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?

  • 3
    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 '12 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 '12 at 22:29
  • 2
    @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 '12 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 '12 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 '17 at 16:25

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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