Friday, November 07, 2008

Local democracy, for local people

Stuart asks in comments (post below) what my views on the Zapatistas are. Well, I have to say, I've never studied the movement in depth, my cursory impression has been that they have been a typical rural geurilla movement filling a space in a remote region that central government is unable/unwilling to fill, and winning a sort of truce with that state. In other words, they have built local administration where there was essentially (in effect) none at all.

Hence, if I'm not wrong, they represent a construction of local democracy, an improvisation. They may bring some interesting characteristics to the pot, but they needn't necessarilly be imitated where there is functional local democratic administration. Now, Stuart and I have disagreed in the past on this question, I maintain that local administration in the UK is pretty democratic (or at least was, under the old council/committee system, the new leader/cabinet model is fundamentally undemocratic). Of course, I reckon that in an upswelling of political consciousness, that would be transformed by the demands for participation by the community, but that would be a quantitative rather than a qualitative shift, using facilities that are formalities and dead letters now and making them the tools of viable engagement.

I am faintly fond of Murray Bookchin's libertarian municipalism, though suspicious of the fetishisation of face to face meetings. I think that broad based, far flung ballot box democracy is functional and liberating enough - I don't think we need to live in cities where a cry can be heard from the city wall (his Aristotelean example). Further, Militant and the Bennites tried something like that in the UK and found central government on their case.

Thus, I think that we cannot ignore the state, nor need we, we can, through active determined use of existing structures make the changes we desire.

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Blogger stuart said...

Hi Bill,
Thanks for replying. I don't yet know nearly enough about them to start arguing with you, but if what little I've read so far is accurate, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised if you investigated further. What's interesting about them is that they quickly dropped their "typical rural guerilla movement" characteristics, and as well as negotiating with the government, demanded the right to talk with the rest of "civil society" in an open-ended democratic process. They reminded me of many of the arguments you've made in the past, which is why I asked you. For example, they started out with an armed insurrection/uprising, but, realising that they were doomed to either fail or succeed, and that either way genuine democracy/revolution would be the loser, they retreated and began talking. Check out Marcos's Don Durito book. It's a cracking and funny read if nothing else.

11:57 AM  

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