“When I was allotted, I was honored to participate in the process. But I was very quickly disillusioned.”

These are excerpts from an interview with an allotted member of the electoral committee of La France insoumise which appeared in Liberation in July [original in French, my translation].

The list of La France Insoumise for the European elections: “Everything was fixed by the directorate to favor little deals between friends”

By Maïté Darnault, reporter in Lyon

An activist in Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s movement, who participated in the debates of the electoral committee for appointing the candidates for the upcoming European elections, says she witnessed “scandalous” appointment methods and calls on activists to reject the list presented this Wednesday.

Lilian Guefli, an activist in La France insoumise (LFI), a member of the electoral committee which has just presented the movement’s list for the European elections, denounces “unhealthy procedures”, an atmosphere “of suspicion” within the committee, and says that Manuel Bompard (national secretary of the Left Party and campaign director for Jean-Luc Mélenchon) and his associates dominate the eligible positions.

You were on the electoral committee of LFI. What was your role?

I was allotted in April to participate in the electoral committee. For the European elections list we examined more than 600 candidates. 70 names were eventually selected. After a phase of comment by activists – we received more than 800 comments – we proceeded to the decide on the ordering. This ranking is the most important part because the European elections use proportional representation, and the ranking therefore determines who may realistically be elected.

What is it that you protest?

A deliberate, orchestrated manipulation. When I was allotted, I was honored to participate in the process. But I was very quickly disillusioned when I saw that in fact everything was already fixed by the directorate to favor little deals between friends and cliques which have already divided up the top positions on the list in advance. A list of names of members of the Left Party that are to be promoted was given to us by a member of the directorate. One candidate was installed in a top position without debate, so that she did not appear on the list of 70. I protest that Manuel Bompard, the “head” of the movement who has no real legitimacy with the base, is a member of the electoral committee and controls it. Being himself a candidate, he is at the same time judge and judged. That poses a real problem of independence for the committee.

How did that play out?

He constantly tried to promote those loyal to him and exclude those he did not like or that he saw as a potential threat. He made sure that we do not take into account positive comments about candidates that were supported by platform activists… Some candidates were not even considered for the top of the list. I asked several times that we consider those but I was not heeded.

What would you like to see happen now?

The published list is going to be submitted to the members. I call on them therefore to vote against this list and I call on each person to be responsible. I think it would be better to follow the example of Podemos, rather than have a list where associations and cliques trump the humanist and democratic values of LFI. This concerns the future of our movement.

22 Responses

  1. Very disappointing from LFI indeed. Classic politicians like to use sortition as a way to make their own selection. Maybe we need a party with a DNA completely oriented toward sortition.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. But it won’t be easy. Unlike in small groups, democracy in large groups doesn’t just happen.


  3. Yoram, why do you claim that small group democracy “just happens”? I doubt if many (any?) social psychologists would agree. Given the myriad inequalities (intrinsic as well as structural) between different persons over a wide range of factors, I would argue that democracy is a highly artificial state of affairs that needs careful nurturing in groups of any size.


  4. My impression is that the scientific consensus is that egalitarianism was the norm in primitive societies. For example, a 20 second search online found this: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201105/how-hunter-gatherers-maintained-their-egalitarian-ways.

    Of course, “just happens” doesn’t mean there is no effort involved. It rather means that small group democracy is the outcome of naturally occurring group dynamics, so no a-priori deliberate abstract analysis and design is required.


  5. From memory cultural anthropology is a highly contested (and politicised) field (primitive communism vs Napoleon Chagnon), my reference was to contemporary social psychology. Terry has outlined some of the factors that lead to unequal participation (and outcomes) but it would be helpful to have some input from a specialist in this area. Is it really the case that democracy is the outcome of naturally occurring (small) group dynamics? I very much doubt it.


  6. The Psychology Today article reminds me of the pleasure and insight I received from the classic *Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture* by Johan Huizinga.
    It also confirmed what I observed during the two years my wife and I lived in a small grass hut in a village of traditional hunter-gatherers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The term “democracy” probably isn’t appropriate for the relatively more egalitarian structure of small pre-agriculture human communities. The field of evolutionary psychology is certainly controversial (some say it is non-scientific, based more on logical thought experiments than real experimentation – with only a small number of monographs about persisting hunting and gathering societies in places like the Kalahari, etc.). It seems safe to say, however, that the way humans spontaneously self-organize when in small groups in which everybody knows everybody else (whether egalitarian or not), tells us very little about the way humans self-organize when their numbers grow beyond that threshold.


  8. Terry,

    I agree, and it’s irrelevant whether the communicative dysfunctions that are likely to appear in contemporary small groups are the result of inherent or structural inequalities (the argument raging among anthropologists). Would still love to hear from a social psychologist what those dysfunctions are likely to be.

    What is interesting is that this shows the degree to which pre-theoretical intuitions (prejudices) shape the policy preferences of different members of this group and it helps explain why (for example) Yoram and I constantly talk past each other. According to my prejudice the suggestion that small groups will naturally organise along egalitarian lines is just laughable, and this was certainly the view of the author of Lord of the Flies.


  9. Given my experience in Nuit Debout in a small group – as small as three people – a hierarchy almost immediately appears with leaders and listeners. Sortition enables to overcome this “natural” hierarchy by designating a leader randomly and renewing them often.


  10. Yes, that confirms my own intuition as to natural hierarchies, but I’m sceptical that this can be overcome by rotation. Limiting allotted jurors to silent deliberation within and voting in secret is a much more reliable mechanism.


  11. What is “silent deliberation”?


  12. I get it, I didn’t because I was still thinking about small groups. You split the group in two and for that, you need a critical number of people. You end up in the same situation as soon as you have more than three jurors; I see sortition working inside the small group of alloted jurors.


  13. If leadership and hierarchies are inherent (“natural” as you put it), then allotting (and rotating) convenors will not create equality as the personal differences will remain, and this will adversely affect the representativity of the sample wrt the target population. That’s why in my model allotted jurors just 1) listen, 2) think and then 3) vote in secret.


  14. I think we do not use natural with the same meaning. My today’s post on my blog is about hierarchy and how we built pyramids. They do not appear from anywhere.


  15. rcaze:> They do not appear from anywhere

    I agree. Democracy is an engineered artefact, rather than the emergent property of small-group interaction.


  16. *** I think we must distinguish different kinds of societies. The democratic idea is specifically about a macro-community. It is not about a transient group. It is not about a micro-community, as a couple, a group of close friends, a joint family, a band of hunters-gatherers. I use micro- and macro- for simplicity’s sake, but the main parameter is not size, it is the kind of psychic interactions. In a macro-community we have no strongly personal interactions with most of the other persons. Even a village is a macro-community: I may have face-to-face knowledge of most members, but I have intimate personal relationships with only some of them.
    *** I don’t say there are no questions of power, hierarchy etc. in a micro-community, but the existence of strong personal interactions makes the situation deeply different, and we cannot use the same keys of analysis. I agree here with Terry Bouricius.
    *** I agree with Keith Sutherland “democracy is a highly artificial state of affairs” “an engineered artefact”. In archaic Greece the assembly of men in a “city”, which included all the citizens / warriors, could be said a “natural” thing – in case of war, all these men anyway had to be summoned. But the archaic city assembly, as we can see in the song 2 of Homer’s Odyssey, is far from democratic. To convert it to a democratic assembly, it was necessary to add some very new principles, as the equality of all members, the majoritarian decision process (instead of fuzzy kinds of consensus), the sovereign power (kratos) of the dêmos. None of these principles was “natural”. Allotted juries and magistracies were likewise “artificial”.
    *** Cleisthenes’ setting up of dêmokratia in Athens was a strong instance of “social engineering”. And we must remember that it went along a likewise “artificial” endeavor of “melting” the civic body (with even official cancellation of the family names). In colonial cities where probably this kind of melting involved melting of colonists, natives and half breed, the “artificial” blurring of ethno-racial lines was a more difficult level of social engineering, and maybe it is the reason overseas democracies as Syracuse and Cyrene appear less stable than Athens (but here we have very little precise historical knowledge).
    *** Whatever the questions of power in bands of hunters-gatherers, saying by reference to them that “democracy is the natural state of humanity” (the idea of the French theorist Baechler) is dangerous, as it can lead us to forget that in macro-communities dêmokratia is a highly artificial model.


  17. Andre,

    > in macro-communities dêmokratia is a highly artificial model.

    Any “macro-community” as you define it – democratic or not – is a highly artificial state of affairs. Humans evolved in small communities in which intimate, all-to-all communication took place.

    The ideological extension of the egalitarian nature of the relationship in the small group to a larger group is “natural”, but the mechanisms for doing so are unnatural and not straightforward. The tension between these two facts is playing out today in the so-called “crisis of democracy”.


  18. Yoram:> The ideological extension of the egalitarian nature of the relationship in the small group to a larger group is “natural”, but the mechanisms for doing so are unnatural and not straightforward.

    I’d dispute the first point but, leaving that aside, this is why the “democratic” solution is not just to allot a sample of the target population and let the organising principles evolve endogenously. It will require the close involvement of historians, psychologists and statisticians and needs to be grounded on a sound theoretical basis. Such an (expert) body would be the “Lawmaker” in Rousseau’s terminology, although an allotted jury might well decide as to whether the proposed constitution was the right way to proceed.


  19. Andre:> In archaic Greece the assembly of men in a “city”, which included all the citizens / warriors, could be said a “natural” thing – [but] far from democratic. To convert it to a democratic assembly, it was necessary to add some very new principles

    This is an important point as it suggests that societies naturally organise along hierarchical lines, and that political power is a reflection of physical power (strength, wealth etc). The role of democracy is to [artificially] remodel this natural imbalance along egalitarian lines (equality itself being nothing more than a mathematical abstraction). It also suggests that societies were formed by war, rather than some hypothetical social contract.


  20. At least we are all putting the word “natural” in quotes, as this discussion isn’t based in scientific findings, but rather arm-chair speculation. We can certainly observe that a large number of large societies that grew into empires that built cities and monuments were non-egalitarian authoritarian societies. But it is also plausible that an equal or greater number of ancient societies were egalitarian (whether democratic or not), and simply BECAUSE of their egalitarian nature did not build stone monuments that we can find today. Also, due to path dependence, one authoritarian society may have prompted the rise of competing authoritarian societies. In short we have no idea if human macro-societies “naturally” are inclined to hierarchy or equality, and it hardly matters. We know humans are CAPABLE of either, and what matters is their history, framework, and particular institutional designs.


  21. Terry:> simply BECAUSE of their egalitarian nature did not build stone monuments that we can find today.

    I’m no expert, but I believe there are numerous stone monuments from (democratic and egalitarian) Athens. If there were an equal or greater number of ancient egalitarian societies (either “natural” or constructed), I think the archaeological evidence would bear this out. Most ancient statues are of gods and goddesses not tyrants.


  22. […] of sortition. A member of La France insoumise who was allotted to its electoral committee expressed disillusionment with the process. Other FI activists claim that “so far, the allotted have had no real […]


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