You’re talking to us as if we’re taking over the government in a couple of weeks and we still don’t have an agenda to run the country. No sir, we’re just complaining about the injustice, but there’s very little we can do about it. We are FOR justice. And the reason why we don’t have a “5-year plan to save the planet” yet, is exactly because we truly believe in democracy. What you want is a movement that thinks for you and then you get to support it or oppose it, but what we are trying to build is a movement where you are helping to write that 5-year plan. Because we’re so naive and we still believe democracy is good and feasible, that power to the people is not the easter bunny, but something attainable. And one of the things we’re protesting is that a few apparently very smart men get to decide on behalf of everybody what’s best to be done. Those few have screwed up too many times already, and still are not willing to concede that the general public: the brutes and the uneducated, the homeless and the part-time workers, the hippies and the students who’ve got nothing better to do; that in short the people don’t know what’s in their best interest. Those few still insist that democracy is not worth a try, they think they can fix the problem using the tools that caused it. If we had a clear plan that we didn’t steer from, and if we had a coherent message and a PR campaign to promote it, and asked people to follow us and support us to implement our plan, and then said that we’re democratic and value input from everyone, I’m sure then someone would’ve called us hypocrite for having undemocratic ways and claiming to be democratic.
Let me begin by counter-posing two different conceptions of democracy. One conception of democracy has it that a democ-ratic society is one in which the public has the means to participate in some meaningful way in the management of their own affairs and the means of information are open and free. If you look up democracy in the dictionary you’ll get a definition something like that.
An alternative conception of democracy is that the public must be barred from managing of their own affairs and the means of information must be kept narrowly and rigidly con-trolled. That may sound like an odd conception of democracy, but it’s important to understand that it is the prevailing conception. In fact, it has long been, not just in operation, but even in theory. There’s a long history that goes back to the earliest modern democratic revolutions in seventeenth century England which largely expresses this point of view.
That is the way Government becomes obsolete, that is the way the State’s tyranny upon men will end: when it no longer fulfills its function (protecting the privileged interest from the public).
When you get to the later Marx, it’s sort of a scholarly debate about whether he changed his mind or whether he was just talking about other things. But you don’t find it any longer. And by that time Marxism starts to become very detrimental. So you get this idea that you do find in Marx but he couldn’t have believed it: that human nature is just a historical product. That people are just what their culture turns them into. But this idea that humans are simply formed by their environment and they’re nothing but passive clay in the hands of their moulders is very attractive to radical intellectuals, if they think they’re gonna be the moulders of course. And that leads to the Leninist version of Marxism, and it does become a kind of orthodoxy. And his earlier views are either forgotten or marginalized, although they’re certainly there in Marx and are certainly in the tradition that he came from.
The Marxists and the behaviourists are right in the same ballpark, these kind of Marxists at least. And in fact it’s a tragedy and a catastrophe that the Left has accepted the idea of humans as historical products: simple reflections of their environment. Because what follows from that is that there’s no moral barrier to moulding them anyway you like. I mean if humans had no inner-nature if they had no inner instinct to freedom if it wasn’t fundamental to their nature to have free creative productive work under their own control; if that’s not part of their nature then there’s no moral reason for allowing them that space. You can just mould them to be what you think they ought be. And you can be the central committee or you can be the managers of the corporations or the directors of fascist state or whatever. And it’s quite interesting that the modern intellectuals have moved in one or the other of these directions. And in fact this was foretold in what may be the only predictions of social sciences that ever came so dramatically true. Bakunin’s discussion of this in the late 19th century. He was arguing with Marx and it was well before Leninism. But he predicted very perceptively that the rising class of intellectuals who were just starting to be identified as a class in modern industrial society, he predicted that they’re essentially gonna go in one of two directions, some who would believe that the struggles of the working class would offer them an opportunity to rise and take state power in their own hands and at that point they would become as he said the Red Bureaucracy and create the worst tyranny that humanity has ever known, of course all in the interest of the workers, that’s one direction. And then the others would recognize that the way to get power is to associate yourself with what we now call State Capitalism, and just become the servers of its ruling class and then you can become the managers, the ideologues, and so on for the state capitalist system. And as he put it “they will beat the people with the people stick”, which means that they’ll talk about democracy but in fact beat the people with the stick of democracy which they’ll turn into a mechanism of coercion.
And I think this is a very accurate description of the century that followed him. This is 50 years before the Bolshevik revolution, but he predicted its form very precisely and also its ideological background. And he also predicted quite accurately what happens in the modern state capitalist industrial society. And looking at it now from the retrospect of 100 years we can see this development very clearly, and he also explains an odd fact about 20th century intellectuals, namely how easy it’s been for them to shift from one position to another. So the same person who is a Stalinist apologist one year, is a super American patriot the next year, supporting every atrocity and working in the Hoover Institute and associated with the most reactionary institutions. That transition which sometimes is called the God that failed, which was sort of authentic in the early years, then it became a joke. We’re seeing it in Russia right now; the worst commissars are now the ones who are most passionate about the free-market and investing and enriching yourself and so on. They’ve made the transition very easily and I think the reason is: There’s no transition. There’s only a different estimate as to where Power is, but it’s the same ideology; beat the people with the people stick. In fact if you look at modern democratic theory in the West it’s remarkably Leninist.
An email I sent to Mayor Rob Ford that I thought I’d share:
Dear Mayor Ford,
I have just completed the survey that the City is conducting at the moment and I would like to stress that this survey is merely an opinion poll and does not amount to public consultation as it is billed.
Real public consultation happens on a community level through Citizen committees, open meetings and open participation in decision making. It is certain that we cannot consult everyone about everything and indeed this is potentially damaging, because the majority has no business in deciding for smaller groups with specific interest what is best for them. But we should definitely see the city engaging with specific interest groups (be it a geographical neighbourhood, a trade or profession, a cultural community &c.. for example a priority neighbourhood, garbage collectors, cyclists &c..) Those residents with specific interest shouldn’t merely ratify council’s policies but ought to actively engage in shaping the policies that concern them.
And I would like to clarify that these groups should not comprise of businesses but of business Owners not of unions but of union Workers not of taxpayers but of Citizens (including non-Canadian Residents) etc. and that their input should not be valued based on its financial value to the City coffers and indeed not to private coffers, but rather based on its intellectual merit including but not limited to matters of fiscal concern.
I would like to see the City as an arbitrator on local and specific issues and as an executive only on matters of city-wide concern.
Thank you for reading this and thank you for your time.
Yours with the utmost love and respect,
Johnny Dib from Jane and Finch.
N.B Rob Ford has been the conservative mayor of Toronto since December 2010 after a landslide victory that saw the suburbs vote for him and the downtown wards vote against him. He ran a campaign of penny pinching, value for money and cut the waste spending and presented himself as the man of the people who returns every single phone call. During the campaign when I asked him about City spending on the promotion of tourism and specifically cited Tourism Toronto whose CEO has a bigger salary than the Mayor, his reply was: I’ll get rid of Graffiti. And indeed crackdown on Graffiti has been one of his major accomplishments along with persuading the Provincial Government to ban transit workers form striking.
A consumer can vote in the free market for the product he prefers or against the product he likes least. The free market in this case provides a proportional representational system of the goods and services consumed by the population¹. Sounds like democracy, until we realize that it’s a passive system, meaning there’s no participation on the part of the consumer but merely preference. When citizens are reduced to taxpayers (consumers of government services) and asked for their preferences every now and then we get the same representative system as in the free market (as opposed to an autocratic system, but not necessarily a representative democracy). I can only call it a representative democracy on the occasions where people actively shape policy², as opposed to simply ratifying policy. So in short, the only democracy is a participatory democray, where if I bring back the analogy to the marketplace, the people are themselves the executives or in the least have a real commanding power over the executives just like an owner of a business has power over its managers. In a real democracy the experts (or as the right-wing likes to call them when the two disagree: the elite) act as a consultant to the people not as a decision maker.
The conditions stated here are the bare minimum for a truly democratic government, and they are not utopia. Most of the major advancements and the improvements in the quality of life in the last few centuries were achieved through the active participation of the public in the shaping of policy. Labour laws that limit exploitation, the women’s right to vote, the civil rights movement, environmental protection &c…
1. My whole argument holds true even if I don’t take into consideration the manipulation that takes place in the market through propaganda and monopolies and &c…
2. And I’m not pessimistic about the public’s ability to shape policy, it happens very frequently. It’s mostly opposition to unwanted policy that succeeds to materialize. But also occasionally the implementation of desirable legislation takes place through this method.