mandated, recallable delegates

I was just thinkng about the traditional anarchist decision making structure, i.e. federation of local groups where.

  1. You have an agenda (to which all groups can contribute) circulated among the groups.
  2. Each group makes up their mind on the issues, and mandate their delegates to a conference
  3. The delegates meet and vote as they have been instructed by their groups.

It seems to me that there is a flaw in this scheme, because it has to carry out two tasks, which are irreconcilable within this framework:

  1. Giving everyone a direct and equal influence on decision making.
  2. Facilitating deliberation and compromise between, as well as within groups.

In order to fulfil fuction 1, the delegates have to vote EXACTLY as they have been mandated, otherwise they arre usurping the power of those who elected them.

However, in order to fulfil fuction 2, delegates from each group have to be able to discuss issues as if everything is on the table, and to alter each others views. Otherwise what is the point of a meeting - if everything has already been decided, the groups might might as well just communicate their decisions to each other electronically, on the phone or through some sort of internal bulletin.

So I propose a slightly different system (although somebody else has probably already come up with it), which combines inter-group deliberation with direct democracy.

  1. You have an agenda (to which all groups can contribute) circulated among the groups.
  2. Each group makes up their mind on the issues, and mandate their delegates.
  3. The delegates meet and discuss the issues at hand, initially representing the views of their group, but then throwing the discussion open. The meeting is purely deliberative (appart from agreed admin tasks upon which delegates may or may not be issued binding mandates).
  4. The delegates return to their local groups, and report on the discussions at the conference, giving the local group the benefit of the views and arguments of other groups. Conferences could easily be recorded on tape etc. as well.
  5. Following these reports, each group discusses and votes on the conference proposals, making up their mind for a final decision.
  6. They communicate their vote results to the other groups, and they are published on an IB. For example, the post conference IB might read:

    Proposal 1: to recall the national secretary

    Liverpool: 15 for, 12 against, 0 abstain
    London: 12 for, 12 againt, 3 abstain
    Worcester: 10 for, 12 against, 0 abtsain.


    37 for
    36 against
    3 abtsain.

    How's that for a proposal? I think it sums up what people like Kropotkin were saying when describing the role of delegates in an anarchist society, based on:

    "free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, and by congresses at which delegates met to discuss well specified points, and to come to an agreement about them, but not to make laws. After the congress was over, the delegates [would return] . . . not with a law, but with the draft of a contract to be accepted or rejected."

Posted By

sam sanchez
Sep 4 2007 11:41


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Joseph Kay
Sep 4 2007 12:50

depends on the importance of the decision i guess. a quicker method for less important ones would simply to be looser mandates, 'we think x, but will settle for y' - of course if locals talk to each other in advance objections and entrenched positions can be anticipated and mandates given accordingly

David in Atlanta
Sep 4 2007 19:34

Once upon a time I was a delegate for the local council of a none-political movement. If, for instance, I carried a proposal to the council from my home group, we'd discuss it and the delegates would take it back to their respective groups then come back for a vote. If there were counter-proposals or amendments this could go on for some time but stuff got decided eventually. We had an issue about our local office carrying literature some of the groups didn't approve of. Went round and round for several months.

If a crisis arose of some sort, the delegates were entrusted with what was called "right of decision" to vote without consultation or mandate but those were rare and the delegates knew they'd best be able to give their respective groups a sound explaination for the vote.

Sep 5 2007 00:38

the contradiction is real. the problem is that strict mandates are inconsistent with collective deliberation. you want the delegates from the different groups together because their perceptions may differ, considerations you hadn't thought of may be voiced, and then there can be some give and take and proposals developed that respond to the new information and the different opinions expressed.

the way to make this consistent with direct democracy is to require, at least for important or controversial decisions, that proposals developed via meetings of delegates be sent back to the local groups for discussion and vote there.

Nov 4 2007 19:44

Yeah ParPolity tries to fix this problem too. It notes.

5.4 These delegates would be charged with trying to reflect the actual views of the council they came from. But they would not be "mandated": that is, they would not be told "this is how you must vote," for if they were then the higher council they were attending would not be a deliberative body. In fact, the delegates could then be easily replaced by a computer message relaying the sentiments of the lower council.

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