Is it a good idea to form a political party for a participatory society? When I say this, I am talking about a political party whose goal is to implement the structures of Participatory Economics (parecon) and Participatory Polity (parpolity) if elected to government. It would also use the ideas of parpolity and parecon to form policy and make decisions (as much as is possible in a representative democracy system) while not elected to government.
Would it be just another party, bound to the arbitrary whims of its leader? Would it be able to maintain guidance from its grassroots, or spurn them if it got close to forming a government? Would it remain true to its principles or cast them aside in a bid for power? I believe I can propose a structure (based on nested councils) that can help the party maintain its principles and always listen to its constituents, eventually becoming a force for change. That is, if the party can be formed in the first place.
What is a Participatory Society?
Briefly, the party would be dedicated to implementing the structures of parecon and parpolity. Parecon is an alternative economic system. In a parecon everyone would have the right to vote on workplace decisions and work in a balanced job complex, where everyone has a mix of tasks. All workers would have an empowering task to perform, as well as a rote one. Workers are paid according to effort and sacrifice. Goods and services are allocated via a participatory planning procedure, where workers and consumers propose what to consume and produce for the coming year. The conclusion of this democratic planning procedure sets prices for a year. More information about parecon can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
In a parpolity, laws are made by a nested council structure. All voting citizens attend local council meetings of 20-50 people. These councils have complete autonomy on matters that affect only them. Each local council sends a delegate to a higher level council until the higher level is full. The higher level councils send a delegate each to the next level councils. This is repeated until all citizens are represented. Each level council has complete autonomy over issues that affect only it. A court system mediates disputes over whom gets to vote on what issue, and provides a check against the tyranny of the majority. Any law passed by higher level councils is easily challengeable via referendum. Delegates are bound to state the wishes of their sending council to a higher level council, but may vote as they wish. Delegates are recallable by their sending council. More information about a parpolity can be found at http://www.zmag.org/znet/
I propose that a political party be formed to advance the cause of parecon and parpolity, taken together they should form a Participatory Society, as long as proper attention is paid to kinship and community spheres as well. I have called the proposed party the Participatory Democracy Party (PDP). The goal of the PDP would be to implement a participatory society in the country it exists in. The PDP would be governed by a nested council structure just like in parpolity. However, some modifications are necessary to shoehorn the nested council structure into a representative democracy system.
I propose that candidates for election, and elected candidates of the PDP, be controlled by the nested council system of their riding. Any policy adopted, any position on an issue, any vote the candidate makes, must be approved by the councils. The candidate would be a part of the highest level council in her or his riding, and be answerable to the council. Unlike in a parpolity, there is no way, even if a candidate is elected, to give a local council the autonomy it would have under parpolity. However, local councils can still send delegates to higher level councils, and can challenge any policy adopted by the candidate council. Also, candidate councils would have to seek and take direction from the local councils. Referendums on policy can easily be called for if the candidate councils are reflecting popular will on contentious issues. This should make it feasible to maintain a grassroots policy for the PDP, since the structure is based on using grassroots support to do anything.
If more than one PDP candidate is elected to government, the candidate councils of these ridings will have to be merged by sending more than one delegate to the council that advises the elected PDP candidates. If an issue only affects one riding and not the others, the candidate council for that riding has complete autonomy over that issue and can dictate to their representative as they wish, but for issues that affect more than one riding, a merged council will have to decide, with input from all the nested councils, including ones that did not field an elected candidate. Ridings with unelected candidates can send a few delegates to the merged councils. Hopefully this will not involve too much traveling for council members. I have spelled all this out in my proposed constitution, which can be seen at http://pardecparty.org.
Why create this party? For one, a few candidates might win in an election or the PDP might even form a government. Forming a government should basically transform the country into a full fledged participatory society, given the power governments have. Getting one or a few candidates elected would popularize the ideas of a participatory society a great deal, particularly in the elected riding, where people would be invited to join the PDP and really participate in their government for the first time in their lives.
Even without getting a candidate elected, a political party is a potentially powerful organization. It can popularize the ideas of participatory society by legally putting up signs during an election. Also, candidates have an excuse to make speeches and introduce the ideas of participatory society. Advertisements can be broadcast, doors can be knocked on, and booths can be set up. All of this can be done because the election provides an excuse.
Furthermore, a party can serve as a means to organize related activist issues, both during and in between elections. The party would collect membership fees, which can be used to purchase infrastructure like office space, computers, printers, contacts, etc. People interested in participatory society can use the party and its resources as a means to support other worthy causes, and to organize their own priorities for social justice. Anyone employed by the party would have the benefit of working in a balanced job complex. A party can also aid businesses that wish to implement the balanced job complex model.
Years ago, I helped found the Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective, the first activist group (to my knowledge) whose goal was to advocate for participatory economics and other aspects of participatory society. Basically what we did was give talks. Unfortunately, there was, and is, little else to do. We wanted to influence others to think about parecon and parpolity, and hardly anyone knows what these words mean anywhere on earth. Thus, the first priority was to let people know that these alternatives exist. So we gave talks, and we still do. Other things to do were to try to start a business that used to parecon model. This is difficult for people with little time and other means of income, so it was never attempted. We talked about things like trying to influence credit unions to adopt a balanced job complex model for its workers. We tabled events, we tried to influence other activist organizations to look at the parecon model, we screened movies (guess what, we gave a talk after) and we brought in speakers to do, guess what? Give a talk.
Beyond giving talks, projects like starting a business, influencing credit unions, unions, and other institutions are daunting tasks. They are very difficult tasks for a small, unpopular group like the Vancouver parecon collective. A political party has potential to grow to a popular and powerful enough organization with enough members to facilitate these tasks. Forming a political party is, as far as I can tell, easier than these other projects (but still requires work).
This is not to disparage our efforts or the efforts of any other organizations that have been created since we formed. Rather I seek to point out the limitations of such groups. It is wonderful that small groups like the Chicago Area Participatory Economics Society, the Austin Project for a Participatory Society, the London Project for a Participatory Society, the groups in Sweden, Greece, UK, Balkans, etc exist in the first place (sorry if I missed anyone). It is an important first step that activist groups exist. However, their very structure limits what they can do, compared to the opportunities provided by a full fledged political party.
In short, the point right now for a parsoc activist is to get the word out. The way to do this that will give the greatest result for activst investment in time and energy seems to be to form a political party.
There are a few problems that might crop up for a PDP. For one, if a candidate is elected and disagrees with her or his marching orders from the councils, she or he might decide to become independent of the councils instead of being their mouthpiece. Of course, the candidate would not be popular with PDP members. This problem might be resolved by entering into a legally binding contract between the PDP and the elected candidate. If there are legal repercussions, it might make it that much harder for the candidate to jump ship.
Another problem is that in a proper parpolity, local councils have autonomy over decisions that affect only themselves. Since elected representatives of ridings have limited power over the affairs of their own riding, local councils will have little power over local issues, and even the candidate councils will have limited power over their riding.
The bane of progressive political parties is that, when close to power, they can sell out. They lose contact with the wishes of their everyday supporters. Would the same thing happen to a PDP. It’s impossible to predict, but if a PDP keeps its structure intact, it certainly has a better chance than, say, the green party.
How difficult is it to form a party? In Canada, where I live, forming a party to run for office in my province of British Columbia requires seventy five signatures (from one riding), two people willing to serve as party officers (one of which is financial officer), a dedicated bank account, a telephone and fax number a hired accountant to perform audits, and a bunch of forms to fill out. To run in a federal election, 200 signatures and similar requirements are needed. If there are a few people willing to work, the party can be formed without that much headache. I still haven’t found another person in Victoria, Canada (where I live) that is intersted in this. If I do, I’m pretty sure that a candidate can be run in the next provincial or federal election.
Please contact me through Znet if you wish to discuss or debate this idea.