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I have personally experienced anarchist decision models in groups of people up to several hundred people. Building consensus around a particular decision in smaller "affinity groups", sending representatives to the larger group, trying to reach consensus there, returning to the affinity groups, and iterating this process until consensus is reached among the entire group. I was very impressed how well it works.

Freetown Christiania has a population of less than 1000 people, so the aforementioned model may still hold. But how do anarchist decision models work for entities with tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people? Perhaps the most notable historical example is the Spanish Revolution. I can see how decision-taking would work on a factory level, but how does can an anarchist society take decisions on large scale projects, such as infrastructure?

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    Although it's true that some people are good at convincing others, that doesn't make mass decision making fiction, it just makes "equal power for all" utopian, but possibly still a utopia that is approached more closely in anarchist decision making than in other decision models. I don't think the wolf/lamb analogy holds for human societies, as basic human interests don't vary nearly as much as in a predator/pray relation. And whether the Spanish Revolution would have been successful is hard to say, as they weren't exactly left alone by the powers around (who feared the possibility of success).
    – gerrit
    Dec 7, 2012 at 9:46
  • In human society, everyone is the predator. Some just choose not to, or unaware how to, bite first.
    – Kevin Peno
    Dec 7, 2012 at 22:29
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    @KevinPeno Perhaps, but it's more complicated than that, because it also lies in human nature to help each other; we're social animals, or we wouldn't have survived our first couple of hundred thousand years on Earth. So I find the wolf/lamb-analogy too much oversimplified to be of much use in this context.
    – gerrit
    Dec 7, 2012 at 23:01
  • @gerrit I did say "chose not to bite" ;) In reality, a human being is like any other animal and will do whatever it takes to survive at their definition of life.
    – Kevin Peno
    Dec 7, 2012 at 23:05
  • The point is perhaps less the exact details of the scaling but more the built-in allowance and legitimization of dissent, minority action etc.
    – einpoklum
    Dec 7, 2017 at 16:25

2 Answers 2

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I'm not aware of major infrastructure projects implemented that have been chosen by social networks that are anarchist, then I'm not particularly aware of anarchism in peasant societies (and I expect that at least some large scale works have been performed there).***

In relation to industrial society, infrastructure was kept running as a social decision during Hungary 1956's general strike phase in November/December as a result of the decisions of the railway workers and hospital workers. These were "beg forgiveness" decisions. In the case of the railway workers, their partial labour was partially coerced by Soviet forces. In the case of hospital workers the reason to run hospitals during a bloody urban assault is pretty obvious.

Larger scale decision making has provisionally occurred by delegations of delegations during crises, but these have had limited impact and a common accusation is that they will tend to bureaucracy, even when effective recall is being exercised. The Central Workers Council of Greater Budapest called a ceasefire in November in cooperation with professional councils, and then attempted direct negotiation with Soviet forces. This council did not incorporate non-Budapest factory councils (except by telephone suggestion), and did not incorporate the generally more conservative geographic councils.

The answer is undetermined, the best examples are from the labour movement's self-organisation, particularly in revolutionary situations, particularly when the revolutionary situations involve factory councils. That these examples are tenuous, almost all involving revolutionary civil war; but, that there may be underexplored examples from peasant anarchism.

*** To cut short any discussion of free software authorship, the scale of these projects tends to involve human scale cooperatives producing freely and interlinking. This is not similar to constructing a transcontinental railway, or a system of shipping, or a water or power system.

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You can ask the people of FEJUVE or The Federation of Neighborhood Councils-El Alto. Back in 2008, FEJUVE was estimated to have a population of 114,000 and the community has been around since 1979, so it has lasted for forty-three years and still exists to this day. FEJUVE is a participatory democracy based around having over six hundred neighborhood councils to provide public services and jobs. Each council has at least 200 members with their own leadership committees that hold monthly neighborhood assemblies similar to town meetings. The whole thing has an informal anarcho-mutualist economy self-managed by city workers and small trader/sole proprietorships as described by Emily Achtenberg in the book Community Organizing, Rebellion, and the Progressive State: Neighborhood Councils in El Alto, Bolivia as well as the section "How will cities work?" in the text Anarchy Works by anarchist Peter Gelderloos.

You can also ask the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities which has been around since 1994 and has an estimated population of over three hundred sixty-three thousand people since 2018. As described in the article "The Zapatistas, anarchism and 'Direct democracy" in the study Anarcho-Syndicalist Review written by Andrew Flood, the Zapatistas work on a series of worker cooperatives and councils of good government as described in anarcho-syndicalism. Their economy includes worker coops, family farms, and different community stores according to the text Liberty According to the Zapatistas by Gustavo Esteva.

Rojava is the one anarchist/confederalist community to scale up to have a population in the millions with an estimated population of two million people in 2018. It uses democratic confederalism to regulate this many people with as little hierarchy as possible as described by former diplomate Ross Carne:

"For a former diplomat like me, I found it confusing: I kept looking for a hierarchy, the singular leader, or signs of a government line, when, in fact, there was none; there were just groups. There was none of that stifling obedience to the party, or the obsequious deference to the "big man"—a form of government all too evident just across the borders, in Turkey to the north, and the Kurdish regional government of Iraq to the south. The confident assertiveness of young people was striking.- Ross Carne

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