Reclaim democracy now!
Just because global elites are always harping on about “democracy”, claiming it as the ideal political system, doesn’t mean that we abstain from the question. The challenge is to fight for a more advanced democracy than society has achieved so far.
We shouldn’t accept the present democracy as the last word on the subject but see in its historical and social context. While the Russian Marxist and revolutionary Vladimir Lenin considered bourgeois democracy, a “great historical advance in comparison with medievalism”, he qualified this by adding:
But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich… in the ordinary, peaceful course of events, the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life.
Before him, Fred Engels, who collaborated with Karl Marx to produce ground-breaking analysis, wrote his seminal work on the origins of private property, family and the state. In it, Engels explained that however democratic the modern representative state was, its function was to maintain the rule of one class over another.
And that remains the case today in the democracies like Britain, the United States and France. Since Engels and Lenin, however, the fusion of capital with politics, particularly in the last 30 years, has further emasculated representative democracy. The Real Democracy Now movement that has flowered in Spain, immediately and correctly identified the merging of the political system with corporate and financial power as the source of the problem.
So what should we struggle for? What about replacing democracy for the rich with a democracy for the dispossessed, the poor and the disenfranchised? What about extending democracy in new ways, by freeing people from the rule of the corporations and the banks, not to say the reactionary media? What about bringing democracy to the workplace, the school and the university through co-ownership and self-management?
Achieving these objectives will without doubt require the dismantling of the present state which in innumerable ways maintains and sustains the status quo. This is because, as others have shown, the present limited democracy is the political form that capitalism has assumed for itself.
It is both democratic and undemocratic at the same time, allowing certain freedoms while denying access to real power itself. You cannot imagine an advance in the nature and content of democracy within the present state because the two stand in contradiction to each other.
Opportunities for resolving this apparent puzzle are emerging through the movement of society itself in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and now Spain. We have to go beyond demands for participation and transparency. Important as they are, they sidestep the question of the nature of the state itself.
Arguing for and building people’s assemblies is a way forward in Britain and internationally. They can build on the growing resistance to the ConDem government on a range of issues and practice democracy by seeking to represent the widest range of social and political interests. They will challenge sectarian behaviour and undemocratic practices and discourage closed committees and pre-planning fixed agendas.
Assemblies established on a permanent basis can discuss the nature of the present democracy and what could be better; the nature of power – who’s got it and how do ordinary people win it. They can encourage sovereign decisions and direct action. They are both a means to bring people together across sectoral lines as well as the potential means by which we can democratically transform society and replace the state with a network of assemblies. Let’s reclaim democracy!
27 May 2011