Collective Decision-Making and Supervision in a Communist Society – Moshe Machover

10 October 2009

in Articles

Moshe Machover, a founding member of Matzpen, and specialist in the mathematical theory of social choice, has written a lengthy manuscript on “Collective Decision-Making and Supervision in a Communist Society.” (He explains his use of this latter term as follows: “with the collapse of ‘official communism’, there has been a growing tendency to reclaim the former terms and use them in their older sense as in the Communist Manifesto and Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme. I am happy to go along with this semantic shift and actively promote it.”)
Here we post only the conclusion of his study, which summarizes his main points. For the full text, along with an extended technical appendix, please download the PDF version of the complete manuscript, copied with thanks from ZNET.


Concluding remarks

The foregoing discussion is not offered as an attempt to draw up a definite constitution for a future society of which we have no actual experience but only a hopeful projection. Nevertheless, I believe that discussing such matters now, albeit tentatively, is by no means a waste of time. Historical experience shows that many key ideas were originated and discussed theoretically well before they could possibly be implemented.

Also, discussion of various aspects of a future better society is at the same time, at least implicitly, a critique of the present social order: whose exploitative basic process is disguised as the operation of impersonal inexorable forces, and whose repressive and authoritarian mechanisms are barely cloaked under a thin mantle of curtailed democracy and confined freedom.

Yet, in order for a discussion of an imagined society to be of real future and present use, it must not indulge in naïve illusion and insouciant utopia. So, while no detailed decision-making arrangement proposed above should be taken as more than a purely tentative suggestion, I do insist on stressing some sober considerations.

First, a future communist commonwealth will not be a state of nirvana, nor will it run mostly on automatic pilot, with just the occasional light touch on the tiller. Its material and intellectual processes will be both complex and dynamic, requiring a very great number of intelligent social decisions at various levels of society, from the micro-local to the global. Most of these social decisions are likely to be about matters that today would be considered ‘managerial’ or ‘economic’ and are either made privately or not made consciously but left to impersonal ‘forces’.

Second, no human society can run like an ant colony, where each individual is almost an automaton, without an independent mind, but where sophisticated social decisions are made by a collective intelligence that has evolved over many millions of years. Humans are individuals with independent (albeit socially conditioned) intelligence; they are often contrary and sometimes bloody-minded. Moreover, not all human conflicts and interests are class based, and even in a classless society there will be conflicting interests, opinions and tastes. These will have to be resolved by decision-making whose structures and processes are efficient, transparent and fair. And the implementation of decisions will have to be supervised systematically and methodically.

Third, direct decision-making must play an important but restricted role. Due to the very large number of decisions that will have to be made at various levels, only decisions at the lowest (local) level and a small proportion of decisions at higher levels can be made directly by a meeting or referendum of all concerned. The vast majority of decisions at higher levels will have to be made by elected councils of delegates or assemblies of representatives.

Fourth, a pyramidal structure of councils on its own is inadequate, because it is too indirect and fails to satisfy some important principles of democracy, namely those concerned with individuals’ rights, equality and empowerment. This does not mean that the council structure must be abandoned; but that it would need to be combined with a countervailing structure in order to resolve the tension between collectivism and individualism.

Fifth, a communist commonwealth will allow and promote methods of decision-making and election that are not feasible in today’s anti-egalitarian society but only under conditions of material equality.

Communism does not mean abandoning liberal democracy but superseding it by transcending its limitations.


For the full text, along with an extended technical appendix, please download the PDF version of the complete manuscript, copied with thanks from ZNET.


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