Liquid Democracy

I, like an ever decreasing number of my fellow Australians, am a frustrated member of a mainstream political party.

In the usual run of affairs being a member of a political party involves three modes: being ignored, being used or just plain being pissed on. The common thread running through all three modes is that you are the pawn of some ‘great’ man (let’s face it they usually are men) using you to maintain their own control of the chessboard and ‘win’ the game.

I had an insight into the sorry state to which political activity had descended recently. As a member of the executive of my local branch, I invited each of the party members who had decided to stand for local government in the upcoming elections to come to our next branch meeting. It would be an opportunity for candidates to talk about their values and vision for the local area, and maybe put in an appeal for electoral help. None of them have bothered to attend. While the candidates themselves were relatively polite about it, not one of them prioritised the branch meeting. None. Zero. Nada. Turning up to a branch meeting just did not matter enough to any of them.

On the other hand, I volunteer with a community campaign against as massive and monstrous proposed development in my area. We’ve held a number of demonstrations, made it onto the television news a few times, are fairly regularly reported in the local papers, and have an email list that is greater than 10% of the population of our suburb. And because the campaign is not partisan, deals and meets with political leaders from a number of parties. The community campaign is treated with a lot more respect. Why? Because it has power. Joining a political party does not give you political power though, it gets you treated like a pawn.

Representative democracy is in crisis because it no longer represents anything but corporate profits and personal ambition. Unlike many activists, for me the Australian Greens are not the answer. Memo: if you just want to replace the bastards you’re probably going to end up becoming one in the process. On a crisis of this scale, it’s a fair contention that the problem is structural rather than based on personnel. An absolute monarchy is still an absolute monarchy no matter who is King or Queen. And so representative democracy is still representative democracy no matter which party occupies the so-called centre-left field.

What’s needed is a different way of organising ourselves based on the technology we have at hand. That’s why the Pirate Party in Germany is so fascinating to me. It comes to its policy positions through a process called liquid democracy. It’s liquid because it refers to democracy as a naturally flowing process where the actors themselves choose where on the democratic continuum they sit on any given matter from full on directly participating in a debate through to delegating that vote to another actor. I think the following chart from the Spiegel online best shows how the process flows:

The ingenious part; it uses contemporary technology to arrive at policy positions in a democratic fashion in a way that not only minimises the cost to the host organisation (be it political party, trade union or NGO) but actually builds its membership and resources. See people like us actually have an incentive to join and participate because our views will be listened to for a change.

For some further background reading about this topic I’d recommend this article, and this blog post.

When the choices we are faced with appear at first unenviable, there’s usually something else lurking in the background.

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4 thoughts on “Liquid Democracy

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful post Godfrey.

    I agree with you about the problems and disempowerment associated with electoral politics, juxtaposed to the strength that often comes from organic community/union campaigns.

    I suppose when one joins a political party, they are making a tactical decision about how to best enact their values and champion a set of broad principles. People with the same values will make a different tactical/partisan decisions based on their own context at any point in time.

    Unfortunately, joining a political party is always a compromise because you will never agree with everyone in that party. But when the party becomes structurally broken and verges on undemocratic (as I think you are maybe describing in frustration), one has to wonder: what’s the point?

    I think a challenge for progressives everywhere is to look for ways to get around formal partisan divisions and to unite likeminded thinkers outside the electoral process, and in this way you are right to highlight community campaigns that can exert power and bring people together. The problem comes when looking to identify a comprehensive program as opposed to chasing a number of random ambulances. Not sure what the answer is there. Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. Nice comment. Kind of reminds of the original definition of communists as like-minded comrades in diverse areas of life and even political parties.

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