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Evaluating Democracy

In chapters 16 and 17 I considered a financial and military evaluation of society dominated by a western superclass – currently called the “1%”. This superclass through various strategies of influence such as lobbying in the US has come to dominate the political processes nationally, and through modern day conquistador organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank they control global direction as well. At the root of this is the neoliberal model of a representative democracy whose ineffectiveness induces apathy amongst normal people – currently called the “99%”. This brings into question democracy, and it is necessary to consider this question and start to consider alternatives.

The notion of democracy is perhaps best summed up by the description “for the people by the people”, even if it isn’t that is what I wish to discuss. For me there is an unwritten assumption that governance is optimised if it benefits a 100% of the people, the current vogue of genuine analysis is that governance only benefits the 1%. As representative democracy has been hijacked by this 1%, the question is “Can democracy avoid such hijacking?” To begin with let us consider how the hijacking occurred. When I was young I met someone who said that in the UK we gained universal suffrage only when the bourgeoisie could ensure that any candidate standing would represent their interests. The current status of politicians, who are evidentially corporate stooges, is only a development rather than a radical difference from that earlier UK situation. The current representative democracy has always been flawed but there has never been such a public awareness of it as there is now.

This only places representative democracy into a context of continued historical hijacking, but rephrases the question slightly “Can representative democracy (RD) ever have worked?” To answer I want to consider what the organisational changes that political movements in the 21st century have thrown up. In Argentina cooperatives developed where the workers assumed different responsibilities but accepted equal wages. There was no hierarchy. Similar grass roots democratic structures have developed throughout South America this century as can be seen in this movie [F8]. The imperative for such organisations is that they worked from the ground up, and in Venezuela it was demanded and elicited, even when the groundswell wasn’t forthcoming because of the years of engendered apathy of the neoliberal model. This changes the question to a consideration of RD and the groundswell, does RD exclude a groundswell? In my experience the answer is that it does, but deep inside I feel it doesn’t have to - I do feel it has to whilst we have the prevailing neoliberal model. What is the purpose of this model? To ensure that the 1% maintain power, and significant in this is the complicity of the people. It is far more effective to have the people control themselves whilst doing your bidding than it is to create an oppressive regime that attempts to force complicity. RD achieves this by presenting the illusion of democracy whilst ensuring that the status quo of profiteering continues to enrich the 1%.

In effect RD is not democratic, it is the forces behind the RD that determine its democratic nature. RD is an illusion that it is “for the people by the people”, and this illusion has always been intended. Elected representatives, whether in intended dysfunctional systems such as the current electoral system or as grass roots trade union representation, by default disempower the voting members. Representation distances the members from the decision-making process, and representation helps the employers by distancing them from the employees. There are various excuses that are offered to present such representation as beneficial for all concerned, but in practice it is little more than the secretary or receptionist who is there to take the flack, flack deservedly aimed at the bosses for their decisions. In the trade union case these representatives choose such a role. Often such trade unionists are bought off by days off for union business, other perks are also established so that if the trade union representative has not had their ego massaged sufficiently these ploys enable compliance with the process. Trade unionists who might well have started with the best of intentions often end up deflecting the necessary flack from the employers. Because of the inequalities based on the power of the employer compared with the employees such representation is negative. And again with trade unionism we have a situation where the system is not based on a democratic need of the people, but on a conflict of who accumulates the marginal profit, and this system approach dominates the model misusing RD.

In politics front-end puppets enjoy the power and afterwards benefit as in the case of Tony Blair. His political approach was to stand on a platform with his heart on his sleeve and claim that he was making difficult decisions for the people of the UK. This appears to be rubbish. His approach only seemed ever to have one objective – self-aggrandisement, and to do this he nailed his sail to the mast of the 1%. And how did they reward him? He became Quartet representative, the Quartet being an opportunity to end the Israeli oppression, instead he added to the problems of the Palestinian people and feathered his own nest [F9]. As prime minister he ensured that the Iraqi war happened despite the clearly expressed views of the British people. What is almost as heinous for me is that Blair appealed to religion as well, yet his actions were far from caring. Underlying this political scenario is a disingenousness where lies are common currency. In neither case of RD, elected political office or elected trade union office, is democracy the practice, just voting that enables control by the 1%.

For democracy to work the power of the people needs to be effectively utilised. When discussing Occupy I heard a police representative saying that there were no representatives of the New York Occupy movement to discuss with, and that he wanted to develop more cooperative policing [F10]. If he was genuine why didn’t he attend the General Assembly? They would have been hospitable despite the repeated incidents of police aggression and the innumerable uses of non-lethal weapons. For me this was an example where representation would have presented this mouthpiece with an easier option to continue his ingenuous lying – lying he might well have believed.

And why was the general assembly so important in Occupy? Because it was genuine democracy – consensus democracy. Here is a clip which goes through the whole process of this consensus [F11]. Where were the leaders? They didn’t want any, they didn’t want leaders to be bought off – as is the neoliberal systemic practice. If you wanted democracy reach a consensus with the General Assembly – it was simple. Maybe RD can be an offshoot of such genuine democracy – there was a spokes council at OWS, but the intention has to be a democracy to represent the consensus. Current RD has no such intention.

Within the neoliberal model RD is flawed, democracy does not exist. Let us examine other governance models that might offer a solution; socialism is an obvious example. Here is a definition of socialism (Wordweb):-

1) An economic system based on state ownership of capital.
2) A political theory advocating state ownership of industry.

Now this is not the basis of socialism that I have always subscribed to, but based on this the clear issue is the state. Now state ownership would resolve some of the problems caused by the 1%, but what exactly would replacing private ownership by state ownership achieve? The difference is marginal. What happens with the private ownership of the 1%? They control the government, elected by RD, to enact laws which benefit themselves. Effectively governance is to enable their profits. With state control those profits would go to the state. So state control in principle need not be democratic.

As a socialist I was always working for a democratically accountable socialist system; in other words even though I was working within RD, elected representation, I was expecting that representation to be in the interests of the mass movement. But need that be the case? I can easily conceive of a situation where the state can disempower the democratic accountability leading to a state neoliberal model. One example that springs to mind is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Here is a man whose rhetoric in the 70s and 80s was overpowering, he was a hero to people like me and of my generation. He created a state around him based on the anti-imperialist position of overthrowing the Rhodesian whites, and then created a dictatorship which equally harmed his people – perhaps worse. I suppose you could call Mugabe a state socialist. Once I read African Laughter [B15], and with years of living next door in Botswana I realised what he was about, Doris Lessing’s lament of “What is he doing?” still echoes when I think of this book. I don’t think Mugabe’s model of socialism in Zimbabwe is unique in Sub-Saharan Africa.

When considering socialism I was working towards a situation in which this state socialism was voted in, and then representing the interests of the people. In practise however I could easily envisage a partisan situation similar to that which exists in western democracies at present, where changing government is only changing clothes, and having limited accountability as the state accumulates (as opposed to the 1% accumulating). In that changed system of elected state socialism, the clothes of the 1% would change from that of private accumulation to state accumulation, but neither would be democratic. Underlying both systems would be the premise that the ownership is not genuinely in the interests of the people, 1% as private or 1% as state. Such a state neoliberal model would create the apathy that is essential for that appropriation by offering electoral choices that were meaningless in practice – as happens at present in the privately-owned neoliberal model. Fundamentally the bourgeois control of the 1% would be replaced by a bourgeois state control – a meaningless change.

So we get into revolutionary politics. A revolution in Marxist terms means a change in ownership from bourgeois to proletarian. Could this change occur through election? I would say not. At present under RD the 1% control the choice of candidates. Would they allow the proletariat to make a choice for class change? Theoretically the corporatocracy would argue that is so, but in practice it cannot happen. In the UK there is an hierarchical apprenticeship within the political parties, and by the time candidates have risen through the echelons, they have been fully inculcated into the particular line. Equally to reach the top a democrat would have had to sell out – such an awareness would never have raised the false hopes associated with Obama. And even if a real alternative reached a voting platform, the media would ensure that such a candidate was vilified so that people would not vote. In theory this RD could offer a democratically accountable alternative but in practice it can’t. This kind of dilemma is integral to neoliberalism, appearances being deceptive, democracy an illusion, inducing apathy integrally.

Such bourgeois control either private or through the state is why Marxist-Leninists describe the necessity for a violent change – a revolution. Why would the Rockefellers give up their wealth without a fight? The Rockefellers have the money to employ private armies and all the drones necessary to protect themselves. How have revolutions worked in the past? Let’s consider Tsarist Russia. Through a vanguard movement the ruling monarchy was overthrown, supposedly replaced at the time by the people. Theoretically there is a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat to prevent a bourgeois backlash (the White generals) leading “naturally” to a democratic socialist control. In the Soviet Union there was only ever Bolshevik control (the vanguard), and this Bolshevism developed eventually into a Stalinist dictatorship. The situation in Maoist China was similar, a vanguard movement that never became democratic, and in Cuba despite many state advances through Castro’s government there has never developed a completely democratic government. In essence I am suggesting that vanguardism is inappropriate, for whatever reasons vanguards have led to dictatorships.

In a sense vanguards ascribe themselves representative status, but why is this ascription acceptable? They make a decision that the society they are working towards through their vanguard revolution is better for the people. They have no right to do this despite the power of their intellectual arguments. Democracy means for and by the people, intellectualism for the people leading to revolution is not democracy. Despite the urgent need for change, despite the excessive murder by war that is carried out under the auspices of the 1%, it is not democracy to claim an intellectual justification for vanguards or any other non-democratic solution. Historically vanguard actions have only led to violence against their own people because the people weren’t ready and the forces opposing the vanguards were too powerful. Revolution for the people surely means that fewer people suffer, and that has not been the case. But remember it was forces opposing socialism that did the killing.

Is there a need for a revolution? I tend to think there is but I would not advocate such. What is the justification for a violent change in class structure? The number of deaths that have been caused by the 1% is a possible justification. I would claim that there would be less death if there was revolution and a democratic peoples’ movement were in control. But the reality is that the people do not appear to want a democratic peoples’ movement, and despite what we might think we know as better – a government for and by the people – we cannot force it through vanguards and the like. Vanguards work to state control, and beneficent state control cannot be imposed through vanguards from the top. Democracy needs patience despite some intellectually knowing better.

This then leads to various forms of democratic control from the grass roots, such as cooperatives, as discussed in this movie on Latin America [F8]. These forms of democratic control are very positive, and progressive people need to encourage them. One might view an ideal form of governance as an outgrowing from these democratic grass roots movements, and some would argue that this is anarchism. Let’s forget the 1% media-induced (MSM) description of political anarchism as destruction of order, such democratic control has its own inherent order for the people and by the people. Here is a quote from Chomsky’s description of anarchy [B16] in his introduction to Guerin “Guerin’s work, puts the matter well when he writes that anarchism is not a fixed, self-enclosed social system but rather a definite trend in the historic development of mankind, which, in contrast with the intellectual guardianship of all clerical and governmental institutions, strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life.” What is this freedom anarchy seeks?

In the introduction he points to people controlling production as the essence of freedom “But only the producers themselves are fitted for this task, since they are the only value-creating element in society out of which a new future can arise. Theirs must be the task of freeing labor from all the fetters which economic exploitation has fastened on it, of freeing society from all the institutions and procedure of political power, and of opening the way to an alliance of free groups of men and women based on co-operative labor and a planned administration of things in the interest of the community.” But is this freedom sufficient? Given this freedom we might get the “free unhindered unfolding of social forces in life”, but why would this produce “free unhindered folding of all individuals”? Such a social freedom is a precursor to individual freedom. At present many people, either as wage slaves or simply trying to scrape a living, spend their time surviving – for themselves and their families, where is the freedom in this? Economic exploitation does not simply function on a financial level, there appears to be an assumption that the removal of such economic fetters would be enough for the conditions of freedom to develop. With the fetters there is no freedom without the fetters there is an opportunity for freedom, but without a clear model of how that freedom can be obtained then the fetters of miseducation will find another way to enslave. Establishing a clear model of freedom is essential. Because the people were not ready for democracy vanguards failed, because people are not ready moving to democratic anarchic structures will not create freedom. The meaning of this freedom will be discussed in Ch 20.

Significant in the maintaining of the 1%’s neoliberal model is the cooperation of many institutions whose nature would innately be opposed to such exploitation. Let us begin with religion. Now religion is a very powerful force, and the left would do well to learn that dismissing religion is a significant reason that they have not appealed to more of the mass movement. It is not sufficient to describe religion as an opiate because that fails to embrace the power of the religious experience. Religion is not a drug, for religious people it is an expression of their understanding of their personal power and the power of the species. Religion is who we are and how we fit together, and it is respect for life. The power of religion has been recognised by the right who have manipulated this need for personal expression and social utility as a means of attacking socialism. But it is certainly not an attack on the genuine expression of anarchist thinking in which freedom is the essence. This is what is so wonderful about freedom, it is where genuine religion and political system meet (Ch 20).

But in practice religion has been compromised, reduces freedom, and essentially supports the 1%. This fundamentally comes down to money, religious institutions need money to survive and monks and priests don’t earn. Fundamental to all religious dogma is caring, bible, Koran, Buddha’s gospels all speak of the need for people to be compassionate, so why isn’t there an immediate attack on the governments of western democracies? Because those governments always offer an illusion, a plausible excuse for their unacceptable actions. Against Iraq there was a war, then a decade of sanctions where the country was decimated and then another war. What was offered as a plausible excuse for this war for profit? The existence of weapons of mass destruction. And then when it was discovered what everyone already knew, that there were no WMD’s, Blair said that the action was justified because Saddam was not a good man. So after years of supporting him with weapons and finance, suddenly he becomes a target because he was a tyrant. But these clearly irrational and insubstantial excuses were sufficient to pacify the religious establishment. Why wasn’t that establishment hammering on government doors, on the doors of the monarchy, to demand an end to all such unchristian acts? Quite simple. They were given an excuse to believe the government, Blair professed so-called Christianity, and their religious institutions remained there to accept charitable donations so postholders kept their posts. Individual priests might make objections but the institution cannot and survive. The church, representing their flock, should be on the side of the 99%, but in reality their acquiescence to enable the collection of funds aligns them with the 1%. And of course in the US the religious right is a strong force promoting ideology that increases profits of the 1%.

In the UK there are charity laws – at least there were prior to 1993. I worked as a volunteer with Oxfam at one stage, and it felt like working with an emasculated organisation because of these charity laws. Charities need charitable status so that you can get tax exemption for donations, such status is only offered to organisations which are not overtly political. Without offering proof I would suggest that full-time workers with Oxfam generally recognise that the problems that lead to global poverty and hunger stem from capitalism and the profiteering of the 1%. Unable to write this in their pamphlets and publicity they present partial truth, and this partial truth is accepted by some as “this is what Oxfam says, they don’t blame the 1%”. When this is the common approach of charities, we are never officially confronted with the reality of the problem, except through political organisations – and these organisations are supposedly biased.

Compromise is key to how neoliberalism works. I worked as a teacher all my life. From the outset I knew that education was not the primary purpose – it was social containment (keeping troublesome kids off the street so that parents could be wage-slaves). But I thought that I could do something that was genuine education. In the end the compromise that I worked with was that the best education I could provide for disadvantaged students was to do the best I could to get them to pass exams. Was this ennobling? Did this help change society? Did this truly educate? No. In fact I would go as far as to say that the majority of students I taught saw me as a lynchpin of the school establishment.

Did I have a choice? Simply, the answer is no. Motivated disadvantaged students saw education as the only way to escape their environment, so they demanded of me an education which helped them pass exams – no more no less. What did the system demand? The same. School allowed some form of expression of awareness, but if I began to teach awareness of social and secure reality as described in chapters 16 and 17, I would have lost my job – and the students would not have listened labelling me as some loony lefty. At one stage I taught what was developed under a scheme of racism awareness through maths. The idea was that you present the facts, and allow students to form their own opinion. There was a myth at the time that all black people had to do was run to the Commission of Racial Equality, and they would be supported legally against a white employer. The reality was that a very small percentage of such claims were ever supported. It was not biased, it was presenting the evidence and then allowing the students to draw their own conclusions. Such maths was accepted by right-wing teachers in the school as mathematically sound as well as good motivational material, but it was ridiculed outside the school including by Margaret Thatcher (“And children who need to be able to count and multiply are learning anti-racist mathematics—whatever that may be.” [B10]. This is a specific example of a general reality that within the system compromise never helped educate, or work in the interest of the 99%. I call this patching. Patching never worked. Patching is a useful word to use to understand how all those who have compromised all their lives – like me – have only worked in the interests of the 1% - despite our good intentions. Consider the patch we use to repair a bicycle tyre. Once patched the tyre can be used again, and in so doing the function of the bicycle (as a vehicle to be ridden) is enabled. Does patching change that function? NO. It enables the original purpose. Patching and compromise enables neoliberalism to function. Does it change neoliberalism? No. Underlying the neoliberal system is what is enabled by all the patching, in other words in retrospect I have to look back on my life and say that despite all my intentions I worked for the man – the 1% - despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. This patching is essential to neoliberalism. It takes the energy of those who know the truth, and diffuses that energy nullifying its power. The frustration that is then created increases the apathy that is essential to the neoliberal model whilst at the same time that model is able to say “look at the leftie teachers, what do they do for our kids?” My generation and generations that followed were embedded into the system through patching, and for their own sake I hope the current and future generations will seek alternatives outside the system as described in mindful consuming.

Patching also occurred politically. I remember the worst compromise I ever had to face politically, and that was attending the NUT conference and being advised by my party, the New Communist Party, that I should align with the union leadership. As a Marxist-Leninist I sought the overthrow of the system in favour of genuine democracy, and at the time I joined the New Communist Party because they were good political educators and I had become convinced by some good people. The rationale behind this appalling compromise was that the Trotskyite socialists would seek industrial action and split the union, the NCP strategy was to fight these Trots at all cost including supporting the right-wing leadership of the union. Such stupidity. I am still not sure the NCP were wrong at the time, but their approach has failed. The political parties and alliances that characterised the second half of the twentieth century were ineffective, and have just supported the 1%. The time now is to work only for the alternative. Occupy says consensus democracy through the General Assembly, yet the established left-wing gives them token support – basically because Occupy threatens their own representative structures, and tacitly points out that the established strategies have failed. It is time for correct-thinking people to split from these compromises. Even the extremes of the Trots work towards the benefit of the 1%. There is only one choice, and that is to withdraw your consumption from that of the established money system that are controlled by the banks of the 1%. Not only is it necessary to withdraw your money from the banks as in the credit unions but it is also necessary to withdraw your labour and earnings from the actual currency that the 1% control. In “Small is Beautiful" [B17] E F Schumacher called this community currency, and through the Schumacher Society [B18] this idea has been promoted. My favourite example occurred in Argentina. In the currency crisis in Argentina at the turn of the century the government closed the banks whilst they allowed the owners to take the cash out of the country (described in the movie “The Take” [F12]). Deprived of their savings and earnings Argentinian workers developed many working strategies to survive including cooperative occupation of factories under the slogans of :-

1) Occupy
2) Resist
3) Produce
Whilst this helped greatly there were additional survival strategies started. People started barter markets where they brought goods and skills to trade [F13]. Many of these sprang up throughout the country, and to enable trading to occur between these markets they developed a currency, Creditos. This was so successful that Creditos began to be used outside the barter markets.

One final measure, and perhaps the most important, for evaluating a democracy is how it cares for those who are weaker or underprivileged, how humane is the society. By this benchmark western democracies fail completely despite all the hard work of many of its people. Quite simply the hard work of the many in caring professions is never meant to be successful, it is never meant to help. People are meant to continue to suffer, the carers feel justified in their efforts to make change, the status quo remains so that the 1% can utilise their money and enforce cheap labour. Consider some of these caring profession, state sector doctors, teachers, nurses, and social workers. What are the common characteristics of all these jobs? They are underpaid, understaffed, underfunded, and tied down by unworkable regulations. They are not meant to be effective. However because these professions exist the neoliberal model is able to point at these people and say that it is their fault that the poor and underprivileged are not cared for. The reality of a caring society is that if the intention is there to be compassionate the required funding and staffing etc would follow. It is quite simple. If it is not working, fix it, if it is not fixed it is not intended to be fixed. What is working in our democracy is that the 1% continue to rake in their profits whilst the poor and underprivileged continue to be deprived. This is a systemic problem, it is an integral part of the neoliberal model, and is a clear measure that there is no democracy in the West. It is time to accept this, and for all who recognise to seek alternatives that would help them not to contribute to the neoliberal model – not contribute to the profits of the 1%.

Future Societal Strategy:-

Representative democracy supports the interests of the corporatocracy, for genuine democracy there needs to be a return to grass roots activism in which individuals take their own responsibility for action working for a consensus. Such organisations would not be hierarchical, workers in cooperatives for example, and hopefully in the long term would lead to governance that stems from these grass roots. In the short term such activism would seek transactions through barter or community currencies.