Saturday, October 18, 2014

The struggle for democracy

In the past weeks parts of central Hong Kong were brought to a complete standstill as huge crowds in the tens of thousands gathered protesting at China's plans to vet candidates when Hong Kong holds elections in 2017. They were demanding that the central government in Beijing allow a fully free vote for the territory's leader. A policy of non-violence and the absence of any weapons beyond primitive gas masks and the occasional makeshift barricade have been common.  When faced with lines of riot police the tactic has been to talk and reason, giving ground if necessary before surging back. The use of tear gas by police backfired.  Demonstrators in Hong Kong have re-taken streets in the Mong Kok district, just hours after they were cleared by the authorities. The police responded by using batons and pepper spray but they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of demonstrators. Protest group Occupy Central issued a statement saying that the clearance operations ordered by the government had "triggered a new wave of occupations and worsened relations between police and citizens".

The mass demonstrations managed to galvanise public opinion on the importance of having genuine choices in elections. And many observers now find Hong Kong people more willing to take to the streets in support of other democratic causes. The Hong Kong protests are being seen as China's biggest political challenge since the Tiananmen democracy movement of 1989.

The World Socialist Movement applauds those workers around the world who fight at massive risk to themselves for basic civil liberties and trade union rights, for the freedom to hold meetings and participate in free elections. We challenge the notion that revolution cannot at the same time be democratic and planned, cannot be participative and structured. The fight for a measure of democracy world-wide is an essential part of the struggle for world socialism. After all, if workers are not able to fight for something as basic as the vote, they are unlikely to be able to work for the transformation of society from one based on production for profit to one based on production for human need.  We are, however, under no illusion about the nature of democracy inside capitalism. We confront the myth that capitalism and democracy are interdependent. Where it is available to workers we take the viewpoint that capitalist democracy can and should be used. But not in order to chase the ever diminishing returns of reforming capitalism. Instead we see democracy as an important instrument available to class-conscious workers for making a genuine and democratic revolution. The realisation that genuine democracy cannot exist in capitalist society does not alter the fact that the elbow room already secured by struggle can be turned against our masters. The right to vote, for instance, can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom.

If democracy is to mean more than one vote nationally and another regionally every few years, an arrangement that most will agree displays a huge deficit of democracy and does little to represent public opinion, then an alternative system must be devised. An alternative system involving the general public in all decisions which impact upon them, their communities and local environments, one which embraces the notion that all are entitled to be active participants in the local and global community. Not just socialists, but large numbers of people sense the lack of democracy in present society. Huge and ever increasing sections of the electorate, not only in Britain, but globally, feel, and by now know, that with the prevailing political ideas, the outcome of elections is not going to make any real difference to their way of life.

Even now, many people realise that there is something seriously wrong with the present system. However, it is the awareness of an alternative to this which is missing. The task of socialists is to get people to think for themselves, without the need for leaders. When more people consider the genuine socialist, democratic alternative to capitalism, those who give it support, will swell the size of the already existing world socialist movement. As the number of socialists grows, the ideas will spread among the people they come into contact with, particularly in a world where those ideas can be communicated so much more quickly than in the past. A series of political, democratic acts will be needed to establish the truly democratic society of socialism. People with a socialist consciousness will unite and upon achieving a majority, measured by voting, will be in a position to establish the new society.

 Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demand change and to bring about social revolution. For while democracy cannot exist outside of socialism, socialism cannot be achieved without the overwhelming majority of working people demanding it.

Democracy will have real meaning: a society of production of goods and services for human need, with ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by all the people. Since the division into rich and poor will have been abolished, it will be a classless society. The precise, day-to-day details of the running of this future society will be up to the people at the time, but what we can be sure of is that just as there will be free access to goods and services for everyone, without any need for money, so there will be open access to the administration of society for those interested in particular issues, such as food production, health, education, building of houses, the environment and local matters. Probably, there will be local administrations, perhaps in the form of councils, which will be reflected at wider levels, such as regional and global. The new democratic society will most likely involve participation of delegates in these councils. The consequence of this is that certain delegates could be subject to recall, if the electorate were dissatisfied with their activities. These factors would emphasise the genuine democracy and choice available to everyone.

These are enormously exciting times because the internet opens up new possibilities for political discussion and participation in democracy. This would not be just a matter of e-voting but of true e-participation, an online civic commons, a democratically-moderated space that is nobody’s property. The process of making a revolution means reinventing a democracy fit for society on a human scale. A genuine democracy can flourish only in socialist society. The democratic organisation of socialist society will necessarily require the full participation of all free and equal people, without leaders, to vote and decide on the issues that determine how the welfare of all can best be served. It will end forever the degradation of wage slavery, hierarchy and coercion and provide the economic basis for free people to become creative, unfettered to express their diverse and individual talents and be fulfilled as human beings.

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