Let’s start with a framework. Democracy is about power dynamic. It also represents the ongoing effort to reach expected ideal of power structure: all for one and one for all. Sounds good, isn’t it?
All for one and one for all is a dream where personal freedom and social solidarity mutually exist. How could we ask for more? This great expectation has decorated our times, from the history of Rome and French Revolution to the recent controversy of Iranian election; from Vaclav Havel’s writing to Hollywood movies.
And yet, we learned to well that sometimes ‘all’ is too complex and chaotic to get together for ‘one’. In other particular time of history, we saw how the ‘one’, in the name of social stability or divine intervention, repress ‘all’ overwhelmingly and leave no space for differences, dissents and diversity.
Thus, democracy is about understanding the paradox of power and social system. The organizational context may not be in the same type of complexity as of a state or a nation. Nevertheless, the paradox are imminent and essential in any context of democracy. Marxism’s view of industrial classes and capital possession suggested the undoubtedly potential of destruction resulted from entrusting capital in the hand of the few; the central idea of Smithian’s view of capitalism. This ‘few’ are expected to utilize the capital bestowed to them by the ‘many’ in the guidance of enlightened self interest.
Consequently, organizational levels can be seen as power layers, with capital and formal authority as the currency of power. These layers are the elements that construct the system as a vehicle to yield gains and results. Using Smithian perspective, top layers are supposed to be the stewards of the organization’s collective welfare. I believe this is true, within the assumptions that top power layers are acting according to stewardship principles; which they may opt not do it.
On the other hand, Marxism’s view on this matter tends to be more adversarial in viewing this dynamic. While Smithian believe that the conscience of the affluent will guide them to be the steward in deploying organization’s resources and profit in the interest of everyone; Marxism believes that power dominated by the capitalist must be strictly challenged to ensure the collective welfare. Marxism’s emphasis on welfare express that people in power must be controlled heavily by the mass. This is one reason the Marxism’s view on democracy is considered as irrelevant for business organization, but gains more followers from community-based organization and credit unions. No wonder it’s almost impossible to find Marxist businessmen.
The Smithian’s enlightening self interest, as well as Marxism’s democratic dictatorship, are privileges we barely can rely to. If we see capital as a currency of power, we can see how it aligns with the paradox of power and social system. If we see those two perspective as two opposite poles, we’ll see that those two are two extreme points of viewing the paradox of power.
The paradox shows how power cannot be dispersed on individual basis to create a social entity, and yet having power in absolute centralization will detriment the social system. Either way of extremism will put the sustainability of the social entity at risk. In this sense, nurturing the balance is the way to deal with paradox of power.
In more behavioral way of saying, balancing power dynamic is about giving adequate and proportional spaces for both individually driven power act of power and collectively shared act of power. It also means that in the real setting, the paradox is a potential ground for synergy. The paradox will not be that paradoxical when shift from ‘either-or’ to ‘both-and’ framework. Individual interests, how selfish they can be, are meant to be paired with the collective pressures from the surrounding. In organization, this is the balance between solidity and adaptability; two paradoxical capacities that need to co-exist within the organization to sustain itself. This continuing tit-for-tat dynamic is what Weisbord & Janoff referred as differentiation-integration.
In what ways this can be transferable into organizational reality? I believe it is not about having annual election with voters lines. It is about policies and activities that allows engagement where differentiation-integration can happen, and organization’s feedback-loop can actually work effectively. The key factors are communication and interaction that ensure everyone that they are stakeholders, and their constructive contribution are necessary to empower the organization in achieving its goal; which also the goal of the collective. This is the practice of participatory democracy.
This is how I see Axelrod’s embracing democratic values as a relevant and innovative idea. Organizations do not have to adopt state democracy to be democratic. Democratization is plausible through the practice of participatory democracy. And I believe it’s easier to create participatory democracy in Indonesian milieu, since participatory values are closer to Indonesian values of collectivity.