Libertarian Socialist Constitutionalism

10/23/19

Ideological points of unity organizations–of various degrees of tightness and looseness– have specific niches that they fill in revolutionary processes. However, when organizing the unorganized and reaching people more broadly, they will not all share a libertarian socialist politics. Every group organizing together defacto has shared agreements. Making them explicit can allow people and the principles to be held accountable. However, enshrining such principles in an ideological points of unity statement–which is distinct from a points of unity statement that is merely for practices of a group– will alienate people who do not already agree with libertarian socialist politics. And having a popular organization without explicit shared processes and practices that are liberatory can either lead to hierarchical organizing or extreme incoherence. A way to keep many of the practical dimensions of such a points of unity enshrined within a popular organization–and to have such principles explicit while being distinct from a shared ideology–  is to have the principles woven into another defacto ‘point of unity’ of organizations– that is the constitutions and bylaws themselves which can be amended with a bill of rights. Within such constitutions and bylaws, decision making processes and positive and negative freedoms can be spelled out for persons and collectives. Although there is nothing about bylaws and bills of rights that are necessarily radical, they can function in libertarian socialist ways. When the practices of a good points of unity–for example direct democracy, non-hierarchy, ecology, and co-federalism– are enshrined in the constitution, bylaws and/or bill of rights, then the terms of engagement within an organization can be liberatory (form and content wise to the degree that such libertarian socialist terms of practice are actually being practiced and developed). This can enable people from many ideological backgrounds to engage one another in a more ‘ideologically neutral’ and pluralistic space that nonetheless has agreement from people to work on specific terms of practice that are consistent with libertarian socialist principles.

Ideological points of unity groups can have specific functions such as organizing with people who are in favor of a specific theoretical worldviews to spread a specific theory and practice within social movements, popular organizations, and the population more broadly. But that is a distinct function from a popular organization that is trying to organize as many people as possible through specific processes towards specific ends through deliberation, direct collective decision making, and direct action.

The forms of freedom are of course never sufficient for their own development and good content: It is possible to organize via forms of freedom to merely do merely benign activities– or worse, activities that are counterproductive and unstrategic according to good criteria. It is up to the people involved in such organizations to fill those forms with liberatory and strategic content and the form is never sufficient to do that. However, to the degree a specific kind of form develops and reproduces itself, specific processes and necessarily features will follow. Liberatory forms are constitutive of the overall development of liberatory content and are an essential part of developing oppositional and reconstructive politics in harmony with, and conducive to, the flourishing of good ethical criteria.

An organization that has libertarian socialist structure, a libertarian socialist constitution and bill of rights, and libertarian socialist bylaws without an ideological points of unity document is consistent with the kind of political economic structures that ought to exist in a good society. In a good society, it is not like everyone will have to agree with x, y, and z ideology (in fact differentiation, cooperative conflict and dialogue are crucial towards any kind liberatory society) –however the better people’s theories are, the better the overall content of such political economic social development will generally be. “A communalist polity requires a written constitution and, yes, regulatory laws, to avoid a structurelessness that would yield mindless anarchy. The more defined the rights and duties of citizens are, the more easily can they be upheld as part of the general interest against the intrusion of petty tyrannies,” (Bookchin). What people and collectives will have to do in a good society is to organize with one another and interact with one another within certain minimal dimensions of what ought to be and ought to be permissible. This focus on shared minimal freedoms and duties for practices within a group–towards itself and others– is distinct from the ideological unity of ideologically specific libertarian socialist organizations.

It is good to have both kinds of organizations– ideologically specific libertarian socialist organizations, and popular organizations that enshrine libertarian socialist principles in the constitutions and bylaws (or even points of unity for practice) without being an ideologically specific group. An ideologically specific group can help start popular organizations with libertarian socialist bylaws, structures, and terms of practice. Furthermore, such ideologically specific libertarian socialist groups can advocate for libertarian socialist terms of practice within popular organizations and social movements to further the goals of such popular organizations and movements. 

The following is going to be a very crude jotting down of specific points that can be included in bylaws and bills of rights–after they have been critiqued, fleshed out, amended, and tweaked. The following jumbles various dimensions of bylaws with a bill of rights for those bylaws. Furthermore, it jumbles together different sections of the bylaws even further– for example there should be a decision making process section, a committee section, and a delegate section etc. The following is a crude example of how a libertarian socialist principles can be translated into a bill of rights from the principles Direct Democracy, Non-hierarchy, and co-federalism. Some of these points try to flesh out what ought to be a right in good society–as in they are aspirational rights to be developed that are there to qualify the content of decisions and to focus an assembly towards specific goals. 

This should be amended, critiqued, and fleshed out with some terms defined, and other terms swapped out for the definitions: 

  1. Self Management of Each and All: Communities, collectives, and persons should be able to make participatory self managed decisions bounded by the freedoms of others to self-management.  
  2. Communities, collectives, and persons should be free from hierarchical rule (institutionalized top-down command and obedience). 
  3. Communities, collectives, and persons should be free from arbitrary limits to freedoms (including but not limited to arbitrary discrimination).
  4. People should have the right to the means of existence. Food, water, shelter, energy, transportation, education, healthcare and everything people need in order to live–including the means of production– should be available to everyone for free.  
  5. Means of production and existence should be held in common. Communities should have the right to self manage economic life through communal assemblies. Embedded participatory collectives can be created by communal assemblies for implementation of economic activity–assisted by technics– but policy making power for economics should be within community assemblies. Embedded collectives of communal assemblies self manage within the bounds of the policy created by the communal assemblies.
  6. People should have the right to the means of politics. Everyone within a given locale should be able to participate within political processes. *. prefigurative popular organizations prior to a revolution can of course exclude threats to assembly such as capitalists, politicians, and cops. 
  7. Decision making process within general assemblies and committees: All decisions must be consistent with constitutions, bylaws and bills of rights. Decisions are to be made through deliberation. Decision making aims towards consensus. Decisions are to be made by a threshold of Simple Majority when there is not consensus. Simple majority can mandate and recall other thresholds above 50% for specific decisions.
  8. General assemblies can create committees. All committees of general assemblies are to be mandated and immediately recallable by general assemblies. Committees self-manage implementation policy within the mandate they are given from below. Committees can be made open or closed to specifically delegated people. Committees do not have the right to have policy making power over and above general assemblies from which they are mandated. Committees are to be participatory. Committee members will join through either sortition and volition, nomination and election, or whoever volunteers (for open committees). 
  9. General assemblies can have delegates for various purposes. All delegates of general assemblies are to be mandated and immediately recallable and rotated. Delegates will either be delegated through nomination and election or through sortition and volition. Delegate roles should be staggered when needed–such as for new people in a specific delegate role. All delegates are to be administrative and coordinative– they do not make policy. No delegates are to have policy making power over and above the general assembly that delegated them.   
  10. Communities, collectives, and persons should be able to freely federate together. All policy making power making power should remain in the hands of communities and collectives directly. 

I would like to end this article with a quote to reflect on. Freedoms are contingent upon our social responsibility towards them. As Bookchin said, “one of the great maxims of the First International, to which all factions subscribed, was Marx’s slogan: “No Rights Without Duties, No Duties Without Rights.” In a free society, as revolutionaries of all kinds generally understood, we would enjoy freedoms (“rights”), but we would also have responsibilities (“duties”) we would have to exercise. The concept of individual autonomy becomes meaningless when it denies the obligations that every individual owes to society as social responsibilities”.

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/murray-bookchin-toward-a-communalist-approach

Here is Rojava’s social contract. It is an example of transforming libertarian socialist principles into a governing document for millions of people:

Social Contract of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria

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