Monday, 2 April 2012

What is democracy?

Many people think today we have democracy, we are allowed every 5 years maybe sooner in local council elections a vote on which capitalist party gets to attack us for the next period.

But as socialists we call this bourgeois democracy and when it comes down to it isn’t much of a democracy at all.

What Makes democracy?
SOCIALISTS FIGHT to defend and extend democratic rights that have been won by past struggles. Having the right to vote, to form trade unions and political parties, to hold meetings and demonstrate, which is banned in many countries, is a major advantage for our class. It allows workers to organise openly to improve conditions and struggle for a socialist society. Socialists and workers' organisations can gain influence by taking part in elections.

Democracy usually refers to the right to vote, a free press and free speech, among other rights. Many countries on their 'democratic' list are stretching the definition.
Russia, whose government elections suffer from ballot rigging and fraud, are included and countries like Turkey are breezily described as being "military-influenced". Nigeria is apparently defined as a presidential parliamentary democracy (transitional).
Corruption and undemocratic methods are rampant in all governments of the West.
Take the recent Tory party’s scandal with the cash for dinner’s disgrace where rich corporations and businessmen could buy a dinner with the Prime Minister for 250 thousand pounds for a bit of influence. So much for your vote making a difference any longer.

CAPITALIST DEMOCRACY has limitations. We may be allowed a vote every four or five years to have a say in which party is elected. But once elected, it is very difficult to bring governments to account.
Many voted for New Labour in the last decade but few agree with policies such as privatising air traffic control or introducing tuition fees. There is no democracy in how the economy is run, what our wages should be, how many jobs are created or what is produced. These decisions are made by the bosses who only give concessions to head off struggles.
What little 'democracy' we have is being eroded. Cameron and the con-dems are 'reforming' many democratic institutions which means we will have less rights

Some argue that a turn away from traditional politics is a positive process and that we need to look at new forms of protest and a new democracy with political parties being outdated.
Movements such as the occupy movement have turned to direct action as a way of achieving things with an implicit hostility to politics and political parties. Alternative movements are referred to as DIY politics, bypassing the political process by building self-help groups and taking part in direct action. What could be more democratic than being able to freely exchange ideas in a democratic occupation camp and on the internet?
Some argue for a looser form of organisation on an anarchist style of horizontal leaderships with consensus decision making these are often very small groups on the fringes of the labour movement.

But "small functional groups which ebb and flow" will never be able to challenge the rule of capitalism. Workers and oppressed have to be organised to build struggles and confront the highly organised forces of those who control society with the aim of achieving socialism. Many involved in these groups are concluding that global capitalism is the enemy and some are open to the idea of a socialist alternative.
A new mass party of the working class will have to be more democratic than the past experience of mass workers' organisations like the Labour Party and the trade unions. When the Labour Party swung to the left in the late 1970s and 1980s, reflecting working-class struggle, Militant supporters and others on the Left fought hard for democratic procedures. We cannot accept workers organisations being run in an undemocratic way and Socialist Party members are the strongest fighters for democratic change in the trade unions.
As well as arguing for democracy within the working-class organisations, we also have to be alert to the attacks on democracy from the ruling class. Our lives are dictated to by big business and the rich and they would attempt to dismantle democratic rights if these became an obstacle to their power.
To stand in elections requires money and publicity while the media is controlled by the rich. This does not mean that the working class cannot build support and win power. But to achieve socialism requires an independent working-class mass party, embracing Marxist ideas.
Only under a socialist society can there be true democracy. Where production and distribution are owned and controlled by all then people can genuinely participate in running society.

UNTIL THE Reform Act of 1867 only a wealthy minority of the population had the vote. If these owners of big business, the banks and land could have continued to exploit the masses that created their wealth, without allowing them any role in the political process, they would have done so.
The struggles of the working class forced the ruling class to make some democratic concessions but never enough to threaten their dominant position. Not until 1928 could all men and women over the age of 21 votes. This was won through the struggles of the Chartists, trade unionists, suffragists and suffragettes - directly through campaigning for the vote but also by the working class demonstrating their industrial strength.
These early campaigners fought for the right to vote as a means to change their appalling conditions. While the working class saw representative institutions such as parliament and local councils as a means to implement change, the ruling class attempted to use democracy as means to divert struggle into safe channels.
The implication is that there is no need for fundamental social and economic transformation - i.e. a revolution - when change can be implemented through the ballot box. Although many reforms including democratic rights have been implemented by Parliament, it has been struggles outside Parliament that has forced this change.
Once the masses had won the vote, the ruling class planned to make it as ineffective as possible. Their biggest fear was the working class building its own party. Walter Bagehot in his book "The English constitution" in 1872 said: "A political combination of the lower classes, as such and for their own objects is an evil of the first magnitude."

So while we may have some form of democracy today lets not be under any illusion it’s far from a democratic society we live in. Only by transforming society to a socialist based economy based on peoples needs first democratically decided at every step of the way when people have real decision making influence can we call society truly democratic in my opinion.

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