Is there an anarchist kind of democracy

The anarchist consensus democracy

08 2005

Ralf Burnicki

Transcription of a video by O. Ressler,
recorded in Bielefeld, Germany, 29 min., 2005

We are here in front of the Bürgerwache in the west of Bielefeld. According to my grandfather, who was part of the communist resistance, the civil guard and the square in front of it were used for communist meetings during the Weimar period and shortly before Hitler came to power. These communist assemblies then fell victim to acts of violence by both police and fascists.

I came into contact with the phenomena of domination quite early on. One of these contacts was my apprenticeship as a locksmith, in which I was confronted with internal hierarchies, e.g. B. The way the journeymen dealt with, but also the whole atmosphere that goes with such a locksmith apprenticeship. That wasn't exactly what made me compatible with rulers. I then dealt with domination for the first time, read books and asked myself whether there is a "just" society. At some point I came across the writings of anarchism. I co-founded Edition Blackbox together with Michael Halfbrodt, a Bielefeld writer. This is a libertarian publisher with the aim of bringing out anarcho-poetry, i.e. libertarian and anarchist-oriented literature, on the one hand, and political texts on the other.

With "Anarchism and Consensus" in 2002 I asked about the anarchist consensus principle, according to the "how?", According to the "why?" and the "where are you going?" answered on over 300 pages. "Anarchism and Consensus" is a very broad topic and does not touch the entire spectrum of anarchism as a whole. In particular, those anarchists who feel associated with the classics will find themselves on the periphery here. The "Free Workers Union" operates with a council system that is presented as an alternative to the current representative system. The anarchists to whom I refer in "Anarchism and Consensus" are more likely to come from the neo-anarchist realm. These include Jan Stehn, Burkhard Keimburg, Charlie Blackfield and Gunar Seitz. That is the question of what an alternative anarchist society could look like that manages without a council system and forms a society at the bottom of society, on the basis of everyday life, in everyday life with one another. A social "top" is completely dispensed with here. It is about the question of how we can make decisions that are free of domination and do not require an "above".

The term anarchism comes from the Greek "an-archia", which means "without rule". Anarchism is about a society without rule, a society without a hierarchical structure in the sense of a top and bottom. And that is precisely what makes people suspicious, because many people cannot imagine a life or a society without an "above", without a government. There have always been many misunderstandings when dealing with the concept of anarchy. These misunderstandings are often based on a lack of knowledge of the anarchist movement. This anarchist movement had different phases. In the 19th century, this also included the attempt to fight governments directly with violence. A prejudice against anarchists that they are ready to use violence certainly originates from this time. This can no longer be reconciled with neo-anarchism at all. Neo-anarchism, which has developed in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1968, is often a non-violent anarchism. In anarcho-syndicalist contexts as well, as in non-violent contexts, the principle applies that the goal of the revolution, namely freedom and equality, should also be found in the means of this revolution. So these means cannot be based on violence, because violence is not a goal in an anarchist society.

Furthermore, anarchism is so difficult for many people to understand because many people cannot imagine a life without control, without organs of the state, without control from above. They have never learned to organize self-determination, they have never learned to set up self-governing organizational structures, they have never learned to make decisions that are free of domination even in their private lives. It is therefore a certain blind spot in today's so-called democracy that people learn human rights and, accordingly, in paragraph 1 of the constitution, "Human dignity is inviolable", terms that are similar to or correspond to democracy. But the daily implementation of what democracy demands, namely actual self-determination, self-administration and self-organization of the population, is neglected.


If I want to describe the anarchist consensus principle or consensus model, it may first be helpful to speak of this consensus model as an independent decision theory or as a direct democratic theory. This model relates to the intrinsic value of political decisions, that is, the path of a political decision becomes the focus of attention. "Consensus" comes from the origin of the word "agreement", "consent". Consensus, if it is to be free of domination and should relate to an actual process of communication and decision-making, is therefore of importance for concrete decision-making. Concrete decision-making means within a direct democratic theory that z. For example, the question arises as to how we can manufacture something. How can we B. build a center? How can we build a road? How can we build our community? What should we do? If you look at representative democracy, that is, this form of democracy, which is characterized by representative systems, then we see that this representative democracy ignores those who are severely affected. This can easily be demonstrated for the example of the Federal Republic of Germany at Hartz IV or at all Hartz laws, because here all unemployed benefit recipients are simply ignored and tended to be plunged into poverty. Those affected are completely ignored in such decisions at any time.
The anarchist consensus democracy, on the other hand, provides for a completely different principle, which can be understood in two directions. On the one hand, in an anarchist consensus democracy, all those affected have the right to be called upon to make decisions. On the other hand, all people who would draw a disadvantage from a decision, I call them negatively affected, have a right of veto in these decision-making processes. This right of objection allows them to make a decision impossible, so that a completely new discussion has to be held. With their right of veto, these people would have a very strong role within the decision-making process and could avoid disadvantages. The garbage transports that take place in a representative democracy, for example, would not come about at all. Today it is the case with garbage transports and Castor removal from storage that the local population affected has no right of veto. It has no right to make these decisions impossible for the government in any way, even though it is regionally very badly affected by possible consequences of radioactive contamination or accidents. In an anarchist consensus democracy, such decisions would not be possible because those affected could make them impossible at any time, since in this case those affected would simply veto. How the consensus principle works in detail can be roughly shown using three elements: There is a meeting of those affected, i.e. those who have any consequence from a decision. There is then the option of either rejecting a decision-making, which is pending as a proposal, with a veto, or supporting the decision. The latter means that this affects me now, but I can accept the consequences without much impact on myself, e.g. B. because I don't want to stop this whole process and see a meaning in the process itself. The ideal, on the other hand, represents a consensus, i.e. all-round consent and consent to a decision-making or decision-making perspective. This complete approval represents the ideal of consensus democracy. In practice, however, it can be said that there are often compromises, whereby all sides can claim half or three quarters advantages for themselves. But in an anarchist consensus democracy, consensus is the goal to be striven for. With it the purpose is pursued to make lordly decisions impossible.

In the anarchist consensus model, as in anarchism in general, a view of society is represented that relates in particular to the micro-level of society. That is, it is not about relations between governments and the governed, it is all about the governed getting rid of their governments. It is about people coming together at the grassroots level who make decisions independently and autonomously in cooperation with other people on the so-called micro level of society. The anarchist theory actually has two points of criticism of the state in principle: On the one hand, the state constantly produces governments - whether or not these can then be voted out after a certain period of time is an open question - and thus creates a hierarchically structured top and an affected bottom. That is unjust, that is against any kind of equality and against a claim, which is also represented in a democratic theory, that it is ultimately about the interests of the people's base. But that is already not being done the moment you create governments. So we are dealing with a criticism of the state that demands exactly what democracy also demands, namely to make the interests of the population the focus of politics. Since that does not happen, it is of course correspondingly criticized by anarchists. On the other hand, this state, which is constantly producing governments, also has a monopoly on the use of force. That means what he allows himself to do, namely to use violence against opponents or people who do not conform to the normative ideas of exercising violence, he forbids the others. In the end, the population is left without any means. Exercise of force is granted by the monopoly of force to the state alone - and this is unjust. Anarchism strives for a non-state and non-capitalist form of organization of a society at the base of the population. It's all about the base of the population. Every population makes decisions based on needs, and the decisions should only be made by the population, by those affected. Decisions are therefore brought about on the micro level of society according to individual decision-making needs and are organized by those concerned themselves. The characteristics of this non-hierarchical democracy would be an anti-hierarchical organization from below, synthesized from the personal interests of the individual groups that are federated, and a fractal and decentralized structure of cooperation and federations. These collaborations take place at any time, but can also be terminated at any time if it meets the needs of those affected. Another characteristic is the procedural structure of decisions. Decisions can only be made if they come from the individual. These decisions relate to the needs of individuals and not to the needs of rulers who for whatever reason control or want to control these individuals.Another feature - and this applies to the principle of consensus - is the decentralized structure. Consensus democracy cannot work with millions. A decentralized structure of an anarchist society is necessary, the return of politics and decisions to regional and communal conditions, to decision collectives in the base of the population. This ensures that decisions are controlled at all times by the population and by individuals, and it also guarantees access to decisions at all times. Decisions can change if the needs of the individual change and can be revoked at any time.

It should be noted that supra-regional decisions are also possible. Consensus decision-making processes are not tied to a region or supra-regional standards, but they cannot be transferred to the size of a million-dollar state like the Federal Republic of Germany. To regulate public affairs, e.g. B. the construction of a road or the building of a school - if there are schools and we can agree on them - or the regulation of electricity, it is necessary that municipalities and regions communicate supra-regionally and about the needs and needs of the individuals and groups living in the communities. You could now introduce intermediate bodies between the various municipalities and regions to regulate such public concerns. These intermediate bodies try to come up with suggestions on how to deal with a problem. From here, the suggestions go back to the grassroots groups and collectives. It is important that only those proposals are implemented that are approved by all those involved and affected. It should therefore be ruled out that a group that contradicts a proposal because it would be negatively affected is ignored. Gunar Seitz described this wonderfully in an article: If a person or a group sees themselves negatively affected because they have suffered a material loss - the street would e.g. B. built where the house is now where people live - such a decision is a lordly one, since it would be made in favor of satisfying the needs of a majority over and above the needs of minorities. That is not possible in an anarchist society. The intermediate committees would have no decision-making function, they would be discussion bodies, circles in which all those concerned could come together to discuss. The aim is to work out a proposal that is viable for all parties and to return this proposal to the base groups. In this way, supra-regional cooperation would be possible. In order to imagine that this is actually feasible and feasible, one only needs to imagine today that the post office also functions at the level of states and also between states, without there being a universal postal authority. People are therefore quite capable of organizing supra-regional issues with the help of committees. It is important for an anarchist society that no one is ignored, that no one is taken advantage of by the decisions. That means in the case of the street that then leads along where there is now a house in which those affected live, one could offer these people to move to another house. This would ideally be larger than your previous one, so that you also have an advantage from the decision. However, if these people want to continue living in the house, it is not feasible to ignore them.

In order to install participation as a matter of course, as a social principle, in an anarchist society, it requires an incredibly high level of motivation from those affected and from people to take part in political participation processes and decision-making. I imagine a kind of motivation like today's soccer fans. While football fans today travel across Germany to call out the interests of their club, in an anarchist society the trip - not only on weekends, but in principle at any time - could go to decision-making places where one can participate in supraregional decisions and participate in discussions. The intrinsic value of the democratic decision would be in the foreground. The classic participation theory (Habermas and many others) had already emphasized in the 1970s that participation and democratic participation in decisions has an intrinsic value. It is the same in anarchism, perhaps much, much stronger than any bourgeois theory has ever tried to formulate or think. In anarchism, the primacy of participation applies, the primacy of political participation. Those who do not share this primacy, who do not feel like participating in democratic processes and decision-making, will of course not be forced to do so. But anarchism and anarchist society would offer an immense opportunity to get involved and to shape reality together with others, to help organize it and to ensure that nothing stays as it was.

In an anarchist society there would be no institutions that could be compared in any way with today's legal institutions, courts, police institutions, government institutions. They would not be necessary because, according to the consensus democratic idea and when using consensus procedures, those affected do not have to go to court to represent their interests, but concerns are already part of the consensus democratic process. Because all those affected must be involved in a decision and those negatively affected have a right of veto.

A perhaps simple idea of ​​the anarchist consensus principle and its effects can be made plausible using an example. The municipalities A, B and C are some distance from a river and because they want to take advantage of the river, e.g. B. the irrigation of their fields, they would like to divert this river and bring it close to them. Now there is a municipality D 200 km south of these three municipalities A, B and C, which would have a disadvantage if this river were diverted because the river would then dry up. This community is located directly on the river and has so far benefited directly from this river. If the river dries up due to the diversion to communities A, B and C, community D would have an immediate right of veto and would have to be involved in decisions as a negatively affected community. This right of veto would make it impossible for municipalities A, B and C to divert this river. According to the anarchist principle of consensus, the only option is to take the work into your own hands, not to leave the disadvantages to others, and communities A, B and C would have to move to the river themselves. Hopefully this would not cause any negative effects in the community D, and such a procedure would be legitimate. With the anarchist principle of consensus, it is important to avoid being affected across the region, to avoid material losses for others in the first place and, if possible, to make decisions that only have consequences for oneself but not negative consequences for others.


There are certainly numerous criticisms of the anarchist consensus model and they are dealt with in detail in the book. Probably one of the most important is that to implement an anarchist consensus model, to implement an anarchist direct democracy based on the principle of consensus, a radical change in the sense of a system change would have to take place, which is not feasible with today's political but also economic elites. Because this upheaval towards an anarchist consensus democracy means the complete abolition of its power.
Another criticism could be that in the anarchist consensus model certain technical requirements no longer apply as they apply today. A technology of the power supply, as z. B. is given by atomic energy, is not able to reach a consensus, since it brings about those affected regionally as well as nationally in the event of accidents. That is why atomic energy is not capable of consensus. An anarchist consensus democracy will depend on producing alternative technologies that will not ignore anyone. A great deal of imagination will therefore have to be required to find alternative technological solutions that are capable of consensus.


Self-organization from below would have to start in the form of self-managed projects. The anarchist society is not a distant goal, but the striving for it begins in the here and now, with the establishment of federal relationships, with the establishment of self-managed projects, self-organized houses, self-managed publishers, etc. It is about people at the grassroots level organize here and now, actually immediately - already yesterday - and ultimately make the state superfluous. Ultimately, it is about rethinking ourselves as individuals, as subjects. It is important to understand that we cannot make ourselves dependent on external conditions or state regulations in order to achieve a free and autonomous life, but have to free ourselves. For us, it's about shaping the world. The final sentence of my book is: Democracy is not at its conceivable end, it is only just beginning.

Poem (excerpt): 1999, by Ralf Burnicki

Having funneled down the ramp into the inner lining of the emergency room, the patient shows no concerns, rather strict discipline, which he learns from the white doctor's coats, his thoughts are surrounded by the tightening cycle of the staff, who use selected words to advance to a crisis ...