On horizonal decision making and bureaucracy




From the UK webzine Stir (, a perceptive analysis by anthropologist and activist Marianne Maeckelbergh, highlighting  the potentialities and pitfalls of horizontal decision-making processes and their central role in current popular movements.

Maeckelbergh begins by highlighting the historical roots of conscious horizontalism, its liberatory potential, and also the need to  implement such processes very deliberately:

Horizontal decision-making rests on a transformation in the way we think about ‘equality’ and how it is created. The starting assumption is that full equality between all participants cannot exist naturally, and therefore structures and procedures are needed in order to continuously challenge hierarchies as they arise – whether they be based on gender, sex, race, class, education, skill, job, ability to express oneself, or inter-personal power dynamics based on past interactions. In this model of thinking,  equality is not something that can be declared and then forgotten about as in: ‘all men are created equal’, but is something that has to be continuously created and worked on.

The article also dissects many of the practical problems that have emerged at Occupy Wall Street and kindred movements around the world, and suggests some promising steps forward:

Although people themselves were still searching for what they specifically meant by ‘bureaucracy’ and why it was such a big problem, several factors were immediately apparent. Those participating in the general assembly were applying what I would consider a ‘capitalist’ logic to horizontal decision-making. Specifically, the three related assumptions that I saw appear, which I classify here as ‘capitalist’, were 1) that resources are scarce, 2) that we need to compete with each other to be heard or to get what we want and 3) what I would call a ‘proprietary’ attitude between participants: people were claiming domains of activity or knowledge as theirs, as something they were in a privileged position to know or act upon (everything from the kitchen to the figures of the ‘artist’ or the ‘academic’ were mentioned in discussions as groups of people who set themselves apart, claimed certain privilege based on knowledge, skill or work hours, and used this claim to knowledge to exclude others). As a result there was a perception that people were placing themselves in a position of control/superior knowledge and were resistant (for what I imagine are a very complex set of reasons) to sharing these tasks, skills or knowledge by creating the forms of constructive communication that are essential to the functioning of horizontal decision-making.

Full article is at Stir describes itself as “a community-building online magazine that features articles and interviews on radical gardening, community-supported agriculture, climate activism, democratic education, permaculture, the occupy movement, the commons, grassroots sports, food justice, cooperatives, practical philosophy and  more.”