Democratic-Decentralism

A. Allen Butcher
The School of Intentioneering
Denver, Colorado
February 25, 2017

Until I finally looked them up I thought that the terms “communal” and “communalism” referred to the same thing, the common ownership of property, yet “communalism” actually means something very different.

To avoid confusing the terms as have I, keep in mind that “communalism” is a political system in which independent states comprise a nation which has very little or no central authority, having only powers granted to it by the independent states, which they can recind or modify at any time. And further, those independent states in the communalist system can have internal economic systems which emphasize either private property, or common property, or a mixture of both. They need not be strictly communal as the term would seem to suggest.

Essentially, “communal” is an economic term while “communalism” is a political or governance term.

It took me a decade to finally look these terms up at Dictionary.com, after I first learned that Murray Bookchin had used the term “communalism” in place of the term he devised of “confederal municipalism” to mean the same thing. Evidently, it took him a while to realize that there was already a term for the decentralist ideal which he advocated.

According to Dictionary.com the term “communalism” was first used to mean a decentralized nation of independent states in the early 1870s. So Bookchin did not make this up or change the definition, as I thought he had.

With this understanding I might now be able to get behind Bookchin’s concept of “communalism,” except that if I use this term in its correct meaning, other people are still going to confuse the term to mean “communal” in the same way as have I. Particularly those who wish to preserve the centralized nation-state.

So for me the term “communalism” is not the best way to convey the intended meaning of the decentralized, confederal political system. “Confederal” also means power-to-the-states as opposed to centralized “federalism.” Yet using the term “confederal” brings association with the slave-states’ Confederacy and the American Civil War, so that term is problematic as well.

Eleanor Finley’s ROAR magazine article, “Reason, Creativity and Freedom: the Communalist Model” (February 11, 2017) suggests that someone else who has been influenced by Murray Bookchin’s ideas also did not like the term “communalism,” coining for use in its place the term “democratic confederalism.” This term was created by the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, looking for a political system for his nationlesss ethnic group scattered through parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Yet there is that problematic term “confederal” again. (See: https://roarmag.org/essays/communalism-bookchin-direct-democracy)

So what term can be used for conveying the intended meaning while avoiding misunderstanding and negative associations? The term “democracy” or “democratic” is an essential modifier for conveying the ideal of local self-determination and independence from centralization, so that word is needed. A noun that conveys the intended meaning of independence is “decentralism,” and so the term that I think best represents the desired meaning for the preferred political-economic system is then “democratic-decentralism.” I suppose that will get shortened to “dem-decism” or simply “D-D,” yet at least there should no longer be any confusion about what we are talking about as the best of all possible political systems.

Democratic-decentralism may actually be seen, eventually, as representing the ideals of both the radical left and right, showing that on the political scale of liberalism-to-conservatism, when you take the extremes far enough, they eventually curve around to come together in agreement. This shows the viability and efficacy of the political structures of “democratic-decentralism.”

What remains for clarification is just what a democratic-decentralist nation-state would look like. It certainly would not look like the current government of the United States of America. The first constitution written by the original thirteen American Colonies specified a confederal system, which was soon scrapped for the centralized Constitution that we know and (more-or-less) love. That was done for a reason, and it is hard to see America going back to confederalism, yet previously I could not envision America going where it is now headed under president number 45, so perhaps if the current conservative national administration continues the way it seems to be going, democratic-decentalism may become a national issue.

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