Breaking the curse of the rule of the minority over the majority

Breaking the curse of the rule of the minority over the majority

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Finding the way

A frog moved nervously on the shore of the Rio Tuma. Suddenly, a coati appeared looking for fruit to lunch on.

“What´s going on, cowardly frog?” he asked with some mockery without even looking at her.

“Uncle coati, I dreamt that I could live better on the other side of the river, help me cross over!”

“Hold on to my tail and before the cock crows I will have you on the other side,” said the coati while he climbed up and then back down a tree.

“Have you crossed it before?”, asked the frog with some distrust.

“No, but that is easy as pie, now hold on!”, the coati ordered. The frog did so, and they entered the river.

“The current is dragging us awaayyy!”, shouted the frog in a matter of seconds.

“Ahh, Ahh!” the coati was scared, the more he swam the more they were dragged away by the river.

“Don´t swim against the current, swim toward the other side!” the frog was studying the situation and was now holding onto the coati´s ears.

“Ahh! ¡Ahh! “, the coati could not even speak, but he paid attention to her. Before long they arrived at the other side and the coati laid on the side of the river, worn out.

“Uncle coati, who crossed who over? You, me, the river …? –The frog was dancing, celebrating life

Making a good organization is like crossing the Rio Tuma. From the beginning there are different expectations: the frog has a goal to cross it and understands that she cannot do it alone; the coati believes that crossing is one of the most simplest things. Now in the process it is like being in the middle of the river, there underlying capacities emerge: the frog studies what is happening and has the courage of communicating it to the coati; the coati recognizes that he has a problem, is scared (his arrogance vanished), listens and corrects the path with all his strength – they do not turn back. In the end, when as an organization we achieve the first goals, like having crossed the river, doubts emerge about what really allowed the river to be crossed: the coati transformed from arrogant to humble, the frog who becomes an adviser, the negotiation with the river so that it would free them, which one? Even though the reasons are important, so is celebrating the achievement, life.

The principal lesson that we learn about the fable is that going along with or against the current is, in a certain way, the same, in both situations the current drags us away. Clashing with commercial mediation and authoritarian structures, or joining them, does not make much of a difference; in fact, most oppressed people dream about being the oppressors[2]. We must focus on our own vision and negotiate with (not give in to) adversities to achieve our goals, like the frog and the coati did with the water. How can we organize to – saying figuratively – cross the Rio Tuma? How can we have the clarity of the frog and her capacity to study amidst the turbulent waters and while they were being dragged away? How can we have the courage to listen and change paths like the coati? How can adversity, like the water, push us to the desired shore without drowning us?

1.    Introduction

The German-Italian sociologist R. Michels (1876-1936) buries the hope that the fable expresses, Michels would rewrite it in such a way that the coati and the frog would never get to the other shore, allow them to survive dragged along by the water current and forgetting about the shores of the river. Michels, in the context of his research from before the First World War, discovered that the structure of the German workers movement was a structural mechanism which he called “the iron law of oligarchy.” This principle signifies that each attempt to achieve collective goals and interests leads to an unequal distribution of power among the participants. It is a structural mechanism whose effect is independent of the ideas of the values system of the affected social group. Michels (1962: 365) stated that “it is the organization which gives rise to the control of the chosen over the electors, of the leaders over the constituents…to say organization is to say oligarchy.” This result, according to Michels, is due to the modernization of organizations, which require a competent leadership, centralized authority and division of tasks within a bureaucracy. In this scenario leaders increase their power in proportion to the growth of the organization; the more organization, the less democracy there is; the more extended and branched is the organization, the less control by the members; the more developed the organization is the more complex is its administration, the more specialized are its obligations and greater is the differentiation of functions. He stated that representative democracy instead of a government of elites was not possible, that it was only a facade  to legitimize oligarchical rule. Here is his theory:

Society cannot exist without a “dominant” or “political” class, and the dominant class, while its elements are subject to frequent partial renovation, constitute, nevertheless, the only sufficiently lasting factor of efficiency in the history of human development. According to this point of view, the government… States, cannot be other than the organization of a minority. It is the objective of this minority to impose on the rest of society a “legal ordering”…The majority is, then, permanently incapable of self-governing. Even when the discontent of the masses ends in a successful attempt to strip power from the bourgeoise…always and necessarily a new organized minority sprouts from the masses which raises itself to the rank of a governing class. In this way, the majority of human beings are in a condition of eternal guardianship, they are predestined to the tragic need to subject themselves to the rule of a small minority…” (Michels, 1962, pp. 353-354).

The oligarchy is constituted following what the organization needs, the docility of its members, the conversion of the leaders into lords abandoning their ideals, and the bureaucratic apparatus of organizations making them more and more hierarchical. This domination of a minority over a majority or that majority incapable of self-governing, let us say is the sign of a dictatorship which moves under the law of force. It is not surprising that Michel´s thesis, that democracy is impossible, so far would continue to provoke debates, while the experiences in the world with their different ideological expressions, seem to prove him right.

Contrary to what Michels states, we argue that, the more organization, the more leadership is shared, the more their membership uses their organization for the common good, the more democracy there is. We recognize that representative democracy can be a facade for the “iron law of oligarchy”, but being combined with participatory democracy, the results can be different. How can a democratic organization at the service of the majority emerge?

We respond to this question based on our work with peasant communities and organizations in Central America, wrestling precisely with that type of organization that Michels describes. We have written several articles on the organizational dimension and how to build democracy in organizations, here we follow this vein reflecting on new elements. After this introduction, we describe how the context confirms what Michels states, “to say organization is to say oligarchy”; then we identify different steps for crossing the river, democratizing structure, grounded practices and spirituality of life, elements which lead us to say organization is to say democracy; in the end we list some conclusions.

2.    Peasant disorganization

Here we describe an adversity which, like a storm, dragged the peasantry through the course of the “river”, absorbing cooperatives in its passage. We say this supported by a real case (See Figure 1) which illustrates what happens in organizations. The cooperative in question has 50 members and has a fixed buyer for their coffee with a privileged price above $2.30lb. In recent years that cooperative functioned in the community where the majority of its members lived; nevertheless, since the 2023-24 cycle they rented an office in the municipal capital and became disorganized with incredible ease. What happened?

A local elite which has taken over cooperatives induces them to run the cooperative behind the backs of its members: they do not call for assemblies, make up minutes of meetings and falsify signatures to comply with the formalities of their donors, the State, banks and Fair Trade; another part of this elite individually gets the members into debt in exchange for their coffee. The State certifies cooperatives based on paperwork (signed minutes of meetings and financial statements) without verifying whether that assembly was carried out, whether those signatures are real, nor whether those numbers are real. The chain of organizations around carbon capture, intermediaries for multinational businesses[3], provide financial incentives to producers who plant trees to capture carbon; these organizations contract with each member and make them go into debt selling them varieties of coffee and trees, which dry up in a year or two, without requiring assemblies for the cooperative to analyze these initiatives and make their own decisions. Donors approve projects in accordance with their agendas for cooperatives, for which they do not require assembly agreements either, and if they do ask for the minutes of the assembly, the board members invent them to their own benefit.

These actors, even without knowing one another, have actions tacitly coordinated to de-organize the peasantry, they want them to depend on outside resources, ignore what is their own, no one question their board members and managers, and reproduce certain social rules: “members are like children, board members or managers are like their parents, they know what is good for them,” “in assemblies the people are like an alligator on pavement, they don´t know where to go,” “informing confuses the members and gets them fighting one another”, “papers speak, regardless of whether they are invented minutes and falsified signatures.” Behind these rules and this purpose of individualizing them is neoliberalism and the millennial structures of political, economic and religious mediation; Michels was right, these organizations are a facade for the “iron law of oligarchy”, the dictatorship of the market manipulated by elites.

On the other hand, the members themselves reproduce this iron law. It is normal for them that the president of their cooperative would not call assemblies and behave as a little patrón; they themselves, in fact, behave the same way within their families. They say: “each president is like the estate owner, the cooperative is their estate,” “what is good comes in from outside and from above”, “we always need a patrón”. Let us observe, what Michels said 100 years ago, that “society cannot exist without a dominant class”, the peasantry repeats exactly that: “we always need a patrón”. If they tell you that the enemy is a giant and want you to join the ants who are resisting the giants, what would you say? You would say that you are going “with that giant”, no?

When these elements from outside (“storm”) and inside (“river”) coincide, effectively the minority rules a submissive, impotent and asleep majority.

Nevertheless, there are also signs of resistance (“volcano”). There are cases concerning that carbon market with other organizations where some members already got involved, were left indebted, and are aware of this problem of commodifying nature. The same cooperative whose name we are not revealing, experimented for 5 years administering their services in their community, a period in which member families benefitted by receiving the payment for their coffee in their own community. There are members who refused to sign minutes for assemblies which were never held. These three facts are signs that, like “charcoal which has been lit reignites with the slightest breeze”, people can awaken and transform their organizations to the benefit of the majority. How? We devote ourselves to this in the sections which follow.


3.    Mechanism which distinguishes organizations at the service of the majority


Having described that combination between storm and volcano to control the disorganization of the peasantry, how can an organization governed by the majority emerge?

In Figure 2 are the mechanisms for building this model of organization. Its principal axis, be it cooperatives, association or other modality, is that it constantly decentralizes and builds alliances. Three mechanisms revolve around this axis: individual voluntary action which collectively is translated into services, sharing the fruits of the individual and collective effort, and contributing with a sense of ownership. Crossing through these mechanisms is a living spirituality which nourishes the entire structure; the figure is like an onion where the spirit is throughout the onion, it makes those who slice it cry, while at the same time it nourishes and gives joy. These elements interact with one another, are the aggregate result of the peasant effort to organize, and at the same time influence the peasantry itself to multiply their collective actions. This process can, in the long term, overcome the “iron law of oligarchy” of Michels and be a hope for justice and liberty for humanity.

3.1  Democratizing structure: decentralize while allying

Granovetter (1973) argues that weak relations (casual connections and acquaintances) outside of the circle of the individual provide ideas and information to get a job. From there, the concept of “the strength of weak ties” underlines the importance of relationships beyond the family and close friends. It is like the old saying goes: “It is not a matter of what you know, but who you know” – contacts or more precisely connections. Applied to organizations, the value is emphasized of the ties outside of the organization, with the State, donors and enterprises, instead of their internal relations. We argue about the simultaneous importance of both relations, interior and exterior, root and connection, and in addition, that they be lasting and long-term relationships.

Figure 3 illustrates our argument: the strength of ties (social relations) ca be deepened on the inside (decentralization) and on the outside (alliances) of the organization, moved by a leadership with mental openness, grounded in their communities and shared among its members. These three elements, we would say, constitute the pillars of an organization governed by – and to the benefit of – the majority. This argument differs radically from the model of standardized organizations of the last 50 years, which are concentrators of capital, centralizers of decisions, autarchic and a leadership co-opted by political, economic and religious elites.

3.1.1      Descentralization

Michels states that the more an organization modernizes, the more it centralizes and bureaucratizes. Cooperatives and associations of our time seem to confirm him: they establish their physical investments (offices, harvest collection centers) in the municipal or provincial capitals, far from their disperse membership coming from different communities; they have a membership which increases in number without most of them knowing one another neither before nor after joining; one or two of their board members move to those municipal or provincial  capitals where the organization is led and managed by urban administrative staff; their economic relationships, trade, credit and donations are decided between that technocracy and the representatives of external actors, decisions which generally revolve around monocropping agriculture; they accept the rules of their organization as something given, and they put them at the margins of their organization, guided instead by the rules of the market. This type of organization does not depend on its members, assemblies are mere formalities, their board is disconnected from its grassroots, it becomes autonomous and depends on the market where everything is commodity, money. In turn, intellectuals come to these organizations treating them as their “lovers”, they show up at their offices out of need, and once satisfied they leave and tend to not return.

How do we deviate from this path of apparently inexorable centralizing and concentrating power? Here we note four ways which are within reach of the peasantry. Physical investments (offices, harvest collection centers, stores) should be established in the communities themselves, that facilitates the fact that the technical-accounting staff of the organization come from the communities themselves, more board members coordinate the daily activities of the organization, and there is more control from the members over the services that are being developed. This change is an opportunity for the members and their leaders to tame their own “demons” of deceiving one another and wanting to take advantage at the cost of others. What are we referring to? Being in a harvest collection center in the municipal capital with an administrative staff from different places, the producer takes their coffee in and they deduct 14 lbs from 1 quintal of coffee for humidity, and the producer returns without further ado, resigned and humiliated; in contrast, with staff from the community itself, part of the producers pressure for the fairness of the deduction for humidity, something very good, while another part of the producers pressure the administrative staff to not deduct from their coffee, beans or corn for humidity, and that pressure is greater if the administrative staff is a relative, their godparent; if that staff does not give in to their pressure, they get upset and social tensions emerge: “I am going to get revenge”, a word of threat is heard. Decentralization, far from being something technical, the color of roses and a matter of moving physical investments to the communities, is a process in which the members, their leaders and the administrative staff struggle hard with their demons and learn to be loyal to one another and to understand that the success of their organization is their own success.

Box 1. Organizing making cuajada


“We used to make a little cuajada, just for the house and to sell to some neighbors; in the village and on Sundays in the churches it would be difficult to sell them, so we would return home  embarassed. When the community store told us that they would buy them from us at a fixed price, we made more cuajada. The store began to tell us that some of us were not making a full pound, each cuajada should weigh a pound. Then some cuajadas had corn dander or the bag was dirty, that we had to wash our hands to make cuajada. Then that we should be careful about the amount of salt and not remove the cream.

Even though the store gave us a good price and shared their profits with us, we had to make clean and good cuajada that weighed a pound. Many of us got upset and we remained resentful, even some of us quit making cuajada; in the end, we understood that the people who eat the cuajada pay for good cuajada, that we had to be fair and that all of us were making this community store.

How difficult is this path!”

(Women who make cuajada, Ocote Tuma, Nicaragua, 2024)

Box 1 illustrates how a network of women who make cuajada [curd cheese] is built. It is a matter of improving their skills to improve the quality and weight of a cuajada; the store negotiating with the women who make cuajada with customers in the village and merchants in the town; the relationships which are worked on  among the women who make the cuajada and the administration of their store; that these relationships be fair which includes the distribution of profits. Left behind is the fight between companies that only want the milk and that implicitly push toward peasant dispossession, and the fact that these women, by making cuajada and having their store, have the peasantry resisting this dispossesion by taking advantage of the milk, cuajada, whey, pigs and corn, as a chain of community value, which means densifying social networks, which expresses a certain amount of economic diversification and reveals a certain amount of equity in the heart of the family.

The number of members of one organization should not go beyond 50 people, who, in addition, should come from just one community or micro-territory with a maximum of 3 or 4 communities; past that number of 50 another organization can be established – we learned from M. Olson that the smaller the group, the more social cohesion there is. See Figure 4 which illustrates a centralized organization and Figure 5 a decentralized organization. It is praiseworthy that the organization expresses the different sectors of a community or micro-territory, if it has five sectors it can have five groups of ten members and each group with a couple of coordinators. This makes there be three types of assemblies and a turnaround in the leaders: from looking up and out, to looking inside their communities:

  • Assemblies by sector which ground their coordinators[4], and monitor one another and reflect about their common challenges and learn to be loyal to one another
  • Assemblies of the coordinators where they reread the rules which guide the distribution and payment of the bean seed, collection of the coffee or the purchase of cuajada, they coordinate dates for seed distribution and collection.
  • General assemblies of the organization in the community where they evaluate the process and reach new agreements and rules
  • Two members of the group are coordinators and can be members of the organs of the organization (e.g.., in the case of cooperatives, the organs are the Administrative Council, Oversight Board and Production committees and other committees). This structure, fully functioning in the community, expresses decentralization as a space for reflection and innovation.

With these steps of locating themselves in the communities themselves, with their investments and transactions, and with an expanded organizational structure, the services which the organization provides also gradually expand in their coverage to two, three or four crops or initiatives, including the fact that they add value to those products. Consequently, this diversity of services leads to the inclusion of men and women in their membership and their leadership almost naturally, even though mediated by family tensions and patriarchal beliefs which resist surrendering, like monocropping agriculture and the reign of capital.

Finally, an organization which decentralizes makes their rules be applied (letter + spirit), something which Michels neglected in his analysis, he directly points to the anti-democratic millennial rules which are not the organization´s, like the case of the “iron law”. The organization that decentralizes constantly surpasses their rules guided by their spirit. Even though St Paul, in his letter to the community of Corinthia, said that “the letter kills, and the spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6), the fulfillment of the letter (rules and/or laws) which responds to their spirit (community horizon of social and environmental justice) is a decentralizing guide. If an organization does not surpass its own rules, it is a sign that its life and thought have petrified, that they are living dead. In the language of lawyers this would be expressed this way: the law is more important than the lawsuits in the courts and the legalistic sphere, that law is the search for justice in the organization of society; if the accumulation of laws does not respond to that spirit, then “the letter kills”, as was slavery, the denial of the vote to women, the consideration of indigenous as non-human. The more an organization decentralizes, moves to the community, leaders and spaces for reflection mulitply[5], the more services are diversified, and the more they follow and change their rules to apply them again. In contrast to a centralized organization, in the decentralized one the members move, live and give life in community spaces.

3.1.2      Alliances

Parallel to getting involved (decentralization) we go out to connect with other actors. We think that there are two principles for thinking and weaving alliances: awareness that we need to join forces and doing it around new future community members. Concerning the former, the same principle that leads a person to organize, is worthwhile for making alliances: realizing that individually (one organization, one community or one nation) cannot overcome challenges that go beyond their capacities. Nevertheless, in spite of the clarity of this principle, we are unaware of alliances among organizations in Central America, more than those which unite temporarily to capture external resources and last as long as that project does; the distrust between them, the “I will deal with it”, “if I don´t get resources I will go it alone”, and the fear that “they take advantage of us”, has dug deep trenches across this path.

Concerning the latter, uniting efforts around new futures where communities are their horizon. It is like two people who decide to marry, each one has virtues and capacities which unite around promising futures: building a family, making a farm, being happy…; it is something that you do not have, but that together you could have. The same thing happens between organizations: it is not uniting around what you have, that would be more of the same, they unite to imagine and build new futures where what they have makes that path possible for them. Nevertheless, the organizations that we know, generally reproduce private enterprises, which is why they are not interested in forming alliances, the market guides them in the pursuit of individual interests. In what follows we list two concrete forms of possible alliances.

Case 1: alliance around bean seed. Some communities raise beans in the first planting season (May to September) and others in the third planting season (November to March). This is due to the fact that they have a differentiated ecology: in altitude, level of rainfall and soils. Both communities experience a context in which the seed that they save is degenerating and getting more expensive, at the same time, their soils are becoming impoverished. So producers see themselves forced to resort to merchants for seed and agricultural inputs in exchange for committing to sell them their entire bean harvest, without being able to save beans for times when prices are better.. In the face of this challenge, two organizations, COASMAOT in Waslala and the CSE in SJRC, formed an alliance to exchange seed, which they would improve year by year, and at the same time this would make it possible for them as an organization to keep the rest of their harvest to get better prices, in this way capturing profits which they can redistribute socially and individually with their membership; it is a relationship which provides them freedom of action and decision about their harvest. This innovation can be expanded to invest in the soil, learn from their technologies and include new activities like corn and raising poultry and pigs – “corn with hooves” (pigs) and “corn served on a platter” (fried pork).

Case 2: alliance between producers and a merchant deeply rooted in the community.[6] A merchant from the same community where he operates, Rio Blanco, awakens to the fact that in order to continue growing, he needs to build dense social relations with 160 producers who provide him beans, corn, milk and cacao. For this densification he receives a loan from WPF and support to analyze the situation with these 160 producers, and on that basis, the merchant and the 160 producers build a strategic alliance around the purchase and sale of products in order to contribute to their community in social security and gradually do ecological agriculture.

Case 3: alliance around organic fertilizer and community stores to channel peasant products. Some organizations like CORCASAN in SJRC have good physical infrastructure (buildings, warehouses, roasters and land) which are under-utilized in the town, while others like the CSE located in the communities, have networks of producers capable of organizing community stores in the homes of producer families and moving hundreds of quintals of basic grain seed based on agreements between communities, and have the backing of an international organization like WPF to access a loan. The members of both organizations are in communities whose soil is more and more eroded and they are more and more dependent on external products. In the face of this, the two organizations can ally in order to support one another in what they have, organize technological services like organic fertilizer which feeds the soil, have a network of community stores to sell peasant products, including coffee roasting, and with that scale up on their organizational quality where their members move; an incentive for this alliance would be that an organization like WPF would provide a loan to CORCASAN for them to collect coffee apart from their traditional market to open a new path. It is an alliance which is still at an early stage.

Even though decentralizing and allying might seem contradictory, getting involved with their own actors and connecting to other actors are signs that the “iron law of oligarchy” is beginning to give way. This process of forming alliances indicates to us that future scenarios emerge from profound collective reflections on the part of organizations which simultaneously decentralize. Forming alliances also pushes each organization to “open their windows” so that new airs might enter and push each one to improve internally.

3.1.3      Deeply rooted leaders with mental openness

This process of decentralization and the construction of alliances is happening with a deeply rooted leadership with mental openness, a leadership which moves beyond beliefs which elites imposed to dispossess the peasantry of their organization, and a rotating leadership without leaving which encourages each member of the organization to also become a leader.

What beliefs? Let us note eight beliefs or demons capable of making leaders turn their back on their communities and manipulate them against their own interests:

  • “A leader is being clever”, means taking advantage of the resources of the rest, is “everything for me” who is served first, because “even God does not love a fool”. What terrible beliefs! That belief buzzes in their heads like mosquitos at night. These beliefs suggest that the idea of the leader as servant of the community has died, that now “he who is thirsty should look for him”- every man for himself, they shout.
  • “ lAeader is being a collector” and “collecting makes enemies.” This belief is like a mirror of the current leaders in communities, they have turned into collectors of merchants, managers of cooperatives and the State; many of them became even merchants themselves. They behave as merchants, distributing seed and appear at harvest time, or like an official from the State and donor organizations who appear as saviors demanding votes and/or bringing in donations.
  • “A leader is the one who knows words and numbers” This assumes that to be a leader a person must have gone to school and high school, and that if they do not know how to read and write they are a stupid person. “The illiterate person does not think,” says another discriminatory belief.
  • No one is a prophet in their own land.” This old belief assumes that one cannot be a good leader in their own community, because the people do not want anyone “who could expose their dirty laundry” to improve, when someone does it they want to push them “off the cliff”, as they wanted to do to Jesus. That belief assumes that people do not want to change, that they do not want to improve and that they do not deserve a prophet. It assumes also that they prefer prophets from outside, prophets controlled by elites, dedicated to liturgy and not to seeing “the dirty laundry” which hamstrings human capacities.
  • “A leader is being the father of the members”. In this belief it is assumed that leaders are superior and that members are like children, whom you do not need to consult, it is assumed that they are ignorant, that is why leaders do not visit them nor hold assemblies, they do things in their name.
  • “Leaders are born, not made.” It is assumed that each person is already destined to be who they are, and so some are born leaders and others are born followers. Under this assumption it is believed that the people who are not leaders never will be leaders, that “this thing does not develop” – they exclaim. Following this assumption, people who are leaders believe they have a blank check to use (abuse) collective resources at their whim. These people believe that they were made by the Holy Spirit in the early morning.
  • “Being a leader means being a big talker”. People believe this, and that is why in an assembly they make the person who talks and shouts more the president. “He speaks well, he is going to be president”, they murmur. That belief assumes that being a leader is a matter of shouting, lying and deceiving.
  • “Being a leader is abandoning your family and riding a motorcycle, drinking and having lovers.” This happened to many leaders because they believe that being a leader is to be out fund raising (asking for handouts with donor organizations and the State).
  • “A leader is someone who waits in their home”. It is assumed that being a leader is to turn into a little patrón, who wants people to beg him, venerate him and bow before him. Under this belief, coordinators do not go out to visit people, they do not move, they have the centralization syndrome – like the priest who stays in his church,
  • “Being a leader is to be involved in politics.” It is assumed that the leader is someone who negotiates to bring in electric energy, donations, roads and houses, and that this is done only with the consent of the government, that the leader responds to the government of the moment.

People who do not agree with this model of leadership as expressed in these beliefs do not know of any alternative, which is why they reject being leaders. Nevertheless when they reflect on and deconstruct these beliefs, they find that these beliefs have happened in a context in which the organization became functional for commercial and financial mediation, and where leaders have been historically co-opted.[7] They understand that organizations are trapped by that co-optation which includes the administrative staff, whose contract tends to be a tacit condition of the State, donors and the businesses that buy their coffee or cacao; that staff in a cooperative includes at a minimum a manager, accountant, cashier and certification supervisor (of any seal), which implies fixed costs for the organization, which is why that staff spends their time looking for outside resources for their survival, and in that way become even more disconnected from their grassroots and forget about organizing services or initiatives in spite of having tremendous donated infrastructure. When the people who organize detect all this, they begin to awaken and free themselves from those beliefs and that trap of co-optation.

Gradually, a leader in organizations which are inventing or reinventing themselves[8] turns into the exact opposite of what those beliefs express: someone who cultivates honesty concerning the resources of the organization, contributes to the fact that everyone respect the rules and with that each person honors their commitments, whether they know how to read or not, analyze their realities, question their own members so that they turn toward the community, correct their own processes and help the group make decisions, talk with each member of the group in order to grow together, and is a person who preaches by example. This leader influences the group and at the same time is the result of the group undergoing constant change. In the case of the hired staff, they administer the services and initiatives (collect coffee and grain harvests, slaughter pigs, run community stores) and their salaries come from the profits that those services and initiatives generate, which leads them to respond to their grassroots. That leader  gets out, leaves their home, connects to people and serves people well providing “x” service.

How is such a leader made? In addition to awakening, just as we expressed, it is important that they be empowered as a group of coordinators. That they weave a network (group) which maybe they have had tacitly in a smaller group (see Figure 6), now they can make it visible and build a living and expanded network (see Figure 7) – the thicker line indicates stronger social relations between them. That they monitor one another, coordinators and members of the group, and accompany one another, cultivate loyalty and inspire one another, show solidarity, coordinate and honor their agreements.  That in this process coordinators and members of the group be chosen with the guidance of the community itself which warns you (“don´t even get close there”) or pushes you (“he is a solid person”), and always studying each person to verify whether the community perspectives are confirmed. That having good rules and practices which are carried out, including the rotation of leaders without leaving (leave the post but taking on another position which makes them grow, like leading a new group or administering a new initiative or service), the organization might be a space where even the most opportunistic person might become a “saint”. That the coordinator be concerned that people have a voice (freedom to think and express what they think), that their very silences overpower his voice[9], and be concerned about hearing that voice, asking himself why they are saying what they are saying and why they do what they do. That the coordinator leave their home, move about, make connections and build trust and solidarity in each group: if the coordinator or some member of the group see cattle getting into the bean plot of a producer, that they get that cattle out without thinking twice; in visits they transfer technological and organizational information[10] and ideas and disseminate them like a bee, from one producer to another.

Having seen the principles and their practices, we also note down the importance of providing financial incentives to this group of coordinators, at least in a first phase of the organization, incentives which come from the surpluses of the initiatives themselves. Now in a second phase, as families improve thanks to the good organization, coordinators will work voluntarily. How can coordinators receive incentives in accordance with their efforts and without having that incentive erode them instead? We define 6 elements with which we can measure the practice of the role of coordination. We can give a maximum score of 5 to each element, adding to a total of 30 points. The coordinator that gets the most points receives the total amount of money established for a person in a certain period (6 months for the case of raising beans: from the preparation of the distribution of the seed to the complete sale of the harvested beans), the person in second place received 90% of that amount, and the person in third place gets 80% of that amount, and so on. Those elements are:

  • Element 1. In a group of no more than 10, the coordinator of a group of 10 has the highest score, the coordinator of a group of 9 gets a lower score.
  • Element 2. If everyone in the group honored their commitments, the coordinator gets the maximum number of points.
  • Element 3. The person who attends all the meetings and voluntary actions, gets the maximum score
  • Element 4. Consultants and administrative staff evaluate each coordinator, measure their level of commitment to the membership and the organization, their dedication to improving it, their solidarity and that of the group with their members.
  • Element 5. Self-evaluation, each coordinator will self-evaluate about the visits that they have made to the members of the group, the communication which he has maintained by cell phone…
  • Element 6. Each member of the group evaluates their coordinator: about whether they have been visited, whether they are concerned about them, whether they inform them…
  • Rule of thumb: If the coordinator does not honor 100% of their payment commitments, they are disqualified and lose their right to receive incentives.

These incentives do not erode leadership nor divide the peasantry. Why? The 6 elements express a balance between the objective and subjective elements of an evaluation incentivizing individual and collective efforts. Each group is aware of this process, they themselves participate in the evaluation, are informed of the results of the participatory evaluation; each group chooses their coordinators, when the group changes their coordinator, the person leaves their post and moves on to coordinate a new group or lead a new initiative – this is rotation without leaving. Members of the group recognize that through that coordinator they get seed or channel their products; they feel the effort of the coordinators, of moving from one place to another without neglecting their farm and family, listening to their concerns and helping them resolve them; by paying the group pays for the support of their coordinator; they understand that the incentive is not a salary nor payment for some work, it is an incentive to cover certain expenses (cell phone calls, bus fares to attend meetings, purchase of a piece of bread on the way to visit producers); the entire group feels pride on honoring 100% of their commitments and having a coordinator who receives the maximum incentive.

The money of the incentive comes from the surpluses of the initiative of the organization itself, which means that for there to be incentives the initiative has to generate surpluses, they are incentives channeled by defined rules, it is not something donated from outside and that enters at the margins of the rules of the organization itself.

With this financial incentive and the social legitimacy achieved with their group, the interaction of the three occurrences of assemblies is energized to the benefit of the communities.

3.2  Policies and/or good practices

In the previous sector we showed that to say organization can be to say democracy, which is a deviation from the inevitability of the “iron law of oligarchy” of Michels. This democratizing structure, nevertheless, is insufficient; it requires policies and practices which consolidate this process. We devote ourselves to that now.

3.2.1      Voluntary action and service

If the practice of voluntary action is taken on by the members, their coordinators (leaders) and the staff who administer the services and initiatives of the organization, the power of money and the market which led organizations to centralize is eroded, and consequently the essence of being an organization can get closer to the historical practices of reciprocity and exchange in the communities. Because of the importance which it has, we explain it here.

In 2002 with a French friend, we went to the mining triangle (municipalities of Siuna, Rosita and Bonanza in Nicaragua), we went to Rosita to visit a Mayangna (previously known as Sumo) community. We came up to one of the homes and a man received us. “Are you doing a survey?”, he asked us. We told him no, that we just wanted to talk. “Is this an interview?”, we responded no again. “You have to pay me for responding to your questions,” he declared impassively. My friend reacted in a similar way, “Then you have to pay us for asking you, asking questions is more difficult.” The man began to laugh, and we talked a while about different topics, and we said good-by in an atmosphere of friendship. On the way back to Bonanza, we asked ourselves how that practice of charging for responding got started; within days we found a response: GTZ, which was the name of a Germany aid agency at that time, was an organization that had an office in Siuna since the 1990s; the staff of that organization had taught them to charge. “Any person who goes to your communities gets paid for doing surveys and interviews, you should charge for responding, nothing is free.” GTZ (currently known as GIZ) used to organize training sessions on sustainable development for the Mayangnas, they convoked that population through a co-opted leadership, and in addition to providing them food and lodging, would pay them for attending these trainings.

The logic of GTZ was: we consultants earn money thanks to the fact that Mayangna leaders call their communities to our trainings and respond to our questions, so the leaders should be paid for this work; tacitly that logic confirmed that the work agenda of GTZ was external, a country like Germany which did away with the peasantry and their forest to replace it with plantations of forest managed by large enterprises, taught the indigenous population to take care of their forest which they had preserved for centuries. This logic coincided with the concerns of the Mayangna leadership, who obtained money just by selling animals from the forest, because their crops were for their consumption, so charging for facilitating the work of organizations like GTZ allowed them to have a second source of income. As an effect of these practices, the Mayangna leaders spent more time in the municipal capitals than in their communities, fought more among themselves to respond to the aid agencies and the State, while gradually and silently their communities quit meeting to deal with their challenges, “if they do not pay me I am not going to the meeting”, in other words, the Mayangna communities lost their leaders, got disorganized and slowly were losing their territories. Basically, their spirit of voluntary action for the benefit of their communities had been mortally wounded.

In a certain way this practice also had happened in cooperatives, be it by the influence of the donor agencies for more than 3 decades or because the members of an organization detected that their organization had joined the structure of commercial mediation, holdng formal assemblies and not decision-making ones, managers and/or presidents who centralized decisions, who bought products and did not report them nor distribute profits, so the members fed a mentality of “if they do not pay me, I will not load the truck”, and “I am not going to the meeting if they do not give me the travel allowance”, “do you think that I am an idiot so that others might live off of my work?” The absence of voluntary actions is a sign that an organization is “a dead body”: lifeless, that is the sign that an elite has taken over the organization for their own interests, and that they are part of a chain of elites, that structure of asymmetrical mediation. In that context, really you cannot ask people to do voluntary actions, and the one who does volunteer “is an idiot.”

In another context that spirit of voluntary action can be cultivated. If the members understand and confirm based on trustworthy information that there is no elite taking advantage of their work, which is why you are not an idiot doing the work while others benefit themselves without working. If the profits which are generated are socially and individually distributed. If it is known how those profits are produced and how their decisions in assemblies are respected, then people will contribute for the common good. If the services are sustainable and benefit their communities. If their organization is democratic – rotation without leaving. In this sense, voluntary action is an indicator of the good health of an organization. The experience of the cooperative Esperanza de los Campesinos in Panama illustrates this value for us:

– “In 1967 a little girl got sick, no one wanted to touch her out of fear of getting infected with the disease. So, they called the priest Héctor Gallego, and he showed up in the middle of that mud and left carrying the girl to look for medical help,” they told us.

– “We decided to have a store and we began selling salt, we carried two sacks of salt on our backs from the town to the community; the workers of the patrons seeing us pass by carrying the salt would say ´there goes the pack horses of Fr. Gallego, hahaha´, and over the years we were eventually able to have supermarkets”, they continued to relate to us.

– Each time there was a crisis in the cooperative, they would call me to assume management, I would boost it because I did not act like the boss but like a worker: if 150 sacks had to be loaded or unloaded, I was the first one to deal with the sacks, then others would join us”, remembers Jacinto Peña (from Mendoza, 2017)

This cooperative, founded in 1969, continues today, its foundation was the voluntary action within a context in which the priest got involved in the life of their communities, they organized the store with their own resources, they themselves administered it, were accountable, made their decisions in community assemblies, celebrated when they met their agreements to do collective work. It is a context in which the spirit of service and love made each person make a greater effort than what they thought possible, knowing that their effort was for the benefit of many people at that time and into the future. On this rock of voluntary action are built the foundation for trust, solidarity and loyalty among people who organize, and with people who come in from outside and get involved in the collective challenges of communities. This latter point was the case of the priest Gallego who did not arrive to dedicate himself to the ecclesial religious world reduced to the church (“external agenda”), but who entered into the world of rural communities in order to find God there and reconstruct ecclesial networks in the country to the benefit of communities. In that sense voluntary action and service go hand in hand, said in another way, service is the organic structure of voluntary action.

The Colega cooperative of Colombia presents us with another case. The role of being administrator rotates among the members, without that work receiving a salary. Why? “Each member, thanks to the cooperative, earns well because of the good yield of milk and the good commercialization of that milk, that which I earn I would not have without the cooperative, while a salary as administrator is less than what I earn with the milk; that is why this work of administration we do as a voluntary service,” said the administrator of the cooperative in 2017. This is a level of organization where the role of the administrator rotates, and the biggest benefit is that the cooperative is a great means for community development: it receives, refrigerates, and sells milk to a good market, contributes to increasing the milk productivity per cow, forms children and youth to take care of the forest. There voluntary action bubbles up in circumstances in which the cooperative is governed by the majority of the members[11]; there, whoever is not a volunteer is an idiot.

3.2.2      Overflowing measure

If more than what is fair is given, and this is part of the framework of reciprocity and exchange, solidarity and trust grow within a democratic organization.

In Wiwilí in 1989, mayor Barahona told me, “Now people no longer work a full day, they start at 8 and are back by 11 am, they say that they already did their day´s work, and that they are in power.” The Sandinista revolution by expropriating land and passing it over to the hands of the State instilled the idea that they were in power, therefore they could work fewer hours, the government had to supply them with food and take thousands of students from the cities to harvest coffee, a policy framework where the production of coffee, basic grains and cattle was falling, and with that also rural employment for the impoverished masses. The help of the government created dependency, the feeling of being a little “patron” and a drop in production; the spirit of the revolution was to “take down the barbed wire” so that the State might take the place of the farmers and large estate owners, where the majorities had to subject themselves to the State as the big new provider patrón.

Between the decade of 1990 and 2010 NGOs multiplied, carrying out projects of donor organizations. They donated equipment, infrastructure, seed and gave trainings on thousands of topics. Individual donations included backpack sprayers, seed, agrochemicals, water tanks; donations to organizations included silos, warehouses, harvest collection centers, vehicles, offices, capital…99% of what was donated was later damaged or sold, and the people and organizations were left focused on getting more donations and even got upset if more aid did not come in to them (“beggars with clubs”).[12]. Among several causes, the principal one is that what was donated broke the rule of reciprocity which still existed in their communities, something well studied by Mauss (2009): giving something which the other person really needed, and that later that person would do the same with the person who had given to them, from there come the social rules about returning the favor, minka or gift giving in weddings; “today for me, tomorrow for you,” goes the saying. This social rule was violated by donor organizations and patronage- promoting governments by giving them something which maybe the person or the organization could access on its own efforts, “you don´t look in the mouth of a donated horse” – they would repeat without understanding that they were renouncing their self-sufficiency.

In many cases aid has the purpose of doing damage. The New York Times pointed out that the United States provides 2,000 lb bombs which Israel drops on Gaza leveling buildings and pulverizing every living being[13]; at the same time the United States is sending humanitarian aid to Gaza; in other words, with one hand it is sending bombs and with the other hand food. Freddy, a peasant leader, on hearing this news, reacted, “It is like feeding the pig which we will turn into a nacatamal on Saturday.” A coordinator of a donor organization in Europe told me once, “Our government approved resources for us to help the peasantry of a poor country, the condition is that we had to buy potato seed in Europe so that the poor people of that poor country might abandon their seed and then after the aid they might continue buying seed from Europe”[14] – is that aid? From reading a little history we learn that the Apache nation for three centuries defeated the Spanish, Mexican and North American armies, precisely for having a very decentralized organization, but in the end the United States found a way to break them: they gave cattle to the Apache leaders and then the Apache people divided, they fought over being the nantan (leader) to keep the cows, they centralized, and in this way succumbed without a shot being fired. Bombs kill the body and ill-intended aid kills the soul: the elites want people not to resist, not value the good that they have, and that they believe that “good comes from above”; dependency on external resources, without having internally approved rules to deal with it,[15] leads to the law of Michels.

In what context can aid help? In the decades of 1960s and 1970s, under the influence of liberation theology, religious people got involved in collective actions with the peasantry, there they taught that fair rule of the “overflowing measure”; contrary to merchants who sold products like rice or sugar  reducing something from it, 1 or 2 ounces per pound, “take away to make more”, the overflowing measure is when  peasants are sold products adding something, 1 or 2 ounces per pound, which is possible if the product in question is produced by the peasant family, let us say beans, corn, rice or coffee, and sold to another peasant family or a community store so that it might also sell it with the practice of the overflowing measure, while the community store buying a product from outside the community, let´s say sugar, cannot apply the rule of the overflowing measure to resell it in the community, under the threat of going broke financially, even though it can be fair in its weighing. This practice comes from the Gospels: “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” Lk 6:38). In other words, locating the organization in the same community from which come its members, being an organization which applies its rules with transparency, the possibility of practicing this rule of the overflowing measure is greater; this leads to an institutional change to the asymmetrical commercial rules for fairer and more equitable community rules, not just with tangible products like rice or beans, but with intangible products like making a greater effort in any job, in consultancy, in accounting, in leadership, in the harvest collection… Then, to complement this practice, incentives can be provided under mechanisms of accountability, such as we introduced in section 3.1.3.

3.2.3      Contributions

The Spanish word for “contribution” [aportación] comes from the Latin apportatio: ad– (to), portare (carry) y ción (action, efect); it is carrying something to contribute to the common good. This is the meaning which contributes to the fact that an organization might be democratic, for the common good – community.

In a cooperative ordinary and extraordinary contributions are made to benefit the cooperative society, ordinary ones are made on joining as a member of the cooperative in accordance with their statutes. That contribution is not returned, it is to cover expenses of the organization (paperwork, meetings, initial social capital, etc) or to have a common patrimony. Extraordinary contributions are given by agreement of the general assembly and are for the cooperative to develop services, and if the member leaves, there is an obligation and right to the return of their extraordinary contributions and corresponding surpluses. In churches contributions are made in the form of offerings, tithes, first fruits, and other contributions for the construction of the church or other purposes; these contributions are not returned when they leave the church. These practices of making contributions for the common good make sense: for example, the tithes that appear in the Old Testament of the Bible were for impoverished people, widows, orphans and those extremely sick; in the case of cooperatives, operating under the control of their membership, contributions respond to the common good – to free themselves from debt, to deal with common challenges…

Nevertheless, when the institutional context changed, the meaning of contributions also changed. In the last 40 years the neoliberal perspective inculcated trickle-down economics, individualism, every person for themselves; this focus also influenced the churches who retreated to their church buildings, intensified the sense of guilt, and reduced the message of Jesus to “personal (individual) salvation”. Within this context organizations tended to be more controlled by technocracies and board members co-opted by structures of economic, political and religious mediation. Organizations like cooperatives designed services to the benefit of monocropping agriculture and maximizing profits, while accountability disappeared, distribution of profits was snuffed out under the idea that “growing first then distributing”, and the members who left or resigned lost their right to the assets of the cooperative, “because the assets belong to the cooperative but not to the members.”  In this institutional context, contributions from the membership dropped, while organizations increased their capital based on profits generated by their credit and/or commercialization services, as well as by external donations. Consequently, that technocratic layer and board members responded more to those market forces and external organizations than to their members, understood that their financial “treasure” was in that cooperative model, which is why that is where their “heart” was. It is within this context that the membership defined contributions, saw that contributing with labor, money or attending meetings, “was a waste of resources”. In other words, contributions no longer responded to a context of collective reciprocity for the common good, but to the logic of maximizing profits in an individual way on the part of those who “privatized” the cooperative, which is why cooperatives themselves were no longer a collective asset of their members, except in the discourse of those who controlled them.

How can this process be reverted and the sense of contributions for the common good be recovered? As part of our consultancy we have pressured that members increase their contributions as proof that they are taking ownership of their organizations, but we began to understand that that pressure assumed that individual actions create collective changes, and that as long as that institutional context persists, co-opted by economic, political mediation and that of the aid industry, it would be difficult for members to go and contribute “as a waste of resources”. It would be for them like an act of public shame. When the institutional context changes, and they have policies where “the assets belong to the cooperative and to each one of the members”, the organization responds to its members, and the members control the cooperative, then the members can increase their contributions and publicly show their pride in being a cooperative member. Like in soccer, it is not individual brilliance which makes the collective, it is good collective play which makes individuals shine; a good team makes good individualities be expressed – a move, a goal, stopping a penalty shot. How can that organizational change be generated so that all people might have their treasure in their organizations and so that, therefore, their hearts might be there as well?

If a peasant organization performs different services which lead their communities to improve as people and in their surrounding environment; if that organization becomes democratic, transparent with their information, distributes their surpluses socially and individually, and their assets are also backed by “contribution certificates” in the name of each one of the members[16]; is located in its community; and if that organization involves outside and inside intellectuals in their processes, then the members will express more voluntary actions and increase their contributions, they will voluntarily load and unload products which they take out and bring in, they will provide their homes to store products for weeks and months, and people from outside who participate in their processes will help to transport products in their vehicles, will also make contributions, refine questions to provoke reflection…In these organizations which are changing, the spirit of the people is not so much to ask themselves “what is missing”, but “what more can we do”; the same happens in the framework of an alliance between organizations, some make their warehouses available to other organizations, others offer credit, others connect them with market niches, others share their learnings of organizing community stores, all this under the premise that each organization follows their rules, are trustworthy. Within this context people who organize reinterpret that notion of contributions, now they see it as financial investment, as labor, ideas and care for the common good.

From these sections we learned that when the peasantry organizes and sees the connection between voluntary action, services, overflowing measure and contributions is when organizations respond to their members and their communities, and to that extent turn into a school of formation with a community perspective. Is it true that the law of Michels is reeling?

3.3  Spirituality

In agrarian societies feelings of anger and resentment have accumulated, in good measure because of the torment of adversities which they face on a daily basis, like those expressed in section 2, which include churches who make them feel guilty and sinners, the betrayal of their leaders and the treatment they receive from institutions that say they support them[17]. A good part of these societies, like in impoverished urban neighborhoods, grew up in a family environment of violence and under a culture of disposability; changing their spouses for younger women, like with cattle. In these circumstances, they become societies which address their problems with a lot of spontaneity, quickly resorting to the machete. “My grandfather would say `to get even you have to do it before the pain passes´; I would show up every day to the village with that idea of getting even, now that the wound has healed I can forget it and I am not going to get revenge,” said a peasant wounded in a machete fight in a community of the agricultural frontier; “I do not remember receiving a hug from my Mother or my Father, we grew up between beatings and yelling”, reflected a leader. María Angélica Faune (2014), studying these rural societies, concluded:

Nicaraguans take it and take it, but the moment comes where they sharpen their machete. I am not deterministic, because I believe that people and society can change. But in this society, we can recognize cycles that do not change, which are repeated…that peasantry has been accumulating rage…It is brooding in silence, like a volcano which could begin to erupt.

Violence, that spirit of “getting back” (revenge) is a culture which is mixed with anger, resentment and hate, fed from people´s childhood, makes them quickly go for the machete. “It´s going to be one of two things, either I kill you or you kill me” – they repeat between drinks and in a group of friends. The person who does not join that culture is seen as a weakling, “without balls” (violent courage), and a person “without balls” is not a man – a belief which is prevalent. That spirit molds the hierarchical structures within the heart of societies: families, organizations, churches, commercial mediation and usury, farms, haciendas, sports clubs of all men (baseball, soccer, boxing)…It is a dual spirit which conceals these realities and is added to evangelical or Catholic religious rituals, as if they were cut into two, one living in that dark world of violence, and the other within church singing and striking the breast of the sinner for not going frequently to religious celebrations or for not tithing or putting something in the offering basket.

An organization which is made to make money and underlies a society of violence and disposability, follows along the lines of the law of Michels. But, if the organization is for people to live more and better, then the focus in on the people in their communities, like we have been proposing in this article. A spirituality in its broad sense helps us to capture that perspective, helps us to discern in a group that dark world of violence within which we move, and from there look for the meaning of your life, the purpose, which awakens in us doubt, curiosity, and passion which might lead us to personal care, to value one another in recognizing our efforts without attributing them to supernatural forces or omnipresent patrons, to have empathy for others, to give one another a hug, love one another and treat one another well. With this perspective we seek to escape from the demons of anger, revenge and victimization, and to embrace hope, aspirations and the desire to live in community.

To build decentralized organizations, that comprehensive spirituality is needed, connecting with one another, treating one another well, resolving disputes “turning the other cheek”. It is a matter of being heroes and heroines investing in the soil in an ecological way, selling peasant products, deciding what we are going to eat, protecting water sources, organizing celebrations…It is a matter of seeing life without culpabilities or victimization, but as community stakeholders.

Box 2. Blue zones


What makes people live more and better? 25% is their genes, 10% through advances in health services and the rest is due to the environment and lifestyle. Dan Buettner studied 5 places in the world where there are more people who are over 100 years old without previously having suffered cardiac diseases, obesity, cancer or diabetes. Those places are: Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Ogliastra region in Cerdeña (Italy), Loma Linda in California (United States) and the Nicoya peninsula (Costa Ríca). What are their secrets?

–        In the environment where people live it is easy to walk and healthy food is sold.

–        People naturally walk attending their gardens and crops and walk to go out to eat with their friends

–        Strong circle of family and friends. “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you what future you will have.”

–        Diet rich in vegetables (green leaves), beans, cereals (corn, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum), soybeans, squash, tubers, green tea …

What do we see there? By mixing with one another, community is made: laughing a lot, eating native foods, celebrating old age

Consequently, that comprehensive spirituality leads us to visualize the idea of living more and better, as a perspective which can awaken societies who organize. In this sense the findings of the blue zones by Buettner (2023), summarized in Box 2, is a reference point for us. In these zones people live more and better, due to, above all, the quality of their communities; this, in our case, could tell us that organizations can contribute decisively to this purpose. How? Organizations, assuming the mechanisms previously worked on, can diversify their services to produce food in a sustainable way and sell them in community stores, coffee shops and community eateries which are within the reach of peasant incomes and that are spaces for meeting and peasant celebration.

Bearing this perspective in mind, let us reread all the previously mentioned mechanisms..

  • In decentralization we include connecting people to one another, meeting to share food, ideas, walks, and celebrations, it is feeling the spirit of mutually supporting one another, eating dinner in family and having lunches with friends on weekends.
  • In alliances we communicate with churches and sports clubs to coordinate activities which cultivate joy in the population and celebrate collective actions, seeking alliances even with unimaginable actors: with merchants, transportation owners, municipal authorities…
  • Leadership is nourished by people with different capacities and emphasize good treatment, leaders who above all see the people, integrate the material and the spiritual, leaders who keep silent, listen and embrace.
  • In these actions voluntary action, overflowing measure and contributions are relaunched, for example, organizing a celebration clearly is voluntary, sharing food which the peasants are producing and contributing to the organization with more voluntary labor.

Seen in this way, it is difficult for commercial and financial mediation to prevail, unless their actors rethink their own perspectives and logic. To also want to live more and better in health communities, also contribute to the fact that these communities might become “blue zones”, to value less asymmetrical relations…Communities without violence and where people live more and better, benefit all of humanity.

Now we see that the organizations with whom we are working enter through the window of the economy and leave through the door of their communities.

4.    Conclusions

We started this article with the fable of crossing the Tuma River, of not going against the current and focusing on crossing it. Figuratively, the river is the law of Michels, for whom to say organization (crossing the river) is to say oligarchy, and that society cannot exist without a dominant class. How can a democratic organization be erected at the service of the majority capable of crossing that river?

In the article we noted the “storm” of actors with their allied institutions with a “river” of peasants who reproduce beliefs of the elites and who together disorganize the peasantry.

In the face of this we offered three groups of mechanisms which might allow us to cross the river. Frist, decentralization and alliances which happen simultaneously under a leadership which breaks with the historical tradition of going against your own community, class or tribe. Second, policies or practices are assimilated like voluntary action, overflowing measure and contributions within that context of the first point, decentralization and alliances with leaders who rotate without leaving. Third, raising our gaze from a perspective of comprehensive spirituality which intensifies the two previously mentioned groups of mechanisms and overcomes the material/spiritual duality.

Organizations are public goods, and public is service, while private is business. Nevertheless, in processes of change like those we are describing, there are no sacred separations, there is a search to cross any river, as long as our horizon is communitarian.

5.    References

Buettner, Dan, 2023, The Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer. US: National Geographic Books.

De Herdt, Tom, 2005, “Social policy and the ability to appear in public without shame. Some lessons from a food relief programme in Kinshasa”, in: S. Alkire, F. Comim and M. Qizilbash (eds.), Justice and Poverty: Examining Sen’s Capability Approach, Cambridge University Press

Fauné, Maria Angélica, 2014, “En la Nicaragua campesina se han ido acumulando engaños decepciones y enojos”, en Revista Envío: 386

Granovetter, Mark, 1973, “The Strength of Weak Ties”, in: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, No. 6. The University of Chicago Press

Lipset, M., Trow, M., & Coleman, J. (1956). Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union. New York Free Press

Marcel Mauss, 2009, ensayo sobre el don: forma y función del intercambio en las sociedades arcaicas. Madrid: Katz editores. (Published for the first time in 1925)

Mendoza, René, 2017, “Un sacerdote, una cooperativa y un campesinado que domó a las élites” en Revista Cooperativa Gestion Participativa:

Mendoza, René, 2023, Reinventar el cooperativismo: El arte de organizarse y reorganizarse con los de más abajo. Libro publicado en Colombia, editorial Magisterio.

Mendoza, René, n.d. “La danza del cambio entre las circumstancias y el accionar humano.” Not yet published.

Michels, R. (1962) Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. (First published in 1911).

Stiglitz, Joseph, Schiffrin, Anya and Groves, Dylan, 2024, “Quality journalism is more important than ever”, in: Revista Confidencial.

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

[2] The same thing happens with violence, responding to violence is like throwing logs on the fire. That is the law of retaliation: eye for eye, tooth for tooth; in the end we are left without eyes, teeth and life, dragged away by more violence.

[3] They are businesses which in their countries of origin pay less taxes if they finance carbon capturing (reforestation) in countries in the south. To them are added national companies who sell tree plants and condition their sale on buying their harvest. In other words, they do not reduce their environmental contamination, but do appropriate more profits.

[4] We prefer to call coordinators those who traditionally are called leaders or board members. Two reasons for which we are not passionate about those latter terms: they are words which suggest that they lead, and the rest are followers (“herd”, unleavened dough); and both words seem to indicate that they respond to the directions of the economic elites. In contrast, coordinator is the person who coordinates, connects and makes people think.

[5]In the experience of the priest Gallego in Santa Fe, Veraguas (Panama), he proposed decentralizing the “role of the priest”. From the reflection space which happened about this topic, we deduce that decentralizing in the gospel is that ritual not be separate from the social and economic realities of the communities, the ritual is the celebration of community actions. Understanding this point, Gallego proposed that in each community the people responsible (coordinators in our language) should facilitate the reflections, agree to carry out collective actions, and that he would show up “for the stew”, to celebrate those achievements with the entire community. In this way their reflections-actions-celebrations would be multiplied in the communities. Note. If Gallego would have kept to ritualism, without connecting to collective actions, he would be centralizing the gospel, “the priest reads the bible” and “the priest reflects”. If the role of the priest would not have been decentralized with a content of reflection and collective actions, he would be falling into centralization.

[6] There are also connections which can be worked on between organizations of producers with private economic groups, without getting to be alliances. Examples. Connections with large land-owners so that, when they rent land they put certain conditions on it, like not burning it, which makes a great difference in production to the benefit of the peasantry and the soil. Connections with ranchers so that they understand that there are other ways to generate profits and not always through extensive grazing lands. Connections with owners of public transportation (buses) so that they improve their treatment of the peasantry and jointly repair roads. Connections with agroservice businesses that sell agrochemicals, who might be able not only to lower their prices, but above all understand what agriculture requires of them; appropriate inputs, at precise quantities and in a timely manner, and with protection for human and natural health. They are connections which generate externalities of social security, sustainability and economic well-being.

[7] This coopting has been happening since colonization. Indigenous chiefs were co-opted by elites of the colonial system to control indigenous peoples. After independence this practice continued: village judges, agricultural judges and other judges were indigenous leaders co-opted by the elites who controlled the State. Later the same practice of co-optation continued on the part of governments and donor organizations. We also find a similar situation in slavery: black leaders capturing their own people to sell them to their owners, or capturing them for their slave owners. See the movie “Amistad”, the name of a ship where there was a slave rebellion in 1839 in the Cuban coast; this historical fact was brought to the movies in 1997 by Steven Spielberg.

[8] In Mendoza (2023) we describe extensively the reinvention of cooperativism, valid for any organization.

[9] Concerning this, Confucius said, “A seed grows with no sound, but a tree falls with a tremendous noise. Destruction has noise, but creation is quiet. This is the power of silence.”

[10] Stiglitz, Schiffrin and Groves (2024) highlight a report of UNESCO in which they themselves participated. In that report they the test the importance that quality information has “so that economies, societies and democracies might function well.” In rural communities, quality information could be an organization producing it and disseminating it, like the little notebooks which we share with producers on technological or concrete organizational topics. In this report they also allude to the importance of laws which ensure the right to tell and the right to know. Information, let us remember, is a public good, and that is why organizations must produce it and disseminate it. In-form.


[11] Concerning the influence of circumstances for human action, see Mendoza (n.d.)

[12] De Herdt (2005) analyzed the effects of aid in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo). There Doctors Without Borders (MSF) between June 1992 and August 1995 had a program for malnourished children under 5 years of age, children qualified as malnourished by their weight (below 75% of the mean of their category) or clinically tested. The policy was that, if a family had a malnourished child, they would receive an aid package worth US$200/year; that policy, nevertheless, could have counterproductive effects: two thirds of the children helped were kept in a situation of malnutrition by their families in order to get that packet of donated food. In other words, they were children used as “meal tickets.”

[13] Ver: Thalif, Deen, December 11, 2023, “2000 pound bombs supplied by the US can wipe out Gaza”, IPS Press Agency.

[14] Nestle did something similar in countries in “developing countries”: they donated powdered milk in hospitals to mothers who gave birth, so that they would not provide mother´s milk and be left dependent on Nestle´s milk; Nestle said in their ads that bottle feeding was superior to breast feeding; the effect of this was the death of babies because of malnourishment. Can you imagine a mother without resources, dependent on Nestle´s milk. What do we imagine is the notion of “aid” in Nestle?

[15]Something similar happened in the Mayangna community mentioned before, those people who because of their studies or for having had positions of leadership in the war of the 1980s had become leaders, did not want to cede their posts; their communities had lost their capacity to choose their own leaders. The interest in money (“cattle”), in addition to the institutional machinery for dispossession, led them to centralize and systematically lose their territories.

[16] If a member has a “contribution certificate” of those assets, then when they leave or die, the cooperative will pay that value to the member or a relative, immediately or within a certain time frame. An implication of this is that no individual person, even being the manager or president of that cooperative, would be able to sell that asset or impound it with a bank or usurer, only the assembly will be able to make decisions about its assets. In other words, those certificates will become another brake on possible acts of corruption and attempts at privatization, because each member before the voting will understand what is at stake.

[17] This treatment was a crucial element that in the 1980s led the peasantry to join the counterrevolution of the Nicaraguan Resistance. “My mom had to jump, “the person who does not jump is a contra”, so that she not be accused of being a counterrevolutionary, that was humiliating for my old lady, that is why I went to war”; “we were in the Sandinista guerilla and afterwards they treated us poorly, they said that they were going to “cut off our hands” if we damaged the coffee fields, when we protested because they were not giving us food to harvest coffee.”

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