Friday, February 1, 2008

Democracy Matters

Editorial from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard


Recent months have seen power contested across the world. Brutal suppression of fledgling democratic demands in Burma were followed by blatant abuse of elections in Kenya.

At the same time the various factions of Russian capitalism have been brazenly playing out in public their private chess game: to control the state for their own economic ends.


Meanwhile in Pakistan, hope for "democracy" apparently dies with the assassination of an unelected political leader at the head of a feudal political dynasty. And while all this happens, in parts of the USA, voters get an early chance to pick the leader of the "free world". A choice, that is, between the $100 million presidential candidate and the $90 million candidate (with every likelihood of two dynasties being in power in USA for some 25 consecutive years).


Closer to home, in a "mature" democracy such as the UK's, all the major parties have been pimping up their policies for drooling millionaires to purchase by means of ever-more creative accountancy over donations.


In contrast to this shabby and sleazy reality of democracy in this society, workers are continually spun the convenient tale that democracy and capitalism are intertwined. It is a reassuring thought for some: that the obscene inequalities of the capitalist economic system are justified by the political freedoms the market supposedly enables.


But it's a myth, of course. Around the world the profit system can be found bedding down very nicely with all sorts of political systems. From fascistic religious dictatorships to liberal democracies, from national liberation movements to supra-economic geo-political blocs, they all end up having to accommodate themselves to capital and its unquenchable thirst for profit.


World socialists applaud those workers around the world who fight at massive risk to themselves for basic civil liberties and trade union rights, for the freedom to hold meetings and participate in free elections.


The fight for a measure of democracy world-wide is an essential part of the struggle for world socialism. After all, if workers are not able to fight for something as basic as the vote, they are unlikely to be able to work for the transformation of society from one based on production for profit to one based on production for human need.


The World Socialist Movement does not intend playing into the hands of the global ruling class and their political mouthpieces, whether dictatorial or democratic. We don't intend making it easy for them to treat world socialism as an "undemocratic" threat.


But neither are we under any illusion about the nature of democracy inside capitalism. We confront the myth that capitalism and democracy are interdependent. We oppose the practices of so many so-called revolutionary organisations down the years who expect to bring democracy to the masses while unwilling to practise it internally.


We challenge the notion that revolution cannot at the same time be democratic and planned, cannot be participative and structured.


Where it is available to workers we take the viewpoint that capitalist democracy can and should be used. But not in order to chase the ever diminishing returns of reforming capitalism. Instead we see democracy as a (indeed arguably the only) critically-importantinstrument available to class-conscious workers for making a genuine and democratic revolution.


And in the process of making a revolution the really interesting work can start of course: that of reinventing a democracy fit for society on a human scale. A democracy that is free from the patronage, the power games and the profit motive that currently, from Moscow to Rangoon, Nairobi to Washington, abuses it.