Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Democracy and the class system

by Gary Tedman

One of the major problems with democracy is that as soon as a leader (or a party) is elected, no matter what social background they come from, he or she or it becomes a leader and so a de facto member (albeit possibly new) of the ruling class: an elite. What this elite tends, then, to do is club together with the other elites rather than with the electorate, who are by definition excluded and thus subordinate.

This is a problem of representation in a class system: the class system exists before the vote, before any representation actually takes place, and so determines and (almost always) limits the possibilities of its outcome. This is an unavoidable problem of democracy: force (i.e. class struggle) always comes before it and so sets its overriding agenda.

What does this mean? The grand (humanist philosophical) myth of bourgeois democracy is that it can and does transcend this problem; its kind of representation is thought as universally just, and the 'best of all possible systems' (in an 'imperfect world' populated by 'imperfect people', or 'sinners' perhaps). Its (standard, shall we say) two party system usually plays this role to perfection.

But in the present crisis cracks begin to show in the fa├žade of this myth. So obvious and so enormous has become the 'rewards for failure' of the now crisis ridden financial system, with its billions in bail-outs for banks and its leaders for example, paid for by 'the taxpayer', or in other words the working people and poor, that the bourgeois class has been arguing amongst itself over the responsibility for it. That it is grossly unjust has become widely recognised.

This recognition is not isolated to one or two advanced capitalist nations but is apparent in all of them, due to the fact that the global economic system is, indeed, globally highly interconnected and so is its problems. We cannot currently help but marvel a bit at the irony of the 'newly capitalist and democratic' east European countries which have apparently 'thrown off' the 'yoke' of communism (in the myth that it was ever communist) and now have almost immediately been thrown into the deepest of capitalist economic mire. What is the state of ideology in those countries? How is it possible to think this crisis there without gross contradiction, I wonder?

The only solution that holds some hope for saving the economy in a capitalist decline to depression is a socialist one, but this has of course been ruled out in advance by every bourgeois politician. In a process that is for them mostly 'unthinkable', the politicians begin to seem increasingly out of touch with reality. Should we not worry that President Obama's (relatively progressive perhaps) budget seems too vague (maybe playing it by ear a bit) but also overly optimistic about the 'recovery' it expects in 2010, when all the indicators seem to say that this is unlikely?

Alongside the socialistic measures that have already been adopted in a mealy-mouthed way out of sheer necessity and even while saying that they need to, as soon as possible, be ditched in favor of private enterprise (again) because apparently they are 'not ideal' (not as ideal as the free market is or can be, as we see proved by current experience!), there is also the beginning of arguments that suggest a conspiracy exists on the part of communists and progressives to engineer and/or exploit this crisis in order for the state to take over everything, and so to introduce socialism by stealth. It would be a sad fait accompli if in order to avoid socialism, pseudo national socialist measures were instead adopted: such as protectionism and state controlled and defended private ownership, which really would be the rich maintaining their privileges not just by quasi-lawful massive bail outs but with open force.

It is a worrying feature that this depression appears to be following, give or take, the path of the last one and nothing has been learned. Are we heading therefore towards more wars, bigger wars? The first depression was tragedy, perhaps this one will be farce.