The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, Vol. 2, No. 2 (January 2006)


 

 

 

 

 

DIALOGUE ON DEMOCRACY

 

 

 

Democracy and the multiparty political system

 

TOM CRUMPACKER

 

 

Liberal and Socialist “Democracies” versus

Inclusive Democracy 

 

TAKIS FOTOPOULOS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Democracy and the multiparty political system

TOM CRUMPACKER*

 


ABSTRACTThe multiparty political system can destroy real democracy in the name of pluralism. Where electoral parties are not based on differing fundamental values, as in United States, they unnecessarily interfere in the direct relationship between the constituent and his supposed representative. They are conducive to class and special interest manipulation (especially with money) and therefore both cause and result from commercial oligarchy. Cubans learned this in the first part of the 20th century, and they also learned that their only hope of autonomy and nationhood is unity in their struggle for independence and self determination. They are not again going to submit voluntarily to outside commercial exploitation. Our impoverished political institutions are not what they need or desire.  

 

 

If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.
Thomas Jefferson, 1789


In May 2002 and again in October 2003, President Bush said he would consider ending the blockade of Cuba if the Cuban government would move toward democracy by conducting multiparty elections, among other political conditions he requires. Eight previous US presidents had said essentially the same thing. In May, 2004, his administration’s Commission on Cuba published its “Cuba: Transition to Democracy” report, which outlines its plan to change the Cuban political system by establishing multiple electoral parties there. 

They obviously mean United States type “democracy,” which is our mass media code word for relatively unlimited, unregulated capitalism. This administration is presently seeking to impose US style democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, and is beginning a campaign aimed at countries in the Third World toward implanting multiparty systems. This campaign evidently envisions possible military intervention to achieve its goal, since it said in April 2003 that the war in Iraq should be an example to Cuba.[1]

The
US destabilization campaign in Cuba did not begin recently. During the past two years the US Agency for International Development funnelled more than fifty million dollars to so-called nongovernmental organizations to promote the "transition to democracy" in Cuba.[2]  With this and untold sums through NED, CIA, Republican and Democratic Party Institutes and other agencies and organizations, the Bush Administration has been trying to overthrow the Cuban people's government, in a manner similar to what the Nixon Administration achieved in Chile in the early 1970s, also the many other regime changes accomplished by US in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World during the past 50 years. 

Historical Idea of Democracy

Unfortunately, one of the things we lack in this mass community of 280 million people we're trying to create is a common language for our political discourse. Those who speak to us through the mass media often change meanings of words to further their goals. Each person develops his own understanding of these words based on his learning, which often differs considerably from the understandings of others. Our common language deteriorates and the essential ingredient of community -- communication -- disappears, leaving us like those who lived in the Tower of Babel.

Since the word democracy derives from the Greek word "demos" meaning
"the people," it would seem that to have an intelligent connection to the past it must involve people participating somehow in the important societal decisions which affect their lives, such as "government by the people," anidea that the people can collectively manage their societies. Because in mass society each individual cannot meaningfully participate in decisions for the whole, it has come to mean decision-making by "representatives" (career politicians in the United States) who are said to decide and act on
behalf of the people. US political philosopher Cliff DuRand asserts that the core of the historical idea of democracy is “the possibility of collective decision-making about collective action for a common good.” He says this is the opposite of the concept found in US popular consciousness today which defines democracy as the freedom of individuals to decide on their own on actions to pursue their own purposes. (DuRand C. 1997: 1-3) 

As for personal freedom, in society it’s inextricably and dialectically linked to personal responsibility - two perspectives or ways of looking at the same coin. The existence of either is conditional on the existence of the other. Humanity's age old thirst for democracy derives from the truism that to the extent individuals participate through real representation in the important decisions which affect their lives, society's need for coercion diminishes. Such participation in power renders the decisions truly collective, the people accept and implement them as their own, producing both freedom and responsibility. In the US we have to keep over two million people incarcerated, more than double the number and percentage held in any other nation.

Electoral parties

The new US idea of the necessity of “multiparty elections” for other nations is an oligarchic myth. It leads people to believe they have choice in political decisions and thereby maintains the political status quo. Electoral parties are not mentioned in our constitution. In the early days of our republic they were frowned on. George Washington especially discouraged the idea because he feared parties would interfere with elected officials' ability to represent the common interest. Nor are parties referred to in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or any other international standard. Many nations do not allow electoral parties. In the place in US where real democracy occurs the local level most elections are non-partisan by law.

In the distant past, political parties were not only electoral, they were movements
of people with similar values who sought by grouping together to use the political system to bring about social change in line with their values. Value based electoral parties occurred in parliamentary political systems with proportional representation where voters could find participation through representation by voting their values such as the Conservative, Liberal, Labour, Christian Democrat, Social Democrat, Socialist, and Communist parties in western Europe.

US Idea of Party

Although there is no reason to believe that we fall into only two value groups, in the US we’ve had what we call the "two party" system. This arises from our constitution, laws and other historical factors. Single member districts, where only one party wins, are a strong incentive for only two broadly based electoral parties. The media barrier, ballot access laws, the Electoral College, gerrymandering, nomination by primaries, and many other factors specific to US mandate a situation where there can be only two parties which can have a realistic chance of electing national candidates. These "majors," which have low levels of internal unity and lack adherence to an ideology or set of goals, are concerned primarily with winning elections and controlling the patronage of government. The candidates have their own programs, raise their own money, use their own campaign workers, and develop their own issues and policies. Little time or attention is given to party platforms, and the decreasing percentage of voters who are party members have no reason to vote for party rather than candidate. 

Value based electoral parties are groups of people who have essential values in common who seek by elections to change and create institutions which are based on and promote their values. They organize themselves, determine their own processes for membership, collective decision-making, platforms, candidates, and collective electoral action. In the US these matters are determined not by people or their parties but by statutes. A value based electoral party would never permit its only opposition party to participate in the nomination of its candidates, as authorized by our statutes allowing crossover primary voting and instant, changeable registration. Nor would groups or entities invest their time and money in both parties’ candidates in elections which appear to be close, as do US businesses.   

The birth and growth of alternative US value based parties is prohibited by winner take all elections, ballot access laws and numerous other requirements engrained in our state and federal laws over the past century, lack of funding (no business or even union or interest group will contribute to a party having no ability to elect candidates), and primarily by keeping them out of the public debate and discussion by a Catch 22. Editorial decisions in our mass media, which exists for the profit of its owners, are based on what interests the public and therefore sells the products advertised, whereas the public is not interested in or aware of alternative or value parties or their programs because they are not informed of them by the media.   

Today our two statutory majors are essentially accounting firms and patronage distributors, also party leaders and chairmen under their rules get procedural advantages in Congress: for instance under present rules they get to determine when and what matters are debated and voted on. But they offer no real choice regarding basic values, approaches, theory, policy or ideology, particularly with regard to structural change in our political economy. Because our media emphasizes their differences, in order to see this clearly one needs to adopt a broad, international-comparative perspective and look at the actual votes made rather than the rhetoric. Our national and state candidates are elected on the basis of their financial backing (which provides them media access), incumbency, celebrity, perceived personal characteristics and issues unrelated to party values. They and our mass media are funded primarily by the same increasingly centralized business enterprises. They must think and talk within the ever narrowing "mainstream" to gain media attention and become serious candidates.

US Political System

We call our present political system "interest based politics." If a person wants to help bring about change as an activist, he must work through an interest group on a specific issue predetermined by the system, such as gun control, abortion rights, health care, environment, to name a few. He can also provide his vote, money and support to broadly based communities based on business, worker, or other professional status, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity or national origin. Our laws long ago denoted our preferred business enterprise form as the "corporation," which is a legal device to allow individuals and groups to accumulate capital without personal responsibility. Initially it was conceived of as a public institution, but it became private. Our courts then defined these devices "persons.” Those who control them (officers, directors, managers) compete with real persons in seeking to influence political decisions.

The purpose of a political system is to permit an appropriate degree of social change within an appropriate degree of stability. One outcome of choosing special interest over value based politics is that progressive change in and within the system becomes impossible. People’s values are ignored while their special interest or status becomes the focal point. Another significant outcome is the disconnection (absence of accountability) between constituents and their so-called representatives. In this situation participation in elections becomes of questionable value. Structural political development slows and eventually halts while economic development becomes more rapid, benefiting the few at the expense of the many.

We seek to justify our political system by calling it "pluralist." In this type of system, where advertising and other use of the mass media is crucial, capital accumulation produces political power, and political power produces capital formation, benefiting those who control economic production and their institutions. The people’s role diminishes and eventually disappears. Issue and interest groups and status communities compete against each other for limited public funds and beneficial governmental treatment such as tax breaks or affirmative action or other "equal rights." The outcome depends to a great deal on who funds the political campaigns and the mass media. Meanwhile the continuous competition between interest-status groups emphasizes our differences and produces a politics of dissension rather than community.

Although capitalism has historically related to the common good in both progressive and regressive ways, an essential dynamic of late capitalism has become that those who have much get more and become fewer, whereas those who have little get less and become more numerous. It’s normally through politics and political systems that people protect themselves from capital’s regressive, ravaging aspects, by limitation and regulation. For instance in the distant past, people were able to come together politically through common values and act collectively to form alternative power bases, such as movements, interest groups, unions, parties, nations, to protect themselves to a certain extent. This does not happen in systems where power derives from capital rather than people. In recent years in First World political systems we see the increasing dominance of capital power and a disintegration of people power. This plays out to a greater extent in the Third World, preventing even the formation of viable nations. 

Our government was originally structured so that it would not interfere with our private pursuits. This turned our nation away from collective action toward a culture of individualism, where pursuit of self interest by individuals is thought to maximize the common good. Other than extending the vote to the property less, racial minorities and women, the main change which has occurred in our two centuries as a republic-empire has been the centralization of the public funding and political power at the national level, a product of the economies of big business and the needs of capital, especially as regards the expansion of our commercial interests abroad. Contrary to the original concept of federalism, the important societal decisions which affect our lives are now made on Wall Street and in Washington D.C., not coincidentally the places where terrorists struck on September 11, 2001.

US Congress 

The US House of Representatives is supposedly our democratic legislative body with elections every two years -- originally intended to ensure that our 435 representatives would be responsive to the common interest of their constituents. Their public media-driven campaigns of self-promotion have become incredibly expensive and lengthy, if not continuous. Our dominant  ideology - that society is best guided by the “invisible hand” while each individual seeks to maximize his self interest – in late capitalism becomes the standard for all professions, including our politicians. Because the primary factors involved in their decision-making are personal (obtaining and retaining their offices, which bring them power and wealth), the American people have discovered that they are in reality representing primarily the powerful private interests which fund them and that voting for major party candidates does not remedy the situation. In the last House elections (2004), over 90 per cent of the seats were uncontested or not seriously contested and overall less than one half of those eligible voted, producing another landslide for incumbents. The major parties had in the state legislatures in previous years gerrymandered the US congressional districts to make most of the seats virtual lifetime appointments, thereby promoting responsiveness to private rather than public interests.

Our national representatives have become experts in retaining their seats by avoiding discussion of fundamental issues and votes on the few controversial issues which lobbyists and interest groups present. As a result the former never enter the public mind, which is informed by our mass media, and the latter never get finally decided and we don't move on. What and when issues are brought up for decision, and how these are framed and debated, are matters determined by a very few powerful men called "party leaders," who act as agents of the president if of the same party. This encourages executive interference in the legislative process. We keep getting the same issues re-argued year after year on the margin with no final decision, like tax code change, campaign finance, abortion rights, gun control, social security, health coverage, to name a few. We often find that members have voted both ways on various aspects of these complex matters so that we can't determine where they stand. On domestic issues our Congress has become essentially unresponsive and therefore dysfunctional, which happens to serve the needs of the interests which fund it.

In international matters, most of our national representatives apparently believe that appealing to our baser instincts, such as fear, hatred and an irrational "us vs. them" attitude, keeps them in office. In the 42 years since President Eisenhower warned that the greatest danger we face is our own military-industrial complex, they have funded with our tax dollars the greatest military-industrial-intelligence-weaponry-war-coercion apparatus ever known to man, which is used to help our businesses make profits in foreign countries even where it involves exploiting people and their resources, empowering oppressors, changing regimes and destroying international efforts at peacekeeping and development. Their narrow "our nation only" perspective benefits their sponsors and ignores the obvious facts that it's not in our interest to have our family members stationed, injured and killed in faraway places, or to be attacked by suicidal terrorists at home, or to give up our privacy and liberties for security, and that we have a common interest as members of our world community which they are destroying. 

Like our military, our large businesses are run hierarchically for the sake of efficiency. The only legal responsibility of those who control them is to increase shareholder value, which they do by investing in property, equipment, materials, labor, advertising and other businesses which increase profit.  Although not yet incorporated, our national politicians have themselves become commercial businesses. Large companies, especially those operating transnationally, cannot successfully compete without investing heavily in state and national politicians. The profit from their political investing comes in the form of favorable legislation (such as the recent law prohibiting Americans from buying medicines from Canadian pharmacies at cheaper prices), more often in decreasing corporate tax and other “burdens” and in preventing people from protecting themselves by education, infrastructure, safety, health and environmental regulation. Most importantly, big business profits by preserving our present political institutions which it dominates. People based non-profit groups and unions, no matter how large, can no longer create alternative power bases because they are not in the business of making money – their income derives from dues and donations from real people, which is miniscule compared to corporate capital.  

The present reality is that our Congress has ceded its legislative responsibilities to the executive, whose primary constitutional function was to enforce the laws rather than enact them. With no alternative people based parties posing the threat of change, the executive veto has not been used in recent years because it has become superfluous. Nothing outside the mainstream is debated in Congress and nothing significant becomes law unless proposed or desired by the executive. The important national decisions like the Iraq war are made in private by our power elite (business-corporate, military and political), who then use the media and the politicians - selected rather than elected - to obtain public acquiescence in the decisions. 

The liberal multiparty system, which poses as democracy but in fact is the system of oligarchy and empire, is sometimes referred to as the “end of history” for political development. This is clearly true for the US national version, where structural political progress has become impossible. The culture of individualism has separated us from each other, binding us together not by our values but by enmeshing us in a net of commercial relations. Our mass consumer society has become an overpowering depoliticizing force.

Idea of the Vanguard Party 

Political systems develop differently in different nations, depending on factors such as history, size, population, culture, geography, natural resources, wealth, class, power, foreign domination, liberation and popular choice. There's no reason to suppose that a system developed in a huge, expanding, commercial empire is appropriate for a small, adjacent island nation seeking to enter the world market while retaining its autonomy. Nor is there reason to believe that definitions of rights in one nation are valid for another.

For Cubans, the last century was a long struggle for independence and national dignity. They experienced the multiparty system under US tutelage during the first part of the century, when Cuba was a virtual US plantation -- by the 1950s over 75% of the economic production property was owned or otherwise controlled by US and other foreign businesses and the majority of Cubans were very poor, illiterate, and had no access to education, healthcare or other benefits of civilization. They have learned from bitter experience that their autonomy and welfare depend entirely on their national unity, whereas political division makes them vulnerable to manipulation and economic domination by US businesses and their former rulers who now live in US as part of its Cuban-American community. They have therefore forged a political system that preserves their sovereignty and autonomy, with institutions that seek real democracy by participatory consensus rather than class domination.

Jose Marti, father of Cuba's independence movement, lived in New York City for several years in the late 19th century, where he learned about the US version of democracy. Seeing and understanding the inherent tendency of the system toward empire and oligarchy, he argued that Cuba's hope for self-determination required one unified party to withstand economic domination from the "giant in seven league boots."[3] The political institutions Cubans have developed over the last 45 years derive from Marti's thought and what has worked for them in pursuing their long delayed nation-building project.  

Social movements originally arise from people with similar values who group together for power. They grow and acquire political power when they build alliances with other groups by linking their members’ interests to broader, more universal values. Following the 1956 insurrection, the 26th of July movement first allied with peasants in the Sierra Maestra, then with small farmers and other groups in eastern and central Cuba, then with the unions, then the working class, then urban leagues, students and teachers’ federations, professional and other groups. In the 1960s through 1980s there was a diminishment of the previous class structure of Cuban society and growing of equality among people. While most of the ownership class stayed to participate in the revolution as equals, many left to live in capitalist countries. As the revolution became institutionalized it was under universal values of equality, social justice, socialist democracy and national autonomy, which were becoming the goals of the new nation. Cubans call this process cubania (“Cuban-ness”), which started in the late 19th century.

The Cuban idea of party (which still uses the old name PCC, Communist Party of Cuba, adopted in the 1965 formal alliance with unions) has lost its shallow US meaning as an electorally competing vehicle for classes and special interests. It has acquired instead a deeper meaning in which the values are moral as well as material, are realized collectively as well as individually, and progressive development (human as well as economic) is seen as depending on the extent of individual commitment to the societal goals established democratically. (Guevara, E. 1968: 1-20)   

Electoral parties are not involved in Cuban politics. PCC, whose decisions are debated and made openly and democratically by delegates chosen democratically, does not participate directly in the election of public officials. It's not similar or analogous to our idea of party, which is electoral. Rather, it's an inclusive, value based, institutionalized social movement, which periodically conducts national discussions and debates about goals, directions and changes in political and economic institutions. The Cuban revolution led by PCC derives its authority from the Cuban Constitution, which was and is established by the Cuban people democratically. PCC is an organization of activists (about 14% of Cuban adults are members) which has the constitutional mandate to organize and orient the revolution, promote social consciousness, and bring about in practice the long-term socialist and democratic goals of the whole nation as established in the constitution. (Constitucion: Art. 5-7) This constitution was developed locally in the early 1970s, approved in 1976 by more than 97 per cent of eligible voters, amended significantly in 1992 by more than two-thirds of an elected National Assembly as required, and made irrevocable by a vote of more than eight million (more than 93 per cent of the adult population) in June 2002.

Although collective action by representation implies otherwise, increasing work specialization world-wide has resulted in a situation where only a small percentage of the people in each nation spend a substantial amount of their time and effort on political matters. Most people, say around 90 per cent, are willing to let the "experts" (the political class) make the societal decisions for them. Most of the involved ten per cent or so are also doing it for career or compensation reasons. In US such activists work through special interest or status groups and associate electorally with the two-pronged "Republocrat" Party. Cubans do not believe that progress toward true democracy can be made in such manner. In the 1992 revision of the Cuban Constitution, the PCC became the movement-vanguard party of the whole nation rather than a working class party. Cuban activists work through the PCC. 

As capitalist society has developed, in most areas of human endeavour the division of labor has become more pronounced because it makes sense to turn over decision-making to experts who by talent, effort, training and experience are better fitted to deal with the complexities involved and distinguish progress from regress. We therefore rely on professionals and specialists such as scientists, physicians, lawyers, engineers, for decision-making in their fields. Few have the time or ability to become experts in several fields, much less many. Cubans agree completely with this and practice it; however they regard politics as an exception to the rule. In their view politics is that particular area of human endeavour which involves creating and changing societal rules in all areas (including the political), limited only by the concept of the common good. Therefore one who claims to be an expert in politics is a fraud, because no one can have expertise in all areas. Such a person is simply advancing his limited individual or group perspective, whereas the nation needs to consider all honest perspectives in order to reach the broadest possible consensus. It follows that in order for the system to work, there can be no “political class,” rather everyone who is able needs to participate, not only by true representation in government, but eventually by activism (becoming a true revolutionary).    

The Cuban Constitution conceives of the vanguard party as made up of those political activists who have sufficient commitment - Cubans call it conciencia - to the goals of their revolution to devote substantial time and effort to the task of constructing true socialism and democracy. These two concepts are thought of as being essentially the same, in the sense that one cannot exist without the other. Socialism as the collective ownership-control of large scale production can be looked at as a condition of true democracy, and democracy as the process where people have real participation can be looked at as a condition of true socialism. This type of the two sided political-economy coin, viewable from two perspectives, is called socialist democracy. Their hope and vision for their future is that most adults will eventually become party members, having or acquiring the conciencia to devote themselves to the cause and make the personal sacrifices required. At that time the nation will be approaching its constitutionally envisioned goal of a socialist democracy.

People Power

The authority of the Cuban revolution, government, is looked on as the place where problems are solved, not something to be feared or limited. The public interest is conceived broadly, and the "private-public" distinction is blurred compared to nations which promote private interests rather than the common good. Those who don't want to participate in the revolution don't have to, are not penalized in any way, and are free to leave. But under present circumstances, the Cuban revolution, in order to continue, must be defended from outside interference in the form of isolation, blockade, economic war, terrorist attacks and possible military invasion. Hence their concept "Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing." Party members at party meetings express themselves freely, so long as their ideas are within or promote the revolutionary goals. (Roman, P. 1999: 74-99) All Cubans can and do express themselves with complete freedom within or without the goals of the revolution. But using foreign money or other foreign help to destroy the revolution is proscribed. When most citizens are making personal sacrifice to try to articulate the expressed collective will, they sometimes do not look kindly on the few who seek to undo their work, which unfortunately is often mistaken by foreigners as governmental intrusion on personal rights.

Since the "rectification" period of the 1980s, the Cuban political system has been developing towards decentralization of power, encouraging more participation - called “people power.” The jurisdiction of local OPP’s (Organs of People's Power) is much broader than our local councils. They deal with issues such as planning, budgets, construction, housing, health, education, environment, elections, social services, economic enterprise, and almost all matters of public concern except national defence. Because of their broad authority they have substantial participation, not only by local PCC’s and other organizations but also individual advocacy. At all levels, the "nongovernmental" organizations, many of which are encouraged by the government, are significant participants in decision-making (Roman P. 1999: 155-258), especially the neighborhood associations (in which most adults are active. All local and provincial elections are contested, usually there are several candidates.  

The Cuban National Assembly deals with legislative and constitutional matters, has 609 members who serve for five years. Up to 50 per cent are chosen from previously elected provincial and municipal delegates (elected locally for 2˝ year terms) and the rest are chosen by national candidate commissions (from which PCC is excluded) in a process which takes many months and involves consultations with and decisions by the major organizations representing millions of people, such as the trade unions, the women's federation, the small farmers unions, the student and teacher federations, and professional, health care and other associations. The idea is to obtain a slate of national representatives who are a "mirror of the nation." To be elected, a candidate must receive at least 50 per cent of the vote. (August, A. 2000:102-114)

There is no campaigning in Cuba, the candidates do not promote themselves and money is not a factor in their election or decision making. Their biographies, including photos, education, work experience and other matters are posted conspicuously throughout their permanent, unchanging residential districts for months before the elections and details are supplied on request by the election commissions. Most of them have previously been elected by constituents who know them personally or by reputation as to truly represent the common interest. They must have frequent meetings with constituents (called "accountability sessions") and they are subject to recall at all times. (Roman P. 1999: 105-154) Where expert information is necessary, it is supplied by special commission or workers’ parliaments rather than lobbyists, and proposed legislation (such as the recent imposition of an income tax on some) is voted on, up or down, in order of presentation. In the elections held January 2003 over 93 per cent of eligible Cubans voted valid ballots, electing a National Assembly which truly represents their common interest, without the intervention of electoral parties.

In the Cuban view, freedom is the participation in power by the people rather than people trying to carve out limits on the exercise of power by oligarchs. This may seem strange to those of us who live in a large, segregated, class-structured, commercial empire operating by competition and conflict. But it makes sense in a small nation which can function by cooperation and consensus because of relative integration and equality among people and a strong sense of community based on good education of all and public control of  mass media. Rather than the end of history, such approach might point political thinking in a new direction, toward the idea of selective decentralization of economic and political units into smaller, more cohesive communities where real representative democracy could function. This, after all, is what was intended by those who originally designed our government as a federal system.

Dependent development 

Democracy as the possibility of the people making collective decisions for their common good is something that cannot be taught or imposed from the outside. The enormous popularity of the Cuban revolution in the face of outside interference and economic isolation suggests that the vanguard movement with a non-partisan people power electoral system may be the best way to ensure that economic development in the Third World will benefit all the people more or less equally, rather than exacerbating class, power and other social differences. It promotes social justice, national cohesion and local cooperation rather than class stratification and dissension.  

Small island nations do not exist in a vacuum, rather they depend economically on what happens elsewhere. Where poverty, health, housing, illiteracy, class and outside interference are the major problems, pursuit of only self interest minimizes rather than maximizes the common good, especially where foreign owned enterprises acquire not only the major benefit of economic production but also control over the domestic politics. In such situation, collectivism over individualism can sometimes be the intelligent choice for the people, so long as it involves true participation or representation. In a society such as Cuba’s where the large scale economic production property is part of the common wealth (not just state-owned but more and more in medium and small cooperatives) the people naturally become more involved and concerned with their common interest because it, rather than individual accumulation, is what serves their self interest.

Overall, the dependent, neo-liberal capitalist road to development has not been a resounding success for most people in the Third World (also for many in the so-called developed nations). In the 43 years since the Alliance for Progress, many Latin Americans have been wondering when the progress will come. In Cuba the people are making their own progress, and will continue to if allowed to without outside interference.  

The multiparty political system can destroy real democracy in the name of pluralism. Where electoral parties are not based on differing fundamental values, they unnecessarily interfere in the direct relationship between the constituent and his supposed representative. They are conducive to class and special interest manipulation (especially with money) and therefore both cause and result from commercial oligarchy. Cubans learned this in the first part of the 20th century. They are not again going to submit voluntarily to outside commercial exploitation. Our impoverished political institutions are not what they need or desire. 

  

References:

 


 * Many of these ideas were inspired by discussions with my political philosopher friends, Cliff DuRand of Morgan State University and Miguel Limia, Talia Fung, Jesus Garcia, Carmen Gomez and Elsie Plain of the University of Havana


[1] Hans Hartell, US Ambassador to Dominican Republic, as reported in AP dispatch, April 10, 2003.
[2] See USAID/CUBA PROGRAM, March 2002 update, “International Development on Program to Promote Cuban Transition to Democracy.” Some of this money went through the US Interest Section in Havana resulting in the April 2003 convictions of the Cubans who took it.
[3] John M. Kirk, Jose Marti, Mentor of the Cuban Nation (U. of Florida Press, 1980), p. 38

 

 


Liberal and Socialist “Democracies”

versus Inclusive Democracy 

TAKIS FOTOPOULOS

 

 

ABSTRACT:   The transnational elite (and the leading power in it, USA) abuses and distorts the word ‘democracy’ for its aim to stabilise the New World Order (NWO), which through its main institutions, the internationalised market economy and representative ‘democracy’ secures the huge and growing concentration of political and economic power at the hands of a few elites, all over the world. The aim of this paper is to show that both multi-party liberal democracy which is supported by the NWO, as well as socialist single-party democracy supported by the few remaining socialist countries like Cuba, are forms of representative and statist democracy, which take for granted the separation of society from state and the economy and as such can not be the basis for an Inclusive Democracy aiming to integrate society with economy and polity as well as with Nature.

 

 

Tom Crumpacker’s (T.C.) paper “Democracy and the multiparty political system”[1] raises certain  important issues on the meaning of democracy, politics, political parties and representation, not only with respect to Cuba, which is his main reference, but also with respect to liberal and socialist democracy in general. It would therefore be worthwhile to examine these issues again and attempt to show that, although T.C.’s critique of capitalist ‘democracy’ is valid, the alternative socialist democracy which he supports does not, also, meet the requirements of a true democracy, despite the fact that it is a superior system than the capitalist system in meeting the basic needs of all people rather than those of some privileged classes.  

1. Freedom, democracy and politics

The starting point in an examination of the concepts of democracy and politics is the crucial concept of freedom which underlies them. In contrast to the ‘negative’ conception of freedom adopted by liberals, which refers to the absence of restraint, that is, the freedom for the individual to do whatever s/he wants to do (‘freedom from’), both socialists and supporters of the Inclusive Democracy (ID) project adopt a ‘positive’ conception of freedom, which refers to the freedom ‘to do things’, to engage in self-development or participate in the government of one’s society (‘freedom to’). Furthermore, the Inclusive Democracy project takes a further step in concretizing the ‘positive’ meaning of freedom by defining it in terms of individual and collective autonomy.[2]

The universalisation of the capitalist market system in the New World Order and of the liberal representative ‘democracy’, the political complement of the market economy, has inevitably led to a corresponding universalisation of the negative conception of freedom. This development became unavoidable by the dismantling of actually existing socialism in East Europe and the corresponding collapse of statism, as well as of socialism as an ideology and political practice that relied on a positive conception of freedom. So, the negative conception of freedom is today adopted, directly or indirectly, not only by liberals, neoliberals and the like but also by the presently dominant reformist Left (ex social democrats who today moved towards various forms of social-liberalism, post Marxists, post-modernists and the like) and even most anarchists, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world.

However, as I attempted to shοw elsewhere[3] there is no intrinsic relationship between the positive concept of freedom and the ‘statist’ form of democracy, i.e. the form of democracy in which the state is separated from society and is supposed to express, through a process of representation, the general will. In fact, a statist form of democracy is incompatible with any concept of freedom, positive or negative, given its fundamental incompatibility with both self-determination and (individual and collective) autonomy. And yet, both the liberal and the socialist forms of democracy have always been statist, namely, they presupposed a society separate from the state. Furthermore, in both the liberal and socialist forms of democracy, society has always been separate from the economy: in the former case, the capitalist minority, which owns and/or controls (through the market system) the means of production, takes all important decisions about allocation of resources in a scarcity economy whereas, in the latter case, the socialist minority of the vanguard party, which controls (through the planning system)  the means of production, takes all corresponding allocation decisions.

The separation of society from the state implies that democracy can only be a representative one, i.e. people do not take directly, through face-to-face assemblies, all important decisions affecting their lives but, instead, have to elect, every four or five years, ‘representatives’, who are supposed to express the voters’ own will. It matters therefore little, as far as the democratic expression of people’s will is concerned,  whether these representatives are elected by voters whose voting behaviour is conditioned by a capitalist system characterised by an unequal distribution of economic (and, consequently, political) power, the capitalist-controlled mass media and a multi-party system, or whether it is conditioned instead by a socialist system, characterised by an unequal distribution of political (and, consequently, economic) power, the party-controlled mass media and a single-party system. In both cases, it is minorities which concentrate at their hands political and economic power, excluding the vast majority of the population from any effective decision-making on crucial matters affecting their own lives.  

Having said this, it would be a serious error to put in the same bag the capitalist and the socialist type of ‘democracy’ (or, even worse, to put in a better light the former against the latter, as Chomsky[4] does) and forget the fundamental differences between the two types of statist democracy, the capitalist and the socialist one. The capitalist market system cannot secure the satisfaction even of the basic needs of all citizens. As long as the allocation of scarce resources is left to the market, this means that even basic needs like food, housing, health and education, can be covered in a satisfactory way only by people who have enough purchasing power to meet these needs. Given however the inequality in the distribution of income and wealth that is a built-in element of any capitalist market economy an inequality which grows bigger the fewer the social controls on markets, as it is the case in liberal and neoliberal economies— people in the upper social classes can more than meet their needs (basic and non-basic), whereas people in the lower social classes struggle to survive and meet even their basic needs. On the other hand, a socialist planned economy not only can secure a much smaller degree of inequity at the same level of development as a capitalist market economy as even orthodox economic research has shown[5] but it can also prioritise  the basic needs of its citizens and shift as many resources as possible to sectors meeting these needs. This could explain the ‘paradox’ that Cuba, a country at a much level of development than advanced capitalist countries like the USA, meets much better the basic needs of its citizens than them![6]

Similarly, it can be shown that when social democracy was at its height during the statist period of modernity (from the end of  the second world war and up to the mid ‘70s or so) social controls on the market economy could also secure a very high level of employment, a better distribution of income, a significant improvement of health, education and welfare services etc. However, as I showed elsewhere[7], this type of statism within the market economy was a historical aberration, the outcome of an exceptional balance of power at the international as well as the domestic level in advanced capitalist countries, due to the vast expansion of the socialist camp following the end of the Second World War, and also due to a parallel and similarly huge expansion of the traditional working class (which could be explained by a series of technological and economic reasons) and of the unions and political parties supported by it. Therefore, the present dominance of neoliberal globalisation which characterises the present phase of modernity does not represent just a change in policy, or  the betrayal of social democratic parties, as the reformist Left argues, but a systemic change due to a radical transformation of both the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ conditions shaping the outcome of the social struggle[8].       

2. Representative versus direct democracy

After this brief introduction, let us consider in more detail the liberal, the socialist and the ID conceptions of democracy and politics, highlighting the fundamental differences between them. As I mentioned above, the main characteristic of both liberal and socialist type of ‘democracy’, which differentiated it from both the classical definition of democracy as well as the concept of Inclusive Democracy, is that both liberal and socialist democracies are forms of representative ‘democracy’.

The idea of representation entered the political lexicon during the sixteenth century, although the sovereignty of Parliament was not established until the seventeenth century. In the same way that the king had 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 has 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. As it was observed:[9]

this was a turning point in continental European ideas since, before this, the political representative had been viewed in the continent as a delegate. According to the new theory promulgated by the French revolutionaries ... the elected representative is viewed as an independent maker of national laws and policies, not as an agent for his constituents or for sectional interests.

One may go further and say that the form of liberal ‘democracy’ that has dominated the West in the last two centuries or so is not even a representative ‘democracy’ but a representative government, that is a government of the people by their representatives. Thus, as Bhikhu Parekh[10] points out:

Representatives were to be elected by the people, but once elected they were to remain free to manage public affairs as they saw fit. This highly effective way of insulating the government against the full impact of universal franchise lies at the heart of liberal democracy. Strictly speaking liberal democracy is not representative democracy but representative government.

Still, liberal philosophers not only took for granted the separation of the state apparatus from society but 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, as Hannah Arendt[11]  stressed, in any kind of representative ‘democracy’, (both of the liberal or socialist type), the age-old distinction between ruler and ruled asserts itself again once more. This is because:
 

the people are not admitted to the public realm, once more the business of government becomes the privilege of the few.... the result is that the people must either sink into lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty, or preserve the spirit of resistance to whatever government they have elected, since the only power they retain is the ‘reserve power of revolution’.”

Liberal ‘democracy’

The liberal conception of democracy is based on the negative conception of freedom and a corresponding conception of human rights. From these definitions, and a world-view which sees human nature as atomistic and human beings as rational agents whose existence and interests are ontologically prior to society, a number of principles follows about the constitution of society: political egalitarianism; freedom of citizens —as competitors— to realise their capabilities at the economic level; separation of the private realm of freedom from the public realm. Clearly, the above liberal principles about the constitution of society imply a form of democracy where the state is separate from the economy and the market.

It is therefore not surprising that none of the founders of classical liberalism was an advocate of democracy, in the sense of direct democracy, let alone inclusive 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. So, liberal representative ‘democracy’ can be seen not  as a bridge between state and society, as supporters of political liberalism assert, but as a form of statist democracy, whose main aim is the exclusion of the vast majority of the population from political power. The emergence of liberal representative democracy in the last quarter of the 18th century when the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the US constitution, literally invented representative ‘democracy’ an idea without any historical precedent in the ancient world— is indicative of this aim. Up to that time, democracy has had the classical Athenian meaning of the sovereignty of demos, in the sense of the direct exercise of power by all citizens although, of course, the Athenian democracy was partial, given the narrow definition of citizenship it adopted which excluded the majority of the population (women, slaves, emigrants). The Founding Fathers considered as completely unacceptable this direct exercise of power, ostensibly, because it was supposed to institutionalise the power of the ‘mob’ and the tyranny of the majority. In fact, however, their real aim was the dilution of popular power, so that the claims of representative ‘democracy’ about equal distribution of political power could be made compatible with the dynamic of the market economy, which was already leading to a concentration of economic power in the hands of an economic elite.[12]

It should also be noted here that the introduction of representative ‘democracy’ had nothing to do with the size of the population. The Founding Fathers’ argument, as Wood[13] points out, ‘was not that representation is necessary in a large republic, but, on the contrary, that a large republic  is desirable so that representation is unavoidable’. Therefore, the Federalist conception of representation, and particularly that of Hamilton, was intended to act as a filter, i.e. as the very antithesis of isegoria, which means equality of speech a necessary requirement of classical democracy— as against  the representative ‘democracy’’s freedom of speech. This way, democracy ceased to be the exercise of political power and was identified instead with the resignation from it and the associated transfer of this power, through the elections, to a political elite.

Therefore, the more or less simultaneous institutionalisation of the system of the market economy and representative ‘democracy’, during the Industrial Revolution in the West, introduced the fundamental element of modernity: the formal separation of society from the economy and the state that has been ever since the basis of modernity. Not only were people unable, as direct producers,  to control the product of their work but they were, also, incapable, as citizens, to directly exercise political power. In other words, the market economy and representative democracy had in fact institutionalised the unequal distribution of political and economic power among citizens. Furthermore, it could be shown that the gradual extension of the right to citizeship to the vast majority of the population a process that was completed only in the tewntieth centurydid not offset the effective loss of the meaning of citizenship, in terms of the exercise of power. Thus, the type of citizenship introduced by representative democracy was a passive citizenship which had nothing to do with the active citizenship of classical democracy. It was therefore not surprising  that the extension of civil rights did not have any marked effect in reducing the concentration of political and economic power which has always characterised modern society, apart from a temporary effect on economic inequality during the statist phase of modernity, as we shall see next.

At the ideological level, political liberalism emphasised the value of individual liberty and the rights of the individual against the state, whereas economic liberalism emphasised the value of a self-regulating market and consequently of laissez-faire and free trade. However, one should not confuse liberalism, or, neoliberalism today, with laissez-faire. It was the state itself that created the system of self-regulating markets and, furthermore, some form of state intervention has always been necessary for the smooth functioning of the market economy system. Unlike the fashionable recent theories of supporters of ‘radical democracy’, which like to separate political from economic liberalism in order to support the former unconditionally and at the same time keep some distance from the latter, as I attempted to show elsewhere,[14] the fact that political and economic liberalism have always been inseparable is not a historical accident. The marketization of the economy, i.e. the long-term trend of lifting any effective social controls on the market for the protection of labour and the environment  was based on the ideal of a ‘free’ (from state controls and restrictions) individual.

Socialist ‘democracy’

The starting point in the socialist conception of democracy is a critique of the liberal conception of democracy. The critique is based on the fact that the liberal conception takes for granted the separation of the political from the economic realm and therefore,  in effect,  protects and legitimises the huge inequalities to which the market economy inevitably leads. In other words, the liberal democracy, even if it is supposed to secure an equal distribution of political power (which it certainly does not since it inevitably leads to the creation of a political elite of professional politicians who run the State) it still bypasses the crucial issue of distribution of economic power. The question therefore arises of economic democracy, i.e. of an institutional arrangement which would secure, for every citizen, an equal say in economic decision-making.

The answer traditionally given to this question by socialists can be classified, broadly speaking, in terms of the social democratic and the Marxist-Leninist 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, the social-democratic conception of democracy has been abandoned by social-democratic parties all over the world which have dropped the ‘economic democracy’ element of their conception of democracy. As a result, the social-democratic conception of democracy is now virtually indistinguishable from the liberal one, and rightly could be called ‘social-liberalism’.

Setting therefore aside the traditional social-democratic conception, let us examine the Marxist-Leninist conception. My argument is that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, this conception 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, that is, 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, for Marx: [15]

Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformatio of the one into another. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

Also, according to Lenin,[16]  “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’.” He then goes on to stress that the state (and democracy) will wither away only when “people have become so accustomed to observing the fundamental rules of social intercourse and when their labour becomes so productive that they will voluntarily work according to their ability ... there will then be no need for society to regulate the quantity of products to be received by each; each will take freely according to his needs[17].... from the moment all members of society, or even only the vast majority have learned to administer the state themselves ... the need for government of any kind begins to disappear altogether ... for when all have learned to administer and actually do independently administer social production, independently keep accounts and exercise control over the idlers, etc.... the necessity of observing the simple fundamental rules of human intercourse will very soon become a habit”.[18]

It is therefore obvious that in this worldview, 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 former, 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 proletariat; in the latter, 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! Thus, at the economic level, scarcity and the 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, even if basic needs may be assumed finite and independent of time and place, the same cannot 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 of post-scarcity is in fact a mythical state of affairs, (if needs and scarcity are defined objectively) and reference to it could simply be used (and has been used) to justify the indefinite maintenance of state power and power relations and structures. It is therefore obvious that, within the problematique of the democracy project, the link between post-scarcity 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 and the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom should be de-linked from the economic process. Still, from Aristotle, through Locke and Marx, to Arendt, the distinction between the ‘realm of necessity’ (where nature belongs) and the ‘realm of freedom’ has always been considered to be fundamental. However, although this distinction may be useful as a conceptual tool in classifying human activities, there is no reason why the two realms must be seen as mutually exclusive in social reality. 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. 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 can be achieved, makes it at least doubtful that such a stage could ever be reached without serious repercussions to the environment —unless, of course, ‘material abundance’ is defined democratically (and not ‘objectively’) 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.

On the basis of this problematique, the socialist democracy in Cuba described by T.C., first, cannot qualify as political democracy since it is clearly both a statist and representative kind of ‘democracy’. As such, it  can hardly be classified as democracy for the reasons mentioned above. Irrespective of the decisive role in the political process played by the president and the communist party, the very fact that all political institutions are representative and that the elites controlling the state machine inevitably concentrate at their hands all effective political power is clearly incompatible with a real democracy. Second, it cannot qualify as an economic democracy, since it is based on a centrally planned economy with elements of a market economy and-- as we have seen above-- neither the former nor the latter could secure the integration of economy to society. This is because it is political elites, as well as the newly emerging economic elites, which take all important economic decisions rather than the citizens’ and producers’ assemblies, as in an inclusive democracy. However, although Cuba cannot qualify as a genuine democracy one should not ignore that there are significant democratic elements in its political structure, as, for instance, the element of recallability that is recognised by some Cubanese institutions (e.g. the elected National Assembly may recall judges at any time), or the recognition that politics is not an activity for the ‘experts’ or the professional politicians but for the ordinary citizen. Last, but not least, there is no question that the average citizen of Cuba enjoys a much better standard of living and conditions of work than the average citizen of Latin America, as it becomes evident by any comparison of the relative security of employment and the ‘social wage’ (the boosting of real income in terms of social services) of the former with respect to the latter. This, despite the US’s elite bestial embargo against the island for decades! 

However, we could perhaps form a better idea of the true meaning of democracy if we examined its requirements —our next task.

The requirements of an Inclusive Democracy

Democracy should be seen as irreconcilable with any form of inequity in the distribution of power, that is, with any concentration of power, political, social or economic. Consequently, democracy is incompatible with commodity and property relations, which inevitably lead to concentration of power. Similarly, it is incompatible with hierarchical structures implying domination, either institutionalised (e.g., domination of women by men), or "objective" (e.g., domination of the South by the North in the framework of the market division of labour), and the implied notion of dominating the natural world. Finally, democracy is fundamentally incompatible with any closed system of beliefs, dogmas, or ideas. So, democracy has nothing to do with the present dominant liberal conception of it, nor with the various conceptions of the ideal society which are grounded on religion, spiritualism, or irrational beliefs and dogmas.

The conception of inclusive democracy that forms the core of the proposed new liberatory project, is a new conception, which, using as a starting point the classical definition of democracy, expands its scope to other areas where collective decision-taking is possible. It is derived from a synthesis of two major historical traditions, the classical democratic and the socialist, although it also encompasses radical green, feminist, and liberation movements in the South. Within the problematique of the inclusive democracy project, it is assumed that the world, at the beginning of the new millennium, faces a multi-dimensional crisis (economic, ecological, social, cultural and political) which is caused by the concentration of power in the hands of various elites, as a result of the establishment, in the last few centuries, of the system of market economy, representative democracy and the related forms of hierarchical structure. In this sense, an inclusive democracy, which involves the equal distribution of power at all levels, is seen not as a utopia (in the negative sense of the word) but as perhaps the only way out of the present crisis.

A fruitful, perhaps, way to begin the discussion on this new conception of democracy may be to distinguish between the two main societal realms, the public and the private, to which we may add an "ecological realm”.

The public realm, contrary to the practice of many supporters of the democratic project (Arendt, Castoriadis, Bookchin et al), is assumed here to include not just the political realm, but also any area of human activity where decisions can be taken collectively and democratically. So, the public realm includes:

To my mind, the extension of the traditional public realm to include, apart from the political realm, the economic, ecological  and ‘social’ realms is an indispensable element of an inclusive democracy. We may therefore distinguish between four main types of democracy that constitute the fundamental elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic, ecological and ‘democracy in the social realm’. Political, economic and democracy in the social realm may be defined, briefly, as the institutional framework that aims at the equal distribution of political, economic and social power respectively, in other words, as the  system which aims at  the effective elimination of the domination of human being over human being. Correspondingly, we may define ecological democracy as the institutional framework that aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the type of social organisation which aims to reintegrate  society and nature.

In the political realm 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. So, political democracy is founded on the equal sharing of political power among all citizens, the self-instituting of society. This means that the following conditions have to be satisfied for a society to be characterised as a political democracy:

The basic unit of decision making in an inclusive democracy is the demotic assembly, i.e. the assembly of demos,  the citizen body in a given geographical area that delegates power to demotic courts, demotic militias, etcetera. However, apart from the decisions to be taken at the local level, there are a lot of important decisions to be taken at the regional or confederal level, as well as at the workplace. So, an inclusive democracy today can only take the form of a confederal democracy that is based on a network of administrative councils, whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies in the various demoi. Such demoi, geographically, may encompass a town and the surrounding villages, or even neighbourhoods of large cities. The members of the confederal councils are strictly mandated, recallable, and responsible to the assemblies that choose them for the purpose of co-ordinating and administering the policies formulated by the assemblies themselves. Their function is thus purely administrative and practical, not a policy-making one, like the function of representatives in representative ‘democracy’.[20] As regards the decisions which have to be taken at the places of work, the proposed scheme envisages a system of demotic and workplace assemblies in which people as citizens and workers respectively take part. Finally, delegates from the demotic assemblies take part in regional assemblies and the confederal assembly.

The first issue that arises with respect to a confederal democracy is whether, given the size of modern societies, direct democracy is feasible today. A related issue is how the regional and confederal councils can be prevented from developing into new power structures that will start ‘representing’ demotic assemblies. As regards the question of feasibility in general, as Mogens Herman Hansen[21] points out, summarising the results of recent research on the topic, “modern technology has made a return to direct democracy quite feasible-whether desirable or not is another matter”. Also, as regards the related issue of how the degeneration of confederal councils into new power structures may be avoided, modern  technology can, again, play a significant role. An electronic network could connect the demotic assemblies at the regional or confederal level, forming a huge “assembly’s assembly”. This way, confining the members of the regional or confederal councils to purely administrative duties of co-ordination and execution of the policies adopted by demotic assemblies is made even easier. Furthermore, at the institutional level, various safety valves may be introduced into the system that will secure the effective functioning of democracy. However, in the last instance, it is paedeia that may effectively condition democratic practice.

As far as economic democracy is concerned, the definition of economic democracy has to imply the abolition of economic power relations. Thus, if we define political democracy as the authority of the people (demos) in the political sphere —which implies the existence of political equality in the sense of equal distribution of political power— then economic democracy is the authority of demos in the economic sphere —which implies the existence of economic equality in the sense of equal distribution of economic power. And, of course, we are talking about the demos and not the state, because the existence of a state means the separation of the citizen body from the political and economic process. Economic democracy therefore relates to a social system which institutionalises the integration of society and the economy and may be defined as an economic structure and a process which, through direct citizen participation in the economic decision-taking and decision-implementing process, secures an equal distribution of economic power among citizens. This means that, ultimately, the demos controls the economic process, within an institutional framework of demotic ownership of the means of production.

On the basis of the above definition of economic democracy, the following conditions have to be satisfied for a society to be characterised as an economic democracy:

As I have described in some detail elsewhere[22] how an economic democracy could be envisaged, there is no need to expand on this further here. I would only mention, briefly, that the main characteristic of the proposed model, which also differentiates it from socialist planning models, is that it explicitly presupposes a stateless, moneyless and marketless economy that precludes private accumulation of wealth and the institutionalisation of privileges for some sections of society, without having to rely on a mythical post-scarcity state of abundance, or having to sacrifice freedom of choice. It is based on demotic self-reliance, demotic ownership of productive resources, and a confederal allocation of resources with the twofold aim of:

However, political and economic power are not the only forms of power and therefore political and economic democracy do not, by themselves, secure an inclusive democracy. In other words, an inclusive democracy is inconceivable unless it extends to the broader social realm to embrace the workplace, the household, the educational institution and indeed any economic or cultural institution which constitutes an element of this realm. Finally, as far as ecological democracy is concerned, a democratic ecological problematique cannot go beyond the institutional preconditions which offer the best hope for a better human relationship to Nature. However, there are strong grounds to believe that the relationship between an inclusive democracy and Nature would be much more harmonious than could ever be in a market economy, or in socialist statism, since both take for granted the aim of unlimited economic growth which, since the Enlightenment, has been identified with Progress. Furthermore, as I attempted to show elsewhere[23], all the other components of an inclusive democracy (political, economic and social) imply a completely different, environment-friendly, relationship between Society and Nature from the one so far achieved  in modernity.

3. Statecraft versus Politics and the New World Order

The present abuse and distortion of the meaning of democracy has been inevitably accompanied by a corresponding distortion of the meaning of politics, which today has been reduced to mean ‘the art of the feasible’

something which in practice means, particularly in the New World Order, statecraft, i.e. ‘the art of conducting affairs of the state’. Thus, the separation of society from the state and the economy has converted politics and the running of the economy into an 'art' and a 'science', respectively, where 'experts' (professional politicians, capitalists, economists, etc.) play a crucial role in decision making. In contrast, a basic principle on which the Athenian democracy (where there was no separation of society from the state) was founded was that in politics there is no science but only the citizens' opinion. Therefore, the original meaning of Politics, which was associated with the classical definition of democracy, had very little to do, if anything, with the above definition of politics.

Thus, in every statist form of ‘democracy’, either of the liberal multi-party type, or of the socialist single-party (avant-garde party) type, politics, almost inevitably takes the form of statecraft.

In a liberal multi-party system, as T.C. rightly points out, political parties represent primarily special interests. This is the case not only in the present NWO in which all parties have to adopt the political agenda of neoliberal globalisation imposed on them by the institutional framework of open and liberalised markets but also in previous phases of modernity in which parties used to represent political movements expressing differentiated sets of values. Thus, conservative parties expressed primarily the interests of the upper social classes, whereas Labour or Social Democratic parties  expressed, also, (although never exclusively), the interests of the working classes. So, no political party in a multi-party liberal ‘democracy’ could qualify to represent the general interest. Thus, in previous forms of modernity, a party had to express the class interests of its supporters as long as they were compatible with the existing institutional framework of the market economy. Similarly, in the present NWO, it has to express the even more special interests of specific parts of capital which sponsor the parties’ hugely expensive electoral campaigns and promote their programs, through the controlled by the elites mass media. In both cases, therefore, as political parties have to take for granted the socio-economic system of the capitalist market system, they can never challenge the institutional framework itself but only the policies adopted each time for its better functioning. So, in both cases, politics takes the form of statecraft, even though the scope of  statecraft was much wider in previous forms of modernity than at present, since, at that time, an incoming new government could radically change economic policies, in accordance with the class interests of its supporters. On the other hand, today, an incoming new government does not have even this option—something that has led to the present deep political crisis in advanced capitalist countries.

Also, in a single-party socialist ‘democracy’, although the vanguard party may express the general interest (though not always  and particularly so in the case of an elite with vested economic interests which has taken control of the party, as is the case with the Chinese Communist Party today), still, politics also takes inevitably the form of statecraft. This is because any collective challenge by citizens of the decisions taken by the party (which in practice usually means the Central Committee, or just the Politburo, if not the party leader alone!)  is virtually impossible, since no real collective discussion outside the party (sometimes not even within the party!) --with a real power to reverse basic party decisions-- is possible.  

So, as I mentioned above, the issue of a multi-party vs. a single party organisation is not the crucial one with respect to democracy. The crucial issues which determine, the undemocratic or otherwise, character of a political system are, first, representation vs. direct democracy and, second, the statist vs. the non-statist character of it. In this problematique, a direct democracy does not have to be a multi-party system, nor a single-party system for that matter. A direct democracy of the ID kind should in fact be a non-party democracy, given the risk of parties exercising an undue influence on citizens’ assemblies, as well as the risk of parties developing formal, or even informal, hierarchical structures within their own ranks. Still, if people power is organised on the basis of demotic assemblies, peripheral assemblies and confederal assemblies, as well as assemblies at the place of work, education etc, the question remains: should the existence of various political organisations be allowed, which would function outside the formal democratic institutions and allow citizens to meet similar-minded people on various issues, so that they could discuss and formulate a common stand in the official debates of these democratic bodies? I think the answer to this question should be positive provided however that such organisations would not be of the kind of political parties we have today, which reproduce present society’s hierarchical and competitive structures. Needless to add that their aims should be compatible with those of an Inclusive Democracy, namely, they should not aim to restore a representative pseudo-democracy, or an authoritarian regime of any kind, or finally a regime based on a religious or any other kind of irrationalism. In other words, the only aim of such political organisations should be to deliberate and propose to citizens’ assemblies various ways in which the basic and non-basic needs of the people should be covered, or alternative ways of organising an Inclusive democracy with the same aim.

So, by defining freedom in terms of autonomy as in the first section, it is possible to see democracy  not just as a structure institutionalising the equal sharing of power, but, also, as a process of social self-institution, in the context of which Politics constitutes an expression of both collective and individual autonomy. Thus, Politics:

In this sense, the aim of politics is not, as at present, the manipulation of the electorate and `statecraft', through think-tanks and scores of technocrats formulating policies which, after being adopted by presidents, prime ministers and their inner circles, and following their rubber stamping by their majority parties in national assemblies, Parliaments etc, become state policies. Instead, Politics becomes the autonomous activity of autonomous individuals in managing their own affairs, or, as Castoriadis[25] put it, the activity which permits the explicit, reflective, and deliberate self-institution and self-governance of a collectivity.

What is hopeful for the future is that, today, few doubt that what passes as politics and democracy is in deep trouble. A ‘crisis of politics’, as an integral part of the present multi-dimensional crisis, has developed in the present neoliberal modernity, which undermines the very foundations of representative ‘democracy’. This crisis is expressed by several symptoms which, frequently, take the form of an implicit or explicit questioning of fundamental political institutions (parties, electoral contests, etc.). Such symptoms are:

Several factors at work could explain the growing crisis in traditional politics but the main ones refer to two principal elements of the present neoliberal modernity:

First, the old ideological differences between the Left and the Right have disappeared. Elections have become beauty contests between "charismatic" leaders and the party machines backing them, which fight each other to attract the attention of the electorate, in order to implement policies constituting variations of the same theme: maximisation of the freedom of market forces at the expense of both the welfare state (which is steadily undermined) and the state's commitment to full employment (which is irrevocably abandoned). In fact, today's electoral contests are decided by the ‘contented electoral majority’[26], whereas the `underclass', which was created by neoliberalism and automation, mostly does not take part in such contests

Second, the crisis is exacerbated by the growing concentration of political and economic power in neoliberal modernity, as a result of the dynamics of representative ‘democracy’ and the market economy respectively.

In conclusion, the fact that in today’s ‘democracy’ people have no power at all to reverse the economic policies imposed by neoliberal globalisation, which put the  survival of very many at risk for the benefit of very few who control the world economy through the market system and, also, the fact that they feel utterly unable to stop the criminal wars of the transnational elite, as well as the ongoing catastrophic destruction of the environment, make most people in the North totally frustrated and lead them to a growing apathy and to privacy. At the same time, many people in the South, who feel even more strongly than people in the North the direct impact of the huge concentration of power at the hands of various elites in the name of ‘democracy’, are prepared to sacrifice even their own lives in  desperate acts of resistance. It is therefore clear that as long as the present institutional framework of the internationalised market economy and representative ‘democracy’ reproduces itself, thanks to the systematic efforts of the local and international elites which mainly benefit from them and the apathy of most of the rest, the present multidimensional crisis (political, economic, ecological and social) will grow deeper by the day.

It is also more evident than ever that the only way to stop this disastrous process is the development of a huge world-wide movement  which, starting from below at the local level, will fight with the double aim, first, to build the alternative institutions of Inclusive Democracy that will replace the present  catastrophic system and, second, to wipe out the local and international elites which concentrate political and economic power in their hands at the expense of most of the people in the world.

 


[1] In this issue 

[2] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, (London/N.Y: Chassell/Continuum, 1997), pp. 177-180 

[3] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, ch. 5  

[4] As Chomsky put it, celebrating the collapse of ‘state socialism’ on the grounds that this system was characterised by lack of control  over production by producers and a similar lack of elementary freedoms that had been won elsewhere,  “the collapse of state socialism should have been welcomed by the Left as an important victory, which eliminated barriers to authentic socialism”, see his interview in Democracy & Nature, vol. 5, no 1 (March 1999), p.22 

[5] The degree of inequality in the distribution of income was lower in the countries under `actually existing socialism’, than in Western countries at the same level of development,  see e.g. Michael Ellman, Socialist Planning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 267-68. 

[6] An indication of this fact is that Cuba has a much higher commitment to health and education than the USA, as it is shown by the fact that it has  a lower mortality rate than the USA (Table 10) and that the Cubanese government spends on education almost three times as much as the US state out of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Table 11). All this, despite the fact that USA ranks 4th, as far as its per capita income is concerned, in the list of 177 countries included in the UN statistics, whereas Cuba ranks 92nd! UN, Human Development Report 2005. 

[7] See Takis Fotopoulos, The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, chs. 2 and 6. 

[8] Ibid. chs 3-4 

[9] Anthony H. Birch, The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy, (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 58. 

[10] Bhikhu Parekh, “The Cultural Particularity of Liberal Democracy”, p. 165 in Prospects for Democracy, ed. by  D.  Held,  (Cambridge: Polity, 1993) 

[11] Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (London: Penguin, 1990), pp. 237-38. 

[12] E.M. Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp.   214-15 

[13] Wood, Ibid., p.216 

[14] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 199-206 

[15] Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1937), p. 25. 

[16] V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1917), pp. 31-32. 

[17] V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, p. 165. 

[18] V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, pp. 174-75. 

[19] Mogens Herman Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991) p. 308. 

[20] Murray Bookchin has described a similar scheme which however is based on communities and does not involve a proper economic democracy since it assumes away the problem of scarcity, see “The Meaning of Confederalism” , Society and Nature, vol 1, no 3 (1993) 

[21] Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the age of Demosthenes, p. 1. The references quoted by Hansen on the feasibility of direct democracy today include: F.C. Arterton, Teledemocracy (Washington, D.C. 1987), I. McLean, Democracy and New Technology (Cambridge, 1989) 

[22] see Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch. 6 and The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, Ch. 14.

[23] Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch. 5 and The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, Ch. 15

[24] Cynthia Farrar, referring to the thought of the sophist philosopher Protagoras. See her article, “Ancient Greek Political Theory as a Response to Democracy” in Democracy, the Unfinished Journey, 508 BC to AD 1993, ed by John Dunn, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 24. 

[25] Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 76 

[26] J.K. Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993).

cing: -.1pt"> [24] Cynthia Farrar, referring to the thought of the sophist philosopher Protagoras. See her article, “Ancient Greek Political Theory as a Response to Democracy” in Democracy, the Unfinished Journey, 508 BC to AD 1993, ed by John Dunn, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 24. 

[25] Cornelius Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 76 

[26] J.K. Galbraith, The Culture of Contentment (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993).