Friday, 25 April 2014

Thoughts on Representative democracy .

*Work in progress*

For Direct Democracy

  "Therefore, those who really want 'government of the people' in the sense that each can assert his or her own will, ideas and needs, must ensure that no-one, majority or minority, can rule over others; in other words, they must abolish government, meaning any coercive organisation, and replace it with the free organisation of those with common interests and aims"- Errico Malatesta.

  • Liberalism  spawns  Representative democracy.
  • Liberalism ties together the idea of the individualistic atomistic self , private property,  
  • Representative democracy is very very useful to the state and capitalism. It is the most mystifying form of government imaginable. It expresses and involves all of the liberal ideas anarchism seeks to debunk.
  • Reformism:  a politics which seeks to alter the oppression of existing society into liberation it seeks to make  capitalism into socialism for example 
  • Representative democracy only  made oppression easier to administer than under feudalism and opened the way to reformism.
  • Representative democracy  made reformism the official means of social change according to itself. Reformists not only end up supporting the existing order in the end but also the reformists use the thought of the capitalist system, they argue its ideas   and insofar as they do so,  both have aligned interests. Reformist keeps oppression intact. The Revolutionary is open to reforms but deeply hostile to reformism   
  • It increased the idea of distinction between private and public spheres.


"The cry for the “rights of man” is little more than the universal command to buy and sell"

"It is because representation excludes us instead of including us. In elections we choose someone to speak on our behalf, to take our place. We exclude ourselves. We create a separation between those who represent and those who are represented and we freeze it in time, giving it a duration, excluding ourselves as subjects until we have an opportunity to confirm the separation in the next elections. A world of politics is created, separate from the daily life of society, a world of politics populated by a distinct caste of politicians who speak their own language and have their own logic, the logic of power. It is not that they are absolutely separated from society and its antagonisms, for they have to worry about the next elections and opinion polls and organised pressure groups, but they see and hear only that which is translated into their world, their language, their logic. At the same time a parallel world is created, a theoretical, academic world which mirrors this separation between politics and society, the world of political science and political journalism which teaches us the peculiar language and logic of the politicians and helps us to see the world through their blind eyes."

"Representation is part of the general process of separation which is capitalism. It is completely wrong to think of representative government as a challenge to capitalist rule or even as a potential challenge to capital. Representative democracy is not opposed to capital: rather it is an extension of capital, it projects the principle of capitalist domination into our opposition to capital. Representation builds upon the atomisation of individuals (and the fetishisation of time and space) which capital imposes. Representation separates representatives from represented, leaders from led, and imposes hierarchical structures. The left always accuse the leaders, the representatives, of betrayal: but there is no betrayal, or rather betrayal is not the act of the leaders but built into the very process of representation"

"Representation always involves a distance between representatives and represented. In that sense, crisis is built in to the very nature of representation. But there is also a mechanism for resolving that crisis: in elections, the failure of representation is presented as the failure of one set of representatives. People vote for the other set of representatives and so the system is maintained."

"the essential function of really existing democracy within capitalism is principally an ideological one, to pacify or mobilize the masses to support the capitalist state itself and to foster the illusion of self-rule, the objective content which is to ensure the mass participation in their own subordination and exploitation. Real democratic demands can be met within limits but such limits could never be exceeded without democratic rights being immediately annulled through the use of “emergency” powers, anti-sedition or anti-terrorist laws. In other words, the limits of bourgeois democracy are strictly determined by the mode of production and balance of class forces. There will never be a referendum to eliminate exploitation. "

"Athenian democracy was the rule of a small percentage of the populous, never including more than 20% of the total, excluding slaves, freed slaves, women and foreign born. Later the definition was restricted to include only males of pure Athenian lineage, over 20 years of age, who had served in the military. Citizenship in ancient Athens was based on very specific identity of blood, geography, and state service. It was not, as the modern translation of dêmos would imply, derived from the universal rights of the sovereign individual. The common criticism of Greek democracy was of course its limited participation but the system that developed to insure the full participation of this identitarian minority was truly astounding and worth understanding. "

"It appears at every turn that the rich Athenians acted in exactly the same way as the rich today in manipulating democratic forms so that there would be little to no threat to the social structure and its division of wealth.But manipulation of the structure of democracy cannot explain why the lower two classes never threatened the social order of Athenian society in the age of direct democracy. Formally they had the rights and the power to do so. Arguments that the lower class Athenian citizens were essentially “bought-off” in much the same way that poor Southern whites were “bought-off” by the honor of “whiteness” are certainly useful in explaining the loyalty of the lowest class of thetes to the polis, but what such arguments cannot explain is why such inclusion/exclusion takes the democratic form. The privileging of one section of the population over another can appear in virtually any form of governance. The explanation for the appearance of the democratic form lies elsewhere, it is to be found in the emergence of two unique historic phenomena: the hopelite farmer/warrior whose identity was inseparable from his private property and silver coinage as This is the principle medium of exchange, i.e. specifically in the appearance of a new mode of production and distribution. not to assert a mechanistic causality between base and superstructure as in certain expression of orthodox Marxism, but to assert the materialist linkage between forms of social being and forms of consciousness. Many factors were involved in the formation of Greek social organization; it is our intention to highlight only two of them that seem fundamental for understanding both the origins of the democratic form and more importantly the limitations of that form."

"The very source of western political thought as well as the political as a separate sphere of social activity has its specific origins in the effort to counteract the centrifugal tendencies of private property with the centripetal force of political organizations based on conceptual abstractions, i.e. the universal and equal rights of the citizen. The evolution from timocracy to democracy occurred as Athenian society developed into a more commercial culture – money wealth rather than landed property-- had the effect of reinforcing the definition of each citizen as the separate and singular possessor of rights unified by the abstract definition of those rights. That is, irrespective of the actual ownership of property or the actual wealth of any, each had the right to own property potentially. Without this right, all property would be under threat. It is significant, even decisive, that in Solon’s reforms, he specifically forbid the ancient practice of placing ones self as collateral for a loan, a practice that had resulted in thousands of Athenian citizens falling into debt slavery; henceforth, only property could stand as collateral for loans. The citizen could never again be enslaved without first losing his political right to citizenship. At this moment the very essence of Athenian identity –landed property—is separated from the political sphere to the purely economic sphere and becomes universally commensurable, that is to say, commercially exchangeable, forever free to float through the social body in exactly the same way (form)--though decisively separated--as an autonomous and universal right. One can lose ones property but never the abstract right to own property. To use Sismondi’s metaphor, “commerce separated the shadow from the body, and introduced the possibility of owning them separately.”6Henceforth, the divided self will be defined as a citizen and “ divested of his real individual life and filled with an unreal universal.”7The individual will be identified as part of an abstract community quite independent of the organic (material) ground upon which real life depends. The political becomes an autonomous sphere of power while the economy does its work in the shadows. The foundation of democracy requires just such a separation allowing each individual to be the owner of an abstract right: the right to citizenship, the equal right to own property and equal right to vote. It is for this reason it would not be incorrect to place democracy at the very threshold of the original division between the state and civil society, a relationship which Marx compares heaven to earth."

"Although ancient Greek democracy was the first and perhaps the best example of direct democracy ever practiced, it was nevertheless limited both in its actuality and in its theory. It never reached beyond a highly restricted minority nor did it ever posit itself as a universal system of self-rule, that is to say, it never attained universality. Democracy had to wait another two thousand years before it remerged in its more abstract and universal form. We will argue that its universality is directly linked to the birth of capitalism and in particular with the evolution of labor as wage labor. However, modern democracy did not emerge as a mode of emancipation from the horrors of capitalist expansion but a political mode of first dominating labor and then absorbing labor into the machinery of production to satisfy the demands of capital. While the Greeks sought a positive community that was capable of overcoming the possessive individualism by willfully creating a political ethos, the modern world has driven the individual into isolation and existential despair while subsuming him into the totalizing structures of late capitalism. Modern democracy is less an ethos than a specific technology of power that weakens rather than strengthens, that entraps rather than liberates, that divides rather than unifies."

"The importance of labor will become evident if we look at Locke more closely. John Locke (1632-1704) is widely known, as the father of liberalism and some would say the modern conception of the self"

"A closer look at Locke’s theory however does not necessarily conclude that this labor is exclusively the labor of ones own body, it can also include setting to work the labor of others through the purchase of labor power in the form of wages, or under certain conditions, slavery itself. Locke was acutely aware of these relationships, so much so that he understood the new form of labor as the veritable definition of man. After once touring the Lancashire district in England he wrote, “the children of the laboring people are an ordinary burden to the parish and usually maintained in idleness so that their labor is also lost to the public till they are 12 or 14 years old.” He concluded that children should be put to work at the age of three with a belly full of bread supplemented in cold weather by “a little warm water-gruel.” Not surprisingly, Daniel Defoe, after touring the same district sometime later, reported that he was delighted to see four-year-olds working in the cotton industry and finding useful employment! Neither Defoe nor Locke saw children in these observations, but rather “idleness, burdens, and lost labor” or rather we should say quite simply, they could see only labor which is in their view the essence of the human subject. In Defoe’s Robinson Caruso, considered among the first modern novels, the protagonist carries civilization within himself, (in radical contrast to the Athenian subject) which is expressed through the proper organization of his own labors and the labor of others, therefore activating the highest calling of the sovereign subject and the very foundations of bourgeois society."

"Locke and his ilk were not only observers but also active participants in all of this. Their emerging democratic philosophies are direct expressions of the need for absolute security of private property, of accumulated capital and above all the need for free-labor. The sovereign subject who is the irrevocable owner of his own person (including his own labor) was NOT a step in the direction of freedom and liberty, but rather the philosophic weapon used to justify the confiscation of the common’s and native lands. Locke’s hands were soiled in this bloody story."

"The democratic premise is in fact based on the concept of the self as the “private property” of the self. Even among the more radical and egalitarian of the age, this axiomatic idea was foundational to the promotion of a more just society. Richard Overton, English Leveller and pamphleteer wrote “To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature, not to be invaded or usurped by any: for everyone as he is himself, so he hath a self property, else could not be himself.” Bourgeoisie theoreticians would of course tell us that these ideas emerged to protect the individual against the tyranny of the absolute power of kings and aristocrats, but what is rarely mentioned is that these same ideas were used to “protect” the individual against the tyranny of the commons! Locke himself supported the enclosures and justified the confiscation of native lands in America by claiming even the poorest English farmer is better off then the Native American due specifically to his rational deployment of labor, and of course it is the deployment of labor that is Locke’s justification of private property."

"Private property, free-labor and democratic ideologies are inseparable as they emerged together to reinforce one another, each replicating the other’s form. The new free worker possesses his own body and his own labor power, however he is unable to activate his sovereign body until he first alienates its power in return for a wage, much like the democratic subject who possesses a sovereign self and a sovereign right to which he must alienate in the form of a vote (in essence a contract that the subject agrees to abide by the majority decision) in order to secure his body’s continued sovereignty. "

"What we have tried to show up to this point is the intractable link between democratic ideology, private property, money and wage labor. Gradually man comes to be dominated by abstract universals through the dissolution of organic community bonds and the division of the self into the solitary concrete subject (body) on the one hand and the universal citizen or owner of abstract rights as well as the owner of labor power that can only be activated through the exchange on the other. But these tendencies do not come fully formed; capitalism begins the long process of radically reshaping social relationships in the sixteenth century but against tremendous resistance both from above and below."

"In the formal phase of capitalist domination—the era of the democratic revolutions and the capture of political power by the bourgeoisie—the principle task of the constitutional state was to liberate the economy from the plethora of archaic encumbrances, and reconfigure the bonds that hold society together through individual rights and constitutional law."

"  As Marx writes,
"The establishment of the political state and the dissolution of civil society into independent individuals—whose relations with one another depend on law, just as the relations of men into the system of estates and guilds depended on privilege—is accomplished by one and the same act. "

"This leads to Marx’s summary judgment that “The real content of “bourgeois” freedom is therefore at the same time the most complete suspension of all individual freedom, and the most complete subjugation of individuality. Bourgeois freedom has historically meant only one thing, the freedom of capital. "

"Speaking in 1831 at a parliamentary debate on extending suffrage, Prime Minister Charles Grey said, “The principle of my reform is to prevent the necessity of revolution… I am reforming to preserve not to overthrow.” The 1832 reform bill extended the franchise from 450,000 to 650,000 out of a population of 14,000,000. The story of progressive enfranchisement continued well into the 20th century until the integration of the working classes was so total as to pose virtually no obstacle to capital. It s principle function was to ensure that the resistance was always posited in a political form that presupposed the preeminence of an enforcing and legally binding state apparatus. "

"This is why, while for capital we live in a real democracy, this same democracy is for the majority—for the proletarians—a falsehood, since its content is not effectively democratic. Bourgeois democracy is simply the rule of capital over the proletariat under a democratic form, under the appearance of freedom."

"In the domestic sphere, liberalism is far more hegemonic. It is the basis of parliamentary democracy, politics conceived as a debating chamber, “a theatre in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk.” By contrast, libertarian communists argue that “our society is not a debating chamber, but a power struggle between different groups with competing interests.” "

"On the other hand, a successful election draws the people and the state together. This is necessary because during session the opposition between citizens and the government is plainly visible and reinforced: The government’s job is to restrict or negate the interests of its citizens in the general public interest. The pledge of allegiance to the state enacted by voting maintains and makes feasible the contradiction between compulsion and consent12 . Through the choice of the personnel of domination, domination itself does not appear as such but instead is recognised as a service provided to the voters"

"Democratic opposition directs critique to its decent content. That is, a content which is supportive of the state. It is an invitation to the voter to solve her problem with politics by replacing the politicians. The common anti-critical statement ‘if you do not vote you cannot complain’ expresses this demand for subordination rather clearly. According to this it is beyond consideration that the election itself might be subject to critique"

"For me there is no doubt that the worst of democracies is always preferable, if only from the educational point of view, than the best of dictatorships. Of course democracy, so-called government of the people, is a lie; but the lie always slightly binds the liar and limits the extent of his arbitrary power. Of course the 'sovereign people' is a clown of a sovereign, a slave with a papier-mache^ crown and sceptre"-Democracy and Anarchy - Errico Malatesta

Further Reading :-

Capitalist Democracy: The Illusion of Choice,

Power and Democracy,  John Holloway.

Towards a Critique of the Democratic Form (Draft) B. York
Beyond democracy - Roi Ferreiro

No comments:

Post a Comment