Introduction to Towards an Inclusive Democracy
The collapse of "actually existing socialism" does not reflect the ‘triumph of capitalism’, as celebrated by its ideologues. Nor, of course, does it provide justification for a social system which, in its present universality, condemns to misery and insecurity the vast majority of the world population and threatens the planet with an ecological catastrophe. Furthermore, it does not herald the historical victory of Western ‘socialist’ statism over Eastern ‘socialist’ statism, as social democrats have hastened to declare. Social democracy, in the form that dominated the quarter of a century after the World War II (state commitment to welfare state, full employment and the redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the weaker social groups) is dead and has been replaced by the present neoliberal consensus (“safety nets” flexible labour markets and the redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the privileged social groups). Therefore, what the dismantling of ‘actually existing socialism’ and the parallel collapse of social-democracy have shown is the final disintegration of socialist statism, that is, the historical tradition that aimed at the conquest of state power, by legal or revolutionary means, as the necessary condition to bring about radical social transformation.
However, even before the actual dismantling of socialist statism (for reasons related to its own contradictions as well as to structural changes in the system of the ‘market economy’ that we shall pursue in the first part of this book), it was obvious that there was a fundamental incompatibility between the state-socialist project and the demand for creating conditions of equal sharing of political, economic and social power among all citizens. State ownership and control of economic resources, even when it led to security of employment and to significant improvements in the distribution of income and wealth, proved utterly inadequate for creating economic democracy, namely the equal sharing of economic power, not to mention conditions for the equal sharing of political power. Furthermore, socialist statism did not make any significant progress in creating conditions of democracy in the social realm generally, namely the household, the workplace, the educational institutions and so on.
On the threshold of a new millennium, the development of a new liberatory project, which would represent both the synthesis, as well as the transcendence, of the major social movements for change in this century, is imperative. Therefore, the meaning of democracy today can only be derived from a synthesis of the two major historical traditions, namely, the democratic and the socialist with the radical green, feminist and libertarian traditions. The former define the political and economic content of democracy (‘direct democracy’ and ‘economic democracy’), and the latter define its ecological and social content (‘ecological democracy’ and ‘social realm democracy’, in other words, democracy in the workplace, the household, etc.). So, the new liberatory project cannot be but a project for an inclusive democracy that would extend the public realm,beyond the traditional political domain, to the economic and broader social domains.
It is therefore obvious that an inclusive democracy implies the abolition of the unequal distribution of political and economic power and the related commodity and property relations, as well as the hierarchical structures in the household, the workplace, the education place and the broader social realm. In other words, it implies the elimination of domination relations at the societal level, as well as the implied notion of dominating the natural world. It is equally clear that an inclusive democracy has nothing to do with what passes as ‘democracy’ today, namely the liberal oligarchies based on the system of the market economy and liberal ‘democracy’. Furthermore, the inclusive democracy proposed in this book has very little to do with the various versions of ‘radical’ democracy promoted today by the ‘civil societarian’ Left. As I have tried to show in the book, the civil societarian approach is both a-historical and utopian in the negative sense of the word. It is a-historical because it ignores the structural changes which have led to the internationalised market economy and the consequent impotence of autonomous (from the state) institutions and associations (unions, local economies, civic movements, etc.). It is utopian because, within the present institutional framework of the internationalised market economy and liberal ‘democracy’, which civil societarians take for granted, the enhancement of autonomous institutions is only possible to the extent that it does not contravene the logic and dynamic of the market economy.
But, if a ‘radical’ democracy, under today's conditions of concentrated political and economic power, is utopian in the negative sense of the word, an inclusive democracy is definitely more than just a utopia, in the sense of an ideal society. A liberatory project is not a utopia if it is based on today's reality and at the same time expresses the discontent of significant social sectors and their explicit or implicit contesting of existing society. As the book attempts to show, the roots of the present multi-dimensional crisis (ecological, economic, political, social, cultural) lie in the non-democratic organisation of society at all levels, in the sense that it is the concentration of power in the hands of various elites that marks the foundation of every aspect of the crisis.
Thus, it is the concentration of economic power, as a result of commodity relations and the grow‑or‑die dynamic of the market economy, which has led to the present economic crisis. This crisis is expressed, mainly, by the continuous expansion of inequality, the relentlessly growing gap, not only between the North and the South, but also between the economic elites and the rest of society within the North and the South. It is also the concentration of economic power in the hands of economic elites which fuels the social and cultural crisis, as expressed by the parallel spreadof the dialectic of violence, both personal and collective, drug abuse, general social irresponsibility, as well as cultural homogeneity.
Furthermore, it is the concentration of political power in the hands of professional politicians and various ‘experts’ that has transformed politics into statecraft and has resulted in a crisis of traditional politics, as expressed by the growing reluctance of citizens to participate in it as members of political parties, as voters, and so on.
Finally, the fact that the main form of power within the framework of the growth economy is economic, and that the concentration of economic power involves the ruling elites in a constant struggle to dominate people and Nature, could go a long way toward explaining the present ecological crisis. In other words, to understand the ecological crisis we should not refer simply to the prevailing system of values and the resulting technologies, nor just to production relations, but to the relations of domination that characterise a hierarchical society, which is based on the system of a market economy and the implied idea of dominating the natural world. It is no accident that the destruction of the environment during the lifetime of the growth economy, in both its market economy and state socialist versions, goes far beyond the cumulative damage that previous societies have inflicted on the environment.
Therefore, the project for an inclusive democracy does not only express the highest human ideal of freedom in the sense of individual and collective autonomy, but it is also perhaps the only way out of the present multi-dimensional crisis.
In the first part of the book, the emergence of the system of the market economy and the nation-state in the last few centuries is discussed and the process that led from the liberal phase of the market economy to the present neoliberal internationalised phase is examined. It is shown that the present neoliberal consensus is not a conjunctural phenomenon but the completion of a process which started almost two centuries ago when the marketization of the economy was initiated, that is, the historical process that has transformed the socially controlled economies of the past into the market economy of the present. In this context, statism—the period of active state control of the economy and extensive interference with the self-regulating mechanism of the market aimed at directly determining the level of economic activity—was a historically brief interlude in the process of marketization which ended in the 1970s when statism became incompatible with the growing internationalisation of the market economy (chapter 1).
Next, an attempt is made to show that the rise in this century of the growth economy, that is, the system of economic organisation which is geared, either ‘objectively’ or deliberately, toward maximising economic growth, had, in both its capitalist and ‘socialist’ versions, different causes but a common effect. Thus, the rise of the capitalist growth economy was, mainly, a by-product of the dynamics of the market economy, whereas the emergence of its ‘socialist’ version was primarily related to the growth ideology and the post-Enlightenment partial identification of Progress with the development of productive forces. In both types of the growth economy the outcome was the same: a huge concentration of economic power within the old First and Second Worlds (chapter 2) and between the North, in which the market/growth economy originated, and the South, which imported a bad copy of the same (chapter 3).
The first part of the book concludes with a summarisation of the findings of the first three chapters, in an attempt to show that the main dimensions of the present multi-dimensional crisis (economic, ecological, political, social and ideological) not only are interconnected but that they may, also, be attributed in the last instance to the concentration of economic, political and social power that the institutional framework of the market economy and liberal ‘democracy’ implies. Finally, the Right’s and the Left’s proposals to deal with the crisis are assessed (chapter 4).
The second part of the book develops a new conception of an inclusive democracy and compares and contrasts it with the historical conceptions of democracy (classical, liberal, Marxist) as well as with the various versions of ‘radical’ democracy currently in fashion (chapter 5). This is followed by an outline of a model for a confederal inclusive democracy in general and a model for economic democracy in particular which shows that it is feasible to design a system that transcends the inefficiency of both the market economy and central planning in covering human needs (chapter 6). This part of the book concludes with a discussion of a transitional political and economic strategy toward an inclusive democracy (chapter 7).
Finally, the last part of the book examines the moral and philosophical foundations of a democratic society and criticises the attempts to ground the liberatory project on a ‘science’ of the economy and society or on an ‘objective’ ethics. This leads to the conclusion that the project for an inclusive democracy can only be founded on a democratic rationalism that transcends both ‘objectivism’ as well as general relativism and irrationalism (chapter 8).