16 May, 2013

Thoughts Upon Real Local Democracy

The problem with Democracy is that it can only really work straightforwardly in very small numbers of participants, with no hierarchies of economic power, for both these and large size, coupled with clear imbalances in influence quickly destroy its essential virtues, and turn it into its exact opposite.

So, can such an idea ever be constituted effectively in anything larger than a village of equals?

That is the problem, and as with all embryo conceptions, they have to be developed, if they are to maintain what is desired in new and wider circumstances.

And, even if and when it is achieved, it will certainly be different from its original implementation in (very) small City States. Clearly Democracy is NOT a given, but must be constantly fought for and developed to maintain it primary virtues and purpose – the Rule of the People.

As the Tory Government in the UK gradually starves the Local Authorities of the cash to effectively deliver essential local services, you can contrast the magnificent 19th century constructions of past Councils, be they Town Halls, or reservoirs, Libraries or Swimming Baths, or the comprehensive Public Transport Systems of the big cities, and finally, of course, the extensive Council Houses built by them in the 20th century, with what little can be achieved nowadays. And when you do this, you realise that an important aspect of local Social Services is being successively dismantled.

And, it hasn’t helped the survival of these organisations that, as they are increasingly emasculated by insufficient resources, the very people who are inflicting this upon them, are also those who blame those same authorities for not doing enough, or even doing it inefficiently.

Being an effective and authorative liar has always been a necessary skill for every Tory politician! For it is only among those whose fulfilling intentions are to serve the community, that the very best of humanity exists.

Yet, as socialists, we do not merely want to be elected to run these palaces of the past. We know that a revolutionary overturn will sweep away many of the old, under-control systems, and will be constantly setting up their own new forms, particularly at the local level.

And, therefore, we have to think about these possibilities now, to be in any position to go forwards, along with the transforming rush of the people, while ensuring best practice when we can, and addressing the problems that will undoubtedly occur from a multitude of different and maybe incompatible creations of the people.

Clearly, the priority has to be more local democracy and not less!

For, without self-evident, effective and affect-able local services, the actual Democracy becomes both distant and even detached, and the actual populations will lose confidence in it, and regard it as merely a con.

Of course, the enemies of such a version of Democracy say that any extra layers will merely result in more bureaucracy, but that is another lie.

If that multiplicity of levels were in the present system, that would most certainly be true, but the whole demand of the people in revolt will be for a constant say in how things are being done. And the major difference will be the control by the electorates over their representatives. That will be totally transformed, and must, therefore, maintain a control on them through the layers involved.

The crucial failure (of so-called Democracy within Capitalism) stems from the total lack of any kind of immediate re-call facility of all the elected representatives. For, once in place in the current system, the elected members are “safe” for a full term.

In the case of the UK Parliament, that amounts to five years. And when it is coupled with the wealth, and hence the reach and power of the Parties, then the ordinary voter is not only given few opportunities of making a change, but when the election finally comes, the choice is between parties that they don’t want, and who dominate the media and deliver their options with expensive and constant propaganda.

NOTE: It must also be essential that the Parties themselves are democratic, which is not the case now. What the policies of a Party are do not come from the maximum opinions, but from the ideas of the leaderships – not even made evident during their quest for election. Once in power, leaderships are dictatorships and can expel dissenters at will.

It has to be said that Democracy under Capitalism is a myth!

And the same can be said for the Democracy under the Stalinist regimes too.

In fact, in Russia and China, you can only choose between members of a single allowed Party. Indeed, as is currently happening in China, the national leadership changes over only every ten years. Clearly, neither of these "alternatives" is really democratic at all!

Now, there was a time in Russia when Democracy did indeed rule. It even led to temporary defeats, as in the July Days. But, the sailors of Kronstadt had decided in their own Soviet (elected Council) to march on Petrograd, fully-armed, to turf out the so called Provisional Government under Kerensky, who had insisted carrying on with the War. Whatever else you say about that event, it was certainly democratic (at least in Kronstadt).

So, socialists cannot merely accept the forms of Democracy imposed upon the people within Capitalism, just because “everybody has the vote”! Real Democracy must be entirely different, and crucially also be well informed.

It must start locally, making choices between candidates that they know, and they must also know enough to be clear what they are voting for. And even then, the chosen one cannot then vote as he or she thinks fit in the higher body. On most important matters, the elected candidate will also be mandated how to vote on particular issues by a general vote within the sending electorate.

NOTE: Imagine the difference that the Internet could make to this process, if all participating Parties were limited to the exact same costs in their propaganda!

The usual bureaucratic and geographic definition of Constituencies, with regular farming of the boundaries to give the greatest advantage to those doing the redrawing, MUST be replaced by units that are real.

The Soviets initially were this because they had no formal rules on areas or range.

Individual regiments, or even battalions within the army, and individual ships within the navy, set up and elected their own Soviets. They were all different sizes and with different principles of composition, but the electors knew their chosen representatives, and could change them at the drop of a hat if they proved incapable of carrying into the elected body the standpoint of those who had elected them. And this could be achieved merely by decisions within a general meeting.

Now, the defenders of bourgeois Democracy would insist that such a form of Democracy as the Soviets would lead to chaos and unfairness (which is ripe, coming from the unfairness of their alternatives). For they would insist that such organisations were “not representative”. But, of course, they were indeed completely representative, but only of their forming constituencies. Suddenly decisions were in the hands of the people, and not of those who could either manipulate towards, or alternatively just buy their own preferred requirements.

But, at the same time, many things could not be decided in innumerable and usually small Soviets. Some certainly had to be decided upon in larger representative units. You cannot organise an army in battle from the bottom up! There would, even in Socialism, have to be a hierarchy of democratic forms. BUT, crucially they should not be separately elected!

In the midst of the Russian Revolution (in 1917) there were two different forms of higher democratic body occurring simultaneously.

One, insisted upon by the bourgeois “socialists”, was the Constituent Assembly – elected by the usually implemented General Election methods. While the other was the Congress of Soviets – with representatives elected from within each Soviet by their usual local methods.

And the differences were significant!

When the chips were down and the Winter Palace was being stormed under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the bourgeois “socialists” were walking out en masse from the Congress in protest against this “Bolshevik Coup”, and putting their faith in the Constituent Assembly to act as they required.

The question is, “Do you think that the Constituent Assembly would have completed the Revolution?”

You know the answer!

But, with maximal Democracy at the lowest levels, it had to be the Soviets who should decide on their representatives at the higher bodies, and always have the power of immediate recall, so that they could at any time pull that elected candidate out from all the higher levels, if he no longer stood for what his electors wanted. Low level maximal choice would only then still affect the larger bodies.

Indeed, at times of crisis, decisions made at the lowest levels could ripple through by such mechanisms to cause major turnovers in important meetings at the highest levels. Emissaries from the Soviets were constantly arriving with either mandates, or authorized orders to replace the current delegate.

Now, I know what happened in Russia, and with a single party State, the “Democracy” of the system finally put in place by Stalin and his henchmen did indeed remove all of this control from the people via their Soviets.

And that occurred even after a successful Revolution!

Socialist Democracy is not a simple and easy matter.

And, of course, Russia at that time was surrounded by hostile capitalist powers, which not only invaded in an attempt to put down the Revolution, but even after they had been defeated in that endeavour, they constantly intervened all the way from funding a Civil War between the supporters of the prior Tsarist system, and the revolutionaries, to imposing a major economic and trade blockade against the new Socialist State.

At the time, their agents (well funded) within Russia did everything they could to sabotage this worldwide threat to their hegemony. All these things contributed to Stalin’s rise, and his system within Russia.

So, no real socialist set up was possible, and the “police and defensive processes” morphed into anti democratic control systems for the Stalinist elite.

Lessons need to be learned from the failures in both Russia and China, as both march back into Capitalism at an increasing pace, but with literally zero real democracy to oppose it.

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