To provide incentives to those who have to undertake harder tasks, or to establish the authority for those charged with overseeing the delivery of strategies, it is necessary to grant more power to some in an organisation or a country. But the concentration of power in some must be only for generally agreed objectives, and none should be allowed to use that power as a basis to accumulate even more power to the extent that they become a threat to others.
All accounts of human interactions around the world testify to the danger of some acquiring so much more power than others that they can manipulate, exploit and oppress them at will. The only way to prevent any social grouping – large or small – from being usurped by a powerful elite is to build in a process to review the balance of power and redistribute it impartially on an on-going basis.
Such a process has to be underpinned by a network of arbitration backed by the collective power of the entire membership. The network should include levels of appeal mechanism but no individual or teams of individuals can take it upon themselves to override the final arbitration.
Any attempt to secure greater power (in terms of arms, wealth, status or any other form of resource) must be assessed to see if it is merited and necessary. In some cases, there may be short term or emergency reasons why a few have to be given substantial power to deal with a pressing problem. But in such cases, the transfer of power must only be temporary, and reversed as soon as possible.
There will be occasions when it is argued that there is a call for significantly greater power and for it to be on a virtually permanent basis because the challenge in question is a long-term one. If the argument is valid, then the power balance in the organisation should be reviewed to ensure that the few who are entrusted with much more power will nonetheless not be able to use it to threaten or repress other members.
It is likely that such reviews will lead to a redistribution of power involving a mixture of channelling of power/resources to those in the organisation who would otherwise become too vulnerable through their relative lack of power; and strengthening particular arbitration agencies so that neither attempted threats nor bribes are likely to infringe on the impartiality of those agencies acting on behalf of the whole membership.
History has shown that if the power gap between people is allowed to widen inexorably, it will increase the scope and temptation for the powerful few to impose their will on others, and at the same time weaken everyone else’s ability to stand up to such an encroachment. It has shown that it would be a mistake to think that untenable power gaps can only be removed from dismantling all power structures. Organisation for social, economic and political development requires formal power relations. But such relations can be democratised and sustained with the help of dedicated and thorough review and redistribution of power (see, for example, ‘Against Power Inequalities: a history of the progressive struggle’).
Checklist of Appraisal Questions:
Are there safeguards in place to stop individuals or sections in the group accumulating too much power in relation to others?
Is there a regular and effective redistribution of power?
Are concentrated powers granted for emergencies taken back in due course?
Are there checks and balances so that no one can hold others to ransom by threats?
Is dissent generally suppressed?
Do some members show fear, resentment, distrust towards the leadership?
[For a complete list of essays covering the 9 ‘SYNETOPIA’ elements, look up ‘Guide to Synetopia’]