From X-Ray Magazine # 36...
In the two months since Occupy Wall Street began its experiment in direct, democratic dissent, “democracy” of the liberal kind has revealed its bankruptcy to the whole world.
In the last sixty days the neo-liberal, let’s call it the “post-democratic” state, its various organs cooperating across jurisdictions and across national borders, launched a coordinated attack upon our rights to freely assemble, associate and speak.
In Oakland as at UC Davis, the radical violence of the cops was inflicted upon hundreds of the innocent and unarmed, and in Toronto and New York the radical violence of the law proved that under post-democracy, flimsy legal reasoning can be a powerful tool of oppression only so long as we continue to respect liberal, post-democratic legalisms.
We have seen two elected national governments, Greek and Italian, close up shop, transferring business to a new proprietor—the so-called “Troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank.
The abortive decision, quickly reversed, to hold a Greek referendum on the savage austerity measures being imposed upon Greek workers and Greek democracy was a disaster—for the markets.
A military coup was being prepared to prevent it if necessary. But it was not. Greek liberals and social democrats combined to carry out a coup against themselves. No sooner had Papandreou fired the commanding officers of the Greek Army, Navy and Air Force, he himself ran away.
The new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, named an entire Cabinet with not a single elected representative in it. Bankers, business owners and technocrats were simply parachuted into the government of a “democracy.”
No elections were held to make these two transfers of state power legitimate. In a very real sense, the Italian and Greek states are now under the direct control of central bankers, the people be damned.
But these “technocratic governments” are not a novelty. They merely formalize and bring out into the light of day the longstanding relationships of power. Now we can really see who calls the shots.
In the United States the powers of the US Congress have been devolved to a “Super-Congress” of twelve people with deep connections to the US corporate establishment.
We are witnessing something unprecedented.
Both the 1% and the 99% are realizing that liberal “democracy” holds nothing more for them. They are reaching the same conclusion, albeit based upon two entirely opposite political perspectives, and conflicting sets of interests.
For the 1%, even the largely pantomime rituals of our “democratic” elections, with all their stage-management and scripting are too risky to their continued accumulation of super-profits to be allowed to continue.
They have come to rely on a guaranteed and ever-increasing flow of wealth into their own pockets, from us, to them. Since neoliberal, structural adjustment “reforms” were imposed upon the world in the 1970s, at the insistence of the corporations, the wages and benefits accruing to the 99% have stopped growing, and the 1% have monopolized the financial wealth and income generated by a growing economy.
The crisis for both the 1% and the rest of us arises in part, from the fact that the economy can no longer continue to grow in absolute size on a finite planet featuring a shrinking common stock of natural capital.
Growth cannot continue on a planet where there is no place left unexploited and nowhere that is not already full of our waste, or full of us. The ongoing orgy of financial speculation—of trillions of dollars of bets on essentially phony “assets” – was the last-ditch attempt of the 1% to both delay the onset of the final crisis, and to transform “crisis into opportunity.”
To accommodate an ever more predatory capitalism, liberal “democracy” first had to be structurally adjusted, along with the economy. Then it had to be abandoned altogether. Elections had to be rigged, political parties hijacked. False flag terror attacks had to be staged, the predetermined victims blamed.
Nations had to be invaded on false pretexts, the bodies buried. Inalienable civil rights had to be made alienable. Millions had to die. A vomitous river of lies had to be told, and sold. All to keep the capitalist balls in the air, all to keep the system limping along.
The capitalism system should have collapsed in 2008. Its life was extended by means of a central bank trick: the creation of an immense amount of new fictitious “wealth” in the form of bank created credit.
But this only made the inevitable reckoning that much more catastrophic. Instead of being used to facilitate production, which would have made the credit economically useful, this credit was used to backstop the insolvent speculators and their derivative bets.
As of 2011 and 2012 the mask is falling away.
If the 1% are abandoning liberal democracy because it no longer provides iron-clad guarantees of free profits from their debt slaves, the 99% are looking for new, more participatory democracy because the old, “liberal” kind can no longer protect them from the rapacious greed of the 1%.
It is a very difficult conclusion for many people in liberal “democracies.” It is often a conclusion reached only with extreme reluctance. Rarely is it embraced. But it is no less true for that.
We, especially those of us in the English-speaking world, have been educated our whole lives to equate the existing constitutional set-up with democracy.
We have been taught – wrongly – that a system of preference elections, political parties (with a combined membership of less than 2% of the population) and professional politicians is tantamount to democracy.
We are taught – wrongly – that our constitution, our courts of law guarantee our freedoms. In fact, only our disobedience of the law, of what Erich Fromm called “irrational authority”, guarantees our freedom.
As the former US President once put it, a constitution is nothing but “a goddamned piece of paper” – at least when those entrusted with enforcing it no longer hold its fundamental principles dear.
We are living in that time, when our own governments have created the apparatus of a police state to maintain their political control. Liberal “democracy” is a sham.
It’s not just me.
That’s what Ronald Regan’s former Assistant Treasury Secretary calls it. Paul Craig Roberts writes:
“Every day that passes adds to the fraudulent image of Western Democracy… it turns out that ‘we have freedom and democracy’ is not supposed to be taken literally. It is merely a propagandistic slogan behind which people are ruled through back-room deals decided by powerful private interests.” He’s right.
The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont declares: “democracy itself is failing.” He’s right.
Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks declares liberal democracy kaput when lobbyists can openly buy American laws they want drafted. He’s right too.
Linda McQuaig notes: “democracy has become a hollow shell.” She’s right.
Glen Greenwald, commenting on the brutal police attack on peaceful passively resisting student protestors at UC Davis, as well as the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning, describes American “democracy” as “a police state in pure form.” He’s right, and his insight is worthy of further scrutiny:
“The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed—or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet—many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant—to refrain from exercising their rights—out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.”
It reminds me of Fromm’s insight that freedom to think and speak only has meaning if one actually has original, self-generated thoughts of one’s own to speak. Freedom to merely repeat the received nostrums of authority, what Fromm calls “heteronomous obedience” is the freedom of a slave to love his chains. Real freedom means the capacity to disobey irrational, external authority.
But the debt slaves are beginning not to fear. Some of us are taking our freedom. The violent, illogical response of the authorities reveals their illegitimacy.
With the occupation camps mostly dismantled, the question arises as to what next. This is where it gets interesting, and where the limitations of the reformists and of liberal democracy to contain the hopes and dreams of Occupy become clear.
The Toronto Star recently ran an opinion piece by the seasoned journalist Olivia Ward with the title, “Will Occupy movement find a place in history?” She offers several potential routes toward such a place.
We can “educate, build a social network, co-opt authority (fat chance of that!), speak to power, agitate for proportional representation (too little too late) and spread the message.” But to what end?
Though her article begins with a story about the beginning of the revolution in Serbia, nowhere does she admit to the possibility that a revolution is what we require here in liberal “democracies.” Nor could she be reasonably expected to openly voice such sentiments in The Star.
But a complete revolution, a complete takeover and dismantling of the Canadian state, and of every other liberal “democracy”, is exactly what we require. We need to have a real democratic revolution.
The democratic revolution is not going to be confined to nation states. It’s going to be both global, and local. The revolution is global because it speaks to the universal need of humanity for freedom, autonomy and independence. It will be local as those universal values find their expression in each community, in its own way.
The democratic revolution has the potential to become the fulfillment of the promise of the Western Enlightenment; the creation of a rational, self-directed society of independent producer-citizens in free association, and a return, ad fontes, towards the ancient sources of participatory democracy. There are encouraging signs that this is happening.
In Greece and Italy and Egypt, in New York, Toronto, and in all of the Occupy protest camps, the direct democracy of the Assembly was put into practice to make decisions. Rule of a simple majority – or of minority parties claiming to represent a majority – was rejected as anti-democratic.
In essence, these assemblies are an open rejection of the fundamental premise of representative, liberal “democracy.”
It’s a dual premise: that assembly democracy is not practical, and that it is not desirable because the people are not fit to rule the state. The Enlightenment critique of classical democracy is where the ruling class mythology of “the mob” arises. The Occupy experience, and the experience of months of revolution in Egypt, have put paid to that lie.
The liberal state was designed in an age just emerging from domination by the landed gentry. Most people were still illiterate when our representative institutions were created. But today we enjoy universal literacy and widespread higher education.
As Jefferson put it, “we might as well require a man to wear the suit of clothes which fitted him as a boy, than society to remain under the regimen of its barbarous ancestors.” We have grown up. Our system of government remains a spoiled child.
In Iceland, that other great democratic device, of selection of political offices not by election, but by lottery has produced a new constitution. In 2009, one thousand Icelanders were randomly selected from the voter’s list and met in an assembly called the Thjodfundur, the National Assembly.
The Assembly drafted an outline of the guiding principles of a new constitution. The following year a constitutional committee was elected from candidates nominated by the citizens to draft the new constitution. Citizen participation was encouraged through the Internet, where the constitution was essentially crowd sourced.
The participatory nature of Iceland’s renewed democracy is a step in the right direction. The citizen body is taking on the role of legislator.
While not a revolution by itself, the Icelandic constitution is certainly a giant step away from the 18th century liberalism of the US Founders and of the conservatism of Edmund Burke, the two schools of thought to whom Anglo-Saxon “democratic” institutions owe their current forms.
Those forms have reached the end of their useful existence, for both rulers and ruled. A democratic revolution is coming. Participate! (X)