Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts

Friday, August 22, 2014

Protect the Vote! Use it Wisely!

Why haven't we had a socialist revolution? How much longer can capitalism last? How bad must conditions get before workers take action? There has been no revolution, but rather the working class, while angry, has been mired by confusion, uncertainty and despair.

Socialism is not a predestined inevitable development. Socialism is not an automatic affair, workers as a class must play an active role in the socialist revolution. Capitalism will not vanish. It will remain until it is overthrown. And capitalism can be overthrown only as the result of class conscious mass struggle.

Promoting class conciousness, however, is no easy matter. Workers are bombarded daily in the media with capitalist propaganda. Politicians and economists obscure the capitalist roots of economic crisis and falsely predict a “recovery” after a painful period of "adjustment." And some union leaders tell workers that they need to make concessions to their exploiters instead of fighting back. Worse still, many on the Left confuse workers by talking of  reforms or by raising false hopes that workers can force the political state to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty. Such notions can only help convince workers that they have a future under capitalism and that capitalism is, at this late date, somehow capable of being reformed. In truth, ending the effects of capitalism requires ending their cause -- the capitalist system.

The sad fact is that workers -- those who vote and those who don't -- still buy into the notion that capitalism can somehow solve the problems and miseries it creates and confronts them with. This misunderstanding is no accident. That misconception is nurtured deliberately by capitalism's politicians, and by assorted capitalist agencies of miseducation and misinformation -- the media, the schools, the universities, the churches, the ever-present reformers and more -- all of which are dominated by pro-capitalist interests. Those interests and their political lackeys are primarily concerned with the preservation of their system -- the source of their wealth and their positions of privilege -- at the continued expense of the useful producers of the nation. They will not and do not hesitate to mouth any promise or resort to any act they think will serve their purpose, no matter how hypocritical or ruthless. The hope for a sane and decent society can never be realised within the confines of the capitalist system. Private ownership of the means of life, coupled with the exploitation of wage labour, make it impossible. Furthermore, the system cannot be reformed, regardless of how moral or how ethical reformers may be. Capitalism is beyond that. Its very nature militates against such efforts.

It is important that workers come to recognise that there is an alternative to capitalism. For the sooner the working class realises that the misery imposed by capitalism need not be endured, the sooner will workers turn to socialism. Workers need to form a mass socialist party to challenge and defeat the political state for the purpose of dismantling it. That will clear the way for the workers' organisation on the economic field to administer the classless socialist society by ousting the capitalist class from the seat of its economic power and by taking, holding and operating the economy in the peoples’ interests. It is inconceivable that socialism would win at the ballot box by a number so small that the outcome would be in doubt. Indeed, even if the formality of vote counting was dispensed with completely at such a juncture, the social atmosphere would be charged with the electricity of impending change that the will of the people could not be concealed.

Capitalism can be counted on to produce economic crises in abundance. However, economic crisis is not a sufficient condition of revolution. Even if the economy should utterly collapse, the result would not necessarily be socialism. For in the absence of revolutionary working-class organisation, the ruling class would readily impose its own totalitarian alternative. There is much evidence that the capitalist class lives in fear of widespread social unrest and is at work to either contain or to defuse it and channel it off into harmless dead ends. We are in a race with time. We will either succeed or fail in our mission to penetrate the consciousness of the working class before all avenues for peaceful change are closed off.  Many are aware that the avenues for achieving peaceful change in our democracy are being closed at a frightening rate of speed. The ballot is more and more reserved to the major parties, financed by capitalist funding, the mass media are essentially sealed off from organisations like the Socialist Party. If the ballot cannot be brazenly taken from the workers, laws may well be passed to accomplish the same thing by a back door.

 If indeed we lose the race -- if all means for peaceful change are eventually closed -- socialists will not abandon our efforts and the struggle will continue but the alternative is not a pleasant one to contemplate. Accordingly, we work hard to get our message across now, knowing that if we fail the chances for a nonviolent and peaceful transition to socialism will diminish and possibly disappear. We live in a world of increasing chaos and violence, as the conflicts now raging in the Middle East attests. We aim for a world in which cooperation and peace will be combined with prosperity and freedom for all. The longer it takes to wake up the working class to accomplish the change in a nonviolent way, the longer the working class suffers ruling-class violent oppression, the more difficult it will be to achieve our hopes and aspirations for a new world worth having. Where the ballot is silenced, the bullet must speak.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Nasty Nationalism

Myanmar's Muslim minority, demonised and persecuted for decades, is facing a fresh wave of violence amid media silence. Rohingya Muslims  number 1.3 million out of the country's 60 million people.

 The Oxford-educated, daughter of a General,  Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi,  characterises the waves of organised violence and  hate campaigns currently being committed by her fellow Buddhists - monks and non-monks alike - as violence of two equal sides, claims that Burmese Buddhists live in the perceived fear of the rise of great Muslim power worldwide.

The Rohingya and other Muslims make up more than 90 percent of the victims of violence, which has displaced more than 140,000 in Rakhine State. Anti-Muslim violence spread to 11 different towns elsewhere in the country, resulting in 100 Muslim deaths, displacing 12,000 Muslims, and destroying 1,300 Muslim homes and 37 Mosques. Since the 1990s, Rohingya Muslims of northern Arakan state have been confined within a web of security grids where they are subject to extreme restrictions of movement, preventing them from accessing adequate healthcare, education and jobs. Summary executions, rape, extortions, forced labour and other human rights atrocities, mostly at the hands of state security forces, are rampant. Restrictions on marriages and births have resulted in over 60,000 Rohingya children who are not registered or recognised by the Burmese government, in violation of the Rights of Child, hence depriving them of access to basic schooling. In a country that has one of the highest adult literacy rates in Asia, a staggering 80 percent of Rohingya adults are illiterate. The doctor-patient ratio among the Rohingya Muslims is 1 to 75,000 and 1 to 83,000 in the two major ancestral pockets of the Rohingya respectively, as compared with the national average of 1 to 375.

 Human Rights Watch has called it "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity." Suu Kyi's denial and silence on the racially-motivated violence against a Muslim minority, that only makes up about 4 percent of the total population, has led to a growing chorus of international criticism.

The Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims are confronted with threats to their very existence. They pose no existential threat to the Buddhist way of life, national security or sovereignty.Governments such as the US and the UK have chosen, out of their own strategic needs and commercial pursuits, to embrace the military leadership that has tacitly backed the Islamophobic perpetrators and hate-preachers.

 From here

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Socialist Party case for democracy

People talk incessantly about “The System”. “The System is bad”, “The System must be changed”. “Vote for me, because I am going to change The System”. What system, exactly?

The original theory of democracy envisaged popular participation in the running of affairs, what is called "participatory democracy". This is the sort of democracy the Socialist Party of Great Britain favour but we know the most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power— a minimalist form of democracy that at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians. This  form of politics is an effective antidote to bureaucratism, radical in the sense that it is not simply concentrating on the issue of democracy but upon the whole concept of leadership. Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguards and leaders. Nothing is more repugnant to socialism than clever strategisms and conspiratorial tactics. Socialism is not possible without socialists.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Marx and Engels on the power of the vote

It's often pointed out that our political system is completely corrupted by money yet history teaches that people's influence on their governments is much more powerful than we usually imagine. It's weakened primarily by people's failure to do anything and the mistaken belief that we don't have the power to shape the world as we wish it to be.

Marx and Engels strongly supported political action in the sense of participating in elections. They stressed the importance of the vote. Engels explains that universal suffrage "in an England two-thirds of whose inhabitants are industrial proletarians means the exclusive political rule of the working class with all the revolutionary changes in social conditions which are inseparable from it." Marx argued along the same lines, for example, in 1855, he stated that "universal suffrage . . . implies the assumption of political power as means of satisfying [the workers'] social means" and, in Britain, "revolution is the direct content of universal suffrage."

In 1852 Marx wrote, concerning the Chartists:

“But universal suffrage is the equivalent of political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of universal suffrage in England would, therefore be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the continent. Its inevitable result, here is the political supremacy of the working class.” [Marx emphasis]
His meaning is clear - a working class majority in Parliament, backed by a majority of the population, can bring about the real transfer of power.

Monday, April 29, 2013

We Are All Leaders

These are not times for reform and tweaking the system. Capitalism is in the process of destroying the Earth. The Socialist Party knows that no leaders are going to pull the workers into socialism. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. Mainstream politics cannot comprehend the absence of leaders in the movement and that it is not a weakness but a strength, testifying to our determination not to be followers.

Forget about looking for leaders. What we need is a movement that rises from the people and empowers ourselves. People need to stop looking up, and start looking around. There is an old adage, if the people lead, the leaders will follow. People need organisations, and people need to come together. But by self-organisation from the root, you will find that you have got no leaders - and do not want them because you do not lead them.

A leader may say “all that our organisation has gained is because of me”. But it is not so. It is not because a leader persuades the government to be nice, but because the actions of mass movements force the government to give back some of what has been taken from us.

Leaders, indeed, will sometimes pretend that they know best and that the movement depends on them. But they can do this only by with-holding knowledge and denying power from others. This is why it is important to make organisations as democratic as possible. The individual leader substitutes for and holds back the capacities of the 'led'. If we rely on one leader, or a group of leaders we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position because we can easily be misled. Nor is there a leadership to be bought off. A leader comes to symbolise an organisation's cause and projects it on to one individual that his or her reputation and personality comes to represent and embody the cause.

The working class have nothing to gain and everything to lose by relying on leaders.

Leadership is one of those problematic words that needs qualifying. When we say "don’t follow leaders" we mean by this something very specific - a narrow political sense of the term - to denote the idea of surrendering power to an individual or group to change society on our behalf. We are not promoting the false idea that socialism is about "making everyone equal" in their endowments, abilities and so on. There will always exist those who will be better orators or write more lucidly than others.

Structure doesn't necessarily mean a leader. The best examples of organisation historically can be found in the trade union and labour movement at its best. Take, for example, the structures of trade union branches. These are a product of a long tradition of members debating, agreeing and renewing clear, transparent written rules that create a framework of mutual accountability, self-discipline and individual responsibility. They are there on paper, the responsibility of every member, to be used, contested and, once agreed, followed. That is not to deny that apathy and inertia can set in; the rules become a barrier to creative thinking and change; officials become corrupt or complacent. Yet the rules and basic principles remain, always available.

A socialist party must be a party of no compromise. Its mission is to point the way to the goal and it refuses to leave the main road the side-tracked that lead into the swamp of reformism. Nor does a socialist party advocate violence in the labor movement because it knows the capitalist class has the advantage. It is not cowardice but common sense and it is not heroism that makes a fool rock a boat in deep water, it is idiocy.

The capitalist class can gerry-mander elections, miscount and steal votes, plus resort to a thousand and one other political tricks, but such is simply to tamper with a thermometer, it cannot change the temperature. And the temperature is the organised power of the working class.

Power to no one, and to every one!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We are all chiefs

In the previous post Socialist Courier discussed the democracy of Greece but the Iroquois tribes, before its social relations were shaped by the European colonisers, were according to Engels, perhaps even more democratic than the Greeks."There cannot be any poor or needy--the communal household and the gens know their responsibility toward the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes" wrote Engels.

Marx and Engels used much of the field research of the early anthropologist, Lewis Henry Morgan.
The status of women in communal societies like the Iroquois' was far higher than in class societies that followed. Among the Iroquois, a woman could dissolve her marriage simply by placing her husband's belongings outside the household door. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: "Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society."

Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care.

In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650s wrote:
"No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers.. . . Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common."

A tribal council existed for the common affairs of the tribe. It was composed of all the chiefs of the different clans, who were genuinely representative because they could be deposed at any time. It held its deliberations in public, surrounded by the other members of the tribe, who had the right to join freely in the discussion and to make their views heard. The decision rested with the council. As a rule, everyone was given a hearing who asked for it; the women could also have their views expressed by a speaker of their own choice. Among the Iroquois the final decision had to be unanimous.The tribal council was responsible especially for the handling of relations with other tribes; it received and sent embassies, declared war and made peace. If war broke out, it was generally carried on by volunteers. In principle, every tribe was considered to be in a state of war with every other tribe with which it had not expressly concluded a treaty of peace. Military expeditions against such enemies were generally organized by prominent individual warriors; they held a war-dance, and whoever joined in the dance announced thereby his participation in the expedition. The column was at once formed, and started off. The defense of the tribal territory when attacked was also generally carried out by volunteers. The departure and return of such columns were always an occasion of public festivities. The consent of the tribal council was not required for such expeditions, and was neither asked nor given. These war parties are seldom large; the most important expeditions of the Indians, even to great distances, were undertaken with insignificant forces. If several such parties united for operations on a large scale, each was under the orders only of its own leader. Unity in the plan of campaign was secured well or ill by a council of these leaders.

Gary Nash describes Iroquois culture:
“No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails-the apparatus of authority in European societies-were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set. Though priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong.... He who stole another's food or acted cowardly in war was "shamed" by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Socialism and Social Democracy

What is democracy? We can do no better than use the familiar explanation “It is the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

When the Athenians talked about demokratia, “rule by the people” (the dêmos) they did not just mean the election of “representatives”, to rule on behalf of the electors, but actual, direct rule by every citizen. An Assembly, which actually took decisions, voted on all major issues, passed laws and voted on foreign policy. When it met, about once a week, every citizen could have his say, speaking for as long as he liked – until people got bored with his speech and pulled him off the platform.

From the study of history it is found that the public assembly of all the citizens made all important decisions. They organized the administration of the state, appointed officials and kept check on them. The public assembly of all the citizens was the government. The vast majority of officials were chosen by lot which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out. Not only did the Athenians choose all officials by lot, they limited their time of service. When a man had served once, as a general rule, he was excluded from serving again because they believed in rotation, everybody taking his turn to administer the state. The Athenian assembly appointed a council of 500 to be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the city and the carrying out of decisions. Athens had very few permanent functionaries. They preferred to appoint special boards of citizens. Each of these boards had its own very carefully defined remit and were co-ordinated and overseen by the council.

Politics was not the activity of your spare time, nor the activity of experts paid specially to do it. A person who did not take part in politics was an idiotes, from which we get our modern word idiot. How would today’s politicians feel if it was suggested that any worker selected at random could do the work that they were doing, and that it should not be treated as career but yet that was the guiding principle of Greek democracy, one of the greatest civilization the world has known. (Albeit one where women and slaves were not given the same accord as the free male citizens.)

Nor was the democratic system something that arose and was established overnight. Like our own world Greece possessed a landed aristocracy who dominated the economy and held all the important positions of government. For example, rich and powerful noblemen, for centuries, controlled a body known as the Areopagus that held all the powers and which later were transferred to the council. The magistrates in the courts were a similar body of aristocrats who functioned from above with enormous powers such as modern magistrates and modern judges have. The merchants made a bid for power. Democracy had to be won and protected. The struggle was continuous. The old aristocratic class and some of the wealthy made attempts to destroy the democratic constitution and institute the rule of the privileged. They sometimes had temporary success but were always ultimately defeated. In the end, the democracy was defeated by foreign invasion and not from the inside.
Naturally some detested the system, particularly the intellectuals. Plato, Aristotle and Socrates thought that government should be by experts and not by the common people. To-day similar philosophers claim large modern communities are unsuitable for such a form of government and there is a need for a professional bureaucracy. Yet the fundamental belief of our justice system is the jury-system, men and women selected from the electoral roll to hear the arguments for and against and decide upon the important issue of innocence and guilt of another person which at one time could be a matter of life and death.

In to-day’s society, democracy is a fraud in the sense that it uses democratic forms to frustrate genuine democratic control from below. Marx described the United States as “the model country of the democratic swindle” not because there was less democracy but for precisely the opposite reason. The fact that the US had developed the formal structure of the constitutional republic which meant that its ruling class had also developed the art of keeping the expression of popular opinion within acceptable channels, satisfactory to its own class interests with a plethora of clever electoral rules devised to insert a manipulative factor into the forms of a more or less universal suffrage, beginning with the American Constitution, then the “Jim Crow” laws and by currently controlling a media system which permits the buying of public opinion.
Where there is democracy, there is inevitably insecurity for the capitalist ruling class. True democracy places power with people and in such circumstances the few who hold power become threatened. The “threats” to elite interests from the possibility of true democracy has always required to be neutralised by using educational institutions, religion , public relations and advertising agencies and , of course, all the various means of mass media, press, radio, tv and film. Political, economic, and cultural agencies all are employed to defend the principle of privilege. All have been used to protect the power of the wealthy from the potential of popular democracy. Modern democracy gives to the worker the right to choose his master. Yet the threat of democracy remains a constant, persistent and a pervasive danger to the capitalist class.

In socialism the task of organising and running production and the involvement in administering communities will be looked upon as those who lived in ancient Athens saw it, a necessary and important part of work, a part of everyday life. In fact, there will be no politics in the modern sense in that there will be no institution separate from the rest of social life. We should recall that the term “social democracy” was once an alternative name for socialism and socialists were at one time called “social-democrats”.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Separate Scotland

The voices of millions of Scots on low and average incomes rarely being heard, according to a report by a leading Scottish think tank. The Jimmy Reid Foundation's report, Not By The People concluded: "Scotland is run by people who pay higher-rate tax and they seek advice on how to run Scotland primarily from other people who pay higher-rate tax."

 Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teachers' union, said "This report describes a Scotland of two peoples; one runs the country, the other just lives here... Democracy is about more than simply voting twice a decade."

Although only 13% of Scots have incomes above £34,000, this group accounted for 67% of those giving evidence to committees and 71% of all appointments to public bodies.

In contrast, the 70% of Scots with incomes below the average salary of £24,500 accounted for 11% of public-sector appointments and just 3% of committee witnesses between 2007 and 2012.

The Foundation said it had deliberately erred on the side of caution in estimating incomes, and the true disconnect between income and influence was probably worse than the figures suggested.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Royal secrets

An Amendment Bill to the original 2002 Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act proposes changing the “qualified” exemption to royal communications to an absolute exemption. Communications by the Royal Family are currently subject to a qualified Freedom of Information exemption. A qualified exemption means that a “balance of public interest” test is applied – and only where the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure can information be withheld. The qualified exemption relates to communications with the Queen, other members of the Royal Family or the royal household.

The Amendment Bill proposes to change this to create an absolute exemption for information relating to communications with Her Majesty, the heir or second in line of succession, with no requirement to consider the balance of public interest.