Friday, March 26, 2004

Open University - Idiot Politics Session 1

Well this blog is prompted by an interesting point that bobred raised namely that in a democracy no-one is satisfied because everyone has to make compromises whereas in a dictatorship at least the one in charge is satisfied. OK this was in part I suspect a tongue in cheek remark but nevertheless it raises the question of what is the best method of government if there is such a thing or is it a case of looking for the best of a bad lot? I'm no expert but since this is my blog and not that of Vernon Bogdanor I shall put my views forward.

Let’s tackle those we know first and look at the pros and cons and see if that leads anywhere.

Democracy: In democracy the enfranchised (it would be a mistake to use a generic such as ‘everyone’ or ‘the people’ because this is almost always wrong from Greece to present day US/UK) vote their representatives into government to look after their interests, and therein lies the first problem, this structure already is fundamentally reactionary, for the enfranchised elect representatives for their own interests not primarily for the good of the majority. Thus those outside the system do not necessarily have any method of a voice for their interests. The disenfranchised can lobby for increased rights in a number of ways, they can seek to win round those already in the system to widen the scope of the franchise. This can usually take 2 forms, the genuine altruistic radical who fights for the equality because s/he believes it is correct to do so or the pragmatic rebel who believes it is necessary to throw the occasional bone to the masses in order to preserve the structure of the existing status quo. Another form of social change can be brought about by revolution, this doesn’t have to be a Russia 1917 style, it can be minor insurrection or civil disobedience or such like. Now the severity of this and the prospective success are not linked in the way one might think. In fact the effectiveness of such action is determined by how secure the ruling classes feel. Should their hold on power be strong they have many ways to avoid having to change such as politics and in a worst case scenario the military. If, however their grip on government is weak they will often try to put down any trouble in a more conciliatory way. Sometimes these mini-concessions are provided before such trouble, it is part of a strategy of social control, because the more pro-active the establishment is the easier it can shape social consciousness to prevent such rumblings below from ever happening.

Dictatorship: Now what we would assume is meant by dictatorship is a sort of inverse pyramid structure with a despot at the top who has in practise absolute power. In reality there are few circumstances where this simplistic view really holds water. Firstly one person cannot ever pull all the strings regardless of how much they might want to, they simply do not have the time. Thus what is generated is a series of mini-dictators who look after an individual area of policy, they have on a day to day basis autonomy but report to the dictator at the top on larger matters and at his/her bequest. This was certainly the case of Hitler in 1930's Germany who had such a convuluted beaureacratic structure that it was often impossible to get day-to-day things done, there was a party structure which ran almost parallel to a state structure. Whilst my knowledge of the intricasies of Stalin's time is less I suspect the MO was similar. The problem with Dictatorship is that you are dependent on the nature of a few select people, in certain matters they may be perceived to be benign, many Germans alive in the 1930's thought that Hitler did much to ease the economic situation and provide employment. However they attributed this change to him and the NSdAP rather than looking at the global economic cycle and how war-footing economies work etc.

So what's the difference, well in dictatorship people often do not have the illusion of a representative democracy, this means they have very little way of expressing their grievances but is the situation much different in a democracy? I would contend that it is simply a shift in who and how many hold the power, the actual representative side is a sham. look at Britain now, if you do not agree with middle-class neo-liberal politics and there are plenty of people who do not who would you vote for in an election, there is no real choice at the moment. [I hasten to add I sincerely hope that RESPECT will be able to offer at least some hope for this] If you take the US the way their system is structured the candidate in the presidential election who was voted for by the popular majority was not elected (and this is disregarding the Florida fiasco, the vote numbers issue is not under discussion) the way the electoral system is set out the final say rests with a fundamentally reactionary group hence the appointment of Bush. And yet where are the UN and EU election observers -if this had been in an African country you can bet your arse they'd be scrutinising the current election. Finally it's not as if this is the first time irregularities have happened in the US, and Britain doesn't even have a secret ballot so forgive me if I don't buy into the democracy principle.

Next week: Communism and Anarchy