Category Archives: The Folkmote System

The case for anarchism

Anarchists imagine and are attempting to create a society based on three principles: freedom, equality, and solidarity. They believe that freedom in a society based on voluntary association rather than coercion is essential for the full flowering of human intelligence, creativity, and dignity.

If freedom is essential for the fullest development of individuality, equality is necessary for genuine freedom to exist. There can be no real freedom in a class-stratified, hierarchical society riddled with gross inequalities of power, wealth, and privilege. In such a society, only a few – those at the top of the hierarchy – are relatively free; the rest are semi-slaves. “Equality of opportunity” under capitalism is meaningless, since there can be no real equality of opportunity for the children of a millionaire and those of a minimum-wage worker.

The final essential is solidarity, which for anarchists means mutual aid: working voluntarily and cooperatively with others who share the same goals and interests. Solidarity and cooperation means treating each other as equals, refusing to treat others as means to an end, and creating relationships that support freedom for all. To practice solidarity means that we recognize, as in the slogan of the Industrial Workers of the World, that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” We sink or swim together, and by standing together, we can increase our strength and attain our goals.

For anarchists, freedom is individuals pursuing their own good in their own way, making decisions for and about themselves and their lives, and being responsible for those decisions. As Rudolf Rocker wrote, freedom doesn’t exist because of something “granted” or “set down on a piece of paper, but only when it’s become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair it will meet with the violent resistance of the populace.” Anarchists support the tactic of “direct action,” for, as Emma Goldman argued, we have “as much liberty as we are willing to take.”

An anarchist society will be non-coercive – violence or the threat of violence won’t be used to “convince” individuals to do anything. It will be non-hierarchical. And it will be self-governed by confederations of decentralized, grassroots organizations operated by direct democracy rather than the delegation of power to “representatives.”

Contrary to popular belief, anarchists aren’t opposed to structure or organization; they simply want to abolish hierarchical structure and avoid situations in which “leaders” or “representatives” have more power than others. Anarchist organizations build in accountability, diffusion of power among the maximum number of persons, task rotation, skill-sharing, the spread of accurate information and the sharing of resources. For most of human existence, people have engaged in self-directed organization – cooperative forms of economic activity involving mutual aid, free access to productive resources, and a sharing of the products of communal labor according to need. Anarchists don’t advocate going “back to the Stone Age;” they just note that since the hierarchical-authoritarian mode of organization is a relatively recent development in the course of human social evolution, there’s no reason to suppose that it’s somehow fated to be permanent. Similarly, anarchists don’t think human beings are genetically programmed for authoritarian, competitive, and aggressive behavior. On the contrary, such behavior is socially conditioned, or learned, and as such, can be unlearned.

Anarchist organization is based on direct democracy (self-management) and federalism (confederation). These forms of organization ensure that decisions flow from the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top down. We can start to create an anarchist society by the way we act here and now, building alternative institutions and relationships. When there’s a need to put someone in charge of a project, the group can tell him or her how they want it done, so that nothings gets done without everyone’s decision. Delegates acting against their mandate or starting to make policy decisions on their own would be instantly recalled. Thus, in a confederation of communities, the community assemblies’ decisions would determine policy at local, regional, national, and international conferences. Any compromises made by a delegate during negotiations would go back to his or her general assembly for ratification. Assemblies would also be able to call confederal conferences to discuss new developments and inform action committees about changing wishes and instructions. Finally, the basic community assemblies could overturn any decisions reached by the conferences and withdraw from any confederation.

Only this form of organization can replace government (the initiative and empowerment of the few) with anarchy (leaderlessness: the initiative and empowerment of all). Free agreement, confederation and the power of recall, fixed mandates, and limited tenure are mechanisms by which power is removed from the hands of governments and placed in the hands of those directly affected by decisions taken. That this kind of organization can work was demonstrated during the 1930s by the Spanish anarchist movement.

A true anarchist society would be based on free experimentation, with different individuals and groups picking the way of life that best suits them. Those who seek less technological ways of living will be free to do so as will those who want to apply the benefits of technologies they see as appropriate. Similarly, those who want to live in a money-less society in which resources are shared according to need can do so, while those who want to exchange goods market-style can live that way. (Truly free markets don’t exist under the government-supported system of capitalism.)

Our current governments support nation-states and wars, failing completely to include citizens in most life-and-death decision-making and forbidding them from coming together to create needed global policies.

On the question of violence, most anarchists support it only in defense of life and freedom. Although the violent acts of individuals and terrorist groups receive the most publicity, states and governments are by far the major perpetrators of mass terrorism and violence.

For more, see “Anarchism” under the Possibilities heading.

(Note: Some of the above was taken from the website.)




Should we defend the Occupy sites?

This morning I direct your attention to an editorial entitled “Should the Occupiers Stay or Go?” by Rick Salutin in today’s Toronto Star. Salutin says, “The Occupy movements have largely become dramas revolving around the excellent question posed by The Clash: Should I stay or should I go? It’s become a story about a place. Some, like London (Ontario) are gone. Others, like London (England) are on notice. Occupy Wall St. is gone but it’s back, in a different form. We’ll know about Occupy Toronto, apparently, tomorrow. But it’s possible that this is the wrong question. Let me offer another view based on a recent visit to Madrid.

The 15-M movement began there last May 15th with a protest held in Puerta del Sol square over the economic crisis that became an overnight occupation. When it was dismantled by authorities, a conflict ensued over whether they would stay or go. A month later, when they finally went, it was by choice. One veteran of 15-M (there are no leaders) said: ‘It was a strategic move that led to the survival of the movement.’ Almost happenstantially they had evolved another preference: to fan out into districts of the city (and elsewhere in Spain) and conduct regular meetings with local residents. These then forwarded proposals to a weekly assembly held in the square.

If you wander around Occupy sites, like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, as I did this week, you often see signs saying, Join Us. It’s hard to imagine many of the people who pass by and warily eye the huddled tents, doing so. The Madrid option in a way is the opposite. It’s: Join Them. Go into your neighborhood, try and talk with your neighbors, different as they may be from you. Listen to them as they talk to you and each other.

This is different from a campaign to simply carry the Occupy message (99 per cent versus 1 per cent, etc.) out to ‘the people.’ Some organizers of the Occupy movements, according to the New York Times, are heading in that direction: ‘trying to broaden their influence by deepening their involvement in community groups.’ But there’s a difference between trying to make a point (the organizers quoted by the Times) and trying to engender a social phenomenon (15-M). It’s the difference between trying to win an argument, and focusing on the process of discussion itself, in the hope that something transformative might emerge. ‘We are going to create a new social category,’ says one 15-M participant, the aim of which is not to convince people to vote a certain way or embrace particular views: ‘It’s simply a widening of the political landscape.’

A new layer of political process wasn’t 15-M’s agenda at the start. It came to what you could call its democratic emphasis gradually; the stress on process emerged from the process. It was never called an Occupy movement, so it had the advantage that its very name didn’t press it to stay where it was born.”

A similar phenomenon, that some friends and I have been discussing and are putting into action, involves elements of “the people” forming affinity groups based on location, workplace or work situation, or any other common interest, which meet to talk about needs and problems, and send spokespersons to connect with other groups – at Occupy sites or elsewhere. The public space we/the Occupy movement are claiming, using, and defending doesn’t have to be specific and permanent, day after day, month after month – though it can be for those who want to try to make it so. The same or other public spaces can be used periodically to connect groups who want to communicate with each other and to provide regular focal points for community meetings. At the same time, Occupy and other websites – some yet to be created – can provide virtual meeting places, offering discussion forums, interactive maps showing community resources, and needs/offerings listings of goods and services available for gift or barter.

The important thing is having the conversations, “widening the political landscape,” considering alternatives to the current, unacceptable system, and creating a new one by using this respectful, democratic, and inclusive process. We’re learning the ways of a better world already. It’s here now. “We make the path by walking.”




A way for everyone to be heard in the Occupy movement

Wanting to do more than just write and talk about the Occupy movement, I’ve been thinking I should go to one of the General Assembly meetings of our local group, (anticipating the frustration I’d probably feel as one of 200 people trying to be heard has kept me away so far). I told my friend J. I thought there should be some system of meeting in smaller groups (like the talking-stick circles I’ve mentioned before on this site) that could then send a representative to a similarly small group at the next level. The next day she sent me a link to a post on our local Occupy website about the Folkmote system, apparently a “cultural universal” until industrial capitalism started taking over more and more of our lives and world.

A few days later, J., C., and I went to a meeting at a downtown park at which Warren Weisman, a local proponent of the system, explained it to about 20 interested people. He said the folkmote system extends the natural trust and cooperation found within tribal groups to voluntary 20-30-person groups of family, friends, and neighbors who see each other on a regular basis and like and trust each other. The groups make decisions by consensus and, when appropriate, send representatives to adjacent or “higher”-level groups. Federated groups are organized in a wheel rather than a hierarchy, with the original groups on the outer circle and intermediate groups on spokes leading to a central hub. The “federated communities are responsible for all public services and manage all aspects of village life.” Folkmote members are “bound together by an unwritten, voluntary mutual aid agreement: ‘When you are in need, I will come to your aid; when I am in need, I trust you to help me; and I agree to meet my own needs to the best of my ability.’ Groups can be territorial, work-related, or based on any other interest or affinity, and, ideally, an individual would be a member of more than one group.

A folkmote system can also be organized quickly in a large group of strangers by asking people to move to a group associated with their favorite color, then to a group associated with their favorite fruit. Folkmote is a “robust system in a catastrophe, government distributed down to the neighborhood level.” We would all benefit by taking more responsibility at the local level for meeting needs, but – barring catastrophe – we can take as much time as we need to do this, just as the nonviolent nature of the Occupy movement allows us to take our time.

The basic meeting discusses who needs what and who has surplus to share. In the Cairo Tahrir Square movement people used this system to defend and care for their own neighborhoods. “Leadership comes up from below, and everybody has a say,” Warren told us. “It’s like you’re constantly plugged into craigslist. It’s community building – building trust up over time.” He gave the following historical examples of folkmote organizations: medieval guilds, the Committees of Safety and Correspondence in the original 13 colonies, the Paris Commune of 1871, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and the Zapatistas. He added, “We’re all already in one or more of them. Who do you call on in an emergency?” Interestingly, according to Warren, Occupy Wall Street is switching from the General Assembly format to a spokescouncil, a localized folkmote. (“Folkmote” means “a gathering of ordinary people.”)

Warren mentioned that Marx had anarchist Mikhail Bakunin kicked out of the 1st International because the latter was against strong centralized leadership and believed people could govern themselves best. The folkmote system and mutual aid are inherent in anarchist theory and practice, as is decentralization in all spheres (decentralization militates against takeover by a minority or conquest by an alien force). Anarchist Peter Kropotkin advocated decentralized food production, as have many concerned about “energy descent” and/or economic collapse. Warren reminded us that anarchy doesn’t mean “chaos;” it means “replacing government with self-organization.”

Thinking again of the Occupy movement, someone asked, “How do you keep solidarity?” and Warren answered that there are no guarantees, but that organizations moving in the same direction could form common “fronts.”

J., C., and I plan to talk to our neighbors – maybe by inviting the closest ones to a purely social event – and others interested in sharing or bartering resources. (See also your local freecycle list – ours can be found by Googling “Freecycle Eugene.”)

I thought it was interesting that halfway through Warren’s presentation we had to move to another area of the park, because a noisy group of about 20 tough-looking young adults, mostly male and some passing a marijuana pipe, started congregating near us. People just naturally form into groups.

To summarize, I quote from a letter Warren wrote to the editor of our local weekly paper prior to our meeting. “I hope the Occupy Wall Street movement maintains its beautiful, diversified, vibrant anarchist roots and doesn’t become just another worthless reform movement. Representative democracy is inherently vulnerable to corruption and needs to be replaced with something better. Like the mutual aid societies people have lived in since Paleolithic times…where everyone has a say in government and we can be responsible for our own administration and public services at the neighborhood level, even in the biggest cities. Where there are work-at-home and cottage industry opportunities for people to not have to be wage slaves. A system that can never be hijacked by any self-appointed ‘superior’ minority.” In the same letter, Warren notes that the Occupy movement is ‘propaganda through deed,’ though more nonviolent than earlier American anarchists, shut down by the government, along with anti-war protestors and ‘Wobblies’ (member of the International Workers of the World) during World War I.

Warren said our local Occupy movement didn’t seem that interested in switching to a folkmote system right now, but if others organized that way they could send representatives to the local General Assembly meetings and ask to form committees, if appropriate, with the local movement. I’ve also recently experienced great responsiveness via e-mail from local Occupiers to a site suggestion I made, and have yet to explore all the possibilities of using our local Occupy website.

To be continued…

P.S. Re: ‘propaganda through deed’ and the Occupy movement, a local Occupier told a university official that the movement isn’t “camping;” it’s occupying. (Our local group is currently occupying an area owned by the state university.)