The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy by Murrary Bookchin
Manifesto of Real Democracy: The Guide to Liberty, Equality — and Survival by Democrates
The Social Smart Contract by Democracy Earth
War and Peace in Kurdistan by Abdullah Öcalan
Most of my reviews are based around my reading of a particular book, but this time I wanted to take some time to think about a variety of texts that I’ve been reading lately. If you read my last review, I talked about an indie leftist manifesto that I didn’t really agree with. But since then, I’ve read more and more about the idea of direct democracy and democratic assemblies, and I’ve come to rethink my positions around the idea.
My ideas were first really changed after reading the collection of essays by Murray Bookchin titled The Next Revolution. This compilation of his works brought forward his main ideas of communalism, a political philosophy advocating for the communal pooling of resources by local councils that are democratically governed through people’s assemblies. Bookchin’s communalist theory draws from a variety of libertarian, socialist and anarchist ideas to complement his environmental philosophy social ecology. In this book, he presents a convincing argument that the only way to truly combat the environmental crisis is to radically change the paradigms of our society. Bringing people more in touch with their local communities and resources.
It is these ideas that I think the Manifesto of Real Democracy, which I reviewed last time, drew their inspiration from. After researching this area more thoroughly, the ideas presented in this manifesto echoed much of the work established political theorists, such as Bookchin, had brought up for years. Although my intellectual interest in these ideas has shifted, I think the manifesto demonstrates their point in a much less convincing matter. Not to mention the intellectual dishonesty of presenting democratic assemblies and direct democracy as a unique synthesis of their own ideas.
So what does this mean? I have been overcome with an intense fascination with these systems, studying and learning more about them wherever I can. However, I still have a strong faith in parliamentary democratic systems, as noted through my work on Democracy Kit. Especially in Canada, the unique combination of the three branches of government, the executive, legislative, and judicial, have demonstrated to be extremely effective; leading to some of the world’s highest standards of living, low levels of corruption, and leading the world in human rights and equality. Nonetheless, just because our current system works relatively well, does not mean there are not areas where it can improve.
I think implementations of direct democracy can radically change the relations between people and government. And I think our current societies can benefit from a hybrid system of the two. Direct democracy throughout history was limited because of the growing scale of human cities and nations. There were simply too many voices to take into account to have “town halls” or “people’s votes”. However, new technologies have the potential to overcome this limit.
I’ve been extremely fascinated by Argentine Santiago Siri and the Democracy Earth group. Earlier in 2017 they released a digital book on Github titled The Social Smart Contract. It is a fascinating volume outlining their plans for using blockchain-based smart contracts to create scalable, direct democratic systems. I see huge potential for this organization to demonstrate direct democracy in all different kinds of political systems and industries.
Can corporations become more democratic? Can political decisions become more democratic? Will the people be able to truly influence the political landscape in the direction they want? I think Democracy Earth’s peer-to-peer voting technology has the potential to bring direct democracy into the 21st century.
Another specific experiment in democratic governance is happening Northern Syria right now. The Turkish writer Abdullah Öcalan wrote in War and Peace in Kurdistan, as well as in his other works, about the idea of democratic confederalism. A unique system of politics that draws a lot from Bookchin’s communalism. After the withdrawal of government forces in northern Syria and inspired by Öcalan’s work, three cantons in this region gained de-facto autonomy as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria or in Kurdish “Rojava”.
This region is an extremely interesting political project where people live according to local democratic councils that elect equal parts men and women, and are conscious to represent different ethnic groups such as Kurds, Arabs etc. It is extremely fascinating because some of the ideas presented by Bookchin and Democrates that I mentioned earlier, are currently being implemented in this corner of the world. Despite clashes with ISIS and Syrian Islamist rebels, the DFNS continues to endure. It shows that this type of society is potentially politically viable.
I think these two projects can make us rethink the way our current world is structured. I hope we can learn a lot of lessons as they continue to navigate this increasingly fractured and difficult world.
I think a lot of people get hung up on the idea that these political theories initially stemmed from anarchist or socialist or libertarian schools of thought. To many, these words have been stained by popular culture and consciousness. I do not identify as any of these ideologies, but I am a person eternally fascinated by all aspects of political culture. I think we should take some time to truly reflect on all ideas, despite the preconceived notions we often bring to the table. I think these ideas, and their current experiments in exploration, can teach us so much about path forward. And I hope that the work of activists and politicians around the world move society in a better direction.
Is direct democracy feasible or realistic or even safe? I’m not sure. But I think its intellectually dangerous to only entertain our current parliamentary/republican system as the only system that can work. I think experimenting with novel forms of democracy will enable us to move forward as a society.
I can see a hybrid system of the two. Where elected officials represent and govern on most issues at the national scale, democratic and egalitarian councils work at the local scale in a “town hall” style, as well as using peer-to-peer voting to control issues of national interest. My current thinking of this hybrid style would blend the strengths of both systems, a true evolution of the way we think about and interact with democracy.
I guess we’ll just have to see where the world takes us.
 I would like to note however, that I am aware of the allegations of human rights abuses by Turkey and Amnesty International that concern the federation’s militia, YPG. I do not in any endorse these actions if they are true. My fascination with the society is simply because it represents a working political system apart from the world dominant republican/parliamentary systems.