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Democracy is more than a governance issue

The fanfare launch of a Manifesto for Global Democracy backed by significant thinkers ought to be a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, its content is so weak that at best it’s a missed opportunity and at worst a step backwards. 

Among the signatories are democracy expert and professor Daniele Archibugi, Noam Chomsky, the writer and journalist George Monbiot, globalisation expert Saskia Sassen and scientist and activist Vandana Shiva. They and others wrote and signed the manifesto.  

Much of the document states the obvious, though it’s none the worse for doing so. You can only nod in agreement when the manifesto says:

In spite of their many peculiarities, differences and limitations, the protests that are growing all over the world show an increasing discontent with the decision-making system, the existing forms of political representation and their lack of capacity for defending common goods. They express a demand for more and better democracy.

It portrays the “emergence of regressive and destructive processes resulting from the economic and financial crisis, increased social inequalities, climate change and nuclear proliferation” and concludes: “Global crises require global solutions.”  

However, the assertion that the failure of national and international leaders to deal with global events shows merely that “existing forms of global governance are insufficient” is superficial and wrong. That’s because the 872-word document avoids, omits, ignores, rejects or sidesteps the nature of our current social system, aka capitalism.

You will find that term mentioned frequently in the Financial Times, even in parliament by leading politicians. But not in this manifesto. So we’re left clutching the air with talk of “governance” which, while certainly an issue, cannot be tackled separately from the main cause of a series of global crises.

As a result the call for “global solutions” is reduced and restricted to an appeal for a series of reforms to international agencies. These are intended to be carried out by the same discredited political elites who have played a crucial role in facilitating an uncontrolled, corporate-driven globalisation process that has led to a tipping point.

So the manifesto insists that “the existing national-state organisations (my emphasis) have to be part of a wider and much better coordinated structure” alongside democratic regional institutions and moves towards a future World Parliament. Yet increasing numbers of people view these existing structures as part of the problem and not the solution.

World leaders have not, as the manifesto claims, been “running behind global events” because of governance issues. They cannot tackle fundamental issues because the state systems they administer are tied inextricably to conserving and advancing the status quo of transnational capital. Of course, capitalism itself more and more resembles a nuclear power station in melt down mode.

This is not democracy. It's a corporatocracy.

Capitalist democracy, which was a step forward for the masses previously denied an electoral voice, is in crisis precisely because it has disenfranchised the majority. Increasingly, political institutions and parties are in practice part of a single giant corporation – UK PLC, for example. This is not democracy. It’s a corporatocracy.

As a result, the manifesto’s call for “a socio-political process open to all human beings, with the goal of a creating a participative global democracy” must inevitably fall on deaf ears. So will the demand for a “new paradigm of development which has to be sustainable on a global basis and which benefits the poorest of humanity”.

Achieving these worthwhile and essential goals will require much more than an appeal to existing political classes to join with ordinary people to succeed. Yes, we need a more advanced democracy, as the manifesto says.

But that cannot be separated from the extension of democracy in deeper ways through, for example, the transfer of ownership of corporations and banks into the hands of working people, consumers and local communities. Production for profit has to be replaced with co-operation and meeting need.

That will involve a transition from failed political-state structures that uphold the status quo through building initiatives like people’s assemblies. Our rulers have had their chance and blown it. It’s time to move history on, politically, socially and economically.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
6 July 2012

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