Articulation between representative and participatory democracy from the perspective of rural communities who organize.

Articulation between representative and participatory democracy from the perspective of rural communities who organize.

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Being plugged in

“How can I live more than 90 years,” Claudio asked himself on seeing his friend die at the age of 93. His question echoed in the universe and his ancestors came to him in his sleep.  “Gossip and daydreams connect people to good purposes, making their lives longer”, said one who was his grandmother Chepa. “And what does it mean to be connected?”, Claudio asked in his sleep.

-“Having values which like landmarks guide you,” he heard a  melodious voice, which was his grandfather Chepón.

– “If a lever can move the world, a word which awakens can move minds dominated by demons that make you look upwards,” – was his great grandmother Mincha.

-“Reaching agreements, living up to them, making efforts and being loyal to the community,” was his grandmother Neca.

– “Speaking with adversaries, seeing their paths and building bridges with them,” was his great-grandmother Licha.

Claudio rolled over in his bed and his ancestors, shining in an aura of light, continued.

– “Do not give up hope, the one who despairs is unjust and sees their own end,” was his great-grandfather Juan.

– “Know how to brake and stop, and remember that to arrive you have to walk,” said his uncle Chindo

– “I went out more frequently and move about in more communities,” said the one who was his wife, she looked radiant

– “Be guided by your curiosity; the best bricklayer is the apprentice who does the plumb line several times, while the one with experience trusts himself and dies before really dying,” was the advice from the one who was his first love.

– ¡Grandfather! –Yiye ran into the room and Claudio woke with a start. “Get up, grandfather!” ordered his granddaughter. Claudio got up, wrote down what he dreamed and left to walk on the arm of his granddaughter.

Noah Harari (2011:26-27) states that gossip among human beings made homo sapiens different from the rest of the animals, particularly gossip about inexistent things that come to us through legends, myths and religions. Fiction makes us imagine and consequently act collectively as dozens, thousands and millions of people. The previous story itself  is a fiction where the ancestors come together (transcend) with Claudio through his dreams and show him how to be connected in order to live more: be plugged in with people through “landmarks”, “words”, “agreements”, and “bridges”, for which purpose each person must act “without despairing,” “knowing to brake and stop”, “getting out” and “being curious”. We argue that these collective actions in movement emerge and develop more strongly when they are plugged into (connected to) a framework of participatory and representative democracy.

How can participatory and representative democracy be connected as an expression and at the same time pillar for the transformation of societies? In this article we approach this question based on our involvement in processes of community clusters.

1.    Introduction

Democracy in the world has been in crisis, particularly in the last 20 years: increasingly governments chosen through elections, be they on the right or the left, have turned authoritarian, autocratic and even reveal dictatorial characteristics. What is characteristic of representative democracy is the separation of the executive, legislative, judicial and electoral branches. This seems to be disappearing, even their functions of being counterweights. A reflection of this crisis is the criminalization of protests, restriction of freedoms, decisions decreed by the executive branch without those decisions being deliberated on by parliament, and the intensification of what Harvey (2006) calls “accumulation by dispossession” under the umbrella of corporations and multinational enterprises. In particular in the current millennium, the spirit of Hobbes prevails, that people have the right to be selfish and to self-preservation, and that they renounce those rights and deposit them in the monarchy so that he might give them security and well-being: there is no spirit of Rousseau, that each person is good by nature, that society corrupts them and that a social contract is needed where the individual partially cedes their rights, power and property, and in exchange receives greater benefits, that each person is ruler and subject at the same time, and that they support the one who makes reasonable decisions.

This crisis also has meant a reduction in global democratic space: international human rights, health, peace and governance organizations have weakened, their resolutions are not obeyed. Countries like Putin´s Russia, Trump´s United States, and Jinping´s China coincide on this purpose of reducing the influence of international organizations, the former through the military, and the second and third through the economy.

What are the causes of this crisis? One, the structure of economic, political and religious mediation has become more and more hierarchical, authoritarian and exclusionary, moving under the principal of “survival of those who have” (capital + weapons) and individually (“personal salvation” and “there are only individuals”). Second, greed for capital[2]and the power to impose oneself on others through force at any cost, like the 185 interventions of the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean (ALC) in the name of democracy[3], or the quest for oil which has led to wars and military interventions in the name of progress[4]. Three, societies in the state of anomie (absence of just social norms) which reproduce ideologies of that mediation, societies which spontaneously react (rebel with a vengeful spirit) and then subordinate themselves to the emerging power which, in a short period of time, end up reproducing the same structures that it confronted. This crisis of democracy is experienced on a global, national, community and neighborhood levels.

We assume that democracy is a virtue for societies and that we should recover it intensifying its content and rooting it in societies which at the global level are moving from unipolarity to multipolarity. Consequently, we argue that representative democracy has come loose – autonomized – from societies, as it has taken root in elites who manipulate it to maximize their profits and appropriate natural resources in the world. We extend this argument to cooperative and associative organizations and to social movements, that tend to experience a first phase of participatory democracy and then move to authoritarian structures responding to what Polanyi called “market societies.” We also argue that, if democracy is a good mechanism for building societies in peace with justice, the representative and participatory system must be articulated with each other on the community, national and global levels, channeling the different worlds or paths which societies express (See Figure 1). How?

In this article we respond to that possibility based on concrete experiences in rural communities that are organizing. After this introduction, we prepare a historical reference, then we lay out what is happening in cooperatives, we show how this democratic articulation plugged into social processes can happen, and finally we list some conclusions.

2.    Frame of reference

Here we offer a broad national and global framework with which we might dialogue from the perspective of rural organizations. We start basing ourselves on the Latin American philosopher and historian, Enrique Dussel (2007, 2009, 2020 and 2022), who in 3 volumes studied the origins of democracy, criticized the democratic system and looked at the construction of new democratic systems.

2.1  Origins

The origin marks a perspective, which is why we are interested in knowing the origins of democracy and the region that we inhabit, Latin America and the Caribbean, where the democratic system is also experienced.

Dussel argues that the origin of democracy is oriental, that Greece took the political system of Egypt and the sailing people of the eastern Mediterranean who had cities in the Mediterranean and went even to Morocco in the Atlantic. “Demos” in Ancient Greek means “citizens”, who were nobles with property titles in the polis (city). Most of the population who were women, peasants, foreigners and slaves, were not “demos”, but “laos”, which in Greek means “people.” There never existed a “laocracy” in those places.

The first democracy happened in Venice, whose origins were eastern; those 1200 parents of families exercised power, chose a duke who united them and subjected himself to the Assembly, and had a council of 10 people. England is the first country that in the XV and XVI centuries established their democracy imitating Venice: a parliament equivalent to the assembly, monarchy equivalent to the duke, and chamber of the lords (medieval nobles) equivalent to the council of the 10.

Political systems were legitimated by the gods and gave authority to the “demos”. On moving to Europe with Venice and Genoa, and from there to England, democracy secularized, modernized, and in a certain way moved from “demos” to “laos” (people), even though in schools they continue teaching “demo-cracy” as if “demo” were people – a pending challenge of decolonialization.

Latin America and the Caribbean also have a diverse origin. It comes from a Europe father/mother which is Eurocentric and colonial, and Eurasia which bred with the 30,000 year old Amerindian culture. Latin America and the Caribbean come from the clash between the west and the east. During Spanish and Portuguese colonialization, law legitimated by the monarchy ruled, so the movement led by the Creoles (of Spanish descendance) rejected that colonial law, that rejection was an illegal act, they did it counting on the legitimacy of the Creole community, then independence happened and they made new laws and organized institutions. Overtime this Eurocentrism was inherited by the United States as a neocolonial expression and defined Latin America and the Caribbean as its “back yard”; before that, from Mariátegui and Martí, there was talk about the need for a second independence which, in contrast to the first one which was led by Creoles, the people (laos) would do.

From here, the democratic system is the institutional organization of the legitimacy which comes from the agreement of most of the participants of a pluralistic community with equal rights and accepted by all people.

2.2  Representative democracy and its crisis

With this idea about the origins of democracy and of Latin America and the Caribbean, representative democracy has prevailed. It has consisted in the separation of the executive, legislative, judicial and electoral branches, and in which the representatives of the members of the executive and legislative branches are chosen through elections. These elections confirm that democracy is a mechanism of legitimation of the majorities. This system of democracy is in line with colonial and patriarchal capitalism, where elites manipulate the State to intensify their strategy of “accumulation by dispossession”, appropriating natural resources and public and common goods in a systematic way, which is why that apparent “separation” of powers is stripped naked.[5]

This system has been questioned and has entered a crisis in the current millennium.[6] Its problem is that it is a formal democracy where the representatives believe themselves to be the source of power, instead of the fact that it is the people, they believe themselves to be the “saviors”[7], while they operate at the service of capital which does not have a country –“It has its origins but no country”, said the writer and television presenter Jaime Bayly; they are not even in the service of the Creoles as in the first independence. These representatives breathe in the spirit of the white elite, they are racist, machista and Eurocentric, and rule in favor of multinational corporations. It is that 1% of the world population, economic elites, who name the candidates, and people through elections confirm them as representatives. That system, through educational institutions and mediation structures, has shaped the attitudes of 99% of society to believe that “change comes down from above”, and that “a boss in heaven and thousands on the earth” is natural law.

This control, nevertheless, is not absolute, the system has cracks through which the people can see that manipulation. That system has been losing legitimacy. On the one hand, governments of the right and left, pressured by multinational corporations which have been questioned in their market essence, and seeking their own political and economic interests, are converting this formal democracy into an authoritarian, autocratic system, and even one with dictatorial characteristics for the purpose of controlling the “tiger on the loose” (people), at the same time that they restrict freedoms, weaken the rule of law and diminish the role of international human rights organizations, nature rights organizations, the world health organization…On the other hand, pandemics, social inequality[8] and climate change call into question the principles of capitalism and (representative) democracy, the belief that “the market is more capable than the State to solve social and environmental problems”, and that “with more market there is more social justice.”

This loss of legitimacy erodes the system of representative democracy and intensifies the dispossession of the rest of the planet. In the face of this crisis of capitalism, elites argue that the solution is “more market;” in the face of the crisis of (representative) democracy, elites argue for a direct democracy without the State, even in its “libertarian” version state that they do not even need the Police and the Army, that everything should be privatized so that private enterprise might represent societies and lead them toward progress (see footnote number 2)[9]. They think that this “more market” and “direct democracy” should happen soon; the notion of time for capitalism is enriching themselves today, because as Keynes said “tomorrow we will all be dead”.

2.3  Articulation

Recovering democracy is essential, no longer the representative system wedded to what Pope Francis described as “savage capitalism”, but recovering that representative system connected to the participatory system, responding to the people (laos) as the source of power and cultivating a long-term perspective (time). We argue that representative democracy without participatory democracy is empty, while participatory democracy without representative democracy is blind. The revolution of the XXI Century is in the articulation between both systems along with a second independence process, not just from being the “back yard”, but self-determination in processes of justice and liberty[10].

It is not a matter of replacing representative democracy with participatory democracy, as the anarchists argue[11], reducing it to its minimal expression as the libertarians advocate, nor turning them into repressive apparatuses clothed in “sovereignty”. A participatory democracy where all the citizens govern their country is not possible, it is a matter of organizing a democratic system which articulates a representative State from the top down and a participatory democracy of the people from the bottom up. For that purpose, it is important to organize the participation of people in direct democracy from neighborhoods and rural communities and create a new power, the participatory power capable of making the different perspectives and challenges to transformation visible, as well as auditing the executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches to measure their degree of correspondence with the mandate of the people. What would the path for this be?

Participatory democracy, beyond plebiscites, should be institutionalized, have mechanisms for oversight and control over representative democracy – an audit of the branches. This would strengthen the State whose function is not to dominate nor domesticate the people, but to defend it in the face of external forces which embrace “savage capitalism” or “accumulation by dispossession”. State institutions would function with ethical principles, and not responding to capital nor any supernatural being, a State of well-being which thinks about the common good.

Societies reach consensus agreements based on each person participating with equal rights and without pressure from violence which would oblige them to accept one argument over another. This gives it legitimacy[12] and consequently the coercive institutions of the State help them follow those agreements, including penalizing those who do not. In contrast with Max Weber, who said that the State has a monopoly on violence, Dussel argues that the State has the monopoly of legitimate coercion, and that what is legitimate is not violent, violence is acting against the rights of others and against the decision of the community. Part of those agreements of the community, argues Dussel, is defining what they need to solve as a community, and then asking political parties to tell them how they are going to resolve it.

This process would be accompanied by decolonizing science and teaching which continue reproducing countries as dependent on the United States. Central America and Mexico, like South America, let them think with freedom understanding their own millennial culture; that in schools and universities they decolonialize science and teach based not on Hobbes, but on an anti-colonialist like Bartolomé de las Casas who denounced the injustices of colonialism, and educate the representatives that the source of power is the people, and that they should be at their service. This articulation would express what the Zapatistas of Chiapas propose, “instead of a democracy where those who rule, rule by giving orders, to one where those who rule, rule by obeying,” this is the power of obedient service to the people. Participatory power, now institutionalized, can corroborate whether the State is following agreements of society and whether those who “rule, rule by obeying” the people.

2.4  Framework for our work

What is written so far provides us a reference point. Now we need to reread it from the perspective of and for organizational and community processes, and in pursuit of a second independence.

We take on the idea of Dussel about what a democratic system is, an institutional organization of legitimacy coming from the people (laos). It is a process which is not legitimated by the gods (religions), nor by weapons or donor organizations, but by the people who organize and reach agreements of mandatory compliance. These consensus agreements have ethical validity which means political legitimacy, there are agreements which can be surpassed with new agreements which result from the analysis of these processes. In contrast to Dussel, who refers more to the political sphere, we understand that the structures of political, economic, and religious mediation coopt representative democracy and the people. Also, in contrast with Dussel who conceives the people as conscious subjects who know their needs so that political parties might solve them, we understand the people as subjects who move between an alienated mindset and their cultures with good values and mechanisms for transformation.

Now, the challenge to recover democracy is the articulation of representative and participatory democracy, deepening the notion of counterweights and counterpower within a context of actors expressing different perspectives (Figure 1), and generating changes over time and space.

Concerning the articulation of representative and participatory democracy, it can be carried out if organizations have assembly level decisions where the source of power resides, which, based on this process, transforms the system of representation. If organizations are governed by their administrative apparatus which was not chosen by their assemblies, they must revolutionize the organization as expressed in Figure 2, and with that legitimacy, revise their statutes to follow them and institutionalize new rules for the common good. A cooperative, association or community organization should not emerge to intensify the structure of mediation, subordinate itself to capital and turn its back on the land; it emerges responding to its community with a long term perspective (notion of time) and rooted in society (space), so that its membership might reconnect with the earth, seek the common good, and put in practice the principles of equity, loyalty, solidarity and voluntarism.

The source of legitimacy resides in their assemblies, there they need to reach agreements which, because of their consensus character and principles, have an ethical dimension, and evaluate the progress there. In contrast with Dussel, who proposes that societies should ask for what they need and that political parties address them, we observe that these ideas lead to organizations asking for donations and seeking solutions “from above” without dealing with their own disputes and demons (beliefs), which is a trap, it makes them fall into the claws of the structure of mediation. When organizations start from analyzing their realities and processes, and discover their own tangible (e.g. financial) and intangible resources (e.g. voluntarism expressed in days of work or collective actions) to contribute, articulation sprouts like a plant in good soil.

Concerning counterweights and counterpower, the former is inside an organization or institution, “balancing forces”, in which one power ensures that the other power does not fall into arbitrariness, for example, in the State between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, that the other branches function in accordance with the law. The latter, counter power, is outside an organization or institution, it is watching from the margins of power, from communities with other perspectives and development paths, and from the rule of law, having empathy, so that the State, organizations and private sector be guided by fair laws and practices and not dispossess societies nor the earth of its resources (fertility, oil, gold, trees); that private enterprise as an association and through its chambers be a counterpower to the State and cooperatives. A democracy needs the State and different organizations to be articulated: the State looking for organizations to follow its laws, and organizations so that the State respond – guided by the law – to societies and not to capital, see Figure 3.

Concerning time and space, two key notions for democratic articulation. Time is a notion and a perspective; in the previously mentioned television series, Yellowstone, the indigenous representative says, “We understand time in a different way, we have time, they do not”; part of the indigenous culture is depicted in that television series, as well as ranching society which maintains its legacy (inheritance: ranch) and corporations which rule over the State and have their own armed groups to appropriate resources at the cost of the lives of people and nature; the capitalist corporation does not have time, it wants to make capital today; indigenous wait; ranchers move with the cycle of cattle (raising-fattening/rodeo-sale). Space also influences these perspectives: corporations do not have countries, they fly from one place to another making capital, ranching families remain on a hacienda, and indigenous populations see their historic territories (and reservations). With these latter two groups place is connected to what they are and their history.

All this makes us see in our countries, broadly speaking, three actors within their particular contexts: indigenous populations, peasant-farmer populations and companies-corporations-traders. There are more forces, but here we highlight these three at odds with one another, with different perspectives in terms of time, space and legacy (inheritance), and with differentiated degrees of influence on the State, markets and societies. The capitalist (commercial and usurer) passes down wealth and are not concerned with words (agreements), the peasant farmer passes down property and their word has value (“I give you my word”), and the indigenous passes down a culture connected to nature and their word is a mission. For each actor the notion of progress has different understandings, for the capitalist capital is everything, for the peasant-farmer it is family food, and for indigenous people it is their land, nature.

Peasants organize into cooperatives, or in other forms of organization, for having a long-term perspective and infusing in their members production which also is long term, thinking about the impact that their current decisions will have on the following generations. In cooperatives it is fundamental that they move spatially from the towns (municipal capitals) to the communities where the membership live, which facilitates meetings, transparency, plural participation of members and the fact that decisions be decentralized – therein lies the essence of participatory democracy articulated with representative democracy.

So, an organization does not exist to intensify the commercial-usury and political mediation, nor to expand monocropping agriculture, it is a means for its members to innovate in a systematic way in their relationship with the earth, recreate their cultural identity, refine their strategy for self-sufficiency and design their connection with other organizations based on their strengths and virtues. The stronger an organization is on the community level, based on assemblies as sources of decision, the more it combines representative and participatory democracy, the more counterweights, the more it articulates with other organizations and institutions, the more it influences multinational companies to rethink their role in terms of rural organizations. This is a new necessary and possible path for the common good.

3.    The crisis of democracy in organizations

The crisis of democracy in a country is also happening on the organizational level, let us look at it in the case of cooperatives. Their analysis is useful for reading other political, economic, and religious organizations and institutions.

Figure 4 illustrates this crisis in its political and economic expression. Seen in its entirety, the arrows indicate the hegemony of capital(ism) through a hierarchical structure whose veins are greed and political patronage. In this process, cooperatives are pulled from the peasant and community space (circle with dots) toward the space of economic and political mediation (oval with lines). This step or turn from one space to another expresses the passage from participatory democracy to representative democracy, in the State as well as in cooperatives, embedded in capitalism with a logic of “accumulation through dispossession.”

Reading the figure from bottom up, the members respond more to the administrative staff of the cooperative, whose offices generally are located in municipal or provincial capitals (“towns”). The members respond less to the associative side, where the organs and their leaders are, located generally in rural communities – see black line as symbol of division in the community where the members are from. This is due in good measure to the fact that they make moves for economic interests, negotiating a loan or selling their commodity in the “other” space, in the town; in other words, people act with their cooperative like they act with buyers, and see their board members not as leaders but as support to administration-management.

What does this mean? Members go where decisions are made about their demands, and they perceive that it is the area of administration which makes decisions about prices, credit, agrochemical inputs and travel expenses, which is why they proceed ignoring the rules that they approved in assembly about credit or commercialization. Those who are the source of power do not see themselves as the assembly or as the cooperative, they see themselves as individuals with individual interests where opportunism prevails, and from there see cooperatives as equivalent to the private sector, as something foreign to their interests. In other words, the cooperative as representative democracy lacks legitimacy, its own members do not recognize it as a democratic cooperative; they see it as “foreign.”

On the associative side, the organs (administrative council, oversight board, education committee and credit or production committee) in a good number of cooperatives are non-functional; they do not tend to meet regularly, and when they do meet the management tends to prepare their meeting agenda and lead their sessions. They, the members of the organs, do not examine what the administrative side is doing, they do not analyze the financial reports and do not assign the administrative side tasks to carry out and account for, rather, outside of the agreements and rules of their organization, individually they seek favors in administration-management to get loans, travel allowances or some other benefit, and tend to wait for tasks that the management might give them, like signing checks, calling in members to give some information about certifications or signing official minutes of assemblies which were not actually held, or for assemblies which they did not attend. Many of the members of the organs attend a meeting out of interest in the travel allowance, and some financial favors which they might get, this makes many want to be re-elected, or continue in another post if the law prohibits remaining in the one they have. In this way, we see how the board members do not behave as leaders, but use their post so that, ignoring their role and the mandate which the assembly gave them, they might beg for favors from the manager from the administrative area, and in compensation for those favors, act to the rest of the members as a foreman of the administrative area. Like what happens on the national level with the State, there is also a crisis of counterweights in organizations like cooperatives.

The administrative area has staff with a lot of stability, who do not move with changes in the organs of the cooperative. It is the area that manages the financial resources and administers the assets. If the person in management is immovable, that person becomes a “stopper” which keeps staff from moving up in accordance with their merits – because of capacities developed and good work. If the cooperative is reduced to only the financial and/or commercial aspects, obviously that area becomes very powerful in terms of control of resources, not in terms of their professional formation with a cooperative spirit. Consequently, partly because the members in general and even the members of the different organs go to them to beg favors, violating the rules, and partly because companies, the State and donor organizations seek them out for any deal, they end up believing that they are the source of power, consequently appear as the saviors of the cooperatives, and have the capacity to control any member, whether they are part of the organs or not. If a member, or a member of the Administrative Council, criticizes the manager or opposes some decision of the manager that he is violating the rules, the manager orders that his pending debts with the cooperative be collected, or removes him from the list of beneficiaries of some project, thereupon that person who was criticizing the administrative area is left tamed, because he would not be able to survive being sidelined by the all-powerful one (“cooperative squire”). In this way, the cooperative represented by the administrative area, distances itself from the members, organs and laws of the cooperative.

What happens? A certain amount of deification is created of the CEO or manager[13], who in turn feel themselves to be kings or queens who do not tolerate the counterweights nor feel the lack of counterpowers, they are free to create family businesses to exploit the advantages that cooperatives generate, for example, organizing the private transportation of cargo for the products which the cooperative harvests, and having access to commissions of buyers because of the economic transactions which the cooperative does and which are not registered in the cooperative´s accounting. If no organ follows the rules of the cooperative, the administrative area does follow them either, it feels comfortable moving under the rules of the market and their own laws, surrounded by organizations who have abandoned the role of counterpowers[14], and out of that framework, many times they choose docile candidates for the assembly to confirm[15]. The following expressions reveal this logic: “The cooperative is an enterprise and only we professionals can manage it”; “in order to distributem you first have to grow”; “the oversight board does not know accounting, why are they going to review our accounting reports!”; “let the members sell us their commodities, we will take care of the rest”; “we write up the minutes for the secretary and we write up the reports for the president and the coordinator of the oversight board so they are read in the assembly”; “the assembly is led by the manager”, “shoemaker stick to making shoes” (idea of autonomy or “sovereignty” so that no organization questions them about anything)…

This relationship of dependency on the administrative area paints a type of cooperative disconnected from its organs, its assembly, membership and its community. The same happens with 2nd tier and 3rd tier cooperatives, that not only “disconnect themselves”, but tend to centralize the decisions of the 1st tier cooperatives, and concentrate investments in their own area; and the same thing happens with the ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) which represents cooperatives on the international level, which acts “disconnected” from their grassroots and well connected with capital. Cooperativism is ruled by the spirit of “everyman for himself.”

External actors intensify this line of seeing the cooperative like a private enterprise, or part of the structure of economic mediation. The State, praticed by governments of the left or the right, have conceived of cooperatives as politically counterinsurgent organizations, and as a way to dispossess the peasantry and indigenous communities from their assets. It is common to find the State concerned about the legality of organizations, generally motivated by their interest in political patronage, and not because it wants organizations to follow their rules; consequently it is rare to find any cooperative to which the State has given legal standing every year, and which follows its rule for the distribution of profits, or that its membership receive financial information.[16] The State centralizes decisions about the existence of cooperatives, it does it through legal procedures and fiscal policies; if a cooperative does not fall in line with the policies of the government in power it runs the risk of being left without legal standing or being intervened by the State; the State fine tunes its fiscal policies to charge cooperatives the same amount of taxes or more than any private enterprise. Both paths are closely connected, without legal standing a cooperative cannot have a bank account nor sign donation agreements with international organizations, and in order to have legal standing year after year the State demands that they are up to date with the taxes which are more than those applied to private enterprises. The interest of governments is taxes + votes, not the proper functioning of cooperatives.

How does the State fine tune its policies? “Travel allowances the State counts as salary and make us deduct social security and taxes, the staff has to make the minimum salary and pay into social security, while it does not demand anything of private enterprises, this limits them from being competitive with private enterprise; “if a cooperative has a surplus it is charged taxes,” “if a cooperative buys inputs for its members, it pays taxes on purchasing those inputs,  and it pays taxes when providing them on credit to its members.” The State demands that the financial reports of cooperatives be done and signed by an accountant recognized by the State, and that the official minutes follow a format of the State. If the cooperative has the certification of some brand (seal), it must provide detailed information to the certifying company, including field inspections. These demands of the State and the certifiers mean that cooperatives  must employ business administrators, technicians and lawyers, which means having high permanent fixed costs. Governments running the State have become more demanding with cooperatives and associations in terms of finances, but not with other rules which are fundamental for cooperatives: transparency, democracy (functioning of their organs), distribution of profits; instead the State is opposed to the fact that cooperatives having their assets weighted in certifications in favor of their members, probably to facilitate taking over those assets when cooperatives go broke or the State makes them go broke[17]. All of this indicates that the State, as an expression of representative democracy, responds to the interest of capital, pushes cooperatives to also express representative democracy, devote themselves to business activities (of monocropping agriculture, or just to credit) while it limits them in their financial capacity to compete with private enterprises. The signs are that governments, regardless of their ideologies, prefer unorganized societies, they prefer Inc (incorporated businesses) and not LLC (limited liability corporations), they want to mold cooperatives “privatized” by a technocracy functional for the State and international organizations. Or perhaps to see cooperatives with peasant lawyers and accountants in offices in the towns, outside of their farms and communities?

Behind the State is capital or colonial and patriarchal capitalism which molds cooperatives under its spirit. Corporations, through their market mechanism, have made cooperatives become organizations dedicated to commerce or finance, be it as part of its structure of mediation, be it as specializing in monocropping agriculture (sugar cane, coffee, cacao, sesame seed, rice, bananas), for which reason it prioritizes masculine membership[18], and allows itself to be governed by market forces. They use this market language from economic elites in the cooperative, almost like any private enterprise: “to grow it is important to not distribute”, “a cooperative no matter what is an enterprise, otherwise it will disappear”, “all work is paid, voluntarism is out of style”, “men to the farm and women to the kitchen”, “grandmothers are for raising their grandchildren”, “it takes money to make money”, “agrochemicals produce harvests”, “reports confuse the members”, “you cannot produce if you do not take on debt”. This market speech has made peasant speech disappear: “diversifying to stagger income and ensure food for the family”, “feeding the soil with waste and chopped weeds”, “shared labor”, “sharecropping”, “exchange and reciprocity”, “we are cousins, in-laws and godparents”. A cooperative that does not speak the language of its membership, no longer dreams of a membership which would ensure its own food and improve their lives and that of their communities, and thus the self-esteem of the people is being thrown in the mud, like a lemon which a bartender continues squeezing and squeezing even though it has no more juice, and capital dispossesses them from their cooperative, turns them against the peasantry itself.

From this section we see that cooperatives are being privatized through its representative democracy – when everything is private, we will be deprived of everything. Cooperatives are making the dispossession of their members worse, while as an organization they privatize assets achieved on the basis of the efforts of their members, these cooperatives become prisoners of technocracies at the service of capital; the same happens with any type of organization, even sports clubs, they likewise are being privatized as if they were commodities disconnected from societies and their cultures.[19] The administrative staff of cooperatives, government officials and representatives of corporations naturally connect with one another subordinated to capital; they are white men who discriminate against peasants, machistas who exclude women and capitalists devoted to monocropping agriculture. In this type of capitalist cooperative run by the manager as a taskmaster for capital, what content is an education committee going to use for training? This model of a cooperative has lost legitimacy in its members and in the communities; its membership and communities see it as the “cooperative of Juan”, or the “cooperative of Doris”, as individual traders concerned about money, who do not contribute to reducing social inequality, mitigating climate change, nor that their members can ensure their family food. They are interested in generating profits to maintain the administrative technocracy. They are cooperatives without counterweights nor counterpowers, cooperatives taken over by one or two people, who devote themselves to collecting and selling products. Consequently, this cooperative model with representative democracy is not for peasants nor for rural communities concerned about their land and water, it is not for impoverished people nor for women in a situation of vulnerability who are striving to get out of their misfortunes; nor is it for people who diversify their economy and add value in the search for family and community self-sufficiency, unless they have already reluctantly embraced monocropping agriculture to accelerate that process with the cooperative.

In this cooperative model they can change the members of their organs, even change the manager, and nothing will happen. Everything will continue the same under the aegis of the market. It is like a hacienda where they can change the foreman, the steward, the supervisor of the commissary and frontrunners, even the large estate owner can die, but the structure of the hacienda will continue being the same. The structure of representative democracy drawn in Figure 4 is invariable.

4.    Democratic articulation as organizational reinvention

In this section we offer a proposal for articulation based on experiences of communities in Central America who are organizing into cooperatives and struggling to reinvent them to make them a means for their wellbeing.

4.1  Awareness to overcome the jacobine syndrome

To think through representative democracy (top down) and participatory democracy (bottom up), a first challenge is overcoming the jacobine syndrome. What is this? The French Revolution of 1798 did away with the “top” (the monarchy) and the Renaissance eroded the belief that supernatural forces explained everything and determined the lives of people, including the monarchical system itself. In the face of this change, the French revolutionary asked herself, “if God is not going to explain social events, who will explain them?” “We, society,” they responded.[20] But what society? In that revolution there were several forces or political currents, one of the most notable ones was a republican group called the Jacobines. They touted the mobilization of people “led from above,” they defended universal suffrage and the idea of the indivisibility of the nation, which led them to defend a strong and centralized State. That is the “Jacobine syndrome”: mobilizing people who are below, but led from above; in other words, the people cannot mobilize on their own, they always need those above – no longer the monarchy or God, but an illuminated elite; the paradox of this perspective is that the revolution shattered “those above” (monarchy + supernatural forces) and immediately an illuminated elite appeared as the new ones “from above.”

How can this jacobine syndrome be overcome? In Germany when they opened a door to the masses, they chose Hitler, or when the international community through the United Nations backed the creation of Israel, this people, controlled by Zionism, reproduced what Nazi Germany did to them, now against the Palestinians. During the French Revolution the people mobilized from below but were led from above. During the Sandinista and Cuban revolutions, it was assumed that there was mobilization from below (guerrillas and popular support from all social sectors), but it is recognized that it was led by a small group “from above” (the National Directorate or the Comandante en jefe).

This also happens on a country level, even though with variations; the United State and “old Europe” conceived themselves as guides of the 195 countries of the world, they intervene militarily in any country and impose dictatorships to protect their interests; the so-called socialism in the Soviet Union was authoritarianism, forced industrialization and rural collectivization. At the heart we perceive a millennial social rule: a minority rules the majority by hook or by crook; this happens at a world level, at the level of each country, in organizations or in families (“head of the family, says the Lord”).

The Catholic Church has a relatively mixed structure: from above, the Pope names Cardinals and Bishops, the Bishops ordain priests, priests name the zone and pastoral coordinators; from below, that designation of zone and pastoral coordinators is on the basis of a slate proposed by the delegates of the Word, communities name the delegates of the word who are confirmed by the priest, small communities (groups of 12-20 people) name their boards and in common agreement save resources; it is a vertical structure up to the parish level and with a combined structure at the community level – maybe in that combination resides its durability over time, because it is the oldest institution of the world.

This syndrome also exists in cooperatives, where people mobilize to build their organization, then the cooperative structure itself leads them to name people to different posts in the organs, who end up leading from above, or an administrative technocracy, the State, donors or corporations do. The social institutional framework pushes them in that direction: “We have now named the president, let him do everything.” The members do not call for accountability; “If we are not a business we are nothing.” The market leads them to monocropping agriculture. In other words, to a certain extent it is the members themselves who produce their authoritarian structures or the authoritarian structures create a paper membership, which they generate “from above.”

Challenging the jacobine syndrome supposes understanding these structures, these societies, those members, and overcoming the assumption of “the holy people”, who it is believed live in harmony and that everything that they do is good. In the case of Nicaragua, Vargas (1999) argues that the country is a prisoner of the “Pedrarias Syndrome”, a people condemned to depend on chiefs. Along this same line, the political scientist Álvarez Montalván (2006) observed that all the ideologies in the country have produced dictatorships: conservatives, liberals and leftists, and so he argues that the problem of Nicaraguans has to do with their need to find the strong man, depositing in that strong man the solution to their problems and the adjudication of their conflicts; in other words, there is a desire in the masses to being led “from above”, they more they hate “those above” the more they seek – oppressing or exploiting – to resemble that which they detest. Applied to cooperatives, we would say it is their own members who produce authoritarian structures in cooperatives, who name their representatives who become “top down” or become the foremen of those “higher ups,” leading those members to alien territories, like monocropping agriculture, one sole commercial and/or financial activity, and excluding women from cooperatives under the argument that “she is not a coffee grower” or “is not a cacao producer”. It is like the people themselves refuse to change, like internally they are divided (re)producing “the iron law of oligarchy” of economic, political and religious mediation, and at the same time expressing their values and life paths, which like coal have the potential to sudden catch fire.

It also implies overcoming the assumption of “enlightened saints.” We are not referring to elites or governments who kill for their supposed interests, we are referring to intellectuals who move in academic circles, international organizations, churches and the posts of different social and economic organizations. Their principal characteristic is the opposite of the axiom of Socrates, “I only know that I know everything”, for which they train, preach and provide prescriptions. Without studying the people or the members, they assume that they know them based on the theory of modernization, where the underdeveloped countries in a linear way follow the path of the developed countries, where there is nothing to learn from the “underdeveloped countries”, which is why they believe they have the solution for their ills: offices in the cities (municipal or provincial capitals) where the herd goes seeking “pasture”; monocropping agriculture dependent on agrochemicals; indebtedness; production of only commodities. Overcoming this syndrome requires that these enlightened people get down off their pedestals, in some cases (e.g. board members of cooperatives) that they go back to their community, recognize that outside resources are not more valuable than the community´s, and get involved – and study – with the members their processes of change in their communities and move forward together, overcoming their assumptions of “sanctity.”

Something that can inspire us in this is the role of the prophets referred to in the Bible. Luke 4:24

puts in the mouth of Jesus the following phrase: “No prophet is accepted in his own land.” What does this mean? Our interpretation is that a prophet studies the people and finds their divisions, disputes and harmful practices and beliefs, and based on those findings, challenges them to change, to find their way again, but the people with their authorities refuse that change or re-encounter, prefer to appear that they are going “to wash their dirty laundry at home,” do not do it, make themselves out to be the victims, blaming external factors on their situations, which is why they attack the prophet and banish him, in this way losing their most strategic ally from within their own ranks. The theologian Hurtado[21] analyzes the fact that the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezequiel dress down the pastors of Israel for manipulating God, closing him in a temple (Is 66:1-3), for establishing businesses and taxes in the name of God, and for keeping God from accompanying his people; Jesus recovers this prophetic dimension and distances himself from the temple and the synagogue, in their place he proposes impoverished people as the way, a place for following, faith and manifestation of God. This led the political, religious, and economic mediation of that time to conspire against Jesus and murder him.

What do we learn from this for overcoming the jacobine syndrome? First, being aware of the jacobine syndrome in the very organizations where we work. Second, people called intellectuals should be inspired by the role of the prophets, only that in contrast to them, they should get involved in organizations and together organize their collective actions, and self-study their processes, following the axiom of Socrates, “I only know that I know nothing”, in order to correct, generate, expand and catalyze good practices of mobilization overcoming the above/below duality; we argue that this involvement (rootedness) can break that fate of “there is no prophet in their own land” and prevent their banishment. Third, people with positions, leaders in cooperatives, communities and rural organizations, also inspired by the prophets, but embedded in their organizations and on a rotating basis, as they respond to their assemblies and rules agreed upon by consensus, will be able to resist being co-opted by the structures of mediation which have abducted God in the temples (cooperatives in urban offices, leaders who turn into foremen of buyers, land turned into a commodity), will not conceal harmful practices – even though popular – in their communities of “not washing their dirty laundry in public” (divisions, violent confrontations, making themselves into victims and blaming external forces for their failures, disloyal to their organization and disinterest in vitalizing their assemblies); these board members, leaders shake up the mindsets of their members, of  “getting revenge”, “you can make me sign, but I will never comply”, “living pay check to pay check”, “blaming the dry spell for the bad harvest”, and “every man for himself”. Fourth, to make the previous points viable, intellectuals, boards members, leaders and members should decentralize rural organizations in a systematic way: from urban offices to the cooperative building located in the community, from monocropping agriculture to diversifying the farm and adding value to its products, from going into debt to saving, from seeing solutions above to see them in the community, from burning weeds to planting basic grains, to not burning and taking advantage of the plant waste so that it retains moisture and feeds the crops, from instead of subjecting themselves to the market, to making the associative and the administrative-business sides interact guided by its statutes and agreements, from shutting themselves up with the membership itself, to opening up and forming new organizations with more impoverished people and communities…

4.2  Democratic articulation under counterweight mechanisms

Now let’s see what this organization is like when above and below is diluted: see Figure 5. There we seek to draw a cooperative with a community horizon, which moves under agreed upon rules, counterweight organs and in a network of counterpower relations (different tiers of cooperatives, communities, State, private sector, social movements). The arrows indicate several triangles where the influence of capital and hierarchical structures is diminished, while the influence of the dynamics of cooperation grow. It is a cooperative pulled from the space of economic and political mediation (semi-circle with lines), where greed and the cult of growth prevail, and drawn to the community space (circle with dots), where growth with equity is the air breathed; in other words, it moves from the urban space (municipal or provincial capital) controlled by technocracy and the market, toward the communities which facilitate members having more possibilities of controlling and using their organization. This implies cultivating a long-term perspective, thinking about the fact that their decisions have an impact on future generations, like for example investing in the soil, in farms, organizing or adding value to what we produce.

In what follows let us read Figure 5 from the bottom up. The members interact with their cooperative, be that in its associative or administrative-business expression. Members negotiate any demand following the agreements and rules which they approved by consensus in the assembly. This implies that if they are looking for a loan, they go to the credit committee (associative side) following the procedure defined for that purpose, and the credit committee heightens their relations with the administrative area to resolve these requests, sharing information and making their decisions be executed as reflected in the official minutes; the same thing happens for using any service which they carry out as a cooperative, including possible external donations which they may receive, whose distribution is carried out according to rules and agreements worked on in the assembly, and not in accordance with discretional decisions of the manager in the administrative area.

On the associative foot are the organs: assembly, administrative council, oversight board, education committee and any other committee (production, credit and/or commercialization). This structure of organs functions with counterweight mechanisms in a systematic way guided by consensus rules and agreements. The organ of the assembly, the highest expression of participatory democracy, deliberates (analyzes reports that the administrative area prepares and studies their opportunities and possibilities) and makes consensus decisions, decisions which the rest of the organs and administrative area carry out – govern by obeying. Each organ has their defined functions in their statutes: Administrative council governs (coordinates) and legally represents the cooperative; oversight board audits the administrative area and the other organs in the fulfillment of their tasks, following the rules and agreements of the cooperative; education committee forms and trains the members in the spirit of cooperativism (cooperating). This process, nevertheless, moves under constant risks, like the fact that an assembly can be manipulated, because one voice with economic power can get more votes[22], or the strength of one speech can achieve more votes than reasoned processes, which is why an assembly must be conceived as a space for systematic reflection, shared analysis and prepared in advance in visits and group reflections – walks, analysis workshops on specific topics, rereading the statutes.

The administrative area is composed of the manager, accounting staff, technicians, operators and quality control. This structure also functions with counterweights: cashier pays following a payment order prepared by the accounting area, authorized by the manager; they cannot pay anything with just the order of payment coming from the manager; credit is given based on the official minutes signed by the credit committee, which has previously reviewed the list of members with debts, following the rule that one loan cannot be made on top of another, etc; this process of counterweights is a path for professional formation with a cooperative spirit. Internally, given that they are learning, this staff aspires to new posts as they scale up along the path of jobs and training: cashier, accounting, vice manager and manager. This path should not be blocked by an unmovable manager; that path should instead nourish the interest of each functionary and working person, that the more they scale up in their career the more they serve the members and their communities; the person in the post of manager, after some years, can take on the undertaking of another initiative in the same cooperative. Then, since the administrative area is the counterweight of the associative area and vice versa, if the president requests a loan without following the rules and ignoring the credit committee, the cashier, accounting or management area would point out to him the path to be followed; in this way people are formed in line with the rule of law, forming leaders, without the administrative staff or manager taking the place of the organs in their roles under the absolutist rule that “I am the cooperative.” Likewise, the technical staff like the agronomists, facilitate reflective processes in people, so that they are concerned not about the crop but the soil, agricultural and non-agricultural diversification, work with the family…The administrative area, with its manager, reports with transparency to the organs of the cooperative about the activities and results which they have[23]; is accountable and presents proposals about how to proceed with new services, valuing the assets of the cooperative like the contributions of each member, the rules for the sustainable use of the social fund, so that the different organs might analyze that information and make decisions. Their role includes informing the members of each organ and carrying out the operational decisions which they are assigned.

This form of functioning on two feet, the associative and the business-administrative, with their respective organs or posts, shows that a 1st tier cooperative is a school of learning based on its counterweights. Leaders and professionals are formed there with a shared spirit. In the associative area, a member learns what it is to analyze and decide in the assembly, scale up to some committee, then to the administrative council, then to the oversight board, next they can advise their organization or create a new service in the cooperative. In the case of a cashier, they can scale up to the accounting area, to vice manager and manager, and after that can lead new services; all of them can become exceptional professionals, with more skills and a cooperative vision. Each organ plays the role of counterweight to the others, and there is also a counterweight between the associative and the administrative areas.

This articulation of participatory and representative democracy, based on counterweights and on being a school of shared leadership formation[24], is embedded in peasant strategies of diversifying their activities, achieving family and community self-sufficiency, connecting with land and water, and developing different services, including finance and commercialization, this time as a function of peasant and community economies, and not as a function of capital. This makes the associative side have a strategic role, and the administrative-business side have an operational role. Consequently, a cooperative contributes to their members awakening and systematically innovating in their activities, adding value to their products, while as a cooperative they create different services to respond to these diverse peasant activities. This cooperative model follows its historic mandate of distributing its profits, that the value of each asset that it possesses be expressed in contribution certificates in the name of its members, an action which prevents corruption and governments from taking over the assets of the cooperative as a function of capital – privatize it, expropriate it. This is governing themselves, self-determination, not allowing the market to govern them.

4.3  Democratic articulation under counterpower mechanisms

Having strong organizations thanks to the exercise of their counterweights, let us take a third step, this time let us study the surroundings expressed in the relationships between organizations, which we define as counterpower relations: see Figure 6. There is the 1st tier cooperative, which, based on its counterweights, stands with legitimate force; we assume that the same happens in the other tiers of cooperatives and in the other actors, church, State, private sector and community, who also are mediated by counterpower relations.

Each cooperative tier, including the ICA, cultivate, in terms of the others, counterpower relations, no one is superior or inferior. The 2nd tier cooperative is constituted to strengthen the 1st tiers and not to centralize decisions and concentrate resources which correspond to the 1st tier; the same with the 3rd tier cooperative in terms of the 2nd tier. In this sense, the relationship between different tiers of cooperatives is one of counterpower, the same as ICA with the different tiers of cooperatives.

Cooperatives of any tier, and especially cooperatives of different tiers taken together, coordinating among themselves, become a counterpower to the State, the private sector, churches and communities. In turn, those actors legitimized by the exercise of their counterweights, also become counterpower to cooperatives. In this way, cooperatives pressure the State so that it be guided by the constitution and recognize the positive externalities which cooperatives generate for societies; in turn the State makes sure that the rules of cooperatives are followed, including transparency, equity and democracy. Cooperatives can be a counterpower to the private sector, reveal their mechanisms of dispossession and demand to be treated as cooperatives and not as private enterprises. Likewise with the Church.

Communities which organize also must exercise counterpower relations. For that purpose, the first thing that a community must learn is to speak their own language: pasanaku, minka [community labor] , sharecropping, shared labor; exchange, reciprocity, diversification, family self-sufficiency, living soil, water, green fertilizer; its rationality is in this language, admittedly buried under several layers of soil, because, as K. Marx said, “the dominant ideas of each epoch have always been the ideas of its dominant class” – resisting, above all seeking its own path, implies that communities speak first of all their own language. These communities, to the extent that they recover their language, can audit organizations in the fulfillment of the policies referring to social equity and their connection with the earth, making sure that they respond to their principles and not to the laws of the market imposed by elites. Communities can be a counterpower to corporations, the State and Churches, to grow with equity and long-term sustainability. The State itself needs strong organizations, communities and corporations, which prevent the State from making discretional decisions outside the law of the republic.

Under these relations of counterpower each actor watches over the other, so that there is no abuse of power, that the assembly might deliberate and make decisions, and that decisions be made in consensus and completely implemented; in a coordinated way they seek to expel patriarchy from the heart of organizations and institutions, question the centralization of power of decision over resources which are the collective good of specific groups or of entire humanity, and fight to reduce social inequality[25] –because the reduction in inequality goes hand in hand with participatory and representative democracy. It is under this spirit of counterpower that alliances are made, which is governance not based on donations or subordinated to the market, but on joining efforts for a common goal of benefitting communities to expand their capacities and keeping colonial and patriarchal “savage capitalism” from taking hold.

In this sense any person is formed as a citizen by getting involved in the process depicted in Figure 6. There members determine their good practices in order to expand them, and cooperatives are conceived to be a vehicle for their members and their community. The rules and agreements are to be implemented, while at the same time surpassed by better rules and agreements which express systematic innovations in the organizations. This development of the interest of people is a sign that they have a living organization, because stagnating is only following the rules, a cooperative must follow and surpass the rules as the fruit of new innovations.

From this section we targeted elements which lead us to overcome the jacobine syndrome. Having awareness about the scope of this syndrome, and involving ourselves in collective processes to systematically innovate, is the first element. A cooperative which cultivates its legitimacy based on its counterweights, rooted in communities, and following its rules, will make a member process their demands in accordance with the rules of the cooperative – this is the second element. This cooperative connected with the private sector, the State, communities, and churches will build a network which turns into a school of learning and innovation, growth with equity and good treatment for each person- this is the third element. We are then facing a real possibility of democratic articulation which can overcome the jacobine syndrome.

5.    Conclusions

Sharing the definition which Dussel has about what a democratic system is, an institutional organization of legitimacy coming from the people (laos), legitimacy which ultimately is trust, the question for this article was, how can participatory and representative democracy be articulated as expression and at the same time pillar for the transformation of our societies? Now into the topic and to prepare a proposal we introduced the challenge of how to overcome the jacobine syndrome.  That question alludes to a topic traditionally located in the political sphere, and almost exclusively at the national and international levels. In this article we expand it and reread it from the perspective of communities who are organizing and that, even though they are not proven processes or models, their experimentation provokes reflection and makes this article be more propositional and not something conclusive.

In response to the question we found that representative democracy is connected with colonial and patriarchal capitalism, where the winners are concerned about getting the trophy (capital, land, mining concessions, patents, State and the power of violence) at any cost, ignoring counterweights and counterpower relationships. Based on this finding, the lessons in an alternative path follow:

  • Participatory democracy (from below) and representative democracy (from above) walk together with inclusive, just, and free economies as a function of societies (or communities). That democracy is assembly-based, they follow their rules and agreements (“our word has value”) under organizational structure; it is laocracy where women, workers, peasants, indigenous, business people and all people are subjects of this process.
  • They articulate with one another creating awareness about the jacobine syndrome in the life of each organization and institution, and overcoming it based on being involved in collective processes and making each organization be a space of learning, with which they overcome the law of “there is no prophet in their own land”; resurrecting the counterweight mechanisms inside each organization, and having counterpower relations with different actors.
  • For this articulation, they generate the appropriate conditions with a long-term perspective and spatially move to communities where the cooperative subjects are – the citizenry with or without property.
  • They are rooted in decolonializing dynamics which start from the origins of democracy, in laocracy, and from the origins in Latin America and the Caribbean of the multicultural clash/encounter, now in pursuit of its second independence, more connected to the world and with more self-determination, and which overcome the dualisms of collective actions and their celebration (works and faith), economy and religion, the social and political.

The story at the beginning of the text talked to us about how to get plugged in. In the article we see that these elements of being plugged in or connected happen, precisely, with a profound democracy which articulates the mobilization of the people overcoming the below/above duality, combining equality of rights and voice, where democracy and the reduction of inequality go hand in hand, like peace with justice.

What we learn in this article, reflecting from the reality of cooperatives and rural organizations, is worthwhile for any national and international organization and institution. In fact, there cannot be democracy if it is not built from the communities themselves who organize. We are reflecting on this and pursuing it just as we dreamt, like in the story, and we strive to create the democratic conditions which would make us live more and better.

6.    References

Ahmed, Nabil, 2022, Informe Oxfam Las Desigualdades Matan. Oxfam

Alvarez Montalvan, Emilio, 2006, Cultura Política Nicaraguense. Managua: Colección Presidencial Enrique Bolaños

Apel, Karl-Otto, 2004 “La ética del discurso como ética de la responsabilidad: una transformación postmetafísica de la ética de Kant”, en: Dussel, Enrique y Apel, Karl-Otto, Etica del Discursoy  Etica de la Liberación, Madrid: Trotta

Chancel, Lucas, Piketty, Thomas, Saez, Emmanuel and Zucman Gabriel et al. World Inequality Report 2022. In: Population and Development Review 49.1 UNDP

Dussel, Enrique, 2020, “La democracia en el mundo no occidentalizado”, second session in a series of conferences “(Re)pensando la democracia en el mundo actual: una visión histórica, global e interdisciplinaria”, México: UNAM. Ver:

Dussel, Enrique, 2007, Política de la Liberación: Historia mundial y crítica, Madrid: Trotta, vol. I,

Dussel, Enrique, 2009, Política de la liberación: Arquitectónica Madrid: Trotta, vol. II

Dussel, Enrique, 2022, Política de la liberación: Crítica creadora, Madrid: Trotta, vol III

Graeber, David y Wengrow, David, 2021, The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity, England: Penguin Books

Habermas, Jürgen, 2000, Facticidad y validez .Sobre el derecho y el Estado democrdtico de derecho en términos de teoría del discurso. Madrid: Trottta

Harari, Noah, 2011, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, London: Vintage Books

Harvey, David, 2006, “Neo-liberalism as creative destruction”, in: Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography 88:145-158.

Hinkelammert, Franz, 1981, Las Armas Ideológicas de la Muerte. San José: DEI

Ibáñez, Ana María, 2024, “Una mirada diferente a la desigualdad latinoamericana”, en: Project Syndicate.

Mendoza, René, 2014, “Liderazgos colectivos y compartidos. Antídoto para una sociedad dependiente de patrones y jefes” en: Revista ENCUENTRO, 99

Oxfam Internacional, 2024, Desigualdad S.A., El poder empresarial y la fractura global: la urgencia de una acción pública transformadora. Inglaterra: Oxfam

Pistor, Katharina, 2022, El Código del Capital: Cómo la ley crea riqueza y desigualdad. España: Capitán Swing

Vargas, Oscar René, 1999, El síndrome de pedrarias: cultura política en Nicaragua. Managua: Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Nacional,

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation, and an advisor of rural organizations in Central America.

[2] The desire to grow and grow leads to the unending search for productivity (volume per hectare and per person), and from there competitiveness and consequently a stress filled and desperate life, as if the world is going to end today and as if only one way of living existed.

[3] In February 2024, the Secretary of State of the United States, defined his policy: “Across the board, we’ve seen our comparative advantage as having a strong network of voluntary alliances, voluntary partnerships. And if you’re not at the table in the international system, you’re going to be on the menu.” In other words, if you do not follow the will of the United States, you are going to be eaten.

[4] There is a television series, Yellowstone, in the United States created by Taylor Sheridan and John Linson in 2018, which follows the conflicts which happen on the frontier of the Yellowstone ranch, in the Broken Rock Indian area of the Yellowstone National Park and on farmland and other ranches. In this series a corporation decides to build an airport on a property which was part of the Indian territory and then had belonged to a family for seven generations. The corporation asks the governor to expropriate it by decree, because “the airport will generate millions of dollars in earnings and taxes; Progress has costs!” It is the same argument that is used in Latin America or any corner of the world to expropriate peasants and indigenous peoples, or all of humanity: progress without concern for human and natural life.

[5] Under neoliberalism, governments ruled by the market have been dismantling organizations like unions and the few laws that in some way defended the working class. A corporation can invest in a country in Latin America without concern that a worker would sue them or that a union would pressure them about certain policies around work hours or salaries, because governments ensure them a free path for their business decisions.

[6] Latinobarómetro 2023, a survey which is done of 18 countries in Latin America, revealed that 54% of the population is indifferent about democracy; it does not matter to this part of the population whether a non-democratic government comes in to solve the problems. The report highlights this decline in interest for democracy in the last 13 years.

[7] This can be called a fetish. In Liberation Theology, Hinkelammert (1981) defines fetishism in the economy. In this case, fetishism is when elites, ignoring the people as the source of power, manipulate the representatives, making them believe that they are the source of power, when in reality the elites wield power and manipulate the State in favor of their own interests.

[8] Chancel, Piketty, Saez and Zucman (2021), directing a UNDP study, found that 10% of the richest homes of the region had more than three quarters of total wealth, and the half of the poorest homes had only 1%. The Oxfam report (Nabil, 2022) shows another inequality, which contrasts the countries of the Global South with developed countries, where 69% of private global wealth is concentrated despite the fact that it has just 21% of the world´s population, and where 1% of the wealthiest of the planet have as much wealth as the remaining 99%. Oxfam International (2024) finds that the concentration of business and market power of the principal global corporations of the developed countries reflects the concentration of capital and wealth; this is monopolistic power which disincentivizes businesses to compete with one another, and that, in turn, intensifies even more the monopolistic power, which is a machine producing inequality; that monopolistic power at the cost of economic, social, environmental and political rights of millions of people, reflect the impact of neoliberalism on a large part of the world.

[9] Libertarians believe in individual freedom as the supreme political value, they distrust the State and want to abolish it. The source of their ideas come from the well-known Austrian School of Economics and Ideas of Liberty. Among its intellectuals are Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

[10] We distinguish self-determination from autonomy, because many governments seek to control their citizens in the name of “sovereignty”, their interest being keeping international organizations from questioning their human rights violations of their people. Self-determination, we would say, is a process in which societies make their own destiny, connected to values and just laws which international organizations also express.

[11] Anarchists (see Bakunin, Russian philosopher, and politician XIX century) propose that the institution of the State is a system of domination and is corrupt per sé, which is why they advocate for its dissolution. In its place they propose organizing federations which would be coordinated by confederations, and that the basis of that organization is labor.

[12] Apel (2004) and Habermas (2000) demonstrate what validity is, valid is that which ends up being an irrefutable agreement within a community. That agreement is valid, therefore it is ethical, an act is good when it has been valid. Along the same lines, Kant would say that what is valid in ethics is legitimate in politics.

[13] Many cooperatives who have a certain amount of capital hire managers who have studied in business schools; “we cooperatives need managers who have studied in INCAE, business experts” –cooperative boards repeat. Institutions that train administrative personnel with a cooperative spirit for the entire region of Central America, like the case of the Interamerican Cooperative Institute (ICI), have practically disappeared.

[14] The same logic of “every man for himself” which prevails in people on an individual level, under the spirit of capitalism, or “personal salvation”, which prevails in the churches, also prevails between organizations and institutions. The institution of the State, instead of being a counterpower, wants to subordinate cooperatives to the interests of the government of the moment, the same happens with an NGO and second tier cooperatives in relation to the 1st tier ones, or with the 3rd tier cooperative in their relation to the 2nd tier, or between 1st tier cooperatives. No one wants anyone to review their processes, it is difficult for there to be alliances between cooperatives or for there to be relationships of counterpower between different organizations. There is a counterpower crisis.

[15] King Louis XIV in France, when parliament limited his powers in 1655, rejected it saying, “I am the State” (L’État, c’est moi); absolutism in France only ended in 1789 with the French revolution. In the last 30 years, managers (CEOs) of corporations reincarnated the spirit of Louis XIV, they behave like absolute kings, and are seen as such by societies; consequently, the legal system of the United States defends the idea that the private sector can choose the law according to which they want to be governed, without facing limitations on their capacity to make deals wherever they want. Let us look at this with a case: The Equity Court of Delaware annulled the compensation agreement with Tesla of 56 billion dollars in favor of the CEO Elon Musk, he did not tolerate that resolution, like the reincarnation of Louis XIV he now wants to locate the company in Texas where he believes there are more favorable courts. Following Pistor (2022), corporations practically are legislating, the law is what they want it to be, they can enter or leave a legal system on their own. This monarchical spirit connects managers of any organization. In this way, a manager of a cooperative appears to say, “I am the cooperative.”

[16] This issue of following rules and agreements should be analyzed. We now observe that agreements are not important to corporations, they have lawyers to find legal loopholes in order to accumulate capital at whatever cost; while peasant-farmers value agreements (“I give you my word”) because they stay in the same community for generations; indigenous populations respect their word with their ancestors. In the Yellowstone series, when they propose buying the rancher´s property which has been in his family for seven generations, and they warn him, that if he does not sell it, he is going to lose everything in a matter of days, he responds, “I prefer that you take the property away from me, but I will not break my promise” (read “my word” = agreement or promise to his parents). Consequently, when we talk about following agreements, it is important to analyze the perspectives at play in the organization and reflect how even corporations might be able to contribute to the common good – if reflected upon, it can change.


[17] In some countries the governments, in addition to improving their control mechanisms over cooperatives and associations, are closing civil society organizations (NGOs, foundations, unions) and are confiscating their assets, including the assets and bank accounts of churches. The idea of many governments is that they represent society which they conceive as “children”, which is why any decision of the “parents” (government) about the “children” is good for “the children” (societies), even confiscating their “toys” (assets).

[18] We estimate female membership in agriculture cooperatives to be 25%. Who are they? When their husbands died, they were left as members; when their husbands divorced them and left, they remained as members; male members who included their wives as members due to pressure from donor organizations to approve projects, some women who are members in their own right work on monocropping agriculture.

[19] César Luis Menotti, technical director of the 1978 world champion Argentinian all-star team, about the intention of President Milei to privatize the clubs, “It would seem that everyone wants to sell Argentina: they want to sell the clubs, the companies. Argentina has ceased to belong to Argentinians. If they allow clubs to belong to companies, the members are finished, and soccer is a cultural event. Privatizing a club is like stealing money from workers. The members made the clubs with a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people who passed through the club. It is not a matter of inventing things…This thing about privatizing the clubs and turning them into a business only serves those who do business.” In digital newspaper La Verdad, February 10, 2024,

[20] The Renaissance reflects western thought. Nevertheless, Graeber and Wengrow (2021) say that the ideas of the Renaissance came from indigenous peoples, which is why maybe it is not entirely western.

[21] Roberto Hurtado is a theologian and an artesan, like the biblical figures Paul, Aquila and Priscila: Roberto writes short biblical analyses on Facebook. What is referenced here is reflected in his article “El camino, el templo sin muros”, from July 17, 2020.

[22] An assembly can be easily manipulated by managers and board members with a absolutist spirit (“leave it to me, I will take care of it”), even more if the members lacks interest in their organization, only want credit and better prices for their products, without making contributions nor exercising their rights to profits, to being informed and being part of the decisions which govern the life of their organization.

[23]Information is a collective good of the organization and a common good of humanity.

[24] In Mendoza (2014) we develop this notion of shared leadership, which a learning organization needs to develop not so much as leaders as individuals and heroes, but in a role of coordinators where each member becomes a leader within a team framework.

[25] There are two harmful beliefs about inequality: one, that all the region is affected by the evil of a structural inequality immune from political intervention; two, that inequality is a fixed and unmovable characteristic of societies of Latin America and the Caribbean – in other words, nothing can be done.  Studies, nevertheless, show that inequality varies from country to country, increased in most countries in the decade of the 1970s and reached its peak in 1990, then began to decrease until 2014, and since that year in which the region stagnated economically, inequality has not varied. There is an improvement in inequality in income above all due to the progress in access to education and social welfare policies of many governments. It is recognized that it is more difficult to achieve improvements in inequality based on wealth. For a brief analysis, see Ibañez (2024).

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