Estonia. To visit the countries e-consultation site OSALE click here. - Editor

2008 e-Democracy Conference in Talin, Estonia

The 2008 eDemocracy conference "Opportunities for Citizen Participation in an Information Society" will be held on June 5th, in the press room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.

This year we touch upon the opportunities ICT and the Internet provide for citizens to take part in the policy making process and to have a say in political decisions. We introduce the new governmental participation portal OSALE which opens a new way for Estonian people to express their opinion.We are also proud to present a new participation tool, TID+, which, with support of the European Union, is at present being developed and which will be made available to everyone. TID+ is based on the experiences with the Direct Democracy Portal TOM that has been in use in Estonia since 2001.

Last year, on November 29-30 in Skopje, at the “e-Society.Mk 2007” conference organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation, Ms. Nele Leosk, a representative of the Estonian eGovernance Academy presented the portal Tana Otsustan Mina – TOM (Today I Decide) as an example for a good EU practice.

Furthermore, the conference will focus on an analysis of Estonian e-voting experiences and give an overview of future perspectives, plans and developments. We also look forward to hear expert opinions in a panel discussion on whether and to what extent online participation and the New Media influence politics and shape democracy.

The conference is organised by e-Governance Academy together with the State Chancellery and Electoral Committee and is part-financed by the European Commission. Attending is free of charge, but registering is necessary.

More information on the conference and how to register is available on the eGA website.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ontario: Mass LBP Creates Unique Citizen Assembly

This story of a lucky entrepreneur who was able to fund his idea to bridge the government and civil society through participatory assemblies is certainly unique. The fact that he was able to get private funding for a grassroots project is exceptional. If only more individuals were willing to fund these kinds of initiatives, citizens would be more inclined and likely to participate. Seeing as participators currently struggle as volunteers, funding would add extra motivation but it also would pose risks to equal and fair access to participatory mechanisms. This case asks us to consider these points. -Editor

Hooked on democratic process

May 19, 2008 04:30 AM

Something fragile but remarkable is rising from the ashes of Ontario's Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

It is not another blueprint for proportional representation. Voters made it clear last October that they weren't in the market for one of those.

It is an appetite for democracy. Ontarians – at least a lucky few – are discovering that they like having a say in how they are governed.

Peter MacLeod, a young entrepreneur who got hooked on collective decision-making during the citizens' assembly, is determined to keep the process alive. He has set up a storefront company to "reinvent public consultation."

It's called MASS LBP. "MASS" is short for mass public. "LBP" stands for led by people.

The company has six employees, all young, all highly educated and all fiercely committed to the proposition that government by the people for the people works.

Their headquarters is a former art gallery on King St. E. They renovated it with supplies from Home Depot and a lot of elbow grease.

The company has just completed its first contract, a citizens' health assembly in Kingston. Its purpose was to set priorities for the region's new health authority (officially known as the South East Local Health Integration Network).

Fifty-four volunteers took part. They came as strangers and left as friends. The vast majority – 97 per cent – found the exercise useful and enjoyable. The regional health authority ended up with a blueprint that reflected the values and wishes of the community.

MacLeod and his colleagues are in Markham this week, discussing the possibility of a citizens' health assembly for the northern section of Toronto, York region and part of Simcoe region (the Central Local Health Integration Network).

But they don't want to confine their activities to the health-care sector. They envisage holding citizens' assemblies on everything from municipal water rates to cross-border pollution.

"I think there's a demand to go beyond polling and focus groups and town hall meetings," MacLeod says. "We want our projects to be seen as the Canadian model of civic engagement."

Citizens' assemblies work best on issues that are politically radioactive, not well understood or stuck forever on a back burner, MacLeod says. "We take participants through a learning phase, a deliberation phase and a consensus phase. We see this as the way to create legitimacy for government action."

Thanks to an angel investor – George Gosbee of Calgary – MacLeod has funding to keep the company going for 18 months. He thinks that will be long enough to prove the model works and find enough clients to make it self-sustaining.

"We have to make a profit because that's the measure of our relevance."

MacLeod was thrilled but astonished when Gosbee, chairman and chief executive of Tristone Capital, agreed to bankroll his "crazy idea." He'd met Gosbee at a speaking engagement at the Alberta College of Art and Design and the two had clicked. But he never expected the investment banker to buy half his company so he could market-test his brainchild.

MacLeod won't say how much Gosbee put in – "it wasn't a princely sum" – but makes it clear he's running the company on a shoestring. He and his colleagues, all of whom have postgraduate degrees, earn $45,000 a year.

For their first few months, they worked out of the living room of MacLeod's apartment with their laptops and cellphones.

They're proud they now have an office and pleased that their Kingston forum is getting good reviews. But they dream of becoming an all-purpose bridge builder between governments and the public, winning international contracts and having their projects copied by other firms.

Participatory democracy is one of the oldest ideas in political theory, MacLeod acknowledges. But it has fallen into disuse in North America. Governments have become distant and impenetrable. Citizens are passive and self-absorbed.

What gives him faith is the answer he gets when he asks people why they don't speak up or get involved. "No one ever asked me."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Participatory Budgeting in Tanzania

This article discusses the participatory budgeting initiative underway in Tanzania. Similar initiatives are under development in several western and southern African nations. -Editor


This article was prepared by Mr. Celestine Kimaro, Research and Development Officer, Association of Local Authorities of Tanzania (ALAT)



The Participatory Budgeting process in Tanzania is a continuous engagement all the year round involving training and sensitization of the communities and local government staff and civic leaders on planning through a bottom – up approach and methodologies such as O & OD and Plan Rep which have been adopted by the Local Governments. Through the process, Plans are initiated and approved through meetings at the Lower Local Government levels, and consolidated into District, Regional and National Plans. Budgeting is also done at the Local Government levels whereby Indicative Planning Figures (IPFs) are provided by the Central Government and this enables the Local Governments to know how much they expect to get from the Central Government and determine what they will contribute from their own sources.

Tanzania has democratically elected leaders with democratic institutions like the Parliament, Local Government Authorities and has the Freedom of Association by NGOs, Faith Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, CBOs and the Press.

The driving force behind the Participatory Budgeting initiative: The Government of Tanzania committed itself to enhance community participation in development planning and budgeting. This commitment emanates from the Constitution which enshrines the establishment of Local Government system as a means to give power to the people, the Local Government Reform Policy which aims at decentralizing powers and resources to the Local Authorities and the amended Local Government Laws which provide the framework for Decentralization by Devolution.


  • To be able to carter for the needs of the communities inclusively – that is considering the needs of all categories in the society such as the gender, youth, elderly, and other vulnerable groups.

  • To address aspects of ownership to the proposed plans and accountability to the successes and failures of this plans by the communities/the people and their localities.

The planning and budgeting process involve and reflect all stakeholders’ interests and priorities and endeavours to develop socio-economically viable plans. Stakeholders are accountable to the public and to each other for their shared decisions and the tasks they have committed themselves to accomplish.

The Participatory Budgeting Process is targeted at the Policy Makers, the Executives, and all other stakeholders in development including development partners and the citizens who are the beneficiaries and the demographic focus being the disadvantaged such as the disabled, women and children.

Participatory Budgeting Tools and Methodologies:

  • The Planning Guidelines for Village and Mtaa levels which are participatory ;

  • The Medium Term Expenditure Review which involves Local Governments and Central Government levels;

  • Opportunities and Obstacles to Development operation manuals in place.

  • Public meetings addressed by politicians and staff on the importance of participatory planning and budgeting initiatives;

  • NGOs and Civil Society Organizations educate the people on the concept and its importance for their development; The press also advocates for participatory planning and budgeting;

  • The National Association of Local Authorities advocate for higher degree of participatory planning and budgeting by the citizens;

Plans are initiated and approved at the lower levels (Village/Mtaa) after which they are forwarded to the Ward level for coordination and then sent to the District/Town/Municipal/City level where they are consolidated and forwarded to the Regional and ultimately to the National level where they form the National Plans.


Despite the various efforts by different actors to sensitize the people on the importance of participating in the planning and budgeting interventions, the degree of participation is still limited by some factors. Some other people still see it as work of the politicians and the executives and that they get paid for that. Sometimes, even the elite do not participate with an excuse of lack of time. It has been very difficult for the poor to participate. Those who attend have been empowered as they precisely know what their priorities are and what their strengths in implementing their plans are.

Monday, May 19, 2008

NIGERIA: Governor calls for Participatory Democracy

In a country plagued by dictatorship, it would be easy for the people to lose hope and allow resentment to overcome their lives. But Nigerians continue the struggle toward development through participatory democracy. Having a high profile ally such as Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu is helpful, but it will obviously be a question of the peoples' commitment to creating an alternative to dictatorship through participation. Please click here to see our previous post regarding a call for participatory democracy in Nigeria through Achebe's literature. Similarly to the following article, Achebe looks toward a positive interaction between intellectuals and rural populations to create a full-circle form of communication that would allow a participatory democracy to flourish. -Editor

Gov Lists Gains of Domesticating Democracy

From Adibe Emenyonu in Benin, 05.12.2008

Niger State Governor, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu has condemned the wholesome adoption of democracy from the developed world , saying the best way for Nigerians to reap the dividends of our nascent democracy is by domesticating it,taking into cognizance the peculiarities of the country 's socio-cultural beliefs . Speaking as a guest lecturer at the foundation day ceremony of Igbinedion University , Okada in Edo state over the weekend, the Niger state Governor advocated a unit based development where the people in the grassroots would be involved in deciding what development projects they want rather than allow politicians to decide for them. Delivering a lecture titled, 'Participatory democracy, an ingredient for sustainable development,' the Niger state Chief Servant said: "Let me emphasize how strongly I share the view that unless we in the developing democracies, are able to systematically evolve a political system that takes account of our socio-cultural peculiarities and characteristics, we run the risk of thinking that the wholesale robust economic and democratic ideas and precepts of the developed world would have the magic wand to solve our development problems. " We thus may be under a dangerous illusion that we are making progress while in the actual sense we may indeed be engaging the reverse gear and be going in the reverse direction, because of wrong application to different settings and environment,” he said. "In other words, we must domesticate democratic principles to take cognizance of excellent values and institutions," he said. According to Aliyu, development must be homegrown, home-made and targeted at improving the lives of the people. He blamed the lack of good governance and the inability of Nigerians to reap the dividends of democracy since 1999 to the non participation of intellectuals in the political system, saying politics was left to charlatans and the unemployed. While commending the progress so far made by the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua which he said could be attributed to the fact that he is an academic, Aliyu who said he was drafted into politics when he was made to resign his job as a permanent secretary, called on Nigerians to hold their elected representatives accountable for whatever development they desire. "Go back to your villages, your wards, your constituencies, and demand from officials or your representatives to account for their activities and you shall by so doing be starting the process of a necessary revolution,"he said,advising that the country's development plans be institutionalized.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Philippines: Cooperativism Promotes Participatory Democracy

Cooperativism in the Philippines promotes participatory democracy, but is impeded by the capitalist environment in which it is attempting to flourish. - Editor

Fortress of Genuine Coops


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

By Ben Sumog-oy
Issues and Views

THE City Government, under the auspices of City Mayor Pedro B. Acharon Jr., is hosting a national cooperative summit by October, this year. About 5,000 participants from every nook and cranny of the country are expected to attend this gigantic gathering of cooperative leaders.

As it appears, preparatory work pieces are now falling on their right places at the right time. In fact, on April 2, 2008, the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among stakeholders for this national undertaking was already undertaken at KCC Mall in General Santos City.

Indeed, this nationwide summit deserves our all-out support. For its part, this corner would contribute to the success of this summit by heightening public discourses on cooperativism, in its bid to crystallize cooperative-related issues. There has been no serious attempt in the past to subject the cooperative movement to judicious social assessment and this is probably the reason for its continuing bastardization.

Thus, as we all wait for the summit this coming October, we find it fit to engage in the continuing distillation of cooperative issues, hoping that we can help build strong fortress for the growth of genuine cooperatives.

So, let us begin this task by, first, clarifying the cooperative's theoretical framework.

Cooperatives, by nature, serve to counter-pose the prevailing capitalist system, regarded as the cause for the continuing destitution and disempowerment of the larger section of society. Their primary purpose is to effect society's immediate humanization and, finally, to facilitate its eventual transformation.

Towards this end, the paramount concern of cooperatives is to help usher the country's transition from its present liberal capitalist state to social democracy and to lead the nation during the precarious period of social reconstruction.

Thus, cooperatives are not regarded merely as business ventures, with a socialized system of ownership and democratic decision-making, but they are largely social movements with indispensable transformative agenda. And they should be so; lest, they give imprimatur to their own destitution and, in the end, write their own obituary.

Cooperatives wither away under a capitalist environment, like we have in this country. Cooperativism is a social concept that finds its nurturance under the system of social democracy, which is mainly characterized by mixed economy but with social ownership of the means of production as the dominant principle defining property relations.

Cooperativism, therefore, is an ideology that propagates participatory democracy as a system for political decision-making; stewardship as a system of property ownership; and collectivism as an operative culture. Thus, we cannot advocate cooperativism while, at the same time, defend, or being complacent against, capitalism as an economic system.

Cooperativism and capitalism, like oil and water, do not mix.

Social democracy is a fertile ground on which cooperatives take their roots, grow and mature. It is also on this ground where they take a leading role in the shaping of the nation's future.

Under social democracy, the role of corporate capital in the overall economy is sidelined and it is forced to conform to the stringent ethics of a humanist system, which considers social justice as an overarching goal.

As previously posited, cooperatives cannot subsist under a social system whereby the ownership of private property is lodged on the state which is controlled by monolithic political party.

In the Philippine setting, cooperatives are considered by extremist revolutionary forces as reformist projects that delay the success of the revolution.

Viewed at different perspective, under the present neo-liberal global order, cooperatives are destined to be bulldozed by tsunami-like fury of corporate capital.

Therefore, unless the cooperatives contribute to the overall struggle for system change, they cannot honesty justify their touted claim that they are working for "social justice and genuine development."
Let us summarize. Cooperatives travel along the center of the political spectrum; they are neither left nor right. They are but a happy combine of humanely efficacious elements from both the left and right. Therefore, they are neither capitalists nor communists.

Cooperatives, therefore, operate outside the realms of capitalism and communist-inspired socialism because they both share a common undesirable character, which the cooperative movement considers as an aberration -- crass materialism.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Widespread Participation in May Day Marches

The impressive compilation of documentation at the Immigrant Solidarity Network source link shown below describes various actions around the country that all took place for worker solidarity on international workers day. While it is inspiring to see so many people taking to the streets in mass demonstrations in order to have their voices heard, this phenomenon also illustrates the inadequacies inherent in our representative democracy. In a direct democracy by contrast, the people's voice is heard and holds real power within the structure of government itself in an organized and legally recognized forum, and the people are not forced to shout their views in the streets in an attempt to be recognized. Until such a direct democratic forum becomes a reality, it is important that all voices be heard by whatever means necessary, and we the editors of La Esquina Caliente salute all those who came out this May 1st, and continue the struggle every day of the year... year after year. Here you will find the messages of the immigrant community, the Iraqi labor movement, and different activists whose voices roared out on May Day. -Editor


May Day 2008 Call to Action!

National Immigrant Solidarity Network

On May Day 2008, National Immigrant Solidarity Network is calling for a multi-ethnic, decentralized, multi-topic and multi-tactic national day of mobilization to support immigrant workers rights.

1. No to anti-immigrant legislation, and the criminalization of the immigrant communities.
2. No to militarization of the border.
3. No to the immigrant detention and deportation.
4. No to the guest worker program.
5. No to employer sanction and "no match" letters.
6. Yes to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 7. Yes to speedy family reunification.
8. Yes to civil rights and humane immigration law.
9. Yes to labor rights and living wages for all workers.
10. Yes to the education and LGBT immigrant legislation.

We acknowledges that there’ll be multiple call to actions from across the country to organize May Day 2008, and each coalition will present their sets of demands. We should respects each other organizing and encourage and supports everyone’s issues:

1) Multi-ethnic, Decentralized and Multi-topic mobilization: while everyone will pledge to support immigrant workers rights at May Day 2007, local groups can choose to includes any other topics for their mobilizations: civil rights, anti-war, Katrina, labor rights, health care…., etc.

2) Decentralized Multi-Tactic May Day organizing: We will encourage everyone to organize their actions at May Day, but will let local groups to decide what they want to do at the day: march, boycott, strike, lunch action, vigil, community event, conference or congressional lobby day, etc.Understanding the connections between our individual conditions of life and the lives of people everywhere in the word allows us to come together and organize across all borders. WE NEED to link the connections between: wars in Africa, south America, Asia, Iraq, Palestine & Korea with sweatshops in Asia as well as in Los Angeles, New York; international arm sales and WTO, FTAA, NAFTA & CAFTA with AIDS, hunger, child labors and child solider; multinational corporations and economic exploitation with racism and poverty at home–then we can win the struggle. Let’s all come together, on May Day 2008, to build a new immigrant rights and civil rights movements!

CLICK HERE to read a May Day statement from the Iraqi Labor Movement

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Citizen Power Councils in Nicaragua: Are the Accusations of Patronage Founded?

With a $230 loan from a local council, Maria Auxiliadora Rivera started a small business making tortillas over an open fire in her makeshift home in Managua.

Questioning the validity of mainstream media is vital to creating a better understanding of struggles for participatory democracy around the world. If one were to read only the first half of this article, he or she would find that Nicaragua is controlled by a communist dictator who manipulates the populace in an effort to maintain power. The language used strikes all negative chords in the psyche of the mainstream consumer of NY Times information and most people would not wade their way through to the very end where the article begins to explain how community councils could be beneficial to the poor and repressed population. Given that it does give some space for this other argument, it can be argued that that the article is not biased. However, the incendiary headline may be the only thing that the average joe reads, and it creates a conception of Nicaragua that is meant to diminish the validity and necessity of creating communal councils as effective agents of community development. When you read this article, obviously consider both sides, but make sure you get all the way through to the end and the important comments by other readers. Please submit any additional information about community councils in Nicaragua that you find to the editors so that we may share it here. -Editor

Nicaraguan Councils Stir Fear of Dictatorship

Source: The New York Times

Nicaragua — The government billboards and graffiti in this sultry city tell a visitor a lot about the ideological battle racking Nicaragua.

President Daniel Ortega Saavedra beams from the billboards, promising “Citizens Power” as a solution to Nicaragua’s endemic poverty. “The world’s poor arise!” the signs say. But beneath the billboards, on walls and benches all over town, others have scrawled “No to CPC. No to dictatorship.”

The graffiti alludes to Citizens Power Councils — or C.P.C.’s. In December, Mr. Ortega established the neighborhood committees, which are controlled by his left-wing Sandinista party and administer antipoverty programs, despite a vote against the plan by the National Assembly.

Mr. Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, maintains that the councils are meant only to let community leaders have a say in where and how government money is spent.

But opposition leaders say the councils are another step in what they call the Ortega administration’s drift toward an authoritarian and secretive government that does not have to answer to the legislature — mostly because the president controls tens of millions of dollars a year in aid from Venezuela.

Some of the president’s opponents charge that the Citizens Power Councils are nothing more than patronage mills, channeling government largess to supporters of the party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Mr. Ortega has made no attempt to hide his desire to make an end run around the National Assembly. He declared last fall that the legislature’s vote against the councils was intended “to deny the right of the people to exercise power” and “to keep ministers from governing directly with the people.”

“It is the people who have the final say on the system they want,” Mr. Ortega declared at a rally on Dec. 1.

Opposition leaders complain the councils smack of similar party-controlled organs in totalitarian governments like Cuba’s, where local committees of party loyalists not only influence who gets government benefits but also spy on political opponents.

“It’s part of a vision that President Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, have to destroy the model of representative democracy and replace it with a direct democracy,” said José Pallais, a Liberal Party leader. “The C.P.C. serve as a fundamental element, a strategy, to control the society, to spy on the people.”

Another Liberal opposition leader, Wilfredo Navarro, defended the Sandinista party’s right to organize political committees but said the president had crossed a line when he gave those committees power over government programs. “Ortega can form his Citizens Power Councils, but he cannot give them the role of the state,” he said. “To pave a street, you have to talk to the C.P.C.”

He added, “It is very clear the state’s money should not be used as an instrument of political blackmail.”

Elías Chévez, a prominent Sandinista party leader who oversees the citizen councils in Managua, denied that the councils showed favoritism in handing out subsidies, though he acknowledged that they were controlled by the party.

In defending the councils, he said past governments had failed to lift people out of poverty in part because neighborhoods and towns lacked local organizations to send aid where it was most needed. He portrayed the critics of the councils as members of a corrupt oligarchy interested only in protecting business interests.

“These people don’t want the population to have a role, to play a part,” he said....

One complaint of the opposition is that the financing of both the committees and the social programs they administer remains murky. Last year, Nicaragua and Venezuela signed a deal that opposition leaders and budget experts say has given Mr. Ortega’s administration essentially a slush fund outside the national budget, worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Under the deal, Venezuela supplies Nicaragua with about 10 million barrels of oil a year, enough to cover all the country’s energy needs. Nicaragua pays half the market price and has 23 years to pay off the rest at 2 percent interest. The deal hands Nicaragua what amounts to a large low-interest loan every month for infrastructure projects and social programs.

But the loans are not reflected in the national budget, since the transactions are handled through a quasi-public company called Albanisa and the state-owned oil company, Petronic. (The treasurer of the Sandinista party, Francisco López, also runs Petronic and is a vice president of Albanisa.) The Ortega administration has never given a full accounting to the legislature of how the money is spent.

“It’s off the books — no institutions, no controls,” said Roberto Courtney, the executive director of Ethics and Transparency, a Nicaragua-based lobby group advocating openness in government. “That’s how the C.P.C. gets its money.”

The network of citizen councils is overseen by Ms. Murillo, Mr. Ortega’s wife and communications director, who is widely seen here as a powerful political figure. She did not respond to a request for an interview.

Each council has 15 members, and each member has a portfolio, roughly paralleling the government ministries. Though members of other parties sit on the committees, a vast majority are Sandinistas.

Among other things, the committees decide which stores will handle the subsidized food program for the poor, which streets will be paved under an infrastructure project financed by Venezuela, which women will receive low-income loans to start small businesses and which farmers will get free cattle, pigs and seeds. They also oversee vaccinations and literacy classes.

Jeannette Suazo, a Sandinista, is the chairwoman of the committee in a Managua neighborhood known as September 14th. She insists that aid is handed out without regard to politics, and she said that her committee had four members who belonged to the opposition party. All are volunteers and get no pay, though some have government jobs, she said.

“We are the communicators between the people and the government,” she said. “It’s easier to solve these problems with an organized people than with a disorganized people.”

On the impoverished streets of Managua, people complain more about the scarcity of government aid coming from the councils than about favoritism in doling it out. Subsidized supplies of beans, rice and oil, for instance, run out long before the lines disappear outside stores, some said.

“They give us too little product for too many people,” said Lidia Urbina, whose family runs the tiny store in the September 14th neighborhood chosen to distribute food. She said the program was not partisan. “There are liberals, Sandinistas, people from all parties, all of them carry off their food.”

Among the poorest residents of Managua are those who live in shanties constructed within the ruins of buildings in the old city center, which was destroyed in an earthquake in December 1972.

Maria Auxiliadora Rivera, 37, lives in a filthy, one-room hut in the ruins with six children and her husband, surviving on a kitchen job that pays $60 a month. She makes tortillas over an open fire against a sooty wall of a destroyed building.

Though not a Sandinista, she said she received a $230 loan recently through the local citizen’s committee to start a business making and selling tortillas on the street. She said the loans were not going solely to Sandinistas.

Still, she said, it would only help her survive, not make a permanent difference in her standard of living. “We are really abandoned,” she said.

Others living in squalid and dangerous structures in the ruins said Sandinista party members and civil servants were getting preferential treatment for units in a public housing development going up nearby, a project financed with Venezuelan aid.

“They are building houses, but only for the people in the party,” said Carlos Reyes Herrera, 46, who ekes out a living collecting cans and bottles. A veteran of the Sandinista revolution in the 1970s, he lives with his wife and two children in a plywood shack among the ruins. “For me, the committees are all Sandinista. They look out for their own.”


The New York Times article generated the following comments from residents in Nicaragua on the Nicaragua Living Website - Editor:


Which comes first?
Submitted by fyl on 4 May, 2008 - 11:42.

Quite sincerely, I don't know whether to be concerned or not about CPC makeup. Four of 15 in Managua being non-FSLN makes it sound like it is not an exclusive club. Maybe it should be 6 or 8 or 10 but, on the other hand, as the CPCs are seen as an "FSLN thing", it is reasonable to expect that others don't want to join.

The income stream issues are, well, more troubling. But, that also has two sides. I know a lot of usanos that don't want the government in the business of social programs. So, CPCs not being the government will be a plus.

All in all, I see the reason for concern but on the ground, the CPCs probably make sense. The government itself is politicized—for example, being an FSLN supporter in Estelí will get you priority with regard to government services. While it shoudn't be that way, the reality is it is, it has been for a long time and it is unlikely to change any time soon.

CPCs are they really a political instrument?
Submitted by nicareal on 4 May, 2008 - 15:43.

I can not speak for other towns but here in SJDS we seem to have a number of them. Every barrio seems to have its own version. I was invited to join the one in our little community. While I was hesitant at first, after the first meeting I realized that the items discussed had nothing to do with politics whatsoever. The discussions centered on how to get everyone to cut their "rondos" and how we get the town to improve the roads. As in most places in Nicaragua, people are more interested in the every day problems than in politics.

Will the CPCs be a strong political instrument? I don't think so.

Thanks for your input, nicareal
Submitted by Daddy-YO on 5 May, 2008 - 12:42.

First-hand accounts are invaluable in putting 'news' in proper perspective.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Como Construir un PSUV Democratico

Ya que el PSUV ha sido reconocido como el partido unido de la Revolución Bolivariana en Venezuela, los lideres del partido siguen buscando la mejor manera de hacer que sea un partido completamente democratico y participativo. Así que todos estan trabajando hacia un proceso organico y unificador del pueblo en la formación del PSUV, y luchando para que el PSUV sea un mecanismo que podrá reformar la politica de Venezuela y eliminar la burocracia que amenaza el proceso revoluciónario. Esta unificación organica de los diversos elementos de la revolución que el PSUV puede proveer creará una frente unida en contra a la burocracia y la oposición. Los autores de este articulo son de esa gente dedicada a la revolucion, la democracia participativa, y un PSUV que permita la participacion popular y la unificacion de gente diversa. Apoyamos todos los esfuerzos del pueblo Venezolano para aumentar la participación de todos en la Revolucion Bolivariana, y el crecimiento del poder popular. - Editor

A modo de evaluación del proceso de construcción y del nombramiento de una Comisión Disciplinaria...

¿Cómo construir el PSUV, si queremos que sea el partido más democrático?


Autor: Gonzalo Gomez
07 de Enero de 2008
Lo que nos ha dicho Chávez al proponer las líneas fundacionales del partido:

En su discurso de Discurso de la Unidad, el 15 de diciembre de 2006, cuando llamó a conformar el PSUV, y en el Discurso del Inicio de la Construcción del PSUV (24 de marzo de 2007), el presidente Chávez emitió algunas ideas sobre el régimen interno del partido y sobre su relación con el pueblo, las cuales aportaron elementos referenciales básicos para su construcción. Entre otros comentarios, el presidente dijo lo siguiente:

"Un partido unido es lo que quiere la revolución.

Propongo que se incorporen a él todas las corrientes de la izquierda venezolana".

Hablando del modelo bolchevique de partido, reconoció el gran éxito que tuvo en la revolución de 1917 y en el nacimiento de la Unión Soviética, pero señaló que "...ese partido sufrió una desviación, la desviación stalinista (...) se desnaturalizó y terminó siendo un partido antidemocrático". Dijo que a consecuencia de esto, la consigna "¡Todo el Poder a los Soviets!" (Consejos de Obreros, Campesinos y Soldados), se convirtió en "¡Todo el Poder para el partido!". El presidente relacionó lo acontecido con

el partido con la conversión la Unión Soviética en "régimen elitesco que no pudo construir el socialismo".

Al referirse al Socialismo del Siglo XXI afirmó que "nuestro proyecto es esencialmente democrático. Hablamos de democracia popular, democracia participativa, democracia protagónica". De la misma manera, refiriéndose al Partido Socialista Unido, dijo que "deberá ser el más democrático de los partidos de la historia venezolana" y que "dentro de él se discutirá, se abrirá el compás".

Sobre la elección de los líderes planteó que "en este nuevo partido se elegirá por la base a los líderes. Eso permitirá que aparezcan los verdaderos liderazgos. Ya basta del dedito, del dedo, y casi siempre el dedo mío... Que sea el pueblo el que tome las decisiones, como está escrito aquí en esta Constitución, desde hace ya siete años, y no lo hemos cumplido. Ya llegó la hora de hacerlo".

Otra opinión que vertió el presidente Chávez es que "un partido nuevo necesita nuevos rostros", porque si seguían "las mismas caras de siempre", las mismas direcciones de los viejos partidos, "¡eso sería un engaño!".

Respecto a la libertad de debate, el 24 de marzo en el Poliedro dijo: "Aquí hay plena libertad de debate y esa debe ser una de las características más profundas del nuevo partido, el debate, desde las bases; no un debate circunscrito a una élite, a una cúpula, a un cogollo. Consulta, participación, protagonismo, debate. Eso sí, cuando se decida, entonces, viene la disciplina. Se decidió esto, bueno yo tengo una visión distinta; pero es la decisión, por ahí tenemos que irnos, porque se trata de una revolución". Chávez plantea que "esa unidad no debe ser burocrática; debe ser orgánica, real, profunda, debe profundizar la democracia revolucionaria". En su discurso, el presidente insiste en que la única forma de ser líder del partido, en cualquier nivel, es si se viene elegido por la base; incluso lo aplica para él mismo: "si no, no debo estar en ningún cargo de dirección".

¿Cómo va la democracia interna en la construcción del PSUV? Algunos comentarios y propuestas Indudablemente, en el seno de los batallones, aunque pueda haber excepciones, y a juzgar por la propia experiencia y por los comentarios de otros aspirantes, se respira un ambiente de libertad de debate. Los aspirantes a militantes están participando y decidiendo, por la base, sobre las discusiones y actividades de los batallones, aunque lógicamente se reciben orientaciones de la Comisión Presidencial Propulsora, que no constituyen en modo alguno una imposición. Lo mismo está ocurriendo respecto a la discusión de la Reforma Constitucional, y esto es, por supuesto, bastante sano.

Tampoco parecen estar ocurriendo, como regla general, aunque puedan existir ciertos casos, interferencias burocráticas de la vieja dirigencia partidista o de funcionarios de los aparatos institucionales del Estado. En algunos batallones donde algo así ha sucedido, por lo común ha sido neutralizado y extirpado por la base que no se ha dejado manipular.

Sin embargo, todavía no se han aceitado mecanismos bi-direccionales suficientemente efectivos para la comunicación entre la base y los miembros de las comisiones presidenciales del PSUV, que vienen impartiendo orientaciones y guiando el proceso de construcción, la conformación de las agendas de discusión, la elaboración y distribución de materiales. De manera que los aspirantes y batallones con aportaciones, propuestas, inquietudes, observaciones o disensos, no sabemos muy bien cuáles son las maneras de que todo eso sea tomado en cuenta. Ahora con la elección de los voceros y comisionados de los batallones, para la constitución de las Circunscripciones Socialistas, la elección de delegados al Congreso y la participación en el mismo, esto se debería canalizar mucho mejor.

Las Circunscripciones Socialistas, como expresión de los batallones que les dan origen, deberían discutir la manera de conducir el período precongreso y el congreso para garantizar que todos tengamos derecho a presentar y difundir nuestras opiniones, posiciones y propuestas, así como las criticas y los desacuerdos cuando así sea el caso, no sólo verbalmente sino también mediante documentos que circulen en el PSUV, además de las garantías para defenderlas en todos los ámbitos del partido en formación. De manera que las Comisiones Presidenciales deberían retroalimentarse y abrir más la participación en este período, ya que todos tenemos ideas sobre cómo ir estructurando el partido.

Esto también es válido para el caso de la Comisión de Disciplina que fue nombrada por el presidente Chávez a raíz de declaraciones y actuaciones polémicas de Ameliach, de varios diputados y de algunos propulsores nacionales. Es algo que se ha discutido muy poco en los batallones, pero que no debe suceder al margen de la base y además puede tener un impacto significativo sobre el futuro funcionamiento del PSUV, sobre el régimen democrático con que se le pretende dotar.

Sin tener ningún punto de concordancia con Ameliach y aún pensando en la falta de pertinencia de sus declaraciones, es legítimo preguntarse: ¿Con qué criterios se evalúa o se imponen sanciones, cuando no hay estatutos ni un marco político formal, que será tarea del Congreso Fundacional? ¿A quién corresponde la potestad de conformar esa comisión en un partido que aspira a una democracia participativa y protagónica de su base? ¿Quién es elegible para integrar la comisión con equilibrio, probidad e imparcialidad? ¿Qué papel hemos jugado el resto de los aspirantes y los batallones en la toma de esas decisiones? ¿Por qué no se han hecho reparos a otros dirigentes cuyos nombres se han visto involucrados, públicamente o en preocupantes rumores, en casos de corrupción, negocios contrarios a los preceptos socialistas y violaciones de derechos humanos? Todo esto debe ser revisado a la luz del concepto de "democracia y ética revolucionaria".

En torno a la discusión de la Reforma es muy importante que el llamado a su defensa no pase por encima de la reflexión crítica y la conveniencia de estimular los aportes y observaciones de los aspirantes. Las declaraciones y señalamientos de algunos líderes y parlamentarios chavistas crean cierta atmosfera hostil hacia los cuestionamientos aunque provengan del campo revolucionario. En el PSUV hay revolucionarios, hay gente del pueblo, hay dirigentes del movimiento sindical, hay líderes campesinos, hay líderes de comités populares y de consejos comunales. Debe haber plena libertad para que aporten todas sus ideas dentro del PSUV, y en la discusión pública, con el objeto de al presidente le llegue el resultado de la participación democrática y protagónica de su partido, que no se limita a apoyar, sino que también puede enriquecer, fortalecer o incluso proponer modificaciones a la propuesta.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

South Africa: Participatory Approach to Mining

The following article proposes a system of neighborhood councils and direct democracy to improve conditions for South Africa's 493,000 strong mining labor force. - Editor

Anarcho-Syndicalist Strategy for Africa: Mining Industry Council

by Blackstone Wednesday, Apr 2 2008, 1:31pm


South Africa is particularly rich in mineral resources and is one of the leading raw material exporters in the world. Rightly so, South Africa can produce all the minerals necessary for her economic independence. Gold, diamonds, platinum, chromium, manganese, uranium, ire ore and coal make up 60 % of it's main exports. The country is also number one globally in exporting platinum, chromium, vandium and manganese. Africa is also the world's largest gold producer. It has enormous gold ore reserves representing 40% of global reserves.

However, 95% of South Africa's gold mines are underground operations. Declining grades of the mines and the increased depth of mining and a shift in the gold price, costs for these operations had begun to rise and as a result production has been steadily falling. The gold mining industry is the largest sector of mining industry. It constitutes around 60% of South Africa's mining labor for.
As of 2007, the South African mining industry employs 493,000 workers.

In 2005 the total gold production was 294,671 kg, the total iron ore production was 39.5 Mt, the total chromium production was 7.59 Mt, the total manganese production was 4.61 Mt, the total platinum production was 302, 000 kg, the total coal production was 245 Mt, the total diamond production was 15.8 million karats.

Working conditions

Mine workers are under-paid and over-worked. Declining grades of mines and increased depth of mining as lead to an increase in workplace injuries and deaths. Issues of mine safety received increased scrutiny during 2007, in large part due to multiple worker deaths. During 2006, 199 workers were killed during workplace accidents, and 191 have been killed during 2007. Around 200 workers die yearly in South African mines. One incident on October 4 2007 resulted in 3,200 workers being trapped for several hours.


Ultimately, class, racism and capitalism are at the root of most of the problems in South Africa. Capitalism is a society that is divided by class and is dominated by the corporate community and upper class. The working class thus consists of all the people in society who do not own property and therefore have to sell their labor power - the ability to do work- to a boss in order to earn a living.

The interests of the working class are fundamentally opposed to the ruling elite - the corporate community and upper class. The companies must seek ways to make profits, even at the detriment of their employees, the very people who are responsible for creating their wealth.

Disregard for safety precautions aids capital by continually accumulating profit, yet it hurts the working class, specifically miners, who suffer fatal injuries in high numbers. Cuts in wages and refusal to accommodate union demands for wage increases, further harms the working class by lowering their standard of living at the expense of increased revenue for mining companies.
The working class therefore has a direct interest in improving all aspects of the mining industry, whereas capital does not. The solutions lie within the working class since it's success is in its best interest.

Is There an Alternative?

Anarchist-Syndicalist and libertarian communist theory holds that the best people to run an industry are the workers and users of that service. Worker safety is held hostage to profitability and bureaucracy. Rather than private ownership and a monopolization of decision making roles by owners and managers, public ownership of the means of production through a decentralized system of federated workers and neighborhood councils would prove far superior. These councils would act as channels to allow participants to exercise direct democracy and gives ordinary citizens the ability to control their own lives.

Strategy to Get Us ThereThere are many different tactics that can be utilized to the bring increasing power into the hands of South African miners. Fighting for an increase in wages, shorter working hours and improved working conditions ensure a more efficient and happier workforce, while at the same time, increasing class consciousness and working class militancy. Miners must self-organize to demand these rights and be prepared to take direct action to hit the corporations where it hurts the most, their bank accounts. Direct actions such as mass rallies and protests with the support of the community and strikes would be ways to achieving these ends. The key is strengthening rank and file organizations of miners and creating mass organizations in neighboring communities that will struggle alongside these worker controlled groups. This is as anarcho-syndicalist theorist Rudolph Rocker notes, as creating "not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself"; that these self-managed organizations embody the structure of a future society.

Sala kahle (Stay well in isiZulu)