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by John Spritzler

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One of the main features of voluntary federation as a principle of democratic government is that only egalitarians (those who support no-rich-and-no-poor equality and mutual aid, regardless of whether they have ever even heard of the word "egalitarian"*) have a right to be members of the Local Assembly of Egalitarians and only such local assemblies can make the laws that all people in the local community must obey. Is this feature consistent with the idea of democracy, or not?


At first it may seem inconsistent. After all, in the United States laws are made by representatives elected by all eligible voters and, except for having to be at least a certain age and having to be a citizen (and in some places having to be a non-felon), there are no other restrictions on who can vote. Democracy, as we have all been taught in school, means that EVERYBODY can vote because EVERYBODY--rich and poor alike--should have an equal say in determining government laws and policies.


The standard conception of the meaning of democracy is that it is a way for everybody--rich and poor alike--to resolve their differences (by agreeing on what government laws and policies should be) peaceably with everybody having an equal say. (Whether the method of resolving these differences is by a system of majority-rule or consensus or some hybrid, and whether the method is by electing representatives or direct democracy with town meetings is all secondary to the core, standard, meaning of democracy.)


The problem, as discussed in this article (click here), is that this standard meaning of democracy is based on a big misunderstanding. In real life, when there is a fundamental conflict of values among people in a society (such as whether there should be slavery or not, or whether there should be class inequality or not) then the way the decision is made is always by a contest of force. The side that prevails is the side that brings to bear the greatest force (including violence) or the credible threat of such force against the other side.


A fundamental conflict of values is, by definition, a conflict in which neither side will willingly surrender to the other no matter who has a majority or wins the most votes, etc. The question of slavery in the United States was not settled by a vote in Congress, and was only settled by the Civil War's outcome, precisely because neither side would willingly surrender to the other on this question. There was no lack of democratic procedure available to resolve the conflict--there were elections and a fully functioning representative democracy (at least for white males). But the conflict was a fundamental one (even just among white males, not to mention black people and the slaves themselves), and hence could not be resolved peaceably no matter how perfectly the U.S. Constitution purported to make the United States a representative democracy (a.k.a. a republic). When it comes to resolving a fundamental conflict, there is no such thing as a "democracy of all the people" (meaning a system that resolves all conflicts peaceably with everybody having an equal say.) The standard meaning of democracy (being of "all the people") has no relation to the real world and is simply misleading.


In the United States today we have extreme class inequality. The conflict between those who want class inequality and those who don't is a fundamental conflict. The minority who want class inequality have prevailed, but not because they won a vote. When was the last time anybody was even able to vote on this question? The majority, who oppose class inequality, never agreed to accept the outcome of class inequality. On the contrary, the majority who don't want class inequality have accepted it only because the minority has brought to bear overwhelming force or the credible threat of force against people who try to reduce the harshness of class inequality: police attack striking workers if they actually try to block scabs from crossing their picket lines; police drag a fired worker away from the worksite if he or she does not leave willingly; the police likewise drag a tenant out of their home if they can't afford to pay the rising rents caused by gentrification; the national guard or the 82nd Airborne Division will, if it should ever be necessary, be ordered to attack working class people who dare to lay claim to own the vast industrial and agricultural property that the rich claim to own;  etc., etc.


The reality, in other words, in the United States today is that only those who support class inequality are permitted to make the laws. Politicians who don't support class inequality are not permitted to enter the legislature in numbers sufficient to pass legislation making class inequality illegal. Big Money is confident today that by controlling the mass media and by bankrolling the political parties (and by rigging votes and threatening individuals with violence when necessary) it can prevent the electoral process from making class inequality illegal, even though most Americans would LOVE it to be illegal. But if Big Money ever felt that it could no longer control the outcome of the electoral process sufficiently to prevent it from making class inequality illegal, then Big Money would change the "rules of the game" and, if necessary, impose its dictatorship of the rich without any longer trying to make it seem as if it was "the will of the people."



Democracy, in reality, can only have meaning if it is understood to be a means by which people with shared fundamental values peaceably resolve their conflicts over NON-fundamental disagreements with everyone having an equal say. This is the meaning of democracy that is not based on a misunderstanding.


The democracy that egalitarians need is one that enables us to cooperate in shaping society by our shared egalitarian values of equality and mutual aid. This is genuine democracy. There will, for a certain amount of time at least, be people in society who strongly disagree with these egalitarian values and who will do whatever they can to prevent society from being shaped by them. (Recall that the slave owners after the Civil War continued to fight violently against the Reconstruction laws that gave blacks the right to vote and hold office, and in the end they overturned those laws and made Jim Crow the law in the South.)


There is no good reason to invite the declared enemies of egalitarianism to partake in writing laws that egalitarians (and others) must obey. If, because of a misunderstanding about democracy, we did invite the enemies of egalitarians into the local assemblies of egalitarians, then we would have debates in these assemblies about WHETHER we should shape society by egalitarian values, not HOW. This would open the door to legitimizing the view that we should NOT shape society by egalitarian values. And this in turn would make it easier for the enemies of egalitarians--the proponents of class inequality--to impose on society a fake democracy like the one that we have today--a fake democracy that is actually a dictatorship of the rich.


In practice, very likely in most communities the overt enemies of egalitarian values, if any, would be well known and not allowed membership in the local assembly of egalitarians. All others who agree that the local assembly of egalitarians has legitimate law-making and law-enforcing power would be welcome in the assembly. If it became clear that an individual in the assembly was strongly opposed to egalitarian values, however, the egalitarians in the assembly--for the reasons discussed above--would have every right to tell that person to leave the assembly, and this would be perfectly consistent with the principles of  genuine democracy. For further discussion of this, read "What Makes a Government Legitimate?"

The Rich, Of Course, Call This Egalitarian Democracy "Totalitarian"

Some object to the exclusion of anti-egalitarians from the local assemblies of egalitarians. They say that is wrong, that it's "totalitarian" and "anti-democratic" and so on. These same people would, according to their wrongheaded thinking, declare it wrong for a fire department to exclude arsonists, or for workers in a union to exclude the bosses.


These people fail to realize that an egalitarian government--just like a fire department or a labor union--is an organization with a purpose. The egalitarian government's purpose is to shape all of society by the egalitarian values of no-rich-and-no-poor equality and mutual aid. People who oppose its purpose should not be invited into it. It's the same reason that the capitalist owners and their management agents who oppose a labor union's purpose (to make the conditions of work good and safe and pleasant for the workers, not maximally profitable for the capitalist owners) are not allowed to attend labor union meetings. It's the same reason known arsonists are not allowed to be part of a fire department whose purpose is to prevent, not start, fires. It's really that simple. It has nothing to do with being prejudiced against people who are rich. In fact some rich people ARE good people and in an egalitarian society they would be welcome to participate in the egalitarian government (but not allowed to remain richer than ordinary people) as I discuss here and here.


* In most communities, such people (egalitarians whether they've heard that word before or not) are the vast majority.



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