(Scotland, August 1995)
Beyond Statism and the Market Economy: A new conception of Democracy
My starting point is that democracy is today not just an ethical demand but the only rational way out of the present multi-dimensional crisis (economic, ecological, political, social). To my mind, this crisis has its roots in the power structures and relations which were developed two centuries ago, as a result of the establishment of the system of the market economy and the consequent growth economy and the parallel expansion of the nation-state and representative democracy. As I will try to show, democracy is incompatible with any degree, or form, of concentration of power, political or economic. Finally, I will try to develop a new conception of democracy, which, extending the classical non-statist conception, would introduce the elements of economic democracy, community and confederalism, which are necessary for any modern conception of democracy.
1. Freedom, autonomy and democracy
But, let's start with the meaning of democracy, a word which has had no parallel in its abuse, apart perhaps from socialism, this century. The usual way in which the meaning of democracy has been distorted, mostly by liberal academics and politicians, is by confusing the presently dominant oligarchic system of representative "democracy" with democracy itself. Even libertarian theoreticians and anarchists frequently seem confused about the meaning of democracy, particularly when they confuse it with some kind of "rule". However, as I will try to show, the dominant today conception of democracy has hardly any relation to the classical Greek conception. Furthermore, the current practice of adding several qualifying adjectives to the term democracy has further confused the meaning of it and created the impression that several forms of democracy exist. Thus, liberals refer to "modern", "representative", or "parliamentary" democracy, social democrats talk about "social", "economic" or "industrial" democracy, and, finally, Leninists used to speak about "soviet" democracy, and, later, "people's" democracies, to describe the countries of "actually existing socialism". But, in fact, there is only one form of democracy at the political level, i.e. the direct exercise of sovereignty by the people themselves, a form of societal institution which rejects any form of "ruling". Therefore, all other forms of so-called democracy are not but various forms of "oligarchy" i.e. of ruling by the few. This implies that the only adjective that is permissible to precede democracy is "economic", because economic democracy was indeed unknown before the emergence of the socialist project.
Freedom and autonomy
Still, the meaning we give to democracy crucially depends on the meaning of freedom and autonomy. Furthermore, there is no way of defining democracy today unless we delineate first its relation to the state and then to the economy. This is so because it can easily be shown that it is the present separation of society from the state and the economy which is the ultimate cause of the concentration of political and economic power that characterise the present oligarchies that call themselves democracies. For reasons that I can not expand on here I think that the concept of democracy is much more compatible with a concept of freedom that is defined in terms of individual and collective autonomy rather than in terms of negative freedom (as liberals, individualistic anarchists and some libertarians do) or alternatively in terms of positive freedom (as socialists and most anarchist writers do). I think that a definition of freedom in terms of autonomy not only combines individual freedom with collective freedom, rooting firmly the freedom of the individual in the democratic organisation of the community, but it also transcends both liberalism and socialist statism.
But, autonomy, as Murray Bookchin correctly points out, has been identified in the English literature with personal freedom or self-government. However, the original Greek meaning of the word had a definite political dimension, where personal autonomy was inseparable from collective autonomy. In this conception of autonomy, an autonomous society is inconceivable without autonomous individuals and vice versa. This is so, because, if we assume away the concentration of power and its epitome, the State, then, no individual is autonomous unless he/she participates equally in power. Similarly, no society is autonomous unless it consists of autonomous individuals,
Furthermore, an autonomous society is a society capable of explicitly self-instituting itself, in other words, capable of putting into question its already given institutions and what I will call the dominant social paradigm, namely, the system of beliefs, ideas and the corresponding values, which is associated with these institutions. In this sense, a tribal society which is not capable of questioning tradition, or, alternatively a Christian or Thaoist society which is not questioning divine law or some externally given "truths", or, finally, a marxist society which is incapable of questioning the dominant social paradigm, are all examples of heteronomous societies, irrespective of the degree of political and economic equality they may have achieved. So, the definition of freedom in terms of autonomy implies that freedom can not and should not be based on any preconceptions about human nature or on any divine, social and natural "laws" about social evolution.
An ‘objectively’ grounded liberatory project?
Now, this raises a very important point. Traditionally, most libertarians, from Godwin to Bakunin and Kropotkin, based their ethics and politics, freedom itself, on a fixed human nature governed by "necessary and universal laws", by which they usually meant natural laws, in contrast to marxists who emphasised economic "laws". This reflected the same nineteenth century incentive which led Marx to develop his "scientific" economic laws, namely, the incentive to make the liberatory project look "scientific" or, at least, "objective". However, this approach is not tenable anymore, since it is not possible today to continue talking about objectivity, at least as far as the interpretation of social phenomena is concerned. Furthermore, the fate of "scientific" socialism suggests that this approach is not desirable either.
It is not therefore accidental that some libertarians today (Benello, Suzan Brown, Marshall et al) question the traditional grounding of freedom on a fixed human nature, or on "scientific" laws and "objective" tendencies. However, several of those libertarians usually link this questioning with liberal individualistic assumptions about society. But, such linking is anything but necessary. If we adopt a definition of freedom in terms of individual and collective autonomy, then, it is possible to avoid the trap of objectivism, without giving in to liberal individualism. In this case, autonomy/freedom, as well as its political expression, democracy, becomes a social project, i.e. a matter of conscious and self-reflective choice at the individual and collective level, and not the outcome of debatable interpretations of social "evolution".
Still, the fact that the project of autonomy is not objectively grounded does not mean that "anything goes" and that it is therefore impossible to derive any definable body of principles to assess social and political changes, or to develop a set of ethical values to assess human behaviour. Reason is still necessary in a process of deriving the principles and values which are consistent with the project of autonomy and, which in this sense, are rational values. Therefore, the principles and values derived within such a process do not just express personal tastes and desires. In fact, they are much more "objective" than the principles and values that are derived from disputable interpretations of natural and social evolution, since their logical consistency with the project of autonomy could be assessed in an indisputable way, unlike the contestable "objectivity" of values derived from some reading of social or natutral evolution
2. Concentration of power, Democracy and growth economy
But, let us see briefly how the present concentration of political and economic power was effected in History. As regards the concentration of political power first, the emergence of the nation-state in 16th century Europe initiated a process of concentrating political power, initially in the form of highly centralised monarchies and later in the form of representative "democracies". It was also during the same 16th century that the idea of representation entered in the political lexicon, although the sovereignty of Parliament was not established until the 17th century. In the same way that the king has once "represented" society as a whole, it was now the turn of Parliament to play this role, although sovereignty itself was still supposed to belong to the people as a whole. In fact, the doctrine that prevailed in Europe since the French revolution was not just that the French people were sovereign and that their views were represented in the National Assembly, but that the French nation was sovereign and the National Assembly embodied the will of the nation. The type of "democracy" that has been established since the 16th century in Europe has had very little in common with the Athenian democracy, because whereas the European democracy presupposes the separation of state from society and is founded on the exercise of sovereingty by a separate body of representatives, the Athenian democracyr is based on the principle that sovereingty is exercised directly by the free citizens themselves.
Of course, it is true that power relations and structures did not disappear in classical Athens ―not only at the economic level, where inequities were obvious, but even at the political level, where the hierarchical structure of society was clear. At the top of the social pyramid, the free citizens, who were entitled to take part in the democratic process, and, at the bottom, women, followed by slaves. We may therefore argue that overall, Athens was a mix of non-statist and statist democracy. It was non-statist as regards the citizen body, which was "ruled" by nobody and whose members shared power equally among themselves, and statist as regards those not qualifying as full citizens (women, slaves, immigrants), over whom the demos wielded power. Still, the Athenian democracy was the first historical example of the identification of the sovereign with those exercising sovereignty.
Therefore the Greeks, having realised that, as Castoriadis puts it, "there always is and there always will be an explicit power, that is, unless a society were to succeed in transforming its subjects into automata that had completely internalised the instituted order", concluded that "no citizen should be subjected to power (ìÞ Üñ÷åóèáé) and if this was not possible that power should be shared equally among citizens. It is therefore obvious that libertarian definitions of democracy, like the one given by William McKersher, as "the rule of all over all", are incompatible with the classical conception of democracy.
As regards now the concentration of economic power, the dynamics of the market economy, namely the economic system which emerged about two centuries ago, led to the growth economy, which, in this century, took the form of either a capitalist growth economy, or a socialist growth economy. The growth economy, in both its versions, implied a high degree of concentration of economic power. But, as a high degree of economic concentration is incompatible with the spreading of political power, it is no wonder that the growing concentration of economic power this century was accompanied by a corresponding concentration of political power.
Compatibility of democracy with capitalist growth economy
Thus, as regards, first, the compatibility of democracy with the capitalist growth economy, one could easily see the fundamental incompatibility between, on the one hand, marketization, i.e. the process that involves the phased removal of social controls over the market and, on the other, democracy. It is obvious that the marketization process would have been impossible in a democracy, since in a capitalist growth economy it is those who are NOT in control of the economic process who constitute the vast majority of the population. In other words, the more oligarchic the form of political organisation, the more amenable to the marketization process the economy is.
It is not therefore surprising that the present internationalisation of the market economy, which implies further concentration of economic power, has been accompanied by a parallel further concentration of political power. So, although It is true that today we see the end of sovereignty, still, it is not sovereignty in general that withers away but the nation-state's sovereignty, particularly its economic sovereignty. The decline of state sovereignty is directly linked to the present internationalised phase of the market economy and the consequent withering away of the nation-state. In this context, one may argue that state sovereignty is today replaced by market sovereignty and a form of supra-national sovereignty. Market sovereignty means that, today, it is the market which defines effective human rights, not just economic rights, but even who can really exercise his/her human rights in general. Supra-national sovereignty. means that, at present, political and economic power is concentrated at the supra-national level of new inter-state organisations (like the European Commission) on the one hand, and of the emerging network of city-regional governments on the other. Furthermore, the continuous decline of the State's economic sovereignty is being accompanied by the parallel transformation of the public realm into pure administration. For instance, international central banks are being established, which, in the future, independent from political control, will take crucial decisions about the economic life of millions of citizens (see for instance the planned European central bank that is designed to take over the control of the new European monetary system and the common European currency).
Compatibility of democracy with socialist growth economy
As far now as the compatibility of democracy with the socialist growth economy is concerned, we should remember that the dominant social paradigm was grounded on the idea that the principal goal of human society was the maximisation of production on the one hand, and the creation of a just system of distribution on the other. Furthermore, the fact that the dominant social paradigm was supposed to be grounded on a "science" (marxism) implied the imperative need to "prove" it, in the sense of outproducing all competitor economic systems. There was therefore no doubt whatsoever in the minds of the Soviet elite about what will have to be sacrificed in any possible clash between the dominant social paradigm and democracy. No wonder therefore that, as early as 1920, Lenin was declaring that "Industry is indispensable, democracy is not". So, whereas the original Leninist project for the soviet democracy, as expressed in The State and Revolution, was about the transformation of power relations, the Soviet elite, from 1920 onwards, consistently maintained the view (no doubt, "external" events have also played a role on this) that socialism wholly consisted in equality of ownership relations and not at all in equality in power relations. The incentive was obvious: to achieve the goal of maximising production, which was identified as the main goal of socialism.
History, therefore, has shown in an unambiguous way that democracy is incompatible with both versions of the growth economy. However, the question still remains whether it is just the practice of liberal and socialist democracy that is to be blamed for the oligarchic character of the liberal and socialist regimes respectively, or whether instead it is the very conception of democracy that liberals and socialists adopt, which is incompatible with democracy ―a conception that is identified by a fundamental common characteristic: "statism".
Conceptions of Democracy
Let's start, first, with the liberal conception of democracy. The starting point here should be that none of the founders of classical liberalism was an advocate of democracy, in the sense of direct democracy. In fact, the opposite was the case. For instance, the American Founding Fathers Madison and Jefferson were sceptical of democracy, precisely because of its Greek connotation of direct rule: This is why they preferred to call the American system republican. Furthermore, not only the liberal philosophers took for granted the separation of the state apparatus from society but, in fact, saw democracy as a way of bridging the gap between state and society. The bridging role was supposed to be played by representative "democracy", a system whereby the plurality of political parties would provide an adequate forum for competing interests and systems of values.
However, the fact that, as Jean-Jackes Rousseau pointed out, men's wills can not be represented by others could lead to a different understanding of the motives behind the liberal adoption of representative "democracy". In this understanding, representative democracy is a form of statist democracy whose main aim is the exclusion of the vast majority of the population from political power. It is not therefore surprising that Adam Smith, the father of economic liberalism, was in pains to stress that the main task of government was the defence of the rich against the poor ―a task that, as John Dunn points out, is "necessarily less dependably performed where it is the poor who choose who is to govern, let alone where the poor themselves, as in Athens, in large measure simply ARE the government".
As regards the socialist conception of democracy we have to distinguish first between the social democratic and the marxist conceptions of democracy. The social democratic conception is essentially a version of the liberal conception. In other words, social democracy consists of a "liberal democracy" element, in the sense of a statist and representative form of democracy based on a market economy, and an "economic democracy" element, in the sense of a strong welfare state and the state commitment to implement full employment policies. However, social democratic parties, all over the world, have now dropped the "economic democracy" element of their conception of democracy. As a result, the social democratic conception of democracy is by now virtually indistinguishable from the liberal one, in the context of what I call the present "neoliberal consensus".
As far as the marxist conception is concerned, I will argue that it is clearly a statist conception of democracy. In this conception, democracy is not differentiated from the state for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from communism i.e. for the entire period that is called the "realm of necessity", when scarcity leads to class antagonisms which make inevitable class dictatorships of one kind or another. In this view, socialism will simply replace the dictatorship of one class, the bourgeoisie, by that of another, the proletariat.
Thus, according to Lenin, "democracy is also a state and consequently democracy will also disappear when the state disappears. Revolution alone can 'abolish' the bourgeois state. The state in general, i.e. the most complete democracy can only 'wither away'". It is therefore obvious that in the marxist world-view, a non-statist conception of democracy is inconceivable, both at the transitional stage leading to communism and at the higher phase of communist society. In the transitional stage, because the realm of necessity makes necessary a statist form of democracy where political and economic power is not shared among ALL citizens, but, only among members of the working class. In the communist stage, because when we reach the realm of freedom, no form of democracy at all is necessary, since no significant decisions will have to be made! At the economic level, scarcity and division of labour will by then have disappeared and therefore there will be no need for any significant economic decisions to be taken about the allocation of resources. Also, at the political level the administration of things will have replaced the administration of people and therefore, there will be no need for any significant political decisions to be taken either.
However, the marxist abolition of scarcity depends on an objective definition of "needs" which is neither feasible, nor ―from the democratic point of view― desirable. It is not feasible, because, although basic needs may be assumed finite and independent of time and place, the same can not be said about their satisfiers (i.e. the form or the means by which these needs are satisfied), let alone non-basic needs. It is not desirable, because, in a democratic society, an essential element of freedom is choice as regards the ways in which needs are formed and satisfied..
So, the communist stage is in fact a mythical state of affairs and the reference to it could simply be used to justify the indefinite maintenance of state power and power relations and structures. It is therefore obvious that the link between post-scarcity (defined "objectively") and freedom should be broken. The abolition of scarcity and, consequently, of the division of labour is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for democracy. Historically, there have been several occasions when various degrees of freedom survived under conditions that could be characterised as belonging to the "realm of necessity". Furthermore, once we cease treating the two realms as mutually exclusive, there is no justification for any attempt to dominate Nature ―an important element of Marxist growth ideology― in order to enter the realm of freedom.
In conclusion, there are no material preconditions of freedom. This, of course does not mean that the satisfaction of material needs, particularly the basic needs, is not important for freedom. On the contrary, it means that it is freedom, as expressed in direct and economic democracy, which is the precondition for the satisfaction of the basic needs of the ENTIRE population (as they define them democratically) and not the other way round. Therefore. the entrance to the realm of freedom does not depend on any "objective" factors, like the arrival of the mythical state of affairs of material abundance. The level of development of productive forces that is required so that material abundance for the entire population on Earth could be achieved makes it at least doubtful that such a stage could ever be achieved (without serious repercussions to the environment- unless material abundance is defined democratically in a way which is consistent with ecological balance. By the same token, the entrance to the realm of freedom does not depend on a massive change of consciousness through the adoption of some form of spiritualistic dogma, as some deep ecologists and other spiritualistic movements propose. Therefore, neither capitalism and socialism, on the "objective" side, nor the adoption of some kind of spiritualistic dogma, on the "subjective" side, constitute historical preconditions to enter the realm of freedom. Today, the realm of freedom is even more feasible than in the past, as a result of recent developments on both the "objective" and the "subjective" side that make easier a new synthesis between the two .
3. A new conception of Democracy
But, let us now turn to the characteristics of democracy and consider how we may define the conditions for democracy and develop a new conception of it which is appropriate to today's conditions.
As I mentioned before, there is a lot of confusion today about the meaning of democracy, as it is shown by the fact that various "qualifying" adjectives are added to democracy. However, in fact, there are no various forms of democracy, among which we can choose the one which is compatible with the institutional framework of our liking, as liberals, socialists and some libertarians do. At the political level, there can only be one form of democracy, what we may call political or direct democracy, where political power is shared equally among all citizens. This implies that parliamentary "democracy" (as it functions in the West), soviet "democracy" (as it functioned in the East) and the various fundamentalist or semi-military regimes in the South are just forms of political oligarchy, where political power is concentrated in the hands of various elites (professional politicians, party bureaucrats, priests, military and so on). Similarly, in the past, there had been various forms of oligarchy when emperors, kings and their courts concentrated political power in their hands.
Direct Political Democracy
Several attempts were made in the past to institutionalise various forms of direct democracy, especially during revolutionary periods (for example, the sections of the French commune, the Spanish assemblies, the Hungarian worker councils etc). However, usually these attempts were short-lived, whereas, in other cases, democractic arrangements were introduced just as a set of procedures and did not involve the institutionalisation of democracy as a new form of political regime which replaces, and not just complements, the State. The only historical example of an institutionalised direct democracy where, for more than a century, the state was subsumed in the democratic form of social organisation, was the Athenian democracy.
Of course, the Athenian democracy, as we already have seen, was a partial political democracy. But, what characterised the Athenian democracy as partial was not the political institutions themselves but the very narrow definition of full citizenship adopted by the Athenians. A definition, which excluded large sections of the population (women, slaves, immigrants) who, in fact, constituted the majority of the people living in Athens. The reason I refer to "institutionalised" direct democracy is because I wish to make clear the distinction that should exist between democratic institutions on the one hand and democratic practice on the other. The latter, as critics of the Athenian democracy were quick to point out, could sometimes be characterised as defacto "oligarchic", in the sense that the decision-taking process was often effectively controlled by a strong leader (e.g. Pericles), or a small number of demagogues. However, this could hardly be taken as a serious criticism of the democratic institutions themselves. It could be argued, instead, that it was precisely the partial character of the political democracy, which, combined with the prevailing significant disparities in the distribution of income and wealth, not only created serious contradictions in the democratic process but also, at the end, weakened so much the economic base on which this process was built, that the collapse of the democratic institutions themselves became inevitable
This brings us to the crucial issue of economic democracy We should not forget that direct democracy refers just to the question of political power. In classical Athens, for instance, the question of economic power, in other words,. who controls the economy, was never a public issue, except in the limited sense of redistribution of income and wealth. The reason was, of course, that the accumulation of wealth was not a structural characteristic of the Athenian democracy. Therefore, questions about the way economic resources were to be allocated did not belong to the public realm, except to the extent that they referred to the setting of social controls to regulate the limited market or to the financing of "public" spending. It was only when the market economy and the consequent growth economy emerged, two centuries ago, that the question how the important economic decisions are taken, (how, what and for whom to produce) and the corresponding issue of economic power arose.
In the type of society that has emerged since the rise of the market economy it is no longer possible to talk about democracy, without referring to the question of economic power, since, to talk about the equal sharing of political power, without conditioning it on the equal sharing of economic power, is at best meaningless and at worse deceptive. This is why I think that it would be wrong to consider the USA as "an unusually free country", as Noam Chomsky seems to suggest in a recent interview. I think that such an assessment would only stand if we could separate political freedom and equality from economic freedom and equality. But, even if one agrees that a significant degree of political freedom may have been secured in the USA at the legislative level (though, of course, one may have serious reservations about how the relevant legislation is implemented with respect to minorities etc), still, the very high degree of economic inequality and poverty that characterise this country with respect to its level of economic development would rather classify it as "an unusually unfree country". From this point of view, also, it is not surprising that the present decline of representative democracy has led many liberals, social democrats and others to pay lip service to direct democracy, without referring to its necessary complement: economic democracy.
Historically, In contrast to the institutionalisation of political democracy, there has never been a corresponding example of an institutionalised economic democracy. The forms of economic organisation that had prevailed since the emergence of the market economy, i.e. capitalism and state socialism, were just versions of economic oligarchy, where economic power was concentrated in the hands of capitalist and bureaucratic elites.
It is obvious that the proposed economic democracy assumes away the mythical stage of free communism and addresses the issue of how, within the context of a scarcity society, a method of resource allocation might be found which ensures the double aim of satisfying the basic needs of every citizen without sacrificing freedom of choice. From this viewpoint, it is not accidental that some modern anarchists who support the "politics of individualism" find it necessary, in order to attack democracy, to resort, on the one hand, to the myth of free communism which makes economic democracy superfluous and, on the other, to the distortion that democracy involves a kind of "rule" in the form of majority rule, which makes direct democracy undesirable. Still, they do not bother to explain in what sense we may talk of a 'rule' in a form of social organisation where nobody is forced to be bound by laws and institutions, in the formation of which he/she did not, DIRECTLY, take part.
Democracy as a process of social self-institution
Another common error in libertarian discussions on democracy is to characterise various types of past societies, or communities, as democracies, just because they involved democratic forms of decision-taking (popular assemblies etc) or economic equality. However, democracy is not just a structure institutionalising the equal sharing of power. Democracy, is, also, a process of social self-institution, in the context of which politics constitutes an expression of both collective and individual autonomy. Democracy, as a process of social self-institution, implies a society which is open ideologically, namely which is not grounded on any closed system of beliefs, dogmas or, ideas. "Democracy", as Castoriadis puts it, "is the project of breaking the closure at the collective level". Therefore, in a democratic society, dogmas and closed systems of ideas can not constitute parts of the dominant social paradigm, although, of course, individuals can have whatever beliefs they wish, as long as they are committed to uphold the democratic principle, namely the principle according to which society is institutionalised as direct and economic democracy.
The democratic principle itself is not grounded on any divine, natural or social "laws" or tendencies, but on our own conscious and self-reflective choice between the two main historical traditions: the tradition of heteronomy which has been historically dominant, and the tradition of autonomy. The choice of autonomy rules out any kind of irrationalism (faith in God, mystical beliefs etc), as well as any "objective truths" about social evolution based on social or natural "laws". This is so, because any system of religious or mystical beliefs (as well as any closed system of ideas), by definition, excludes the questioning of some fundamental beliefs or ideas and, therefore, it is incompatible with individuals setting their own laws. In fact, the principle of "non-questioning" some fundamental beliefs is common in every religion or set of metaphysical and mystical beliefs, from Christianism up to Thaoism. Even when some of these beliefs urge us to find our own truth they urge us to do so individually, through meditation, not collectively as members of a community, through democratic procedures .
Therefore, the fundamental element of autonomy is the creation of our own truth, something that social individuals can only achieve through direct democracy, i.e. the process through which they continually question any institution, tradition or "truth". In a democracy, there are simply no given truths. The practice of individual and collective autonomy presupposes autonomy in thought, i.e. the constant questioning of institutions and truths. This could also explain why in classical Greece it was not just democracy that flourished, but, also, philosophy, in the sense of questioning any "truths" given by custom, tradition or previous thought. In fact, questioning was the common root of both philosophy and democracy. While popular assemblies, as a form of decision-taking, existed both before and after the Athenian ecclesia, (usually having their roots in tribal assemblies), still, the differentiating characteristic of the Athenian ecclesia is the fact that it was not grounded on religion or tradition, but on citizens' doxa (opinion).
From this point of view, the practice of several modern libertarians of characterising some European Christian movements, or mystery Eastern religions, as democratic is obviously out of place. Such movements, as Bookchin, Castoriadis and others have stressed, have nothing to do with democracy and collective freedom, let alone philosophy, which always consisted in the questioning of any type of law (natural or man-made) rather than in interpreting the teachings of the masters.
The conditions for Democracy
After this discussion of the fundamental characteristics of democracy we are now in a position to summarise the conditions necessary for it. Democracy is incompatible with any form of a closed system of ideas or dogmas, at the ideological level, and with any concentration of power, at the institutional level. If, therefore, we assume that the two main forms of institutionalised power today are the political and economic power, i.e. the power to control the political and economic decision-making processes respectively, then, democracy implies the equal sharing of institutionalised power at the political and economic levels. Of course, there are other, also important, forms of power (patriarchal power, religious power, cultural power etc). However, these other forms of power usually are not institutionalised any more -at least in all societies in the North and many in the South. In other words, although the constitutions of many countries preach equality between sexes, races, religions etcetera (a fact which, of course, does not preclude various forms of discrimination to flourish de facto and, in many cases, even de jure) none preaches the equal sharing of political and economic power among citizens in the sense of direct and economic democracy.
Therefore, democracy, according to our definition, implies that the following three sets of conditions have to be met:
First, at the ideological level, society is grounded on the conscious choice of its citizens for individual and collective autonomy and not on any divine or mystical dogmas and preconceptions, or any closed theoretical systems involving social/natural "laws" or tendencies determining social change
Second, at the political level, society is founded on the equal sharing of political power among all citizens, i.e. on the self-instituting of society (direct democracy). This means that the following sub-conditions have to be satisfied:
a) that there are no institutionalised political processes of an oligarchic nature. This implies that all political decisions (including those relating to the formation and execution of laws) are taken by the citizen body collectively and without representation
b) that there are no institutionalised political structures embodying unequal power relations. This means that where delegation of authority takes place to segments of the citizen body, in order to carry out specific duties (e.g. to serve as members of popular courts, or of regional and confederal councils etc) the delegation is assigned, on principle, by lot, on a rotation basis, and it is always recallable by the citizen body. Furthermore, as regards delegates to regional and confederal bodies, the mandates should be specific. This is an effective step towards the abolition of hierarchical relations since such relations today are based, to a significant extent, on the myth of the "experts" who are supposed to be able to control everything, from nature to society. However, apart from the fact that the knowledge of the so-called experts is doubtful, (at least as far as social, economic and political phenomena is concerned), still, in a democratic society, political decisions are not left to the experts but to the users, the citizen-body ―a principle consistently applied by the Athenians.
c) that all residents of a particular geographical area (which today ―for reasons I will explain below― can only take the form of a geographical community) are members of the citizen body and are directly involved in the decision-taking process.
Third, at the economic level, society is founded on the equal sharing of economic power among all members of society (economic democracy). This means that the following sub-conditions have to be satisfied:
a) that there are no institutionalised economic processes of oligarchic nature. This means that all "macro" economic decisions, namely, decisions concerning the running of the economy as a whole (overall level of production, consumption and investment, amounts of work and leisure implied, technologies to be used e.t.c..) are taken by the citizen body collectively and without representation
b) that there are no institutionalised economic structures embodying unequal economic power relations. This implies that the means of production and distribution are collectively owned and controlled by the citizen body directly.
Of course, the above conditions for democracy refer just to the institutional framework and constitute only the necessary conditions. The sufficient condition for a true democracy, so that it will not degenerate into some kind of "demagogue-cracy" where the demos is manipulated by a new breed of professional politicians, is crucially determined by the citizens' level of political consciousness that, in turn, is conditioned by paedeia, the education of the individual as citizen.
A new conception of citizenship
In conclusion, the above conditions for democracy imply a new conception of citizenship: economic, political, social and cultural. Thus, political citizenship involves new political structures and the return to the classical conception of politics (direct democracy). Economic citizenship involves new economic structures of community ownership and control of economic resources (economic democracy). Social citizenship involves new welfare structures where all basic needs (to be democratically determined) are met at the community level. Finally, cultural citizenship involves new democratic structures of dissemination and control of information and culture (mass media, art etc), which allow every member of the community to take part in the process and at the same time develop his/her intellectual and cultural potential.
4. A decentralised and confederated democracy
But lets now see the other important elements required for a new conception of democracy. i.e. community and cofederalism. First, as regards community it is interesting to note that today both the proposals to decentralise society, suppoorted by liberals, social democrats etc and the radical proposals to remake society are centred at the community level. This is not of course a surprising development, as it just represents the inevitable consequence of the collapse of socialist statism on the one hand and the failure of "actually existing capitalism" on the other. A failure that is both economic, as shown by the fact that this system cannot even meet the basic needs of at least 20% of the world's population, and ecological, as the advancing ecological disintegration reveals. Thus, a new consciousness is emerging among radical movements in the North and the various community movements in the South- a consciousness, which ascribes the basic cause for the failure of both capitalism and socialism to the concentration of power. It is therefore becoming increasingly realised that collective and individual autonomy can only be achieved in the context of direct and economic democracy.
However, the rebirth of democracy is today possible only at the community level (the municipality or its subdivisions). It is only at the community level that the conditions that would make direct and economic democracy possible could be fulfilled, i.e. economic self-reliance, municipalization of economic resources and democratic allocation of goods and services among the confederally organized communities; it is also at the same level of confederated communities that the preconditions for an ecological society can be met, as I will try to show in a moment. The community is seen in this context as the fundamental social, political and economic unit, on which a new type of society could be founded, In this sense, the community is the foundation of a third social system beyond socialist statism and neo-liberal capitalism.
But let's see how we could criticise the currently fashionable proposals to decentralise society, in the sense of empowering communities at the expense of the centre. As I already said today, the concept of community has become fashionable again. Religious "communitarianism", with its notion of 'community' that is irrelevant to the political institutioning of society, competes with a kind of cultural communitarianism, where the revival of the 'community' explicitly aims at the restoration of old community values (solidarity, mutual aid etc) or the creation of new common values. However, the real objective of communitarianism is to mobilise citizens, first, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the social decay that the neoliberal consensus involves (crime explosion, drug abuse, moral irresponsibility e.t.c) and, second, to recover some of the welfare services, which are presently effectively undermined by the demise of the welfare state. Communitarianism, therefore, which has particularly flourished in the USA since the late 80s, is in fact a middle-class movement against the social symptoms of the neoliberal consensus, as a result of the internationalisation of the market economy. So, it is not accidental that, today, parts of the old social-democratic movement, like, for instance, the British Labour Party, turn to various forms of "communitarianism", in the sense of empowering communities as counter-balancing forces to the market and the supranational federal forms of statism which are presently under formation. Communitarianism offers them the opportunity of creating an image of a "neoliberal consensus with human face" at no extra cost to the state budget!
But, it is obvious that communitarians want to have their cake and eat it, since, in effect, they wish. to enjoy the privileges which the market economy and its internationalisation allows them to enjoy, without paying the price of living in a society of tremendous inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. No wonder therefore that communitarians concentrate their efforts on cultural factors and declare themselves in favour of enhancing traditional hierarchical structures like the family and creating new ones (some argue for compulsory community service for teenagers, others back curfews on them, increased police powers to search for drugs and guns in urban areas etc). It is not, also, surprisng that the socio-economic framework is ruled out of the communitarian problematique and Etsioni, the guru of communitarianism, gives an unequivocal answer when asked about socio-economic rights and the communitarian economic agenda. "The short answer is", he says, "there is none". Still, Etsioni has no qualm in presenting his communitarianism as a "third" way between liberalism and socialism!
This position is, of course, consistent with the fact that any revival of communities is impossible within the framework of today's internationalised market economy where the economic life of every community, i.e. the jobs, incomes and welfare of every member of the community, is utterly dependent on economic forces, which no community can control any more. Global free trade and movement of capital means that no community can be economically viable any more, since the level of economic viability has now moved to the new city-regions and the multinational networks. No wonder that the communitarian argument is full of contradictions, particularly when the declared ultimate aim is a social fabric "designed to facilitate fraternity" and at the same time the price mechanism is cheered enthusiastically!. It is not accidental either that communitarianism is supported not only by social democrats but also by pure neoliberals in USA and in Europe as it is perfectly compatible with a shift of the power centre away from the decaying nation-state, without challenging in any way the market economy and its internationalisation.
Similar arguments could be put forward against the type of communitarianism presently expanding, particularly in North America and Britain, in the form of what is usually called "Community Economic Development" (CED). This involves a strategy of gradual removal of land, labour and capital from the market economy (through the establishment of Community Land Trusts, community financial institutions, community enterprises co-ops etc.) with the double aim of creating a community culture and making private firms and the state socially responsible. However, CED, although useful with respect, in particular, to its first objective, could not seriously challenge the present concentration of political and economic power, as supporters of this movement themselves admit.
It is therefore obvious that only a radical economic and political restructuring at the community level could create again the preconditions for the revival of communities, in fact, for the transcendence of both the market economy and statism as well as the corresponding forms of statist democracy. CED, by not aiming at establishing a political and economic power base at the community level, could easily end up as just another attempt at radical decentralisation. However, radical decentralisation is, within the existing institutional framework, neither feasible, nor desirable. It is not feasible, because, in the context of the present internationalised phase of the marketization process, any attempt to create real counterbalancing centres of power would inevitably fail, unless these centres of power are compatible with the logic and the dynamic of competitiveness. It is not desirable, because the problem of democracy today is not just how to force the present centres of political and economic power to delegate some of their power to local centres of power, something that would have simply reproduced at the local level, the present concentration of power at the centre. The problem is how we can create new forms of social organisation that do not presuppose centres of power at all, but, require, instead, the equal sharing of power among all citizens, i.e. true democratic forms of organisation and a return to the classical meaning of Politics. Such new forms of social organisation could only be created, as the supporters of a community-based society argue, by contesting local elections in order to develop, as Bookchin puts it, "a new public sphere ―and in Athenian meaning of the term, a politics― that grows in tension and ultimately in a decisive conflict with the State".
Democracy vs. “rule”
One common objection against democracy is that it may easily lead to the "tyranny of the majority", where various minorities ―defined by cultural, racial, or even political, criteria― are simply oppressed by majorities. Thus, some libertarians declare that "the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority". It is obvious that this objection, which usually confuses non-statist democracy with statist forms of it assumes, erroneously as we have seen, that democracy involves a form of "rule". The fact that, in a non-statist conception of democracy, there is no conflict between democracy and freedom of the social individual, since all social individuals equally share power and take part in the decision-taking process, is simply ignored by libertarians adopting this type of objection against democracy. Furthermore, as Bookchin points out, the alternative proposed by them, consensus, is "the individualistic alternative to democracy" -an alternative which, in fact, assumes away individual diversity, which supposedly is oppressed by democracy!
However, the question still remains of how minorities, "even of one", are protected against majorities and, in particular, how certain fundamental individual freedoms are safeguarded against democratically taken decisions by the majority. The historical answer given to this question by supporters of statist democracy has taken the form of "human rights". But, rights presuppose a statist form of democracy. Human rights are mostly rights against the state; it is only in forms of social organisation where political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of elites that many 'rights' are invested with any meaning, whereas in a non-statist type of democracy, which by definition involves the equal sharing of power, these rights become meaningless.".
In principle, therefore, the issue of human rights should not arise at all in the case of a non-statist democracy as we defined it. Still, even in a democracy, the question remains of how best to protect the freedom of the single individual from the collective decisions of the assemblies. Classical anarchists like Proudhon and Kropotkin, as well as modern ones like Karl Hess, look to contracts in the form of voluntary agreements to regulate affairs between people in a non-statist society. However, to my mind, the issue of protecting individual freedoms against majority decisions can not just be left to voluntary agreements, which could be easily broken. This is a very important issue that should be decided democratically like all other important issues. If a consensus requirement in establishing (or in annuling) such freedoms may be impractical or even morally wrong, this should not mean that such an important issue just could be left to be decided by the simple majority of a local or regional assembly. This is therefore perhaps an area where decisions have to be taken by confederal assemblies with the requirement of exceptional quorum and majorities
Of course, institutional arrangements create only the preconditions for freedom. In the last instance, Individual and collective autonomy depends on the internalisation of democratic values by each citizen. Therefore, paedeia plays a crucial role in this connection. It is paedeia, which, together with the high level of civic consciousness that participation in a democratic society is expected to create, will decisively help in the establishment of a new moral code determining human behaviour in a democratic society. I suppose it will not be difficult to be shown that the moral values which are consistent with individual and collective autonomy are those that are based on cooperation, mutual aid and solidarity. The adoption of such moral values will therefore be a conscious choice by autonomous individuals living in an autonomous society, as a result of the fundamental choice for autonomy, and not as the outcome of some divine, natural or social "laws", or tendencies.
Democracy does not offer any “guarantees”
Finally, the question that some critics of democracy raise refers to the guarantees offered by democracy that it would ensure a better relationship of society to nature than the alternative systems of the market economy and state socialism. The answer is, of course, that if we see democracy as a process of social self-institution, where there is no divinely or "objectively" defined code of human conduct, then, there can be no such guarantees. However, there are strong grounds to support the view that the relationship between a democratic society and nature should be a harmonious one. The factors supporting this view refer to both the political element of democracy (direct democracy) and the economic element of it (economic democracy).
At the political level, there are grounds for believing that the creation of a public space will by itself have a very significant effect in reducing the appeal of materialism, without having to resort to spiritualism and religious dogmas. This is because the public space will provide a new meaning of life to fill the existential void that the present consumer society creates. The realisation of what it means to be human could reasonably be expected to throw us back toward Nature.
At the economic level, it is not accidental that, historically, the process of destructing the environment en masse has coincided with the process of marketization of the economy. In other words the emergence of the market economy and of the consequent growth economy had crucial repercussions on the society-Nature relationship and led to the rise of the growth ideology as the dominant social paradigm. Thus, an "instrumentalist" view of Nature became dominant, in which Nature was seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power. It is therefore reasonable to assume that once the market economy is replaced by a democratically run community-based economy, then, the grow-or-die dynamics of the market economy will be replaced by the new social dynamic of the community-based economy: a dynamic aiming at the satisfaction of the community needs and not at growth per se. If the satisfaction of community needs does not depend, as at present, on the continuous expansion of production to cover the "needs" that the market creates, and if the link between society and economy is restored, then there is no reason why the present instrumentalist view of Nature will continue conditioning human behaviour.
But, apart from the above political and economic factors, an ecological factor is involved here, which strongly supports the belief in a harmonious democracy-Nature relationship: the "localist" character of a community-based society. It is reasonable to assume and the evidence, about the remarkable success of local communities in safeguarding their environments, is overwhelming, that when people rely directly on their natural surroundings for their livelihood, they will develop an intimate knowledge of those surroundings, which will necessarily affect positively their behavior towards them. However, the precondition for local control of the environment to be successful is that the community depends on its natural surroundings for its long-term livelihood and that it therefore has a direct interest in protecting it ―another reason why an ecological society is impossible without economic democracy.
In conclusion, the replacement of the market economy by a new institutional framework based on direct and economic democracy constitutes only the necessary condition for a harmonious relation between society and Nature. The sufficient condition refers to the citizens' level of ecological consciousness. Still, the radical change in the dominant social paradigm that will follow the institution of democracy, combined with the decisive role that paedeia will play in an environment-friendly institutional framework, could reasonably be expected to lead to a radical change in the human attitude towards Nature.
5. The issue of transition
But. lets now come to a crucial question which is of particular importance to us today. How do we move from "here" to "there"?
Today, the social democratic welfare state is in ruins and the accelerating internationalisation of the market economy at the economic level is met by the continuous decline of representative "democracy" at the political level. The impotency of the state to effectively control the market forces, in order to tackle the fundamental problems of massive unemployment, poverty, rising concentration of income and wealth and the continuing destruction of the environment, have led to massive political apathy and cynicism. Social democratic parties have now become indistinguishable from neoliberal ones, as all of them are unable, within the institutional framework of the internationalised market economy that they take for granted, to tackle the fundamental problems that I mentioned. As a result, all parties today compete for the vote of the middle class which, effectively, is the only class still actively involved in the political process
At the same time, the pipe dreams of some parts of the "left" for a democratisation of the civil society do not have any chance of success in the face of the internationalisation of the market economy, which, inexorably, leads to the establishment everywhere of societies as competitive ―and consequently as sensitive to questions of social welfare and basic human rights― as those in East Asia, which are presently at the top of the competitiveness league. In other words, the internationalisation of the market economy is inevitably followed by the internationalisation of that form of civil society which is consistent with the political, social and economic liberties prevailing in the most competitive parts of the global economy.
Similar arguments could be put forward against the various "realo" green approaches aiming at a strategy that will involve the introduction of ecological objectives to the market economy. Such approaches, which take for granted the existing institutional framework of competitiveness and economic efficiency (as defined by economists), are bound to fail, for exactly the same reason that socialist statism has failed in the past to introduce social objectives to the market economy. The reason is that all those approaches are characterised by a logic which contradicts the logic and the dynamics of the marketization process. As such, they are both a-historic and utopian.
Under these circumstances, the only realistic approach is to create a new society beyond the market economy and the nation-state, through the gradually increasing involvement of people in a new kind of politics and the parallel shifting of economic resources (labour, capital, land) away from the market economy. The ultimate aim in this approach is the creation of alternative political and economic structures based on direct and economic democracy. It is a realistic approach, because only by creating new self-reliant local economies, run as direct and economic democracies, it is possible to create a new public space of citizens' direct involvement in decision-making and, at the same time, tackle the fundamental problems I just mentioned .
Still, the question that arises here is what sort of strategy can ensure the transition to a democratic society. It is obvious that participation in national or federal elections, in the form of a traditional party organisation, creates a fundamental inconsistency between the aim of a democratic society, as defined above, and the means to achieve it. An alternative strategy that is proposed by some libertarians involves no direct interference in the political and social arena and focuses, instead, on life-style changes, Community Economic Development (CED) projects, creation of "free zones" and building alternative institutions, from free schools up to self-managed factories, housing associations, LETS schemes, communes, Co-ops etc. However, such an approach, which has been criticised as individualistic in nature, is, by itself, utterly ineffective in bringing about any radical social change. Although helpful in creating an alternative culture among small sections of the population and, at the same time, morale-boosting for activists that wish to see an immediate change in their lives, this approach does not have any chance of success ―in the context of today's huge concentration of power― in building the democratic majority needed for radical social change. The projects suggested by this strategy may too easily be marginalised, or absorbed into the existing power structure (as it happened many times in the recent past), whereas their effect, if any, on the socialisation process is minimal.
Radical social change can never be achieved outside the main political and social arena. Bookchin's communalist approach therefore, is, to my mind, the best strategy today for a new kind of democratic Politics. Contesting local elections, as a culmination of grassroot action, which can include direct action and activities like the ones I just described (CED etc), does provide the most effective means to massively publicise a programme for direct and economic democracy, and it also gives the opportunity to initiate its immediate implementation on a significant social scale. The immediate objective should therefore be the creation, from below, of "popular bases of political and economic power", i.e. the establishment of local public realms of direct and economic democracy which, at some stage, will confederate and create the new society.
This approach offers the most realistic strategy today to dismantle the existing power structures. A comprehensive political programme, based on the commitment to create institutions of direct and economic democracy within the context of an ecological society, will eventually capture the imagination of the majority of the population, which now suffers from the effects of political and economic concentration of power: either through their exclusion from today's "public" realm, which is monopolised by the professional politicians; or through their deprivation of the possiblity of controlling the way their needs are satisfied, which is now left to the market forces, or, finally, through the everyday worsening of the quality of life because of the inevitable deterioration of the environment, which the market dynamics imposes. Once such institutions of direct and economic democracy begin to be installed and people, for the first time in their lives, start obtaining real power to determine their own fate, then, the gradual erosion of the present institutional framework will be set in motion. A new popular power base will be created. Town by town, city by city, region by region will be taken away from the effective control of the market economy and the nation-state, their political and economic structures being replaced by the confederations of democratically run communities. This could be the first revolution in History won democratically and peacefully. Of course, at some stage, the ruling elites and their supporters, who will surely object to the idea of their privileges being gradually eroded, may be tempted to use violence to protect their privileges, as they have always done in the past. But, by then, the meaning of today's "democracy" will have been made clear and its legitimacy will have definitely been lost. In other words, an alternative social paradigm will have become hegemonic and the break in the socialisation process ―the precondition for a change in the institution of society― will have occured.
The implementation of such a strategy requires a new type of political organisation which will mirror the desired structure of society. This could not be the usual political party, but a form of "direct democracy in action", which would undertake various collective forms of intervention at the political level (direct action, creation of "shadow" political institutions based on direct democracy, neighborhood assemblies etc), the economic level (establishment of community units at the level of production and distribution which are collectively owned and controlled), as well as the social and cultural levels. All these forms of intervention aim at the eventual transformation of each municipality won in the local elections into a direct and economic democracy. The new political organisation could, for instance, take the form of a confederation of autonomous groups (at regional, national, continental and world levels) aiming at the democratic transformation of their respective communities. The members of this organisation are not committed to any closed philosophical system but only to the project of a democratic ecological society, based on a confederation of direct and economic, democracies. These activists function not as "party cadres" but as a catalyst for the setting up of the new institutions. Their commitment is to the democratic institutions themeselves and not to the political organisation, or, as Murray Bookchin puts it, to "the SOCIAL forms, not the POLITICAL forms".
The establishment of democracy is bound to be a long process involving a huge popular movement. It is therefore necessary that the new political organisation will be founded on the broadest political base possible. To my mind, this means a broad spectrum of radical movements, involving social ecologists, supporters of the autonomy project, libertarian socialists, radical feminists, libertarian leftists and every other current that adopts the democratic project, i.e. the need to dismantle and not just to improve the present institutional framework, as civil societarians and others suggest.
I think that today, more than ever in the past, the choice we have to make is clear. It can be described simply as: "democracy or barbarism"? Democracy, however, does not mean the various oligarchic regimes that call themselves democratic today. It does not also mean an anachronistic return to the classical conception of democracy. Democracy today can only mean a synthesis of the two major historical traditions, namely, he classical democratic tradition (direct democracy), and the socialist tradition (economic democracy) with the radical version of the green movement expressed by confederal municipalism. In this sense, the development of a new broad radical democratic movement today would represent both the synthesis, as well as the transcedence, of the major social movements for change in this century. I think that the only realistic way out of the present multi-dimensional crisis is the creation of such a radical movement which, without any ideological preconceptions, will be committed to the arrest of the continuing -and lately accelerating- destruction of human life and natural resources and to the establishment of the realm of freedom.-