Jump to content
The Education Forum

Do we live in a democracy?

John Simkin

Recommended Posts

Honest men will lie and decent men will cheat for power. Few reach the political pinnacles without selling what they do not own and promising what is not theirs to give. In the great and grueling quest for power it is easy to forget that power belongs not to those who possess it for the moment but to the nation and its people.

While power need not be corrupting, it is impossible to deny that the American political system invites corruption. Men must accumulate funds to campaign for office. Those who finance the campaigns expect a return on their investment. Those who are elected must listen to the special interests while they preach about the public interest. To lead they often must follow men whose motives are self-serving.

To keep the White House, Richard Nixon raised more campaign cash than it cost him originally to gain the White House. His agents systematically contacted the nation's great corporations and gave them campaign quotas for their executives to raise. Some paid their allotments hoping it would keep the government off their backs. Others, like International Telephone and Telegraph, sought to make a deal in return for a campaign commitment. Only a few, like American Motors, refused to ante up. Staggering sums were raised to reelect the President. The cost to the people of the United States, and to the free enterprise system, is still being paid in installments.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 64
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

The US and the UK are bourgeois democracies (i.e everyone can say what they like so long as the corporations take the decisions!) but this does not mean they impose or promote democracy in other countries.

South Africa was a bourgeois democracy - for the whites who had the vote. Israel is a bourgeois democracy but I do not think the Palestinians voted to have the IDF running over their children with tanks.

Colonialism is not about "spreading democracy". The debate over whether the Americans will tolerate a government in Iraq which tells them to p*** off exemplifies this. I do not think anyone actually referred to the South Vietnamese government as a democracy and Reagan's arming of the Contra terrorists, the backing of Pinochet in Chile and a thousand other examples indicate that

"They've got to be protected,

All their rights respected,

Till somebody we like can be elected."

(as Tom Lehrer observed)

Have a nice day.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The US and the UK are bourgeois democracies (i.e everyone can say what they like so long as the corporations take the decisions!)

This is a specious position. The UK is clearly a representative democracy in that all citizens have the vote and their is a plurality of parties to vote for. There is also nothing to stop Derek forming his own party and standing for election at any level he chooses. In fact a plethora of minority parties of both extreme right and extreme left are tolerated in the British system. The people have a genuine power to change things in any direction they wish if only they wished it!

Whether aspects of the system could be improved or not is more open to debate. For instance I do not understand why a "democratic country" should fund and sustain an unelected Head of State. I am also deeply concerned about the control of information and the media and consequent structuring of agenda and debate in the UK and in other powerful western democracies. (I suspect this to be a major causal factor in the cynicism which leads to low voter turn out statistics).

I am also concerned that the following statement suggests a deep disregard for democracy and its associated civil rights;

South Africa was a bourgeois democracy - for the whites who had the vote. Israel is a bourgeois democracy but I do not think the Palestinians voted to have the IDF running over their children with tanks.

Derek is quite open open his affiliation to a Marxist-Leninist political party. Lord preserve us from a "Workers democracy" based on the Soviet model. :tomatoes

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am also concerned that the following statement suggests a deep disregard for democracy and its associated civil rights;


South Africa was a bourgeois democracy - for the whites who had the vote. Israel is a bourgeois democracy but I do not think the Palestinians voted to have the IDF running over their children with tanks.

Derek is quite open open his affiliation to a Marxist-Leninist political party. Lord preserve us from a "Workers democracy" based on the Soviet model.

This is a quote within a quote so I apologise for any confusion.

In Britain we have the right to vote, the right to freedom of speech, the right to organise and the right to strike. This is not because our betters gave us these things. It is because the chartists, the tolpuddle martyrs, the suffragettes and others labelled as "extremists" at the time took them warmly by the throat and insisted.

In point of fact nothing which I have said suggests a disregard, deep or otherwise, for democratic rights. However if democracy is such a good thing why don't the public elect the bosses of Microsoft, or General Motors or of News Corporation? Why is it more democratic to have these powerful conglomerates run on authoritarian lines?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

The west is the traditional home of democracy. The fact that western countries share various, usually unspoken characteristics, however, is often ignored. They were the first to industrialise. They colonised a majority of the world, invariably denying their colonies democracy. They were overwhelmingly ethnically homogeneous. Developing countries, for the most part, have faced the opposite circumstances: takeoff in the context of an economically dominant west; the absence, in the context of colonial rule, of indigenous democratic soil; and far greater ethnic diversity.

The west remains oblivious to the profound difficulties presented by ethnic diversity. As Amy Chua points out in World on Fire, democracy is far from a sufficient condition for benign governance in the kind of multiracial societies that are common in Africa and Asia. Democracy, the politics of the majority, allows the majority ethnic group to govern, potentially without constraint. Multi-ethnic societies, like Malaysia or Nigeria, require, for their stability, a racial consensus: democracy, resting on majorities and minorities, is deaf to this problem.

Moreover, democracy works very differently in different cultures. In Japan, the Liberal Democrats have formed every government, apart from a brief interruption, since democracy was introduced more than 50 years ago. The political arguments that count take place between unelected factions of the governing party rather than between elected parties. The Japanese model of democracy - or the Korean or Taiwanese - may have the same trappings as western democracy, but there the similarities largely end.

If it is mistaken to regard western democracy as a universal abstraction that is equally applicable across the world, it is also wrong to see it as frozen and unchanging. Indeed, there are grounds for believing that western democracy, as we have known it, is in decline. The symptoms have been well-rehearsed: the decline of parties, the fall in turnout, a growing disregard for politicians, the displacement of politics from the centre-stage of society. These trends have beenobservable more or less everywhere for at least 15 years.

The underlying reasons are even more disturbing than the symptoms. The emergence of mass suffrage and modern party politics coincided with the rise of the labour movement, which drove the extension of the vote and obliged political parties to engage in popular mobilisation. The rise of the modern labour movement, moreover, provided societies with real choices: instead of the logic of the market, it offered a different philosophy and a different kind of society. The decline of traditional social-democratic parties, as illustrated by New Labour, has meant the erosion of choice, at least in any profound sense of the term. The result is that voting has often become less meaningful. Politics has moved on to singular ground: that of the market.

The influence of the market is manifest in multiple ways. The funding of parties now moves solely to its rhythm: big business and the rich are as important to New Labour as they are to the Conservatives. The same interests fund, and therefore influence, the parties. Big money calls the tune. Nowhere is this truer than in American politics, which has become a plutocracy mediated by democracy, rather than the reverse. As the media has displaced traditional forms of discourse and mobilisation, ownership of the media has become increasingly important in the determination of political choices and electoral results. The most dangerous example is in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi's ownership of the bulk of the private media has enabled him to transform Italian democracy into something verging on a mediaocracy, leaving politics and the state besieged by his immense personal power and wealth.

Perhaps these developments point to a deeper problem incipient in western democracies. Far from the free market and democracy enjoying the kind of harmonious relationship beloved of western propaganda, democracy grew in fact as a constraint on the market, holding it at bay and enabling a pluralism of values and imperatives. What happens when this healthy tension becomes a dangerous imbalance, in which the market is dominant and consumerism is established as the overriding ethos of society, permeating politics just as it has invaded every other nook and cranny of society? Democracy comes under siege. In Italy it is already gasping for breath. In the US it is deeply and increasingly flawed. Democracy is neither a platitude nor an eternal verity - either for the world or for the west.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

"No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Winston S Churchill, 1947

I know quoting arch-imperialist-racist-bogeyman Churchill clearly puts me in the reactionary, older generation camp, but I do think there's a lot to be said for his position.

Yes, in bourgeois democracy an inordinate amount of power is concentrated in the hands of a few oligarchs.

Yes, there is little real choice between Blairite New Labour and the Conservatives and even less between New Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Yes, the elected representatives are distant and largely unaccountable.

Yes, public frustration with their lack of control over the system leads to ever-greater levels of apathy and abstention.

And yes, it's all a lot worse in the USA!

So, what's the alternative?

I think we can discount Athenian direct democracy. Modern society is just too interconnected and complicated for the ordinary citizens to exercise direct control.

So, if we reject repesentative democracy -- for all the reasons I listed above -- then with what should we replace it?

I suppose we could move towards some sort of system based on frequent plebiscites or referendums. Unfortunately, we'd then be out of Europe, have swingeing restrictions on immigration, have brought back hanging, etc, etc. I don't think I'd prefer to live in a society based on those sorts of values.

Another alternative would be to put all our trust in the wisdom and strength of will of a single leader. Perhaps we could even be allowed to elect him/her (once). However, the Germans and Italians tried this and it didn't work too well for them.

So what, exactly, are the critics of western-style democracy proposing to replace it with?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So what, exactly, are the critics of western-style democracy proposing to replace it with?

Good question. I am willing to get the ball rolling with my plan.

My first move would be to abolish the House of Lords. In future, the country would be governed by a single chamber, the House of Citizens (yes, the monarchy would have to go as well).

The election would be based on proportional representation. The parliament would be for a fixed two-year term. The government would have no power over deciding when elections take place.

A referendum would be held where the British public would decide on which six political parties would receive state grants. After this, individuals would only be allowed to provide that party with a maximum of £50 a year. All organizations would be forbidden to fund these political parties.

All political parties would publish a manifesto explaining why they deserved state funding. The public would then make their decision to decide the six political parties. I would expect the six to be New Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats, Socialist, Green and a right-wing Nationalist Party. This vote would be held every five years in order to enable the British public to replace the existing parties with another party.

All MPs would be paid a fixed wage (around £35,000). Government ministers, including the prime minister, would receive the same money. This would mean that all politicians would be encouraged to use the public services that they currently control. I think you will find that this would result in a dramatic improvement in these services.

Of course, this fixed wage rate would stop a large number of people wanting to become MPs. However, it will guarantee that those who do get elected have a strong commitment to public service. It would have the added advantage of keeping out people in highly paid jobs who see entering parliament as a good career move.

The money spent by parties on general elections would be tightly controlled. The state would pay for party manifestos to be delivered to every household. All television stations would show political broadcasts. Each party would be given the same amount of time.

Using this system, one political party is likely to have an overall majority. Therefore, the leader of the largest political party would be given the opportunity to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition government. If he or she fails in this, the leader of the second largest political would be given the opportunity to form a government. In fact, it is possible that the two largest parties might not actually form a government (for example, you might end up with a Liberal Democrat/Socialist/Green coalition.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Tony Blair is probably the most corrupt prime minister we have had in our history. There is evidence that money given to his party by certain businessmen has influenced government policy. It has been done very cleverly and it is difficult to prove (Blair is rarely directly involved in these negotiations).

Recently the parliamentary ombudsman forced Tony Blair to disclose details of private meetings he has had with commercial lobbyists. This has resulted in the revelation that Blair had a private meeting with Paul Drayson on 6th December, 2001. Soon afterwards two things happened: (1) Drayson donated £100,000 to the Labour Party; (2) Drayson’s company, PowerJect, won a £32 million contract to produce a smallpox vaccine. The most surprising aspect of this contract was that it was not put out to open tender. If it had of been the contract would have gone to a German-Danish company called Bavarian Nordic. It is this company that Drayson has purchased the smallpox vaccine from. It is believed that Drayson paid Bavarian Nordic £12m for the vaccine. In other words his £100,000 investment has resulted in a £20m profit.

It was recently revealed (Robin Ramsay’s The Rise of New Labour) that when Blair became a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994, Gideon Meir, a senior official at the Israeli Embassy in London, introduced him to Michael Levy (an extremely wealthy Jewish businessmen). Levy agreed to help Blair to become leader of the party. Levy, with the help of four other Jewish businessmen (Sir Emmanuel Kaye, Sir Trevor Chinn, Maurice Hatter, and David Goldman) provided Blair with £7m. This paid for his campaign plus the running of his private office. This money allowed Blair to become independent of Labour Party funding. Could it be this money, rather than the charm of George Bush, that persuaded Blair to give his support to the American (Israeli) policy in the Middle East.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The sad truth about the USA today is that its governement has now been taken over by extremeists. George W Bush is undoubtedly the worst thing ever to have happened to the United States since the Civil War. Bush junior is an illiterate incoherent idiot. How this moron became president of the United States is a mystery. He certainly was not elected president.

The sooner the United States throws GWB and his neocons out the better and safer place the United States and the world will be.

I look forward to November 2004 to see George W Bush being trounced and humliated at the ELECTION!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

We not only need a radical strengthening of parliament's holding the executive to account but also, even more important, new forms of direct democracy involving the electorate.

In parliament, we need a fully elected second chamber - perhaps based on regional representation - in order to secure a more democratic determination of policy than a whipped programme handed down from above without genuine consultation. We need cabinet appointments to be ratified at a public hearing of the appropriate select committee before they can come into effect, so that the principle of joint accountability to both prime minister and parliament is established, with the option of recall by either where justified.

We need the appointment of the chair and members of specialist committees of inquiry (such as Hutton and Butler), and their terms of reference, to require approval by the relevant select committee. And we need the members of these revamped committees to be elected - in quotas reflecting the balance between the parties in the Commons - by MPs of each party in a secret ballot. If introduced, these measures would greatly strengthen parliament in checking the centralisation of power in the executive.

But the democratic deficit will not be met without wider reform. Turnout at elections is steadily declining because people feel that one vote every 4-5 years gives them no influence over major events - foundation hospitals, top-up fees, GM crops, war in Iraq, to name just some.

Bills, instead of being hammered through parliament on a whipped vote, should be examined first by a Commons committee in televised sessions, with specialist witnesses. Interested electors could then offer online comments, to be fed into the parliamentary process.

Even more important is to draw on best democratic experience from abroad. In Switzerland, for example, citizens have a right to call a referendum on any issue they like, so long as they gather enough signatures. Indeed, any new law brought before the Swiss parliament can be challenged by the voters before it is enacted. If 1% of the population sign up to a proposal within an 18-month period, it can be voted on by the public and, if passed, become law. This really is direct democracy in action.

Suppose, more modestly, we were to require a 5% threshold: that would require nearly 2 million people to sign up - an exacting demand, but by no means a prohibitive one. It would radically transform our politics.

Of course there is a risk, with inflammatory tabloid headlines, that law-making could be too influenced by emotions rather than reasoned judgments. But a delay before a referendum could be held would allow tempers to cool. What is needed is a public debate about the pros and cons of referendums, which would enable us to achieve a real element of direct democracy while minimising any unintended misuses. If we could get that balance, it would re-engage public involvement in the big decisions, make politics meaningful beyond one vote every five years and, as a last resort, hold government leaders to account when all else fails.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 9 months later...
Another poster mentioned our dwindling rights in our democracy.  I certainly would not want to sound cynical but I've felt in my adult years that we have never, by design, been a legitimate democracy.  For a time this was a republic, but our political system has degenerated into an absolute oligarchy.  The assassination is just a good example of this state.  How could we lose what we never had?  The only difference between the old Soviet Union and the United States was that they were honest.  "Life stinks and it'll probably stink tomorrow.  Welcome to the Worker's Paradise."  While our expertise lay in marketing ad advertising.  "Yes, things are not quite right presently, but you get a vote and in four years things will change because of it!"....

Erik, I think this is very much on the mark. There's nothing wrong with sounding cynical when you're stating the truth. I think American democracy to a large extent has been a charade for at least as long (in hindsight) as I can remember.

Dallas and 9/11 are the two most egregious examples of when the oligarchic/MIC beast behind the democratic charade has raised its ugly head to impose basic change. Normally the well-fed beast is content to let the people have their fun and games, vigorously debating about whom to cast their votes for in the next stolen election.

Over the last few months there have been several quotations like those above from Erik and Ron. As an outsider I have long seen America as a flawed democracy. However, our media, portrays America very differently. The impression is given that the American people are not aware of what is happening to their country. This has been reinforced by the re-election of George Bush.

Since starting the JFK Assassination of Forum I have been given new insights into American politics. I know you are not typical but your understanding of the American political process has amazed me. However, your postings have also disturbed me. In the UK we have similar problems with our flawed democratic system as you do. Yet, most of us still feel we can do something about it. Whereas American posters seem resigned to their fate.

I would therefore like to ask two questions: Is America a democracy? If not, can it become a democracy?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But make no mistake about our political system being a democracy.  Just because our first past the post system makes it difficult for smaller voices to be heard, does not mean that populism cannot shake people out of their seats in Washington.

We are also a capitalist system, and as in any other society I can think of, people with lots of money have an inordinate impact on the policies of our country. 

Complacency lets the milionaires club rule through influence peddling.  The people get the governmnet they deserve.  That is democracy.

The current view of the world is that the capitalist system provides the best balance between economic efficiency, freedom of expression and democracy. Other systems such as military dictatorships, the Soviet-style state communist model and German-style fascist dictatorships have all had a poor record when it comes to freedom of expression and democracy.

We therefore seem to be left with capitalism. However, this system has serious drawbacks. For example, it creates a great deal of inequality between individuals and between countries. This leads to conflict and in some cases, wars and recently, acts of terrorism. It also results in large numbers of people dying because they lack food, clean water and access to basic health-care. If unchecked, the capitalist system, because of the way it functions, will also destroy itself and the world.

It seems to me that the only way we are going to live in a harmonious society, let alone survive, is to use the democratic process to shape the economic system that has so much influence over our lives.

Some countries seem to have been more successful than others in this regard. For example, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Although all these countries still have serious problems to deal with, they have managed to place certain restrictions over the power of the wealthy elite.

For a democracy to function effectively, it is necessary to control the amount of power that comes with wealth. Ever since the early days of democracy, wealthy individuals have sought to control the political thoughts of the electors. This has mainly been done by controlling the media. In the 19th century, it was very important for the power elite to control the content of daily newspapers. In the 20th century they also had to do the same thing with radio and television.

Over the last 100 years it has become clear that it is not enough for the power elite to control mass communications. It became vitally important to control the politicians and the political parties that governed the country. In some cases this was done legally by funding the political parties. In return for this money these wealthy individuals expected certain policies to become the law of the land. For example, a low-rate of income-tax and a deregulated economic system. In times of crisis, illegal activity has been necessary. This has usually taken the form of bribing politicians. In other cases, such as with John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, it has involved employing a more drastic strategy.

It seems to me that the best way to save the world is to improve the way democracy works. It means finding a way to make sure we are ruled in the interests of the majority rather than in the interests of a small minority.

At the moment most of the citizens of the developed world appears to be suffering from disillusionment and apathy. Somehow we have got to find a way of activating the world’s citizens. If this happens, it might trigger off the imposition of fascist-style dictatorships, however, if we don’t try, we will never know what is possible.

We have one thing going for us in our favour. That is the change taking place in the field of mass communication. As a result of the web the multinational media corporations are losing control over our minds. This forum is just one example of this important development. Hopefully we will be able to use this new form of mass communication to create a truly democratic system.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some countries seem to have been more successful than others in this regard. For example, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Although all these countries still have serious problems to deal with, they have managed to place certain restrictions over the power of the wealthy elite.

To some extent this was true but during the 1980's we could definitely see a change in Sweden. A big part of this change was connected with the economy and it's more rapid globalization. Several typical "Swedish companies" as SAAB, Volvo, SKF etc... are now part of multinational companies. As a result of this globalization Sweden also joined the European Union (after a referendum that included a mailed threat of economic collapse and ruin if we voted NO sent out by representatives of the YES committee on official goverment papers(!) to all Swedish households and a declared policy of the Social Democratic government to continue with referendums in this matter until Sweden voted YES... )

We now see a bigger similarity between Sweden and the other Western countries when we study political democracy. Swedes who usually showed great interest in national and local politics and actually expressed a belief in being able to influence the political course of the country now reacted in a very similar way to all the countries who have lost their faith in the "democratic elections". One of the biggest signs of this is the lack of interest showed in the elections to the European parliament. In the first Swedish election 1995 to the European parliament 41.6% of the population used their democratic right to vote, in 1999 the number was 38.8% and in 2004 37.85% and we see no sign of any change of this trend. This trend has also affected the national elections. In 1976 91.8% of the population voted in the election to the Swedish parliament. These numbers have gradually dropped and in the latest election "only" 80.1% of the population voted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The sceptic approach towards western liberal democratic system which I can feel when reading certain postings is not uncommon between ordinary people of today.

Democracy is certainly not flawless as a political system. But isn’t it rather a human nature (sometimes brutal sometimes kind, sometimes fair sometimes unfair) which makes democracy to work less well here and there?

It’s first when one loose ”democracy” one discover what terrible thing happened in one’s life!

Isn’t it like eating? Some of us don’t like fish and others are vegetarian. And we all can discuss what kinds of meals are satisfying or dissatisfying to us. But when we are confronted with hunger (a real and deadly hunger) we accept all kinds of food, discovering the value of it.

The same goes for democracy.

Persons living in democracy can speedily count out all the flaws of the system but at the same time are not able to offer plausible solutions to these shortcomings.

Persons consuming democracy for a quite substantial time are often not able to understand that people deprived of it long for it ………

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dear Colleagues,

From my point of view we are living very far from democracy and it is blue dream for people to reach it in one day. But from the other hand we have not nothing better at the moment to use and explore in our daily lives. Communism collapsed as a nice idea for poor people so capitalist implementation of democracy is working in the field now.

I came from totalitarian society and have to say you that your meaning of democracy means death for former USSR republics and people (the whole generation grew up under completely different ideas but under the name of democracy too). Social values dominated during this period of time - people had free of charge medical care, education, houses and had predicable future for their children but now after the so called period of new democracy - millions homeless people, street children (like after WW2 we watch by TV in your countries such a situation but now in every republic millions of poor people and very few have milliards of money to transfer them into West economy not their own, buying football clubs like Abramovich but his own people in Chokotka are dying of starvation but he is a governor of this region - gave people before elections a bottle of vodka and peace of bread according to their newspapers.

Is it democracy they are crying at every corner - no of course not. So, when USA is using military power under the name of democracy I do not believe in their honesty. Oil and resourses, property and money are the main value for them and others countries who supporting them can't refuse because they never will get support from USA and it is better for them under the name of democracy to kill their own people and pay some money to the families. People's life cost very few now.

I was teaching soldiers and officers when we invaded Afganistan that we are helping poor people to live better and build better society. USSR wanted to have total control under this region because USA wanted the same. Who was thinking about ordinary people. Politicians were thinking about their own interest by using poor people in this direction under different names - freedom, democracy socialism and etc. So, millions of our people hate Mr. Gorbachev for his policy and total destruction and he never will get any votes within former USSR but for west he is a Hero.

We are very different and from very different civilisations and systems. It is true and clash of civilisations continue.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now

  • Create New...