This is a piece originally published by David Molina Pérez on his blog and reproduced on Rebelión.
Liberal democracy: an oxymoron
An oxymoron is a syntactic structure composed of two words or expressions of opposing meaning. With this explained, it is clear: democracy as understood by its meaning in Greek “power of the people”, has been lost and diluted due to its tragic association with liberlaism.
The construction of State models based on liberal democracy, where you have rights consecrated such as that of private property on the one hand and that of free expression on the other, has brought the very concept, in its political praxis, into contradictions.
If we have a democracy in which the people decides its future, we are “free”, it is always said, but at the same time this democracy is sustained in a liberal economic model in which society stratifies itself, generating social classes, in which some people have the capacity to exploit others and as such impose their own will, then the term democracy becomes deeply questionable.
And it is not just that, the “power of the people” boils down to political action by antonomasia: the vote. In the 19th century the first political parties were created, and representative democracy was consolidated in order to achieve precisely that: the vote, which allowed the party that achieved most votes the capacity to govern for the good of all. Parliaments were created, where laws would be discussed that would then be approved and implemented, and Constitutions were approved, in order to have a basic regulatory framework for coexistence. The evolution was rapid, from parties sustained by census-based democracies (restricted to nobles or people with money), to mass parties sustained by universal suffrage.
And this is one of the great “achievements” recognised of humanity, universal suffrage was another right gained and allowed all persons resident in a particular State to give their vote.
But why a representative democracy?
The linkage between democracy and liberalism has as its main premise one person, one vote. The vote is individual, as are rights. The individual human being is the starting point for arriving at decisions. These decisions will be taken by a reduced group of persons, who will compete for the popular vote, all this fitting perfectly within liberal ideology based on competitiveness. This way of practising politics has as a consequence the distancing of direct responsibility from the electors, since their only responsibility is to choose their representatives every now and again with the latter taking charge of political duties.
Moreover the political parties constituted themselves based on an ideology and particular interests related directly to the social class they represented, and so, social democrats, communists, conservatives, Christian democrats, liberals..all had particular interests got together in the party structure to defend them.
Evolution to the present day.
All of us who live in the west have been educated and socialised under the structure of liberal democratic societies. And we all understand democracy basically as a system that has given us rights and obligations and our way of changing things is by voting.
With the passage of time the vote has been progressively marketized as a result of its relation with the economy and the imposition of the capitalist system as the regulator of economic and social relations. Events led to it that, given that the reigning economic system was the capitalist one, the political parties mobilised to defend the theories of the free market. It doesn’t matter if they call themselves social democratic, liberal, communist or Christian democrat, at the end of the day the system is liberal democracy and no-one says otherwise. There were social revolutions, like the Paris Commune in 1871, the Russian one in 1917, or the Spanish one in 1936, showing another way of doing politics, but with the passage of time, all these processes have been progressively diluted.
Welfare States, sponsored by Keynesian economic theories, and in light of the crash of ’29, created broad middle class bases, driven by consumption and the stimulation of demand, providing a sensation of societal well-being. Even so, these societies did not manage to cure either inequalities or poverty, which ranges betwen 10% (Scandinavian States) to 20-30% (European States and USA). With time societies (people) started drifting away from political decisions, since political motivation was replaced by consumerist motivation in all walks of life, and all of us aspired to climb socially, with the vote becoming the only political chance to say what we thought.
We are no longer the subject of change, rather we are an object of targetting by businesses, who through advertising wish to sell us a lifestyle and an opinion. The only thing we do is vote for politicians from time to time, who normally are divided into two wings (conservatives and social democrats) but who end up defending the same interests, those of capital.
And why does this happen? The justifications of Keynes which led to the construction of Welfare States were at no time subversive nor did they intend to get rid of capitalism, but prior to that other thinkers such as Marx and Engels saw that the problem was the capitalist system as such, since it was the axis around which everything else was built. If crises happen it is because they are inherent in the capitalist system, if there is poverty it is because it is a necessary characteristic of the system, which needs an exploited class to survive, if there is no democracy it is because money has no interest in there being one.
In fact, that we are abandoning the theories of Keynes and imposing neoliberal theories exemplifies how the system has no interest in restrictions and acts best by being liberalized without limits. The linchpin of liberal democracy is the (easily manipulated) vote, and therefore representation, but also liberal ideology based on capitalism as a system of economic regulation. We all depend on it, and such monsters have been created that the States themselves do not really govern or make policies, but are subservient to the demands of big businesses and banks.
The political parties themselves are narrowly related to the big economic powers and it is there where the problem resides.
The economic system is one that reduces democracy to a vote and cancels our capacity to think for ourselves, turning us into fearful alienated objects, so that the interests of the game’s winners end up getting imposed. With this the real meaning of democracy is perverted, and, as I said at the beginning of the article, it causes a contradiction in its principles. It is no longer the people who decide but a mass that is alienated in consumption and interests invented by capital. In which, moreover, only an average of 50% or 60% vote, and where the decisions are taken by political parties closely linked to economic powers.
It cannot be that the working class votes for parties that contradict its interests, it cannot be that we have no other way of participating in politics that is not voting, it cannot be that many of us have no future.
The movement of the indignados, a hope.
And when everything seemed lost, when young people saw themselves without a future, with a governing class that did not represent the interests of the people, in the Spanish state, people went out into the street, organized through social networking, reformulating their role and waking up at last from a prolonged lethargy.
But it was not simply a timely demonstration, the demonstrations of the 15th of May and the acampadas that followed are much more – public space has been recovered, it has been shown that an alternative democacy is possible, and therefore, other ways of practising politics are possible too, and all in a peaceful and consensual way too. Assemblies have been held, changes to the present system have been proposed, changes which democratise all aspects of political decisions that affect us all, and what is most important, we have returned to being subjects of change.
Suddenly, the system has fallen into shock, the elections have been called into doubt, the legitimacy of the political parties that flaunt power has fallen into deep questioning, and hope and imagination have begun to flourish. We don’t know how long it will last nor how it will evolve, but this is the road we are on. By getting outraged and questioning what surrounds us we have done the impossible – we have returned to democracy.