On the Possibility of Democratic Institutions

Just read this stimulating piece by Murray Bookchin.  I am a sucker for all things Spanish Revolution (even the old one ;-)).  I like the challenge he offers us libertarian-anarchist leaning folks not be content with a rejection of power.  He insists that we not hope for a world without power, but think how we can “give power a concrete institutional emancipatory form.”  The question, he argues, “is not whether power will exist but whether it will rest in the hands of an elite or in the hands of the people.”

I think I am happy with my approach to this problem, which is that we should accept that power and institutions cannot be eliminated, and we should reject the idea of a perfect society at the end of history, but we shouldn’t think of power “resting” anywhere, at a fixed point.  Rather we must perpetually struggle to democratize ourselves, our institutions, and our society.  Bookchin seems to be unconcerned about the dangers of the workers surrendering the power they had won to a plenum, to an institution that would rule them with their own power.  In that case, the power would not rest in the hands of the people, but in the plenum.  Those are real dangers, even if the plenum is not the same thing as the liberal bourgeois state.  It is an important problem, one we are likely to struggle with for a long time.


2 thoughts on “On the Possibility of Democratic Institutions

  1. Doesn’t the very idea of power imply an act of exclusion. Deleuze and Guattari are quick to point out that systems of power are defined more by what escapes them than what they control. Thus, if power truly rested in “the people,” (a term you, being versed in Ranciere, are probably skeptical of) as an aggregate of all bodies, some deterritorialized flow is bound to escape. I think, then, that the de-centered locus of power needs to be pushed further, beyond molar aggregates. I side with D&G that any kind of mass democratization must take place at the level of thought; however, accomplishing this is even more difficult a struggle than your proposed solution.

    • I don’t think there is very much difference between D&G, me, and what you say. My proposed way forward would certainly involve pushing the decentering of power further, all the way through the wall and into the new land. And it would also mean a process of widespread democratization at the level of thought, though not so much a mass one as a rhizomatic one that grows and spreads. That is why Bookchin’s criticism of the Spanish events offers an interesting challenge…

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