What is wrong with Democracy

In memory of Alan MacSimoin

“For two decades the supporters of Bolshevism have been hammering it into the masses that dictatorship is a vital necessity for the defence of the so-called proletarian interests against the assaults of counter-revolution and for paving the way for Socialism. They have not advanced the cause of Socialism by this propaganda, but have merely smoothed the way for Fascism in Italy, Germany and Austria by causing millions of people to forget that dictatorship, the most extreme form of tyranny, can never lead to social liberation. In Russia, the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat has not led to Socialism, but to the domination of a new bureaucracy over the proletariat and the whole people. …”

Rudolf Rocker

The nativist strains of populism currently strangling the world today have been heralded as no more than a throwback to the 1930’s. However, like in the 1930’s, the markets love a pro-business autocrat as he rides roughshod over the planet. It remains to be seen whether he starts a World War but, before that should happen, let’s look at the alternatives anarchism offers, before the mutually assured destruction of democratically elected bullies visits us again.

Anarchism is not always pacifist, but it is less aggressive than ideologies built around a messianic leader. It is also less gun-ready than most democracies, where the will of preservation of wealth (of both the political class, and their sponsors) leads to repression, curtailment or suspension of civil liberties, as well as the violent impoverishment of all but a select few. What is incredibly duplicitous about democracy, is the veneer of respectability the offices of the judiciary (institutions professing justice) and the legislature (institutions professing the ‘will of the people’) lend the executive. The Castle upon a hill, so to speak. Even to question its legitimacy is to question the very essence of ‘justice, humanity and the values of mankind’.

The judiciary doles out exorbitant punishments for those guilty of crimes borne out of necessity or dictated by a life of poverty certain citizens are borne into (larceny, drug dealing and drunk & disorderly conduct). However, for securities fraud or insider trading, as evidenced by the bankers, property developers and sundry before the last recession, the punishments did not fit the crime (Seán Fitzpatrick, chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, was acquitted of all charges brought against him and was allowed to keep a €22m pension after defrauding the State of millions). Capitalism could not exist without the state, which enforces property rights, and democracy is the most streamlined perversion of a capitalist state.

Democracy also isn’t as free as its champions claim, nor does it perpetuate itself. Democracies have supported autocrats (in the Middle-East, say) until they have outlasted their use, before being ousted by democracies military-industrial complex. Democracies entrench privilege in much the same way monarchies did during the age of exploration. They are a cosseted virtue for the rich, nominally just for their citizens, and entirely rapacious of lesser citizens. It is a more effective means of control, as subjects believe their autonomy (“I have a vote”).

Anarchism takes the notion of inherited power, evidenced by both democracies ruling élite, and monarchy’s regal court, and aims to subvert it by diffusing it throughout a society, on a voluntary, cooperative basis. Voluntary, as coercion is against its cause and would lead to tyranny of the few believers over an agnostic many (think Soviet-era Russia), and cooperative as anarchy, as any system, requires a majority of people living under it, to work to further its means. However, the cooperation under anarchism aims at sharing power, not amassing it.

There is a terrific irony in democrats piling the failures of democratic governance to curb neoliberal greed and capitalistic excess on those same neoliberal capitalists. Democracy is nurtured by capital, its offices oiled by dollars and its politicians weaned on the whiff of money. And it has always been this way, Adam Smith wrote that “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

‘Democracy’ in the 21st century doesn’t even resemble the democracy that Smith was fearing. The capitalists can cheat and steal under democracy simply because capital is king, not the body politic. We, as products of participatory democracy are enthralled by the vague promises that a better day will come, even after being simultaneously abused by a system that holds us in contempt and exploited by those whose interests in keeping the illusion of democracy alive are very real. We are victims of the age of democracy and yet, we feel we owe it a debt of gratitude.

However, before we lose the run of ourselves, let us not despair. Anarchism offers simple solutions. Now I will focus on what anarchism brings to the table, that we all may sleep more peacefully. The main strength of anarchism for the 21st Century is this: Anarchism is anti-authoritarian. This means not only will it fight against the Trumps, Dutertes and Xinpings of the world to make the world safer, more environmentally-friendly and less hierarchical but, it will set the stage for true freedom for all people. The great thing about anarchism is its endless malleability. There are as many theories of anarchism, as there are thinkers but, I think Bookchin summarized it correctly. Anarchism is “a confederation of decentralized municipalities; an unwavering opposition to statism; a belief in direct democracy; and a vision of a libertarian communist society”.


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