let it all collapse, the icon for the www.punkerslut.com website
Home Articles Critiques Books Video
About Graphics CopyLeft Links Music

Delegation,
Not Representation

On the Practical Methods
of Anarchism for
Decentralized, Anti-Authoritarian
Organizing

By Punkerslut

By Breakfast, From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: By Breakfast, From RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: March 9, 2011
Finish Date: March 10, 2011

All About Delegation and Representation as Social Organizations

"Now I don't want to be misunderstood. I am not pleading for any form of arbitrary or unreasonable authority, but for a public conscience as a rule of action: and by all means let us have the least possible exercise of authority. I suspect that many of our Communist-Anarchist friends do really mean that, when they pronounce against all authority."
          --William Morris, 1889
          "Socialism and Anarchism"

     Delegation and Representation are rarely ever presented as opposing theories of social organization. In fact, the phrase "delegate" and the phrase "representative" are often used interchangeably, as though one is essentially the other. The technical definitions, however, give them the same role, while doing so within different limitations.

     Both hold the responsibility of presenting the interests of the people that they are said to "represent." But, the delegate has no essential power, can make no agreements, can give no orders, can pass no laws, and can be recalled by the voters of the group at any time for no reason at all. The representative, on the other hand, does have power: to pass laws, to give orders, and to ignore the public's demand for their removal.

     Delegation is a system of social organizing where a single person, or more likely a group of people, are chosen to represent their interests. These delegates present the demands of their people to those whom they interact with. After working out a contract through one-on-one with the representatives of another organization, it must be ratified by a majority vote before being accepted by their group. This style of organizing has often existed throughout labor unions: they have chosen workers as delegates to temporarily represent their interests in collective bargaining; they did not give them the authority to make any decisions for the whole.

     Representation, however, is quite an opposite system. The similarity of the two can easily be seen in its form: by picking out some person to "represent" the group, with or without authority, that group is essentially picking out a leader, even if their leadership is just with words and not coercion. This is where the similarities end, however, as the representative acts like a king elected for a term. They do not need to ask for the will of the people when making any decision, whether it's a declaration of war or a submission of the land and its inhabitants as slaves to another power. This is a typical style of social organizing found within politics, whether in the political party or in congress: it is organized from the top to bottom, with power at the top, as opposed to delegation, organized in the reverse manner.

From PeaceLibertad Blog
Image: From PeaceLibertad Blog

An Introduction to Jean Jacques Rousseau

"When, among the happiest people in the world, bands of peasants are seen regulating affairs of State under an oak, and always acting wisely, can we help scorning the ingenious methods of other nations, which make themselves illustrious and wretched with so much art and mystery?

"A State so governed needs very few laws; and, as it becomes necessary to issue new ones, the necessity is universally seen. The first man to propose them merely says what all have already felt, and there is no question of factions or intrigues or eloquence in order to secure the passage into law of what every one has already decided to do, as soon as he is sure that the rest will act with him."
          --Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762
          "The Social Contract, or the Principles of Right," Book 4, Chapter 1

     The concept of delegation may seem as though it were just an expedient: it is known largely as a tool of organizing within unions, so as to prevent one leader from exploiting the majority. However, rarely do people understand that Jean Jacques Rousseau, author of the Social Contract in 1762, did advocate representation in the early chapters -- and, by the end of the book, was wholly opposed to it and in favor of delegation. This view of Enlightenment philosophy is rather different from the established theories of political philosophy in universities and textbooks. Such institutions try to view thinkers like Rousseau as complete, whole, non-contradictory, but these mere delusions of the majority of academic officials.

     "...in the presence of the person represented, representatives no longer exist," Rousseau writes in chapter 14 of book 3, after writing hundreds of pages about the centralized role of the legislative body in society. It seems like there was a small addendum he wanted to add to his theory of governing, by stating that at the moment the people ruled for themselves without masters, "...the jurisdiction of the government wholly lapses, the executive power is suspended, and the person of the meanest citizen is as sacred and inviolable as that of the first magistrate." (Same chapter.) He even goes so far as to take unusual interpretation of Roman politics, that favorite topic of Enlightenment writers: "The consuls [kings] were in them merely the presidents of the people; the tribunes were mere speakers; the senate was nothing at all."

     But Rousseau is not considered an Anarchist thinker -- Bakunin went so far as write an essay against him, titled, "Rousseau's Theory of the State," and libraries of the Anarchists in Spain, particularly those of the CNT-FAI, typically excluded all material from the Enlightenment era. [*1] Instead, Rousseau is considered a moderate Republican by the herds of professors, teachers, and historians. His few ideas about philanthropy, a social state, civil liberties, and a limited government always get underlined in the books covering European history. And yet, they truly seem so ignorant of his thought.

     It is somewhat ironic that they're so ignorant about Rousseau. This is exactly what he says about history teachers in general. He points to how teachers show Machiavelli's Prince to be a work encouraging tyranny and brutality, but then points out "the contradiction between the teaching of the Prince and that of the Discourses on Livy and the History of Florence shows that this profound political thinker has so far been studied only by superficial or corrupt readers." (Book 3, Chapter 6, Footnote 23) Likewise, it seems appropriate to say that the few academic philosophers who studied Rousseau are, in fact, superficial and corrupt. Further speaking out against the system of political representation, Rousseau wrote in chapter 15 from book 3, buried deeply in abstract ideas of humanity and life far from the reaching eyes of dishonest readers...

"Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot be represented; it lies essentially in the general will, and will does not admit of representation: it is either the same, or other; there is no intermediate possibility. The deputies of the people, therefore, are not and cannot be its representatives: they are merely its stewards, and can carry through no definitive acts. Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void is, in fact, not a law. The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose them.

"The idea of representation is modern; it comes to us from feudal government, from that iniquitous and absurd system which degrades humanity and dishonours the name of man. In ancient republics and even in monarchies, the people never had representatives; the word itself was unknown. It is very singular that in Rome, where the tribunes were so sacrosanct, it was never even imagined that they could usurp the functions of the people, and that in the midst of so great a multitude they never attempted to pass on their own authority a single plebiscitum [a law made by the common people]."

     And from this, teachers of history and political philosophy today will say, "Rousseau supported the style of government we have today." Such is the expected character of the lying class. Naturally, a typical lecture from some university professor would interpret the social contract as one between the individual and the society, expressed through elected government. Rarely are they honest or educated enough to rightfully conclude the theory of representative government, "And this system basically rests on the slavery of the masses."

     Nor would it be fair to accuse Rousseau of favoring Capitalism. Many thinkers of his era were beginning to question the alternative of Capitalist property to Feudalist property. Thomas Paine, Thomas More, and Thomas Spence are a few names who cover this trend. But Rousseau, far just casting a curious and disapproving eye on Capitalism, was actually able to exactly define it. Worth more than any selection from Karl Marx, and on only chapter 4 of the Social Contract, he wrote, "...a man who becomes the slave of another does not give himself; he sells himself, at the least for his subsistence..."

     Equality of economy, likewise, was going to come about through equalizing the power of property. From chapter 9 of book 2 of the Social Contract, "...it is almost impossible for any one to preserve itself except by putting itself in a state of equilibrium with all, so that the pressure is on all sides practically equal." But, perhaps he lays out the theory of exploitation far more effectively in Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, written 1754...

"...the bonds of servitude are formed merely by the mutual dependence of men on one another and the reciprocal needs that unite them, it is impossible to make any man a slave, unless he be first reduced to a situation in which he cannot do without the help of others: and, since such a situation does not exist in a state of nature, every one is there his own master, and the law of the strongest is of no effect." (First Part)

     Jean Jacques Rousseau, that brain-child of republicanism and "representative" government, was far more rebellious than historians will allow. Then again, when you read popular descriptions of Enlightenment philosophy, you have the hunch that you're reading about a book by someone who has never read it -- someone who has only read what others have said about it, and so on, and so on, such that the description laying in the textbooks today has no relationship to the truth.

From PeaceLibertad Blog
Image: From PeaceLibertad Blog

The Problems of Representation, the Solutions of Delegation

"Are the governors such exceptionally gifted men as to enable them, with some show of reason, to represent the masses and act in the interests of all men better than all men would be able to act for themselves? Are they so infallible and incorruptible that one can confide to them, with any semblance of prudence, the fate of each and all, trusting to their knowledge and goodness?"
          --Errico Malatesta
          "Anarchy"

     Delegation, in contrast to representation, stresses that the purpose of the delegate is instrumental. The delegate acts like a rubber belt connecting two gears; they are simply a tool for the exchange of force and influence between two greater bodies. They are not the component that creates or directs force, but only act only to guide it. The relationship of the delegate to the organization is like one of a secretary. Naturally, delegates are often just called secretaries, or the more popular, "secretariat." They are in a relationship where they take their direction from the whole -- not where they direct the whole.

     Representation is the opposite. It is a system where the representative who presents the interests of their people is in full power. The delegate is seen simply as a means for directing the ideas of one group to another. It is something that can be fulfilled by anyone The representative is someone who makes the decision of what ideas the group should have altogether. It is something that requires political parties, party elections, general elections, campaigning, and an exquisite ability to measure the honesty and integrity of the candidates.

     When a society prospers or suffers, blame or praise always go to the organizing force that directed it. Within Delegation, that blame or praise goes to the common people, who must live with their mistakes, or be elevated by their willingness to change. Within Representation, that blame or praise goes to the politician, who is so far removed from the people, that whether they're guilty or not won't change the situation the people are in. One system focuses on the people as the guardians of their own welfare; the other focuses on a single person to be the guardians of all.

     There is more to it than simply stating that the Delegate can make no decisions and stating that the Representative can make decisions. Both of these systems have developed their own institutions for encouraging either the Authoritarian or Libertarian trends as they see fit. Within Delegation, for example, a delegate can be removed at any time, for any reason and for no reason. Since they are simply the carrier of the group's demands, it is for the group to decide who is best at any moment for this purpose. Removing a delegate, then, is like reworking the positions of the laborers in the factory -- a purely technical matter.

     The Representative does not have this fear, however, of "Recall." The Representatives of nations, from Germany to Russia to the United States to France to Britain, have always plunged their people into wars, concentration camps, and forced labor -- and yet, one could be assured almost, that such miserable conquests never would have started, if these were simple delegates, and not representatives, of the people.

     The Representative was elected, whereas many delegates some delegates are elected and others are chosen by random ballot. At the start of one of these imperial wars, like the Boer War or any number of the Moroccan Wars, the representative had survived party elections, regional elections, and finally, a national election. Imagine if one of their voters said, "Actually, we don't like your ideas now, and we want someone else to carry our interests to other nations, because war is not our interest." The representative could point to a thousand courts that would stand up for them and a million soldiers with bayonets for anyone who would still disagree.

     By establishing the Representative as an essential, permanent fixture of the social organization, the people lose their right to recall their leaders. In fact, they lose their right to recall the social organization altogether. After all, the Representative who provokes a foreign nation into war is acting fully within their rights -- they were selected by the people to make decisions for the people. If a Delegate, on the other hand, were to insult a foreign power and threaten military force, they would quickly be recalled from their position. As the delegate's purpose was only to carry the group's message, such an exchange would be as easy as moving skilled machine operators from one part of the factory to the other. It would be a purely technical matter -- not one based on politics, laws, and representation.

     Just imagine for yourself the different mindsets of a representative versus a delegate when bargaining with a foreign group. The delegate is fulfilling a basic job of presenting and defending the ideas that have already been decided by the group. Their creativity only enters into it in the art they use to debate, their will only insomuch as the force with which they push their demands. In this role, the delegate is unambitious, as ready to get through with the work of negotiation as any secretary is to be done with their job. There's no point in trying to establish any definite relationship with the position. If you seem like you're abusing it, you'll be recalled, and even if you just get used to it, you'll probably be recalled, because the people will always be curious if they can get more honest deals by having more different people in the deal room.

     Now imagine the mind of the representative who holds the capacity of representing their society, and imagine them at the bargaining table with those representing other groups. Whatever the outcome of the negotiation, good or bad, the blame or praise is going to be placed on the shoulders of the representative. This representative was the guiding and directing force of society, and the merits of the agreement reflect the representative, rather than the society being represented.

     Thus, the representative behaves more like a person than the role in which are fulfilling. What they gain or lose at the bargaining table they must carry back home to their domestic affairs. The delegate is unconnected to their role as negotiator, presenting demands and arguing for their people, in as predictable and natural a fashion as a secretary filing a report. The representative must deal with their pride, their ego, and the revered place among their own people as much as that among all varying groups. The delegate is a clerk filing papers, the representative is a player at a poker game. One is naturally disinterested and powerless except for their people's consent, the other is aggressive has the power of command over many.

     Naturally, the system of delegation should arouse the interest of anyone interested in social harmony. In terms of every social issue, from war and peace to work and economy, the system of delegates seems far preferable to that of representation. It fits within Anarchism, because in a world with every organization based on delegation, there are no laws and no enforcement of laws -- there are only mutual agreements and the upholding of these agreements. There are no leaders and there are no treaties; there are only secretariats and voluntary cooperation.

By Punkerslut
Image: By Punkerslut

Delegation in Relationship to Anarchism

"The cooperative workers' associations are a new fact in history. At this time we can only speculate about, but not determine, the immense development that they will doubtlessly exhibit in the new political arid social conditions of the future. It is possible and even very likely that they will someday transcend the limits of towns, provinces, and even states. They may entirely reconstitute society, dividing it not into nations but into different industrial groups, organized not according to the needs of politics but to those of production. But this is for the future."
          --Mikhail Bakunin, 1866
          "Revolutionary Catechism"

     Some may be opposed to delegation for an altogether different reason. In many ways, it seems like the essential structure of society has been left in tact: a handful of people, from a larger group, presents their ideas and interests to a handful of people from another group. Phrases like Socialism and Anarchism must involve images of people taking to the streets, burning down the government buildings where property deeds are stored, and distributing the industry and land to the workers themselves. In contrast, there isn't much of anything glorious sounding in a style of organization that's based on secretaries, reports, referendums, and mass meetings.

     It is certainly true that Delegation is just an empty frame. It can apply to things as minor as a union organization or things as significant as national organization of natural resources. By being used by even traditional unions, and even socially-uninvolved scientific and professional associations, Delegation doesn't seem so revolutionary. But, in this, it have yet have some value. It is a simple, direct, clear, and understandable way of how society will work in Anarchism.

     Every organization, from the worker-managed industries to the community-organized neighborhood associations, will be based on delegation in its internal and external cooperation. "But how will society be organized without leaders?" one might ask, and after a brief description of Delegation, they are certainly to find some appeal in it. In its simplicity, the method of Delegates assumes no more than is needed, and it provides the best reply of "how society will work" without authority, government, or laws. Anarchism truly represents so much more than just Delegation, from worker self-management to abolishment of all top-down social institutions, but Delegation would fit as the skeleton to give this body form.

     Similarly, the type of progress that can be made through promoting Delegation initiatives seems limited. Imagine if a law were passed that required the public to vote on it before the president declared war against another nation or involved the military in foreign operations. It is something that would certainly be regarded as a great step forward, in terms of peace, democracy, civil liberties, and non-hierarchical social organizing. But I could hardly hear someone crying, "Ah, anarchy, at long last!" If every single institution in society were based on delegation, then might be able to claim that in triumph -- but such a change would require at least the Social Revolution.

     Friedrich Engels has provided his own peculiar and well-remember objections to Delegates in favor of Representatives. To quote him from an essay written in 1872...

"When I submitted arguments like these to the most rabid anti-authoritarians, the only answer they were able to give me was the following: Yes, that's true, but there it is not the case of authority which we confer on our delegates, but of a commission entrusted! These gentlemen think that when they have changed the names of things they have changed the things themselves. This is how these profound thinkers mock at the whole world." ("On Authority.") (See my critique of Friedrich Engels for a more thorough treatment of his ideas.)

     Engels is funny in this way. His entire argument, from the beginning in 1840's to the end in the 1890's, was that society would be different if Communists and not Capitalists owned everything. He never entailed any changes in how society would work, but only that the new Capitalists, the new managers and owners of capital, should feel that they're Communists inside -- that is, Engels didn't even challenge the form of Capitalism, but only offered a replacement for its ruler. When looking at the system of Delegation, where the form has been changed so that there is no authority or power, he remarks that we have only renamed things. But this is the typical justification of tyranny: how anything resembling Democracy is either impossible or undesirable.

     The Anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin, in contrast to the doctrinaire Marxists, completely supported the system of Delegation. To quote him in his description of this system, from 1892...

"To-day, when groups scattered far and wide wish to organize themselves for some object or other, they no longer elect an international parliament of Jacks-of-all-trades. No, where it is not possible to meet directly or come to an agreement by correspondence, delegates versed in the question at issue are sent to treat, with the instructions: 'Endeavour to come to an agreement on such or such a question and then return not with a law in your pocket, but with a proposition of agreement which we may or may not accept.'" ("The Conquest of Bread," Chapter 3, Part I.)

     The use of delegation was drawn out through so many organizations. Even the great Capitalists, in working together to oppress all of humanity, are organized in regards to each other as in the form of delegation. This is curious, then, that Engels, and the followers of Engels like Lenin and Trotsky, would talk about how workers need to establish a dictatorship, just like the Capitalists. Actually, the Capitalists are in a dictatorship against the common people -- in regards to each other, however, they appear to be rather Democratic, which has assured them a high degree of strength in maintaining their position. To quote Peter Kropotkin again...

"Railways were constructed piece by piece, the pieces were joined together, and the hundred diverse companies, to whom these pieces belonged, came to an understanding concerning the arrival and departure of their trains, and the running of carriages on their rails, from all countries, without unloading merchandise as it passes from one network to another.

"All this was done by free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, by congresses at which delegates met to discuss certain special subjects, but not to make laws; after the congress, the delegates returned to their companies, not with a law, but with the draft of a contract to be accepted or rejected.

"There were certainly obstinate men who would not he convinced. But a common interest compelled them to agree without invoking the help of armies against the refractory members.

"This immense network of railways connected together, and the enormous traffic it has given rise to, no doubt constitutes the most striking trait of our century; and it is the result of free agreement. If a man had foreseen or predicted it fifty years ago, our grandfathers would have thought him idiotic or mad. They would have said: 'Never will you be able to make the shareholders of a hundred companies listen to reason! It is a Utopia, a fairy tale. A central Government, with an 'iron' director, can alone enforce it.'" ("The Conquest of Bread," Chapter 11, Part I.)

     These are Capitalists who came together to establish their power and authority over the common people. Imagine the type of massive, international cooperation that would occur were all property managed by the laborers who worked there. Imagine the world that might exist if every decision was only made when those concerned with it were consulted -- if every organization in society was formed voluntarily and cooperated with others only voluntarily. The Capitalists were able to achieve their goals of vast wealth by such efficient organization; we Anarchists, on the other hand, should hope to use it to achieve a world where everyone has the opportunity to develop themselves fully, with no petty or artificial restrictions imposed by state or property.

Punkerslut,

Resources

*1. "Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Barcelona, 1896-1937," by Chris Ealham, Prologue by Paul Preston, published 2010 by AK Press, page 45, chapter 2: "Mapping the working-class city," section 2.2: "The anarchist-inspired workers' public sphere."


Punkerslut
join the punkerslut.com
mailing list!

Punkerslut
copyleft notice and
responsibility disclaimer