The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Statistical Democracy

Statistical Democracy:

an Alternative to Democratic
Centralism and Communalism
John Burnheim

1 The Problem

The central failure of socialist thinking in
this century is its failure to produce a
plausibly realistic and attractive conception of how a socialist society might operate. The two major contenders for the
allegiance of socialist theorists are either
unattractive or unrealistic. Democratic
centralism is increasingly seen as unattractive and communalism as unrealistic.

Democratic centralists conceive of a
socialist society in the near future as a
mode of production in which there is a
planned mobilisation of natural and human
resources to meet human needs coordinated
over a very wide area by a pyramidal political structure. Usually this structure is
conceived as an electoral one. The various
base productive and administrative units
manage their own internal affairs by direct
participatory democracy, or, where problems
of scale make this impracticable, by elected
representatives, appointed for limited
periods and subject to immediate recall by
their electorate. The base organisations
elect representatives under the same conditions to higher bodies which coordinate
productive units within an industry or
various industries and administrativedistributive organisations within a region.

Various regional industrial and administrative bodies are in turn coordinated by bodies
elected from their constituents until one
reaches a central authority in which planning is finally unified. This central
authority has overriding authority over all
its subordinate elements.

Communalism envisages a similar stru~ture
at the base, but advocates the restructuring
of production as far as possible into small
scale units so that relatively compact
communities may have as direct a control as
possible over the whole range of production
and administration that is relevant to
meeting most of the needs of the local
community. Coordination between communities
would be on the basis of voluntary arrangements between them to supply each other with

products and facilities they cannot produce
efficiently on a small scale and by particular organisations to arrange for common
access to specific natural resources. Thus
there might be a number of inter-community
authorities to deal with such things as
mineral resources, transportation, aid to
underdeveloped areas and large-scale
research projects, but no single central
planning authority with overriding power
over the local communes in all-respects.

The differences between these two models
relate in part to different estimates of
the problems involved in transforming the
productive structure developed under capita~
ism into a system of production governed by
an analysis of human needs. Advocates of
democratic centralism often concede that in
the long run communalism may be a more
acceptable form of social organisation, but
argue that it presupposes a very radical
transformation of the productive forces of
society and of the technical and social
relations of production and distribution, as
well as a solution to the problems of uneven
development. Such a transformation and redistribution of social resources could be
achieved rapidly and fairly only by a highly
integrated social effort that demands centrru
organisation on a very large scale, ultimately a world scale. As these necessary
changes have been accomplished the grip of
the centre will be relaxed in favour of
more and more autonomy for local units.

Democratic pressures will ensure a constant
tendency to prefer local autonomy to central
direction wherever it is consistent with the
objectives of meeting the needs of all

Communalists, by contrast, argue that
setting up such a highly centralised structure necessarily involves setting up a
bureaucracy which is increasingly remote
from individuals and small groups and
increasingly unresponsive to them in proportion to the range and complexity of the
matters under its jurisdiction. Centralised
planning for needs, however democratically
controlled, must rest on highly standardised

conceptions of needs. Centrally organised
production tends to a standardisation of
means of production. Innovation and experiment are stifled because productive. and
administrative units are reduced to fulfilling pre-defined functions and meeting
present goals. The system tends to become
rigid, cumbersome and inefficient. By contrast, if productive and administrative
units are answerable more directly to local
needs there will be much greater flexibility
in defining needs and devising ways of
meeting them. Lateral cooperation between
different communes to meet specific common
problems will be a much more effective and
flexible way of meeting those problems than
global coordination. Even if it is true
that democratic centralism can in the short
run produce ~ more rapid transformation and
redistribution of resources, it will soon
slow down and ultimately ossify. Communalism, by contrast, may be slower initially to
recognise and deal with the more global and
pervasive problems, but it will produce a
wealth of diverse and specifically appropriate ways of doing so once those problems
are clearly identified.

Democratic centralism and communalism are
not ‘pure’ types, and a whole range of compromises between them are possible. The
exact mix between the two that an immediately post-revolutionary society might find
appropriate would depend on such things as
the scale of the existing institutions that
have to be restructured, the urgency of
bringing about rapid change in various areas
of production and administration, and the
political situation itself. In some circumstances even the most ardent communalists
might be forced to concede that military,
political and economic factors made a period
of highly centralised administration the
only chance of laying a secure basis for
communalism. On the other hand, in other
circumstances, even those who were convinced that certain global problems could be
dealt with only by centralism might have to
concede that in a given situation only a
limited communalism would be feasible, for
political or economic reasons. Nevertheless
the two tendencies would have divergent
orientations leading to conflicting proposals on a large range of concrete issues.

There would be well-grounded fears on both
sides. The centralists rightly fear that
the wealthier and more sophisticated
communes would tend to treat their resources
as their property, take inadequate account
of the needs of those in a weaker position
or even exploit .them in various ways. The
communalists rightly fear that the centralists would create power structures that
incorporate institutional interests and
rigidities that could only be dissolved
with the greatest difficulty.

In general it is to be expected that at
the national level in the case of advanced
capitalist societies realism will tend to
favour centralism because it will be a
matter of dealing with a completely interdependent economic structure organised
under a national bureaucracy. The shape
and scale of the given productive forces
will tend to determine the shape and scope
of the structures needed to control it. On
the other hand, in reaction against the
capitalist state it is most probable that

the ideological and emotional forces behind
a revolution will be committed to communalism. The deep flaws in the socialist states
that have embraced democratic centralism
will reinforce this tendency. The problem
of resolving democratically the specific
issues over which. these sides will come
into political conflict is a particularly
threatening one. Any constitutional decision procedure that is devised must already
constitute a certain resolution of them in
the way that it distributes authority to
various bodies, determines the relevant
electorates and institutionalises lines of
autonomy and subordination between them.

Consequently its legitimacy will be precarious and there will always be the danger of
civil war of one sort or another between
centralists and communalists or of a dictatorship of one or the other, ostensibly
justified as a dictatorship of the proletariat, but in fact arising out of conflicts
within it, as well as from particularist
and centralist interests of remnants of
the old ‘upper classes’.

2 The Shared Presuppositions of Centralism and

Both democratic centralism and communalism
presuppose that: (1) At some level in any
society, at least for a long time to come,
there must be bodies exercising something
like the plenary sovereignty exercised by
modern states over a territory and its population, and (2) The only way in which this
sovereignty can be controlled by those subject to it is by making all positions of
power in it subject to election. I want to
deny both of these assumptions, attempt to
show how they are interconnected and argue
for alternatives to them. I do not deny
that in an immediately post-revolutionary
situation it will be necessary to have a
certain dictatorship of the proletariat
using at least some of the existing institutions of state power to maintain production,
defend the revolution and arrange transfer
of administration to new bodies. The crucial problem is what is to be set up to
replace institutions designed to work in and
for the old modes of production. To the
extent that there is clear, well-grounded
practical agreement among revolutionaries
about that the process of transformation
and the winding up of the dictatorship can
proceed so much more rapidly and effectively.

Moreover, the agreement in question must be
practical in the everyday sense of the word.

It must relate to procedures and institutions that can be set up rapidly in effectively operating form without waiting for
other changes such as the restructuring of
the productive forces themselves. These
institutions and procedures mnst be not
just ‘transitional’but relatively permanent
and have a clear basis of legitimacy.

It seems reasonable to assume that in any
foreseeable proletarian revolution the
following major requirements on the legitimacy of systems of control of production and
distribution will be paramount: (1) The
system will provide a secure and dignified
basis on which everybody will be assured of
the necessities of a decent life, food,

housing, education, opportunities for
cultural and leisure activities etc.

(2) The burdens of unpleasant, boring work
will be shared as equally as possible and
minimised by improvements in technology and
organisation. (3) Production will not be
confined to necessities, but opportunities
will exist for those who want them to
acquire better goods and services provided
they contribute an equivalent amount of
labour and the community receives some
compensation for the use of natural resources
involved. (4) The system will incorporate
adequate means for change to meet changing
environmental, demographic, technological
and cultural changes. (S) There will be
ample opportunity for everybody to take an
active part in trying out new techniques,
methods of organisation, forms of interpersonal relationships, and so on.

In situations where the productive forces
are poorly developed, the overwhelming
emphasis tends to go providing basic necessities. Consequently, the task of socialist
organisation is conceived as one of planning.

Effective planning demands firm, clearly set
gQals and the mobilisation of all useful
resources to achieve them. It is necessarily
strongly centralist in situations of scarce,
inadequate resources. It involves the subordination of all producers to specific
functions in the plan, minimises variation,
initiative and experiment that would absorb
natural or human resources that could be
used for the execution of the plan. This
short-term rationality, however, results in
excessive rigidity. Experiment and initiative in exploring new possibilities of
technology and organisation, and new objectives, provide the only basis for progress in
reassessing goals and methods. The system
tends to get trapped in a self-limiting
circle. The working population tires of
being reduced to very limited and stereotyped roles and has to be coerced and cajoled
into fulfilling the plan. The first of the
requirements listed in the preceding paragraph is achieved at the cost of inhibiting
all the others. Black markets, frustrated
dissidence, apathy and opportunism flourish.

In extreme circumstances there may be no
alternative. But if there is no alternative
to prescriptive centralised planning,
socialism is not likely to recommend itself
to the working class as an alternative to
capitalism except in situations of extreme
deprivation or insecurity.

It is important to recognise that the
limitations of planning as total coordination of production are not wholly a matter
of scale. It is in general true that the
larger the whole. that is planned the slower
its responses to change will be and the
smaller will be the capacity of the individual or gmall group to influence its objectives and methods. However, smaller units
have other limitations. They may not be
able to exploit new technologies on the
scale of production to which they are limited. Diffuse groups of autonomous communities may not generate new ways of doing
things because of the tenuous and unsettled
character of their means of cooperation.

Within a relatively small community the
pressures to conform to the standards of the
community are generally greater than in a
larger one. The perspectives of a highly

integrated small community tend to be
narrower and shorter than those of larger
ones. The individual and the small group
may find being big fish in a small pond not
a very dynamic or interesting experience.

The dominance of planning as the mode of
practical rationality associated with socialism is explained in part by the historical
circumstances in which anti-capitalist revolutions have taken place. But there has
also been a failure to conceive of other
possibilities. Many socialists have
aspired towards a genuinely experimental
social order, but have not devoted much
effort to analysing the ways in which it
might work. In part, no doubt, this is a
matter of a healthy scepticism about prescribing in advance what the future must be
like. But what is in question is not the
prescription of ultimate ideals but clarifying the options that must be presented to
people if they are to make a rational choice
in favour of socialism. Such options need
not be presented dogmatically as the only
possibilities there are, but on an experimental basis, as coherent proposals that are
sufficiently realistic and promising to be
worth trying, that offer solutions that
address themselves to the specific historical
problems faced by the working class and
leave the way open to finding further means
of dealing with the problems they in turn
may cause.

What, then, are the procedures of control
of production that could make a genuinely
open and experimental mode of production
possible? I am talking here of experiment
in a very strict sense, closely analogous to
the sense in which it is used in the natural
sciences. I can only assert here a thesis
that I shall argue elsewhere, namely that a
fully scientific self-knowledge by a society
is possible, at least in regard to the more
material elements of social life, only on
condition that that society is genuinely
experimental, that only a socialist society
can be experimental, and that a scientific
self-knowledge in regard to the economic
base of social life is a necessary condition
of the development of a realm of freedom.

Whatever the truth about these theses, the
desirability of experiment should not
require much argument in relation to the
requirements set out earlier that a socialist revolution is likely to lay down. The
following seem to be the main requirements
for a proposal to constitute an experiment:

(I) The proposal is directed towards finding
a well-grounded answer to a precise question.

What is to be done, how it is to be done,
the conditions under which it is expected to
give a definite result and what it is designed to achieve and to register should be
set out as precisely as possible. The
results must be recorded as clearly as
possible and evaluated by clear, though not
necessarily agreed, cri teria.

(2) The proposal is carried out carefully and thorough7

ly by agents who have as clear an understanding as possible of what they are doing,
likely pitfalls in execution and the effects
of interfering factors. And (3) the questions posed ought to relate to wider
questions about the significance or generalisability of the results obtained and the
possibilities they foreclose or open up.

More generally, an experimental society
would, in generating such self-knowledge, be
engaging not just in ‘applied science’,
attempting to use existing knowledge to
achieve pre-set goals by planning, but
rather in ‘pure’ science, attempting to
explore the possibilities of new procedures
of social action, not by random trial and
error, but on the basis of thorough critical
analysis of the specific problem of the
society and thorough, realistic inquiry into
ways of overcoming them. I believe that
this was essentially what Marx had in mind.

Moreover, he envisaged this state of affairs
as something that could be achieved by
setting free the initiative and direct
‘lateral’ cooperation of the direct producers, reducing the centralised functions of
the~economy to ‘routine’ accounting.

I want
to suggest in more specific detail how this
might be done.

3 A Socialist ‘Free Enterprise’ Economy

The principal defects of the capitalist
‘free enterprise’ economy are:

Ca) Monopoly. There are four main forms of
monopoly ln contemporary capitalism, only
one of which is distinctive of capitalism
itself, namely the class monopoly of capital
in the strict sense, the class control of
socially produced means of production, under
which workers are forced to sell their
labour power to capitalists. Second, there
is class monopoly of natural resources, on
the basis of which absolute rent is exacted
from producers for the use of scarce resources, land, minerals etc. Third, there is
monopoly appropriation of socially produced
knowledge and training, on the basis of
which various professional and quasiprofessional groups exercise control over
admission to their ranks and exact special
‘rewards’ for their services. Fourth, the
monopoly of organised violence by states
within their territories, which is used to
support state bureaucracies that maintain
not only themselves but the other three
forms of monopoly, at the expense of the
workers. The typical response of the working class to these forms of monopoly has
been to attempt to establish its own monopoly of labour and exact its ‘fair share’

of the social product. Some key groups of
workers do in fact succeed in establishing
‘quasi-professional’ monopolies, but the

working class as a whole does not, even
within the limits of a single state, much
less internationally. To the extent that it
does have some limited success the result is
to imperil the system. Monopolies tend to
war, since there is no national means of
arbitrating between them. They must be

Cb) Misrepresentation of the production
process. All monopolles rest ultimately on
physical force, but they constantly attempt
to find a ‘rational’ basis for their power
by misrepresenting its origins, workings
and effects. The result is the systematic
mystification of social processes generally,
and particularly of production itself, as
Marx has shown. In particular, in capitalism this has been accomplished by the
mystification of labour as a commodity and
of money as a commodity. These two forms of
mystification are not idle glosses on the
system but are intrinsic to it and can be
abolished only by radically changing the
system itself. Their effect is not merely
to ‘legitimise’ the system but to obscure
the alternatives to it.

Cc) Obscuring social costs, particularly the
social and envlronmental costs of production
and the ultimate cost of destroying nonrenewable resources. The capitalist market
prices commodities on costs of production
plus the ruling rate of profit. Costs of
production reflect the cost of labour to the
capitalist, absolute rent for the natural
resources used, and the costs of maintaining
professional and bureaucratic monopolies.

The capitalist market registers the
cost of the social, environmental and
resource-deflation costs of speGific kinds
of production and consumption mainly to the
extent that these are reflected in scarcity
of certain resources and so in high monopoly
prices for them. The only other way in
which these costs are reflected in prices is
by state action to tax, control or compensate for them in various ways, e.g. by
special taxes on the use of certain materialS, by compulsory insurance or compensation schemes and so on. These ‘arbitrary’

interventions in the market are inefficient,
inadequate and precarious means of registering these costs to the community and especially to the working class. They serve to
buttress and give spurious legitimacy to the
state bureaucracy as a means of curbing the
social and environmental inresponsibility of

Cd) Bias towards luxuries rather than
necessitles and towards private rather than
communal consumption. These twin biases are
a structural result of a mode of production
which has only two means of distribution of
consumption-goods, sale on the market of
commodities to private consumers and sale
to state instrumentalities financed by
taxation. Most luxury goods are readily
marketable in commodity form, and, because
of great disparities in income, there is a
ready market for them. Apart from food and
clothing, most of the necessities of a
decent life, housing, education, medical
care and good local environmental and social
amenities are not readily marketable as
commodities and there are no adequate means
for most of those who need them to secure
them for themselves. They are either
supplied in debased, inadequate and over-


standardised forms by the state for the
masses or in luxury form by ‘private enterprise’ for the rich. Either both producers
and consupIers are put in a bureaucratic
straight-jacket or their supply is constrained by professional monopolies, vested
interests and considerations of short-term
profitability for capital.

The merits of the capitalist market are
mainly that, in comparison with its predecessors and with centrally planned economies it allows a great deal of decentralised
initiative, leads to rapid development of
the productive forces, tends to minimise the
labour necessary for production and allows a
certain degree of consumer sovereignty over
what is produced. All of these advantages
are present in forms that are limited by the
power of monopoly, ignorance, manipulation
of consumers and the other factors mentioned
in the preceding paragraphs. But an historically viable solution to the problems posed
by capitalism must transcend these limited
forms rather than deny the significance of
the advantages of capitalism. The following
few paragraphs sketch a fOTm of ‘market’

socialism that is not offered as any sort
of ultimate ideal, nor as an unique or best
solution, but as a practical suggestion that
might be acceptable and workable in an
immediately post-revolutionary situation in
advanced capitalist countries. In the
following section I shall turn to the problem of democratic control of the various
boards and committees that would be responsible for key decisions. The following are
the main features of the suggestion.

Ca) Trusteeship of the various production
resources of society would be vested in
boards of control, which would vary enormously in the scope of their responsibilities
according to the relationship between the
geographical locations of the resources and
of the ultimate consumers. In the case of
oil they might be as large as the present
multinational corporations. In the case of
fresh vegetable production they might be
quite small. There would not necessarily be
only one of them for a given industry within
any given territory. These trustee-boards
would lease productive facilitles to worker
cooperatives at prices intended to cover
risk of” the cooperative’s failing to sell its
products, depreciation of productive assets,
research and development costs, environmental
production, social insurance, the ultimate
social costs of the activity and an ‘arbitrary’ figure for any use of non-renewable
natural resources. The trustee-boards would
in turn be required to contribute part of
the price thus exacted to various other
distribution agencies responsible for aspects
of the purposes for which it was charged.

The trustee-boards would be required to
support thelr pricing and distributing
decisions by detailed cost-benefit projections, published in full. Their decisions
would be open to challenge before suitable
tribunals on a ‘common law’ basis for failure
to make adequate provision for various
effects of their policies or for over,pricing. In extreme cases they might be
indicted for criminal negligence, fraud or
suppressing information.

Cb) Workers cooperatives would sell their
products at market prlces that would cover
the cost of resources employed plus their

own estimate of the value of their own labour.

Innovative and efficient cooperatives might
gain considerable market advantages, which
would accrue to them as ‘money’ that could
be spent only on consumption goods. Production would be coordinated not by a detailed
plan, but by the market. However, consumer
credit arrangements would encourage cooperative purchase “or leasing of communal facili ties rather than individual consumption
wherever this seemed socially and economically desirable. Social security arrangements would consist of a system of insurance
based on the social value and the unpleasantness of the work a person has done or contracted to do. A person could ensure that
he or she had to devote relatively little
time to ensuring his or her livelihood by
undertaking the most unpleasant and necessary tasks. Where workers cooperatives were
in a ‘natural monopoly’ position their
pricing would be subject to arbitration by consumer representatives.

Cc) Distribution agencies would allocate
resources to service units organised on a
fairly local basis, e.g. hospitals, schools,
local health centres, park authorities and
so on. These institutions would, within
their budgetary constraints, be entirely
free to determine what they would do with
their funds and cooperate on large projects.

Once again decisions at the various levels
would be open to challenge on a ‘common law’

basis rather than on any explicit statutory
responsibility before tribunals of citizens.

In other words, these bodies would set
their own objectives and criter.ia, but would
have to be prepared to defend them.

Cd) Budgeting agencies at various “levels
would be responslble for ensuring a balanced
allocation of resources and imposition of
taxes for public purposes. However, their
role would be one of arbitrating between
conflicting demands on resources rather
than on planning in the strict sense. They
would, one hopes, recognise a responsibility
to allocate special resources to underdeveloped areas in a cooperative international effort to remedy problems of underdevelopment. Ultimately there might be a
world budget. However, these budgeting
agencies would not be associated with that
monopoly of organised violence that constitutes the state, but would depend on their
moral authority and the cooperation of local
agencies to enforce their decisions. Their
major policy decisions would be put to referenda of all affected by them.

re] Tribunals, in addition to having the
power to discipline various boards and
agencies, would also have the power to
revise their responsibilities, abolish obsolete ones and set up new ones to meet
changing technological, demographic and
social structures, pronouncing on proposals
put up by oth~r organisations and groups of
citizens. In this respect there would be
no separation of judicial and legislative


functions. Punishments would consist
primarily of economic penalties. Appeals
against tribunals would be not to ‘higher’

bodies but to broader-based popular

4 Statistical Democracy versus Electoral Democracy

Clearly such a set of proposals is unlikely
to be carried through except in an overwhelmingly popular and determined revolution
Whatever their merits and inevitable vagueness, it is clear that they present enormous
difficulties in the demands they make on
processes of social decision-making, not
just in setting up such structures but in
operating them on a stable, coherent and
democratic basis. I shall argue that they
are most unlikely to be workable on the
basis of electoral democracy, but that they
might work on the basis of statistical
democracy, decision-making by boards chosen
as statistically representative of those
affeeted by the decisions in question from
a pool of candidates who nominate themselves
The main defects of electoral democracy
in very large and complex societies are:

(a) Agglomeration of issues. In present
parllamentary forms the electorate is asked
to decide between several parties, giving
them a ‘mandate’ to implement their policies
over the whole range of state activities for
a period of several years. Among these
policies there are usually many that the
electorate would reject if asked to pronounce on them singly. They are accepted
(or rejected) not on their own merits but
because they are seen as secondary to other
matters that have become the main ‘issues’

of the election. This might not be so
serious a defect if the set of policies that
a party put up had the advantage of being
more consistent and practicable than the set
that would result from taking the preferences of electors on the discrete items of
the package. But this is not usually the
case. Many policies are incorporated in
party manifestos as sops to elements within
the party or the electorate who have to be
placated in order to ensure success at the
elections. Parties tend to make selfcontradictory promises.

‘One of the troubles with poli~icians is
that they often break their promlses.

Another is that they sometimes keep them.’

The policies to which parties commit themselves at elections have usually been formulated well in advance in the light of problems that will have changed by the time the
party is in office. The electorate is well
aware of such problems. For the decisive
‘swinging voter’ the main basis of decision
is consequently not issues of policy as much
as the personal characteristics of party
leaders, getting rid of incompetent or unpopular administrations or simply giving
‘the other lot’ a go. Sceptical though one
may be of the advertised claims of a new
brand of soap powder, one tries it just to
see how it turns out. On this sort of basis,
however, radical parties are unlikely to get
a hearing. The risks and uncertainties of
trying out parties that are seeking irreversible and profound changes are too large,

amorphous and pervasive.

(b) The rofessionalisation

In or er to e electe a can 1 ate must be
known to the electorate, which is in itself
a full time job. In practice this means
having the support of a parti ‘machine’

which makes the candidate’s political
orientation identifiable, supplies the
resources and organisation needed to reach
electors and delivers a substantial vote of
party loyalists. The result is to place
enormous power in the hands of the party
machine, to whose exigencies the candidate
must submit. Politics becomes a matter of
careerism, manipulated by entrenched bureaucracies, vested interests and contributors
to party funds. The result is rule by an
entrenched oligarchy of the more skilful
power-brokers. The broad merits of particular proposals are a secondary consideration.

The primary consideration is how they affect
the balance of power among the power-brokers.

Very few policies get worked out and tried

(c) Mystification. Consciously and unconsciously polltlclans strive to distort the
nature of the issues at stake in political
decisions. When criticising their opponents
they tend to rely on falsehoods, emotive
tags, half-truths and personal abuse. In
defending their own policies they tend to
rely on evading issues, encouraging wishful
thinking, hiding the costs and exaggerating
the likely benefits of what they propose.

The electorate is necessarily very badly
informed on the realities of the situation,
and the politician has no interest in improving the standard of debate, the depth of
analysis of the situation or the amount of
information available to the electorate.

To do so might involve taking specific
stands with which many potential supporters
would disagree. It is much less risky to
attempt to present oneself as ‘all things to
all men’.

Some of these defects might be overcome
in the plethora of elections to the various
boards, tribunals and agencies that would
be necessary for the running of a socialist
free enterprise economy, but others would
emerge. The agglomeration of issues would
be avoided, since there would be separate
elections for various specialised o~fices
rather than election of an administration
with all-embracing powers. But the enormous
number of elections would put a very heavy
strain on the time and energy people could
reasonably be expected to devote to politics.

The difficulties of keeping informed about
and giving adequate analysis and discussion
to the affairs of all the diverse agencies

by which one would be affected would be
enormous and burdensome.

In practice most
people would probably resign themselves to
voting for party tickets, as happens in the
US where many public officials are directly
elected. The patronage of party officials
would be increased. Moreover, it would be
virtually meaningless for candidates to
commit themselves in advance on the precise
issues that faced a specialised agency or

The electorate would have to
trust to the candidate’s will to represent
them and his or her political orientation
and judgement.

The device of recall might counterbalance this effect, but it is very dubious
if it would work in the case of large,
diffuse, specialised electorates. Where a
person is representing an electorate that
itself meets and deliberates regularly,
recalling a representative would be feasible
and effective.

But in the large, scattered,
numerous constituencies envisaged in the
system outlined above, it would not be
possible for the electorate as a whole
effectively to monitor the performance of
their representatives on a continuous basis.

If the representatives were chosen mainly on
a party basis the party would indeed monitor
the performance of its candidate, but with
an eye to intra-party power-broking rather
than the merits of the case. Moreover, the
threat of recall would tend to inhibit
office-holders from promoting informed
discussion, taking adventurous rather than
‘safe’ decisions and antagonising
entrenched interests and prejudices.

Again various attempts might be made to
limit the perquisites of office and reduce

But already most elective
offices are not very well paid by prevailing
standards for comparable work, and many of
them are not very secure.

Politicians in
most advanced capitalist societies are
motivated by goods such as power, prestige,
and fascination with the game much more than
by the pursuit of wealth.

These goods are
much more difficult to control and cannot
be eliminated even in the most egalitarian

The importance, fascination and
prominence of key decision-making positions
cannot be eliminated without trivialising
the process of decision-making itself,
removing the representative from the public
eye and according scant recognition to
public service.

What is dangerous is not
these rewards themselves but the frenzied
competition for them that leads to a persist
ent tendency to manipulate the electorate,
mystify issues and the performance of
politicians, and place a premium on personalities rather than issues.

Nor would it be
practical so to limit tenure of public
office that a person having held it for a
term could not stand again for any office.

In an electoral system the main control that
the electors have over elected officials is
that of refusing to re-elect them. Moreover, in practice this would make candidates
even more dependent on party power structures to have any chance of election.

is very dubious whether there is any way of
, controlling party organisation that does
not compromise radicallY,the freedom of
parties as voluntary associations which
seems essential to political freedom in an
electoral system. Attempts to do so

entrench existing party structures.

I have not touched on the variety of
possible voting systems and their respective
merits and demerits, but none of them can
remedy these fundamental difficulties in
electoral politics.

Electoral politics can
work well for very limited purposes, and it
is vastly preferable to its historical
rivals, mainly various forms of overt class

Granted that the scale and complexity
of modern means of production are such that
only very complex systems of control can
cope with the social organisation they
entail, we must rethink radically the concept of democracy.

Direct participatory
democracy is possible only in very restricted circumstances. Most of the more significant instruments of social coordination
can be controlled only by some form of
representative democracy.

The alternative
to electing representatives is to have them
chosen by a procedure that yields a committee that is statistically representative of
those affected by the decisions it makes.

In a number of ancient and medieval towns
this was assured by a system of rotation
of offices or by choice by lot from among
those eligible for office. What I am
proposing is a modern variant of this idea,
using sophisticated sampling procedures
designed to produce a representative,
weighted sample of the sorts of people that
are affected by the workings of a decisionmaking body numerically proportionate to the
strength and social significance of the
various interests, chosen from among people
who have expressed a willingness to serve
on that body.

Representatives would serve forĀ· as short
a time as was compatible with their gaining
enough experience at the job to contribute
actively for the sort of period that it take~
to tryout a policy in the field in question.

Where the matters at issue are relatively
simple it might be as short as two years,
where they are very complex it might be as
long as seven years.

Retirement from and
accession to office would be staggered so
that a certain changeover took place every
year, or in the case of short-term appointments more frequently, in order to ensure
continuity of action and discussion.

general very high level bodies would be
staffed by people chosen by lot from among
those nominated by their peers as having
been effective and hardworking contributors
to the work of lower level organisations.

There would, then, be a certain public
recognition of special merit, and higher
level bodies would be staffed by experienced
people. However, the higher level bodies
would have only very limited control over
the lower level, mainly by allocating them
an overall budget. Within that budget they
would be entirely free.

They would coordinate with other bodies by negotiating with
them, not be appealing to ‘higher’ powers.

Where there was a deadlock within a board or
between different boards, the matter would
be arbitrated by putting it to a sort of

Indeed these boards would be required to
put certain kinds of crucial issues to
referenda, whether there was disagreement on
the board or not.

In some cases these referenda need not be a matter of mass votes,
especially where the points at issue were

highly technical.

Rather, a large sample
of the electorate would be chosen, given
special opportunities for discussion and
investigation of the issues, and then asked
to vote on them.

However, a main responsibility of boards of control would be to
ensure the widest possible access to all the
information they amass and provide detailed
public discussion of the effects of proposals before they made decisions of policy.

The emphasis would be on clear, explicit
decisions, consistently implemented rather
than on compromise.

Progress would be seen
to depend not so much on making a decision
that pleased everybody as on finding out how
certain procedures work in practice with a
view to building up a precise delineation of
what can and cannot be done under what conditions, with. what side-effects and so on.

The society would seek in experiment an
ever-growing self-knowledge in theory and

The role of political parties in this
process would be to organise public scrutiny
of proposals, mobilise public support for or
opposition to proposals, especially in the
context of referenda on crucial issues, and
attempt to relate specific proposals to overall movements of social change.

Not everybody who was interested in having a say in a
specific area of policy might get a chance
to serve on an administrative board, but
they would have ample opportunity to
influence discussion of issues.

There would
be a large reservoir of people in the community with policy-making, judicial and administrative experience many of whom would,
presumably, maintain an active and critical
interest in the work of their successors.

People could take a very specialised interest in specific areas confident that their
interests would be well represented in other

Decisions arrived at by these means
would enjoy a very high degree of legitimacy
and authority.

On the one hand, they would
be decisions as genuinely representative as
possible of the informed opinions of those
affected by them.

On the other, the decisions would be as open, fully argued and
scientifically based as possible.

No doubt
some minority interests would be frustrated,
but remembering the scope for enterprise
withiri the framework of social control,
there would be some outlet for them in

5 Conclusion
Statistical democracy is not without its

I invite the re~der to speculate
about them and possible solutions to them.

It is not an ideal or an atemporal optimum,
but a practical suggestion for a pattern of
relations of production that would be appropriate to the objective opportunities and
subjective aspirations that seem to be
arising out of the development bf the contradictions inherent in capitalism.

It would
require a well-educated, experimentallyminded, politically active community with a
strong majority agreement on such things as
the value of free enterprise, the importance
of ecological and resource problems, the
value of explicit scientific self-understanding and a strong commitment to eradicating
all traces of class monopolisation of

political and economic power.

These requirements seem to me to express
some of the main aspirations that are likely
to dominate a revolutionary movement in
advanced capitalist countries. Moreover, it
seems to me, too, that it might be possible
to get limited experiments in statistical
democracy wlthin modern capitalist states as
specific ways of dealing with limited problems.

This would be a desirable objective
for socialists in that it would provide some
concrete exemplification of these procedures
and thus make proposals for a post-revolutionary order sound less utopian. At present
the jury system is the only element of
statistical democracy we have.

If others
could be squeezed into the interstices of
the present system here and there in apparently innocuous ways, it might change
people’s perceptions of the possibil i tie-s
of revolutionary change.

In particular, the
conception of statistical democracy based on
flexibly defined electorates, not circumscribed by arbitrary state boundaries or
other forms of sovereignty, supplies a
positive programme for supplanting the state
rather than reinforcing its role and a high
degree of democratic control without falling
into the particularism of local community

It is a form of socialism that
might recommend itself to the working class
even in the USA.

It is, I believe, also the
only form of socialism that could operate
effectively on a world scale, granted the
structure of the ecological, demographic,
productive and distributive problems that
must be faced in the near future.

statistical democracy is so contrary not
only to the interests of capital” and of the
state apparatuses but to the specific interests of the political elite generated by
parliamentary politics that it is extremely
unlikely that there can be any ‘parliamentary road’ to it. However, it is possible
that elements of statistical democracy may
be inserted here and there into the system
where it suits politicians to get rid of
some especially hot potato. A revolutionary
movement that moved rapidly towards setting
up a framework of statistical democracy
would certainly lessen the ‘birth pangs’

of the new order and provide a new and undeniable basis of legitimacy.

It might even
be possible to precipitate a revolutionary
situation by setting up a range of ‘citizens
committees’ based on statistical principles
which would systematically confront the
existing apparatus with clear alternatives
that it could neither accept nor successfully repress.

Such a strategy might well
work if there was a broadly-based proletarian movement clearly committed to it that
renounced both sporadic terrorism and
parliamentary politics as appropriate means
of radical change.

There is a great deal
of theoretical and practical work to be done
to bring about such a movement.

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue