This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.
As in any extended community, a large and active wiki will inevitably develop some elements of politics, power struggle and factionalism. This cannot be avoided; instead, wikipolitics should be recognised as a legitimate part of wiki communities. As a wiki grows larger, structures need to be put in place to limit the power of functionaries (such as administrators and bureaucrats) and to ensure that all users have a chance to participate in decisions about editing.
The English Wikipedia, as the largest wiki community in existence, provides the clearest examples of wikipolitics, and is presently reaching crisis point with political and factional conflicts.
The "constitution" of wikis
Large wiki communities, such as Wikipedia, inevitably have a kind of de facto constitution, defining the powers and roles of different organisations. The essay on power structure examines in more detail Wikipedia's political structure, but a simplified alternative view is as follows.
The role of the executive differs between different wikis. On Spanish Wikipedia and other foreign-language wiki communities, as well as Wiktionary, most decisions tend to be made by simple community votes, in the spirit of wikidemocratism; as such, administrators and bureaucrats have functions analogous to civil servants, simply executing the policy decisions made by the community as a whole. This also operates with stewards at the cross-wiki level.
On the other hand, on the English Wikipedia, there is more and more acceptance of the idea that polling is evil, and greater movement towards wikithoritarianism. As such, decision-making now generally follows a "discussion" format, with the closing administrator or bureaucrat exercising discretionary authority. Thus, the executive branch of the English Wikipedia has become more of a political executive, with decision-making powers, rather than a neutral corps of civil servants.
This is the weak point of Wikipedia's political organisation. The legislature of Wikipedia is the community as a whole, which at first sight appears to be a form of direct democracy. Indeed, to an extent, this is how it functions on Wiktionary and on other-language Wikipedias.
However, on the English Wikipedia, the acceptance of the idea that polling is evil and that "proposals are not decided on by voting on them" has created a self-contradictory situation; direct democracy without voting. As such, it has become very difficult for radical policy changes to gain consensus and be adopted, and the process of adopting new policy is confusing, nebulous and unclear. In general, when policy changes do occur, it is due to the de facto adoption of a new process because of the failure of the old one. Some would see this as a good thing, because it means that processes gain consensus by their demonstrable efficiency. However, the problem is that without a conclusive vote, it is difficult to determine when a policy change has gained consensus, and a determined bold user can insert new concepts into policy without broad participation.
This consists, on most larger wikis, of an arbitration committee and (on English Wikipedia) of the mediation processes. The arbitration committee can be seen as analogous to a Supreme Court, with final authority to issue binding judgments. The mediators are analogous to lower courts.
The judicial branch is possibly the most efficient part of Wikipedia's constitution. Although inevitably bureaucratic, it is less so than its real-world counterparts, and most disputes are resolved successfully.