Sociocracy and Anarchism (Eric Tolson)

Originally published at:

Eric: I first approached sociocracy because it seemed to me like one way to put anarchist self-governance principles in a concrete and actionable manner, without getting too tangled in the muddy waters of discourse and ideology. In this presentation, I hope to expose the ways in which I think sociocracy already offers a way of anarchist praxis, and also explore together some ways in which it could do so more robustly

This thread is inviting you to a deeper discussion.

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Hey Comrades! I hope you had a chance to read the original blog post and attend the session during the international conference. Even if you didn’t, I invite you to join the conversation by sharing some thoughts on the topic:

  • Do you have any ideas on the open questions and challenges towards territorial autonomy? Do you think sociocracy (or something like it) could be used by communities to autonomously govern extensions of territory? Do you know of any projects, people or experiences doing something even vaguely similar to this? Any particular cases that you think we could learn from?
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One thing I really appreciated from your presentation @eric.tolson , was the acknowledgement that:

  1. often anarchist communities avoid systems because they are so often oppressive ‘power over’ systems - but also that power over is not inherent to all systems!
  2. when new systems ‘power with’ systems aren’t created, then instead people inevitably wind up playing out the same ‘power over’ systems and experiences within their anarchist activities and lives…

These both seem really true to me!

My excitement about sociocracy is how it is a ‘power with’ self governance systems compatible with anarchism and fills this gap! So appreciating the sentiment that is the seed for your article and presentation!

There’s much more I appreciate as well…

  • the additional information about anarchism - there is so much there!
  • the acknowledgment that “there’s not consensus around what consensus really is” - which is to say, it’s hard to have clarity about what systems are even being used… and without that clarity, the dynamic explained above is likely to be present
  • the acknowledgement of emotional/relational intelligence as an important component which may vary in different subcultures, such as anarchist communities
  • the territorial autonomy element is interesting - I’m curious about this an if it is connected specifically to anarchist perspectives is more to general bioregionalism and other frameworks. Perhaps that’s even a whole different question :stuck_out_tongue:
  • Inviting the question around: “what is effectiveness?” - this is a great question and perhaps something for groups to define themselves!

Hi Eric and CJ

Great talk Eric. Many points you made resonate with me.

CJ, I think the points that you have picked up are really important. The two points about that you highlight from Eric’s talk about power over and power with are really important.

This is where I find sociocracy helpful. It gives me a framework to learn and practice structure while striving for power with.

I am interested in expamples of anarchist groups, communities or organisations that have adopted/adapted sociocratic principles.


Yea, I find the power over/with language to be a great expression of this concept…

there are many examples of groups which have adopted sociocratic principles:

but I don’t know how many of them are anarchist… I think that’s something that SoFA could start to focus on - perhaps in the Activists Development Circle, which is a sub-circle off Ecosystems circle

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Hi all - This was great, and I came to sociocracy out of some version of anarchism too. There are a handful of groups that are aligned with some version of anarchism that use some form of (often pretty watered-down) sociocracy, but it’s kind of hard to say who exactly is robustly embracing both. I come at the question from a slightly different angle than the question you asked, @adi.staempfli, but I wrote a kind of academic take on some of these questions here: https:/ /

@cj.oreilly - I’m going to have to investigate the activists development circle! Sounds great

:heart: mike

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Hey! Some direct responses to your last points:

  • Yes, the acknowledgement of emotional intelligence I find super important and I think I could have done a far better job at acknowledging that some anarchist groups do have great practices around this, particularly when their analysis also incorporates a gender (feminist) perspective. A lot of my frustrations with with anarchist spaces actually have to do with how masculinity is performed in that tyranny of structurelessness. Also, “sociocracy and relationship anarchy” could be its whole separate thread, article and presentation!
  • On territorial autonomy: this is the bit that I feel most drawn to recently but also the one where I could learn so much more. The exercises that I think about that put this into practice come at it from more of a national and/or communal (I’m thinking indigenous resistance here in Mexico, or the Rojava Revolution in Kurdistan) angle than an explicitly anarchist one, but it’s the type of thing that could be read as anarchist in its core since it is manifestly declared in direct opposition to The State ™.
  • What is effectiveness: my short answer is: (at least) in sociocracy, effectiveness is measured in terms of needs being met. That’s why equivalence (voices heard) contributes to effectiveness (instead of being an obstacle or opposite force): hearing voices is a strategy to attempt to put the needs on the table and be more likely to meet them than if we didn’t.
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Hi all, this is a great topic and I’m grateful to you Eric for the work you’re doing to explore this. Just want to add this excellent piece by Mark Bray on the relationship (and distinctions) between “horizontalism” and “anarchism” that seems relevant to this discussion. Apparently I can’t include links in my comments yet because I’m new, but if you google “Mark Bray Horizontalism Anarchism, Power and the State” the piece on Black Rose Federation should pop up!

Also, for whatever it’s worth, I found out about Sociocracy through the Libertarian Socialists Caucus of DSA—the local group in Portland was trying it out and found it very helpful for their organizing efforts within an explicitly anarchist organization.