Power Sharing

The Formation of a Ruling Elite

Whenever a core group forms within a collective that takes on the work of managing its day-to-day affairs, like paying the rent and keeping the books, orienting new members, representing the organization to outsiders--the press, for instance--and ultimately deciding the direction of the organization without consulting the collective, members should become very concerned.

If the core faction scoffs at adherence to established procedures or ridicules people who are concerned about process, claiming that they, the hard-working, indispensable backbone of the organization, are more interested in getting things done than going to meetings, there is no consensus or collectivism at work in the group.

Domineering people often seek to disparage or discourage sticking to a written code of procedures. This allows them to act without the group's consent but without having clearly violated any rule, or even to claim that they alone know the rules and have in fact followed them. Worse, they may force someone else to act according to their wishes, again claiming that the procedural code, which no one has ever seen, requires it.

More often, however, a lack of process allows self-appointed leaders to control the collective by attrition and default. The issues they don't favor are allowed to fall by the wayside, quietly. If anybody complains, these self-appointed leaders can simply say they haven't gotten around to it yet because, since they are running the organization, they are swamped with work. Or, they can claim that that those matters that didn't get done simply didn't work out logistically. How can the other memebers, who have been kept out of the loop of any logistics, claim it to be otherwise?

Whenever a small elite has been allowed to take over, the remaining members are left to function only as worker bees. The ruling clique may seek to consolidate its power by fragmenting the organization, so that no one knows what anybody else is doing except those at the top, who have to be consulted every time a step needs to be taken that could affect another subgroup or the broader infrastructure of the organization.

In some cases, members who have been cut off from the leadership, which by rights everyone should participate in, may simply work independently on their own projects, using the group only for the resources it is able to offer. That too does not constitute operating by consensus.

Egalitarian collectives require that everyone be informed about every aspect of the organization's functioning and that each person have the skills to perform any and all of the tasks involved. This may be tedious, but without it there is no power sharing.

The Responsibilities of Collective Members

A collective requires the active and vigilant participation of all members in order to function by consensus or collectively.

Just as those who take on positions of power subvert consensus, so do the people who relinquish authority and lose interest in the workings of the group. Because a collective has no bosses to enforce the rules, everyone involved in the communal effort has to take responsibility to see to it that the operating guidelines are adhered to by all. If somebody acts in a domineering manner, it is everyone else's role to call the person to task and ask him or her to change the behavior. Failing to do so means that consensus is no longer at work in the group.

Domineering members may strive to encourage apathy and lack of participation, usually by keeping people uninformed or clueless about what's going on in the group. This is an authoritarian strategy to concentrate power within one individual or small faction. When the majority loses interest in making decisions, the few will take that role upon themselves.

It is absolutely crucial, in order for consensus to function, that all members take an active role in the functioning of the collective and that everyone keep him- or herself fully informed. Giving away power, unfortunately, usually means somebody will be ready to scoop it up.

Please send your comments and suggestions to: collectivebook@yahoo.com.

"Is This What Consensus Looks Like?"

"Is This the Just Society We Want to Model?


[Why This Booklet?]
[Introduction to Consensus]
[The Particular Vulnera-
bility of Collectives
[Power Sharing]
[Red Flags to Guard Against]
[Ploys To Subvert Consensus]
[The Problem With Politeness]
[The Need For Kindness]
[Creating Pariahs]
[Respect for Differences]
[Personal vs. Group Issues]
[Micro-Managing Behaviors]
[Skepticism is Healthy]
[There's Hope]

[A Model for Justice?]
[The Dearth of Due Process]
[What About Free Speech?]

[Codifying the Collective Process]
[Relinquishing Control of Projects and People]
[Staying True to the Mission]
[What’s a Lone Person to Do?]







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