Democracy is now a dirty word. In a conversation with a sympathetic friend I talked about the need for democracy. He is steeped in the conspiracy counter-culture and immediately rejected the notion. Then after a while I spoke of grass roots democracy and he began to accept what I was getting at. Democracy is not a dirty word but what it has become is.
It is significant in the American conspiracy counter-culture that many people are pro-Republican. This is a position that has resulted from the backers of Alex Jones, Aaron Russo, Ron Paul and the like; they are Republican – Republican backers. What does this mean? It means they do not believe in the people even though they say they do. For me it is unclear what their strategy actually is, and when I tried to join their forums to find out my membership was not accepted – I don’t know why, but democratic forums do not have barriers – whatever kooks turn up. But having labelled these people as Republicans as far as I am aware does not exclude them from Occupy. Occupy welcome all who are against what Wall Street has done – Alex Jones claims he is against Wall Street why isn’t he there? He has come up with some obscure reason that this is a globalist movement and is connected with a One World government somehow. Well it is global movement of people because people make up the world. If you are putting your conspiracy theories before the actions of the people in the world you have been tricked by the same forces whose only threat is genuine democracy, Wall Street would not want him there.
In general the movement has been responsible for its previous lack of democratic response through its process of representation. Representation in government has been manipulated and taken over by the corporations. In the UK business supported Tony Blair but they do not support the Labour party. What did Tony Blair do? He took the UK to war, and now he is getting his rewards by milking his influence in the Quartet. What did the Labour movement gain during his office? When the British democratic system can so easily be appropriated by the corporatocracy it shows a fundamental flaw, and we all know where that flaw begins – in the electoral process itself. Every 5 years we vote for candidates, and after that vote they can do what they like for 5 years. These candidates are proposed by the parties who have their own internal mechanisms of control. Within the Labour party there used to be some form of grass roots action, but when it comes to nomination for posts even as lowly as town council the Labour Party ensured they got their own puppets on the podium (this was the case in the late 80s I have no reason to believe it has improved – I suspect it is worse). Within the hierachy of such parties there is no democracy, this is why I was under no illusion that when Obama came to power he was anything other than a puppet. But whilst Obama has only feathered his own nest his rhetoric has raised democratic expectations. I have no doubts at all that some of the fuel of the Occupy fire has been created by the frustration from the hope Obama inspired. Personally I think he learned from Tony Blair that it doesn’t matter how much you lie you can still stay in power. But even if his intentions were good US government through Obama has been shown to be non-responsive to the needs of the people. There is no point to recourse to the ballot box.
Let us examine the trade union movement itself. How does that work? People pay their dues and vote for representatives who act on their behalf. These representatives attend various hierarchical meetings and report back to the membership. Usually these representatives have their own activism agenda – whatever their persuasion, but in general they fulfil their role in reporting back to the membership. Representatives like me would complain that the membership are inactive and do not give support; the membership turn around and say “what are the union doing?” The only people who win in this “democratic” process are the management. I would always say that a union is only as strong as the activity of their membership but the reality is that this “democratic” process discouraged that activism because the activism was always focussed through the representative and did not usually swell up from the members. Despite the genuine desire of the members of the trade union including the representatives for democracy, the practice was not democratic because the members were not empowered. It is pointless for representatives to complain of apathy, as Chomsky would say in people not profits neoliberalism requires apathy and the trade union movement provides it. The trade union movement provides a controlled escape-valve for anti-corporatocratic sentiment, and this is why the corporatocracy encourages trade unions to come to the table – except of course my beta-blocked headteacher.
One of the rationales for trade unions is that one skilled trade union negotiator would be helpful in presenting necessarily hard policies to membership. This of course is true but predicated in this negotiated role is an assumption of parity. I can remember a number of times in which I presented unpalatable policies to members or lessened the worst aspects of ill treatment to a member, even though I knew the problem really lay with the beta-blocked headteacher or some other exploiting management. This trade union rationale assumes negotiation of equals and often appeals to the egos of the representatives. The truth is there has never been equality in this negotiated process. The power the trade unions had was in the ability to mobilise members into industrial action. Very rarely were representatives able to effect that mobilisation and management knew it. In my case despite my vehement efforts to do something about my headteacher I was only helping him. I needed to step back and tell him to meet the members, and the members needed to stand up and make their voices heard in person. In the end the headteacher forced me out of being the representative, and near the time I moved on they members had persuaded someone else to take the representative position. I don’t know what happened to her, I hope they helped her more than they helped me. As I have said those teachers needed to OCCUPY, not get a rep to sacrifice their career. The union itself didn’t care about me either they got their subs because members paid for legal protection, because I was active it probably helped the union get subs. In truth I was a threat to the union structure as well because I wanted the members to act, the union wanted subs and members regularly paying up, but not active. Democracy?
The Soviet Union is another example where representation frustrated democracy. Through the Bolshevik vanguard the proletarian movement attained some form of power despite the capitalist-funded whites. Once in power they formed a dictatorship required to fight off the imperialist forces – not unreasonable. I would previously then have said that this movement towards communism broke down because this dictatorship refused to let go of the power and as a result there developed an apathy amongst the proletariat because of the dictatorship. Apathy did not just rise because of the dictatorship, apathy arose because of the representational process. But left-wing observers do not usually make this observation because they themselves are elected representatives in the movement somewhere.
When you vote for a representative you can be giving away your power, and releasing that power is the end of democracy – it is as simple as that. Whatever activity is going on all people need to participate otherwise it is not democracy, as it stands all representation is doing is “killing dissent within movements, channeling movements and their bureaucratisaton” of those movements. When the representatives blame the members and the members blame the representatives there is no democracy. Despite its unwieldliness if the workers have a problem with the management they must all face the management, and the management must face the workers – not these negotiation meetings. When one man is exploiting a workforce of 20 they should face the anger of the 20, not the controlled anger of one member. Once management accepts the need for change, a representative might help but not until then. Without a demonstartion of power the representative is playing the game of the corporatocracy despite their intentions.
To return to democracy we need to change our structures. OCCUPY!!