“So far the allotted have had no real power”

A recent article in L’Obs deals with the internal government of the French Left party La France insoumise (France Uprising). La France insoumise has employed sortition to select some of the delegates to its convention. The original in French is here. My translation – corrections welcome.

At La France insoumise, first fractures regarding internal operations

Marseille (AFP) – La France insoumise (LFI), created two years ago around the presidential platform of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is showing the first fractures regarding its internal operations while its leader has launched a European campaign.

At the beginning of the year, the deputy Clémentine Autain, a member of Ensemble, one of the components of the Left Front, had called for the movement to “consider how to invigorate internal pluralism”. At the time, she was noted for judging as severe the disagreements between the Communist Party and LFI, and wishing for discussions “without mockery or contempt”.

Today she presents things more calmly: “The movement is in flux, it is unfinished, there are necessarily tensions about who makes decisions […]. But we do not want ignore them.” And indeed discontent exists. The group Collectif des Insoumis démocrates (CID) was formed a few months ago and its petition “For democracy within LFI” has collected 600 signatures. Among the questions that it raises is this one: Who decided that the ecology, the pensions and the link between Emmanuel Macron and Europe would be the principal point for the European campaign presented by Mélenchon on Saturday?

“We did not choose our representatives, the planks in the platform, the political vocabulary, or the strategy”, laments Christophe Cailloux, co-founder of CID, in an interview to AFP. “It is worse than the old parties: there are no internal elections, no convention, no movement.” But according to Manuel Bompard, campaign chief and designated as one of those topping the European list, it is precisely because the movement wants to differentiate itself from other parties that its organization must be different.

Bompard pointed to the action groups that are self-organized locally and to the allotment of two thirds of the participants at the conventions and for the electoral committee, which has recently appointed the candidates for the European elections.

“So far the allotted have had no real power”, responds Christophe Cailloux. “The represent nothing and nobody, and are easily influenced” by the reimaining third, the “area” leaders (program leaders, operations leaders, political leaders, etc.).

The outcome is, according to Clémentine Langlois, an LFI candidate for the first electoral district of Frenchpeople abroad at the legislative elections, and another founder of CID, that “power stays in the hands of a small group of people” close to Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

“There is a polycentric trend, but various questions arise regarding the designation of managers,” admits a leader at LFI. “Some veteran activists are sometimes disconcerted, there is a great demand for democracy and we must not underestimate this question.”

The economist Liêm Hoang Ngoc, co-founder of the Socialistes insoumis, denounced on Friday what he described as a consolidation of “a hard core” by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, after having suspended the participation of his group in LFI in July.

As for the deputy François Ruffin, one of the personalities of the movement more prevalent in the media, he has prefered to remain in vacation with his family rather than come to Marseille this weekend, a well-noted absence.

“Class struggle, a struggle for positions”

“The way to get close to Mélenchon is to prove yourself, and that is healthy,” emphasized a person close to an LFI deputy.

“We have not been born yesterday of the loins of Mélenchon!”, protests Danièle Obono, a deputy of LFI from Paris. “We are trying to build something different, in order not to reproduce the same schemas with the same errors”, she explains as someone who has known the divisions of the extreme left, like Jean-Luc Mélenchon at the Socialist Party.

“The class struggle must not be replaced by the struggle for positions”, summarizes Thomas Guénolé, a political scientist who created the “Training school” of LFI.

“It is also necessary to accept that those who were at the heart of the presidential elections would be the decision-makers”, argues Jean-Marie Brom, who was in charge of the writing of the booklet “Energy” [one of a series of booklets that laid out the LFI platform during the presidential elections].

He has aspired to obtain a place on the list of European candidates but did not achieve it. He maintains however “the incredible enthusiasm which has had in the past for the Greens during the 1980’s. After that, the Green wanted to become a party…”

16 Responses

  1. *** I don’t have sure knowledge about internal debates inside the high levels of La France Insoumise. I will here put some comments about the possible links between sortition and charismatic leadership.
    *** In any political system with collective debates we will find phenomena of political “parties”, with a wide meaning of the word, around charismatic politicians and definite policies. But a “representative” system, which includes elections for many jobs without much technical skill needed, will generate political parties with strong organization, able to support the candidates and, before, to select the candidates.
    *** In the Athenian democracy, few political functions were assigned by vote: the military and, in 4th century, the financial managers. Few jobs, and with technical skills (appearing especially important in 4th century). The systems did not generate “hard parties”, and the structuration was rather of tendencies around definite policies and charismatic politicians. In case of a strongly charismatic politician with a popular policy – as Pericles and his “intelligent imperialism” – that gave to the political life a plebiscitary flavor, which allowed Thucydides, who liked Pericles and his policy but disliked democracy itself, to see there a kind of monarchy (a tendentious comment). There were no such phenomena in the Second Athenian Democracy, but clearly there were loose “parties” around policies and charismatic characters.
    *** Inside a political party, the same phenomena may occur. The party, in a representative system, will itself be structured into internal factions. And if we suppose a charismatic leader of the party, he could prefer internal sortition rather than internal elections.
    *** The left-populism of Mélenchon drew strong criticisms from the established far-left. About his proposals, and about his symbols (as the intensive use of the word “people” and of the national flag). Some leftists said he did not belong to the true Left, because he did not acknowledge an absolute right of any foreigner to immigrate into France – for them, it was the shibboleth. But some far-left factions did rejoin him, maybe mostly in hope, at last, of an electoral victory. Maybe there are now clashes between these factions and the left-populist kernel of La France Insoumise, around the charismatic leader, who is protected by internal sortition

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  2. Andre,

    The question in my mind is to what extent the allotted are in a role that allows them to develop independently-generated and evaluated opinions and agendas and have those determine party actions.

    The situation that you are describing, IIUC, where the old Left elite is unhappy about being unable to use its power withing LFI is certainly a reasonable possibility. But their complaints – the Melenchon and his associates form a new elite that is able to control the nominally powerful allotted body – also ring true. Therefore the whole situation seems more like a clash between elites rather than an issue of democratic governance of the party.

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  3. Andre,

    Given that the growth of charismatic populism is held to be a defining factor (aberration?) of 21st-century politics it’s interesting to hear that sortition could make the problem worse.

    PS by “representative” system I assume you mean one relying on elections. Many of us on this forum use the word in a different sense.

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  4. To Yoram Gat
    Yes, maybe the (non-populist) leftists in LFI are right to complain. When Cailloux complains that the allotted two-thirds “are easily influenced by the remaining third, the “area” leaders (program leaders, operations leaders, political leaders, etc.)”, that rings familiar to the followers of this blog, who know that the mixing of allotted people and selected people is a way to use panels in an undemocratic way.

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  5. To Keith Sutherland
    *** All political waves are complex in the beginning. Maybe in present-day populisms there are some people who will lean to democracy-through-minipublics. But most of the populist discourse belongs to the electoral-representative stuff, they are saying; “change your elected representatives; you will get a new political class attuned to the common people and not the elites”. As Van Ruybrouck said, they propose a blood transfusion for the political class. Actually they will meet the sabotage by the “deep State” allied with the “civil society” oligarchizing elites. Either their endeavor will end quickly in failure; or they will reach some kind of compromise with the Establishment, a temporary semi-victory, and that will give some temporary weight to the electoral-representative idea; or, to govern really, they will try to control all administrative and judicial apparatus, and the system will go out of the polyarchic model, maybe towards a hybrid system.
    *** A democracy-through-minipublics will meet the same problems, but with a specific possibility: to give the last word in judicial matters to judicial minipublics, to put citizen panels to oversee all the State apparatus. The dêmos as sovereign has a possibility that no absolute king had: to multiply himself, as the gods in some mythologies.
    *** Today populisms are often charismatic because personal charisma allows having a contact with ordinary people without strong network support. But we must not identify populism and charismatic power. In France Marine Le Pen tries to go from extreme-right to populist right, and partly succeeds, without having much personal charisma. And a charismatic statesman may have support from at least one of the social elites. Erdogan, for instance, as far as I know, is supported by a business elite (against other elites).
    *** In a democracy-through-minipublics the weight of charismatic statesmen may be higher than in many polyarchies, but the minipublic deliberation giving more space to thorough debate gives less weight to charisma than general vote.

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  6. Andre:> give the last word in judicial matters to judicial minipublics, to put citizen panels to oversee all the State apparatus. The dêmos as sovereign has a possibility that no absolute king had: to multiply himself, as the gods in some mythologies.

    I think that is something most of us can agree on. The problem is the sortition monotheists who also want to monopolise the first word as well. If we could only focus on the things that unite us, we might stand some chance of influencing the uptake of sortition in modern polyarchies.

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  7. Andre,

    > mixing of allotted people and selected people is a way to use panels in an undemocratic way

    Indeed, but this is just one parameter in the setup of the allotted body (or indeed any governance body). There are many other parameters that determine the extent to which the body can become self-representative rather than a tool controlled from the outside or by an elite within it.

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  8. Yoram:> the extent to which the body can become self-representative

    The issue is the degree to which the allotted body represents the target population not itself. The two things are not necessarily the same (for reasons that Terry and Andre have pointed out).

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  9. The very concept of a charismatic political leader holding a concentration of power is anathema to democracy. Relying on “leaders” means that citizens are choosing not to exercise independent evaluation of policies (whether by a mini-public or an electorate). While leaders can provide an easy solution to the group coordination problem (whether for a band of gorillas or a nation state), it is also true that leaders can never be competent in all of the domains in which their supporters grant them authority. Well structured collective and diverse decision-making is generally better decision-making than that of one leader.

    Sortition is not automatically immune to the evils of political leadership. Unlike elections, however, sortition does not itself promote nor REQUIRE reliance on political leaders. Sortition is necessary for a good democracy, but it is not sufficient. A randomly selected minipublic might well be MORE likely to defer to a charismatic elected executive than would an elected legislature. Sortition in the legislative realm requires ending elections in the executive branch as well.

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  10. Terry:> A randomly selected minipublic might well be MORE likely to defer to a charismatic elected executive than would an elected legislature. Sortition in the legislative realm requires ending elections in the executive branch as well.

    Yes I think that’s right — that’s why in my books I opt for an appointed executive, subject to removal by censure motion in front of an allotted jury. I doubt if there are many on this forum who would advocate the appointment of government officials in large modern states “by bean”.

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  11. Terry Bouricius is very aware of the dangers of charismatic leadership. I understand his discourse but I think it needs comments, and is somewhat one-sided.
    *** Bouricius says: “Unlike elections, however, sortition does not itself promote nor REQUIRE reliance on political leaders”. Actually, election promotes parties, able to select and support candidacies, and these parties will often have leaders. But not often charismatic leaders. The conventional (not totalitarian) party does not usually promote charisma. In the last French presidential election, two persons only could be seen as having personal charisma, Macron and Mélenchon, they were not supported by conventional parties, and only the direct presidential election procedure allowed them to be in the competition. Sortition, by lessening the party phenomenon, may increase the role of charisma.
    *** I will propose the definition of charisma: “ability to attract the positive attention and interest of people by other personal parameters that social status or known expertise”. There may be different parameters, or set of parameters. A mix of smart intelligence and rhetorical exceptional ability is said to explain Pericles charisma. Sometimes an ingredient may come from the past – De Gaulle as former leader of Free French. In the case of Obama, one of the ingredients was sheer genealogy, as his mother was descended from the elite of the Southern Confederacy and his father was African.
    *** There are different kinds of “charisma”, and they may act differently in different political systems. Richelieu, in an absolute monarchy, Mao, in a totalitarian system, Pericles, in the First Athenian democracy, or some contemporary political leaders in polyarchies, were different characters acting in different regimes.
    *** In an (ortho-)democracy, charismatic phenomena are evils along Bouricius, because “citizens are choosing not to exercise independent evaluation of policies”. With a charismatic character in the public debate, we move away from cold rational choice. Right. But we must be aware that the ideal of collective choice in an ortho-democracy has other enemies, and very strong ones: the established thinking of mental inertia; the underground influence of networks propagating their agenda. A charismatic orator, by attracting attention to a new discourse, may give actually a “degree of freedom” to the common citizens minds, by enticing them to consider deeply ideas they would have rejected too quickly. In trials by jury, the one instance in our polyarchies of something remotely akin to democracy-through-minipublics, the charisma of an advocate may often have irrational effects; but sometimes it can help the jurors to be free from the established thinking.
    *** When Hypereides proposed to the Athenian dêmos to integrate the immigrants and free the slaves voluntary to fight the Macedonians, it was accepted by the Assembly but the decree was later crushed by an allotted jury. Hypereides was a very bright orator, but maybe without the charisma needed to have the Athenian dêmos consider deeply such a bold proposal, contrary to the whole established thinking. And, by the sheer inferiority of numbers, Athens was defeated by the Macedonian power, and with that the Greek democratic model.
    *** In conclusion, I don’t deny the dangers of charismatic characters in debate, including debates with minipublics, but I think they may have positive effects, and we must not consider charismatic phenomena as pure evils in an (ortho-)democracy.

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  12. Andre, that’s all very interesting, especially the Hypereides example.

    >the ideal of collective choice in an ortho-democracy has other enemies, and very strong ones: the established thinking of mental inertia; the underground influence of networks propagating their agenda. A charismatic orator, by attracting attention to a new discourse, may give actually a “degree of freedom” to the common citizens minds.

    Trump, for better or worse, is an example of thinking beyond the Beltway.

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  13. André,

    Two responses…

    1. I admit that my criticizing elected charismatic leaders is based largely on the United States, where political parties are whipped around by political leaders and have very little policy coherence over time. Countries with strong party-based proportional representation systems may have a different experience.

    2.The fact that charismatic leadership may in some cases end up resulting in positive policy outcomes is not an argument in its favor. Strong leaders might turn out to be a Roosevelt or a Hitler. The point is that strong political leadership short-circuits rational deliberation, by causing voters, or an elected chamber, or a randomly selected minipublic to choose NOT to engage in independent and careful informed consideration of policy, and to follow instead. I argue that a good deliberative process with a diverse and relatively representative group will more often come to good policy decisions… while charismatic leaders more often than not result in bad policy decisions. This last claim is not mere speculation… it is in the nature of human cognitive abilities that individuals will always have policy domains that they are good at understanding and others they are bad at understanding. Anytime decisions are given over to one or a few individuals, rather than a diverse deliberative process, most of the decisions will be sub-optimal. After the fact, there is often a “halo effect” that ascribes benevolence, genius and best possible outcomes to strong leaders… but this is erroneous most of the time.

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  14. About charisma, power and influence.
    *** I think Bouricius does not distinguish well enough two cases. In a representative system, or in a totalitarian system, the charismatic leader gets from his charisma the POWER, or an important part of power; with bad or good use of this power. In a “pure democracy” (ortho-democracy), or a pure aristocracy, or an absolute monarchy, the charismatic statesman gets only INFLUENCE through his charisma; for any policy proposal he needs to convince the sovereign (dêmos, monarch …). The problem here is different, it is intellectual. Right, there is a disturbing fact: a proposal by a charismatic statesman may succeed in convincing the sovereign whereas the same proposal from an ordinary orator would fail. Bouricius underlines the dangers of this “irrationality”. OK. But I said that it can be useful when the deliberation is under too strong effects of mental inertia or of the underground influence of networks.
    *** Acknowledging this beneficial possibility does not imply that I follow the discourse “that ascribes benevolence, genius and best possible outcomes to strong leaders” .
    *** Anyway it is not possible to exclude charismatic characters from public debate. The most possible is to set deliberation procedures which do not allow those characters to control the debate.
    *** Underlining the dangers of charismatic leaders may be used against sortition “because an elected chamber will be less easily influenced than a minipopulus”. OK, but the charismatic effect will act for the election! An elected chamber full of followers devoted to “the Leader” is much more dangerous that a minipopulus attracted by him, but independent of him.

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  15. About sortition, charisma and “the executive branch”
    *** Terry Bouricius wrote: “ A randomly selected minipublic might well be MORE likely to defer to a charismatic elected executive than would an elected legislature. Sortition in the legislative realm requires ending elections in the executive branch as well.”
    Keith Sutherland opts “for an appointed executive, subject to removal by censure motion in front of an allotted jury” and doubts “if there are many on this forum who would advocate the appointment of government officials in large modern states “by bean””.
    *** Discussion here is confused by the use of terms “executive” and “legislative”. In a modern dynamic society, the basic exercise of political power is the choice of a given policy in a specific field. This is logically followed by rules (legislative power”), consideration of specific cases (“judicial power”), material implementation by an administrative apparatus (“administrative power”). Let’s consider the immigration policy, without considering the extreme choices (open borders, closed borders). An allotted body may decide the policy, including principles and the specific rules specific to the different kinds of would be immigrants. Allotted judicial panels may judge individual cases. What remains is the material implementation. I think better it is managed by an official elected among those who proposed the immigration policy chosen by the minipopulus. And an overseeing allotted panel may oversee and censure both the manager himself and the administrative apparatus.
    *** “Executive” is especially confusing as in contemporary polyarchies the so called “executive branch” is actually the more salient in the choice of policies (even if this choice actually depends strongly of forces with little transparency).

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  16. Andre:> I think better it is managed by an official elected among those who proposed the immigration policy chosen by the minipopulus.

    The lack of progress over Brexit might well support this argument. The officials would be chosen (by the minipublic) on the basis of competence but also whether or not they supported the policies being implemented. So it’s the choosers who are selected “by bean”, not those who are chosen.

    PS I assume you mean “by” rather than “among” (in the sense of “from”).

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