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Inclusive Democracy is a political theory and political project that aim for direct democracy, economic democracy in a stateless, moneyless and marketless economy, self-management (democracy in the social realm) and ecological democracy. The theoretical project of Inclusive Democracy (ID; as distinguished from the political project which is part of the democratic and autonomy traditions) emerged from the work of political philosopher, former academic and activist Takis Fotopoulos in Towards An Inclusive Democracy and was further developed by him and other writers in the journal Democracy & Nature and its successor The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, an electronic journal freely available and published by the International Network for Inclusive Democracy. ID represents a synthesis of the libertarian socialist and the democratic tradition, as well as the experience of the new social movements.

According to Arran Gare, Towards an Inclusive Democracy "offers a powerful new interpretation of the history and destructive dynamics of the market and provides an inspiring new vision of the future in place of both neo-liberalism and existing forms of socialism" [1].

Also, as David Freeman points out, although Fotopoulos' approach "is not openly anarchism, yet anarchism seems the formal category within which he works, given his commitment to direct democracy, municipalism and abolition of state, money and market economy". [2]

Moreover, the French anarchist Jean-Claude Richard writes in Le Monde Libertaire: “Takis Fotopoulos proposes to us the installation of an inclusive democracy whose principles are firmly within the libertarian ideal. This is not surprising since constant references turn up in the book to Peter Kropotkin, Murray Bookchin, John Clark and, especially, CorneIius Castoriadis[3]. In addition, the British libertarian Michael Levin writing in Anarchist Studies and then in Democracy & Nature stresses “In outlining his model of inclusive democracy Fotopoulos combines and builds on the lessons of ancient Greek democracy and the radical critiques of Murray Bookchin and Cornelius Castoriadis” [4].

Finally, James Herod states that "his approach is the closest to mine (or mine to his) that I have yet seen in contemporary anarchist literature. He believes in direct democracy, promotes both workplace and community assemblies, and most unusually, outlines a radical epistemology to undergird the whole thing. He describes a voucher system that would facilitate exchange within a community without relying on the market or money".[5]


Fotopoulos describes inclusive democracy as “a new conception of democracy, which, using as a starting point the classical definition of it, expresses democracy in terms of direct political democracy, economic democracy (beyond the confines of the market economy and state planning), as well as democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. In short, inclusive democracy is a form of social organisation which re-integrates society with economy, polity and nature. The concept of inclusive democracy is derived from a synthesis of two major historical traditions, the classical democratic and the socialist, although it also encompasses radical green, feminist, and liberation movements in the South”. [6]

Starting point of the ID project is that the world, at the beginning of the new millennium, faces a multi-dimensional crisis (economic, ecological, social, cultural and political), which is shown to be caused by the concentration of power in the hands of various elites. This is interpreted to be the outcome of the establishment, in the last few centuries, of the system of market economy (in the Polanyian sense [7]), Representative democracy, and the related forms of hierarchical structure. Therefore, an inclusive democracy is seen not simply as a utopia, but perhaps as the only way out of the crisis, based on the equal distribution of power at all levels.

In this conception of democracy, the public realm includes not just the political realm, as is usual in the republican or democratic project (Hannah Arendt, Cornelius Castoriadis, Murray Bookchin et al), but also the economic, ‘social’ and ecological realms. The political realm is the sphere of political decision-making, the area in which political power is exercised. The economic realm is the sphere of economic decision-making, the area in which economic power is exercised with respect to the broad economic choices that any scarcity society has to make. The social realm is the sphere of decision-making in the workplace, the education place and any other economic or cultural institution which is a constituent element of a democratic society. The public realm could be extended to include the "ecological realm", which may be defined as the sphere of the relations between society and nature. Therefore, the public realm, in contrast to the private realm, includes any area of human activity in which decisions can be made collectively and democratically.

According to these four realms, we may distinguish between four main constituent elements of an inclusive democracy: the political, the economic, 'democracy in the social realm' and the ecological. The first three elements form the institutional framework, which aims at the equal distribution of political, economic and social power respectively. In this sense, these elements define a system, which aims at the effective elimination of the domination of human being over human being. Similarly, ecological democracy is defined as the institutional framework, which aims to eliminate any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, the system, which aims to reintegrate humans and nature.

Institutional framework

Political or direct democracy

The necessary condition for the establishment of a political democracy involves the creation of appropriate institutions, which secure an equal distribution of political power among all citizens. All political decisions (including those relating to the formation and execution of laws) are taken by the citizen body collectively and without representation.The citizen body of a particular geographical area consists of all residents beyond a certain age of maturity and irrespective of their gender, race, ethnic or cultural identity. The age of maturity is to be defined by the citizen body itself.

The sufficient condition for the reproduction of a political democracy refers to the citizens' level of democratic consciousness and, as David Gabbard & Karen Appleton point out, "the responsibility of cultivating the democratic consciousness requisite to this conception of citizenship falls to paideia" [8] which involves not simply education but character development and a well-rounded knowledge and skills, i.e. the education of the individual as citizen, which alone can give substantive content to the public space. This is particularly so because democracy can only be grounded on the conscious choice of citizens for individual and collective autonomy. Thus it cannot be the outcome of any social, economic or natural "laws" or tendencies dialectically leading to it, let alone any divine or mystical dogmas and preconceptions. In this sense, neither representative democracy nor soviet democracy meet the conditions for political democracy, and are simply forms of political oligarchy, where political power is concentrated in the hands of various elites, i.e. professional politicians, and party bureaucrats respectively.

The basic unit of decision making in an inclusive democracy is the demotic assembly, i.e. the assembly of demos, the citizen body in a given geographical area which may encompass a town and the surrounding villages, or even neighbourhoods of large cities. This is very close to the concept of the 'urban village' proposed today by supporters of de-growth economics [9]. However, apart from local decisions, many important decisions are to be made at the regional or confederal level. This is why, as Serge Latouche observes, the aim of Inclusive Democracy "presupposes a confederation of demoi" made up of small, homogenous units of around 30,000 people.[10] Therefore, an inclusive democracy today can only take the form of a confederal democracy that is based on a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies in the various demoi. Thus, their role is purely administrative and practical, not one of policy-making like that of representatives in representative democracy.

The citizen body is advised by experts but it is the citizen body which functions as the ultimate decision-taker . Authority can be delegated to a segment of the citizen body to carry out specific duties, for example to serve as members of popular courts, or of regional and confederal councils. Such delegation is made, in principle, by lot, on a rotation basis, and is always recallable by the citizen body. Delegates to regional and confederal bodies should have specific mandates.

Finally, political or direct democracy implies a very different conception of citizenship than the usual liberal and socialist conceptions. In this conception, political activity is not a means to an end, but an end in itself so that one does not engage in political action simply to promote one's welfare but to realize the principles intrinsic to political life, such as freedom, equality and solidarity. This, in contrast to the liberal and social-democratic conceptions which adopt an 'instrumentalist' view of citizenship, i.e. a view which implies that citizenship entitles citizens with certain rights that they can exercise as means to the end of individual welfare.

Economic democracy

The ID project introduced a very different conception from the usual one of economic democracy.

According to the ID project, economic democracy is the authority of demos (community) in the economic sphere — which requires equal distribution of economic power. Therefore, all 'macro' economic decisions, namely, decisions concerning the running of the economy as a whole (overall level of production, consumption and investment, amounts of work and leisure implied, technologies to be used, etc.) are made by the citizen body collectively and without representation. However, "micro" economic decisions at the workplace or the household levels are made by the individual production or consumption unit through a proposed system of vouchers.

As with the case of direct democracy, economic democracy today is only feasible at the level of the confederated demoi. It involves the ownership and control of the means of production by the demos. This is radically different from the two main forms of concentration of economic power : capitalist and 'socialist' growth economy. It is also different from the various types of collectivist capitalism, such as workers' control and milder versions suggested by post-Keynesian social democrats. The demos, therefore, becomes the authentic unit of economic life.

For economic democracy to be feasible, three preconditions must be satisfied: Demotic self-reliance, demotic ownership of the means of production, and confederal allocation of resources.

•Demotic self-reliance is meant in terms of radical decentralisation and self-reliance, rather than of self-sufficiency.

•Demotic ownership of productive resources is a kind of ownership which leads to the politicisation of the economy, the real synthesis of economy and polity. This is so because economic decision making is carried out by the entire community, through the demotic assemblies, where people make the fundamental macro-economic decisions which affect the whole community, as citizens, rather than as vocationally oriented groups (e.g. workers, as e.g. in Parecon [11]). At the same time, workers, apart from participating in the demotic decisions about the overall planning targets, would also participate (in the above broad sense of vocationally oriented groups) in their respective workplace assemblies, in a process of modifying/implementing the Democratic Plan and in running their own workplace.

•Confederal allocation of resources is required because, although self-reliance allows many decisions to be made at the community level, much remains to be decided at the regional/national/supra-national level. However, it is delegates (rather than representatives) with specific mandates from the demotic assemblies who are involved in a confederal demotic planning process which, in combination with the proposed system of vouchers, effects the allocation of resources in a confederal inclusive democracy.

A model of economic democracy, as an integral part of an inclusive democracy, is described in Towards An Inclusive Democracy (ch 6), the first book-length description of inclusive democracy. The main characteristic of the proposed model, which also differentiates it from socialist planning models like Parecon, is that it explicitly presupposes a stateless, money-less and market-less economy that precludes private accumulation of wealth and the institutionalisation of privileges for some sections of society, without relying on a mythical post-scarcity state of abundance, or sacrificing freedom of choice. The proposed system aims at satisfying the double aim of: (a) meeting the basic needs of all citizens -- which requires that basic macro-economic decisions have to be made democratically, and (b) securing freedom of choice -- which requires the individual to make important decisions affecting his/her own life (what work to do, what to consume etc.).

Therefore, the system consists of two basic elements: (1) democratic planning, which involves a feedback process between workplace assemblies, demotic assemblies and the confederal assembly, and (2) an artificial market using personal vouchers, which ensures freedom of choice but avoids the adverse effects of real markets. Although some have called this system “a form of money based on the labour theory of value”,[12] it is not a money model since vouchers cannot be used as a general medium of exchange and store of wealth.

Another distinguishing feature of ID is its distinction between basic and non-basic needs. Remuneration is according to need for basic needs, and according to effort for non-basic needs. ID is based on the principle that meeting basic needs is a fundamental human right which is guaranteed to all who are in a physical condition to offer a minimal amount of work. By contrast, Parecon guarantees that basic needs are satisfied only to the extent they are characterized public goods or are covered by compassion and by a guaranteed basic income for the unemployed and those who cannot work [13]

Democracy in the social realm

An inclusive democracy is inconceivable unless it extends to the broader social realm to embrace the workplace, the household, the educational institution and indeed any economic or cultural institution, which constitutes an element of this realm. The equal distribution of power in these institutions and self-management are secured through the creation of assemblies of the people involved in each place of work or education (workers’ assemblies, student and teachers’ assemblies respectively) who make all important decisions about the functioning of these places, within the framework of the decisions taken by citizens’ demotic assemblies as regards the general aims of production, education and culture respectively. The assemblies are federated at the regional and confederal levels so that the confederal assemblies of workers, teaches, students and so on could be involved in a process of constant interaction with the citizens’ confederal assemblies to define society’s “general interest”.

A crucial issue with respect to democracy in the social realm is democratisation of the household. One possible solution is the removal of the divide between the household and the public realm. Thus, some feminist writers, particularly eco-feminists, glorify the oikos and its values as a substitute for the polis and its politics. This can be understood as an attempt to dissolve the public into the private. At the other extreme, some Marxist feminists attempt to remove the public/private divide by dissolving all private space into a singular public, a socialised or fraternal state sphere. Another possible solution is, taking for granted that the household belongs to the private realm, to ‘democratise’ it in the sense that household relationships should take on the characteristics of democratic relationships, and that the household should take a form which is consistent with the freedom of all its members.

But for the ID project, the issue is not the dissolution of the private/public realm divide. The real issue is how, maintaining and enhancing the autonomy of the two realms, such institutional arrangements are adopted that introduce democracy at the household and the social realm in general (workplace, educational establishment etcetera) and at the same time enhance the institutional arrangements of political and economic democracy. In this sense, an effective democracy is only conceivable if free time is equally distributed among all citizens, which requires ending the present hierarchical relations in the household, the workplace and elsewhere. Furthermore, democracy in the social realm, particularly in the household, requires institutional arrangements which recognise the character of the household as a need-satisfier and integrate the care and services that the household provides into the general scheme of needs satisfaction.[14]

Ecological democracy

As Steven Best stresses, “in bold contrast to the limitations of the animal advocacy movement (AAM) and all other reformist causes, Takis Fotopoulos advances a broad view of human dynamics and social institutions, their impact on the earth, and the resulting consequences for society itself. Combining anti-capitalist, radical democracy, and ecological concerns in the concept of “ecological democracy,” Fotopoulos defines this notion as “the institutional framework which aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the system which aims to reintegrate humans and nature. This implies transcending the present ‘instrumentalist’ view of Nature, in which Nature is seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power.” [15]

Some critics of inclusive democracy ask what guarantees an inclusive democracy may offer in ensuring a better relationship of society to nature than the alternative systems of the market economy, or socialist statism. For example, a well-known eco-socialist pointed out "the 'required' ecological consensus among ecotopia' s inhabitants might not be ensured merely by establishing an Athenian democracy where all are educated and rational" [16]. However, ID supporters counter argue that this criticism represents a clear misconception of what democracy is about because, "if we see it as a process of social self-institution where there is no divinely or 'objectively' defined code of human conduct, such guarantees are by definition ruled out. Therefore, the replacement of the market economy by a new institutional framework of inclusive democracy constitutes only the necessary condition for a harmonious relation between the natural and social worlds. The sufficient condition refers to the citizens' level of ecological consciousness. Still, the radical change in the dominant social paradigm that would follow the institution of an inclusive democracy, combined with the decisive role that paedeia will play in an environmentally-friendly institutional framework, could reasonably be expected to lead to a radical change in the human attitude towards Nature". [17]

Supporters also claim that ID's institutional framework offers the best hope for a better human relationship to nature than could ever be achieved in a market economy, or one based on socialist statism. The factors supporting this view refer to all three elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic and social.

Political democracy presupposes a radical decentralisation (physical or administrative) within a confederal society, which, by itself, should enhance its environmentally friendly character. Furthermore, political democracy would create a public space, a fact which would significantly reduce the appeal of materialism by providing a new meaning of life to fill the existential void that the present consumer society creates. Economic democracy replaces the dynamics of the capitalist market economy leading to growth per se with a new social dynamic aiming at the satisfaction of demos' needs. If the satisfaction of demotic needs does not depend, as at present, on the continuous expansion of production to cover the 'needs' that the market system itself creates and if society is reintegrated with the economy, then there is no reason why the present instrumentalist view of Nature will continue conditioning human behaviour. Particularly so, since unlike socialist models which are 'centralist', the aim of production in an Inclusive Democracy is not economic growth, but the satisfaction of the basic needs of the community and those non-basic needs for which members of the community express a desire and are willing to work extra for. This implies a new definition of economic efficiency, based not on narrow techno-economic criteria of input minimisation/output maximisation as in socialist models like Parecon, but on criteria securing full coverage of the democratically defined basic needs of all citizens as well as of the non-basic needs they decide to meet -- even if this involves a certain amount of inefficiency according to the orthodox economics criteria. Finally, democracy in the social realm should be a decisive step in the creation of the sufficient condition for a harmonious nature-society relationship as the phasing out of patriarchal relations in the household and hierarchical relations in general should create a new ethos of non-domination which would engulf both nature and society.

See also


  1. Arran Gare, "Beyond Social Democracy? Takis Fotopoulos' Vision of an Inclusive Democracy as a New Liberatory Project" Democracy & Nature, Vol. 9, No. 3 (November 2003), pp. 345-358(14)
  2. "Inclusive democracy and its prospects"Review by David Freeman of book Towards An Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need For a New Liberatory Project, published in Thesis Eleven, Sage Publications, no. 69 (May 2002), pp. 103-106.
  3. Jean-Claude Richard, "Towards an Inclusive Democracy?" The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, Vol.1, No.2 (January 2005)
  4. Michael Levin, " Still taking Democracy Seriously" The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, Vol. 1, No. 3 (May 2005)
  5. Review by James Herod of book Towards An Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need For a New Liberatory Project, published in book Getting Free (Lucy Parsons Center publications, 2007), pp. 137-138, distributed by AK Press Distribution
  6. “Inclusive Democracy” entry in Routledge Encyclopedia of International Political Economy, ed. by R.J. Barry Jones, 2001, pp. 732-733.
  7. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, the Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press, 1944/1957, pp. 43-44 & 55-56.
  8. David Gabbard & Karen Appleton,“The Democratic Paideia Project: Beginnings of an Emancipatory Paideia for Today”, The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, vol. 2, no. 1 (September 2005).
  9. Clement Homs, “Localism and the city: the example of "urban villages", The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, vol. 3, no. 1 (January 2007).
  10. Serge Latouche, “How do we learn to want less? The globe downshifted”, Le Monde diplomatique (January 2006).
  11. Takis Fotopoulos, Inclusive Democracy and Participatory Economics, Democracy & Nature, Volume 9, Number 3 (November 2003).
  12. David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism, Routledge, 1996, p. 321
  13. Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, Verso Books, 2003, pp. 37-38.
  14. “Takis Fotopoulos, The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, (English translation of a book under the same title published in Greek, Gordios, 2005) ch. 15.
  15. Steven Best,“Rethinking Revolution: Animal Liberation, Human Liberation, and the Future of the Left”, The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY vol. 2, no. 3 (June 2006).
  16. David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism, p. 324.
  17. Takis Fotopoulos, The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, ch. 15.

External resources

Note that several of the printed resources listed below are also available online.

Online resources


  • Takis Fotopoulos' Interview to Oliver Ressler about Inclusive Democracy. This is an interview with Takis Fotopoulos taken by Oliver Ressler for his video series "Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies" on July 19th 2003, about the Inclusive Democracy project. English and Greek subtitles are available. In this video, Fotopoulos discusses the constituents of Inclusive Democracy: Political, Economic, democracy at the Social level and Ecological democracy. He is also offering an introductory analysis of the ID' s proposed economic model for a state-less, market-less and money-less economy. Finally, he refers to the transitional strategy for the transformation to an autonomous society, for an Inclusive Democracy.
  • Takis Fotopoulos talk on the Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, Oxford University, November 2008. Google Video in 3 parts. Part 1 (talk), part 2 (talk/discussion), part 3 (discussion).
  • A talk given by Takis Fotopoulos at the University of Vermont (USA) in 1996, followed by a discussion in which Murray Bookchin, Dan Chodorkoff and others take part. Google Video in 3 parts Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Printed resources

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