n ik on Fri, 26 Oct 2001 11:41:23 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime>the myth of democracy and reactivism

Ian andrews wrote:

>  >"Get back to the 'real' democracy"
>   I don't think Marcus said anything resembling this at all.

having now obtained a transcript of his talk, this would be the 
opening passage from which i based my opinion that the 'tone' of his 
talk was one of 'gettting back'...

"I am going to try and talk a little bit about democracy today 
because I believe that the root of the problem of our politcal 
environment are not questions of particular individuals - as easy as 
they are to demonise - or particular issues and their outcomes - as 
important as they may be. The crisis at the root cause of the problem 
is that we have stretched an anicient system of representation into a 
21st century society and it no longer delivers on its most basic 
promise: to ensure that views of all people are represented in the 
decision making process and in the exercise of power."

seems to me here that he is setting up a mythical 'ancient system of 
representation' as the real democracy that has been perverted or some 

>I did hear him
>say something about resurrecting useful tools from the historical concept
>of democracy such as the "seperation of powers" (police, judiciary, church,
>parliament, etc.).

i agree. he did talk quite extensively on this. the point i was 
trying to make was the way democracy has been used (through the 
various seperate powers) throughout its history stands in opposition 
to the "promise" of its myth - its most basic promise was never 
delivered, and IMHO, will never be delivered.

I would argue though, that democracy as it currently exists amounts 
to little more than 'the rule of the few'. again, from his talk:

"At the heart of our democratic system is a clear notion of the 
seperation of powers within our society. This takes the form of 
seperating notions of church and state, seperating the legislative, 
and executive roles of government; seperating the judiciary and law 
enforcement. It is an opportune time to revist this idea: to look at 
the role of corporate power, the mass media, and multilateral 
institutions from other forms of power. This takes practical form in 
removing donations from corporate interests to political parites, 
diversifying the mass media and seperating the ownership of media 
power from other commercial and other interests. "

I fail to see how a) this could possibly be achieved as a reform of 
current democratic systems, and b) how this seperation would stop any 
informal coalitions, networks, etc coming into being and and 
developing massive and overwhelming influence. I would say that it 
is, and has largely always been the informal networks and connections 
that have driven and maintained the current systems of democratic 

>  Its not a question of a return to some previous era, or
>some idealised past. Its more a question of utilising tools, finding new
>mechanisms, creating new structures that can help provide a means toward
>affirming social change, while avoiding the duplication of current power
>relations, and avoiding the solidification of these ideas into doctrine.

i agree totally - which is why i objected to utilising the 'myth' of 
democracy. All of what you talk about has been addressed in countless 
alternate structures, processes, and systems. Why do we need to use a 
term that has such a tainted past? There an many examples of 
democracy being a myth that has been utilised for progressive social 
causes/ gains / etc. But there is a long and weighty history of it 
being used otherwise - to mask inequity, oppression, colonisation, 
etc....What I objected too most in marcus' talk was the re-deployment 
of the 'myth' of democracy...But I would be happy with a little more 
care used with the word (i know its not going anywhere...)

>The suggestion that some kind of society
>that can naturally evolve outside of the nation-state schema, that  would
>be a "society in which we wish to live" simply by _not_ being a
>nation-state, this simple state-denial, embodies an even greater idealism
>than the ideal of democracy.

so, there weren't societies before there were nation-states? surely 
i've read this wrong, b/c as far as i remember, nation-states are a 
fairly recent phenomena. could you expand on this society without 
state - state-denial point?

>This particular anti-state brand of idealism
>seems to carry with it all the problems of right-wing born again Christian
>idealism, or even neo-liberal free market idealism, for me to feel
>comfortable with it.

how did you get from society without state - state-denial point to 
state-denial-right-wing born again christian??
I am perhaps reading you wrong, but I would have thought the claim 
that anti-state 'idealism' - right-wing born again christan would be 
evidence of someone who could not imagine any other way of life than 
the one they currently enjoy...
but perhaps you can explain this point as well... how does anti-state 
politics equate to right-wing born again christian beliefs?

>For example, one of the most urgent questions of today involves the
>question of resposibility.

i disagree. the most urgent question is the same as it has been for 
the entire history of the era of modern democracies - who has the 
power. The myth of democracy makes this question one of "who should 
we choose to give our power too so they can take responsibility for 
us"...and the reality is "those with the power make it their 
responsibility to make sure they keep it"

>Who will take responsibility for the dispossed,

...perhaps the dispossed should get back the power to take care of themselves

>The answer
>must be "all of us." But we need some mechanism to do this. I can't say
>what this could be, at the moment, but I would suggest that it involves a
>number of strategies, including the rethinking of the concept of the state
>that radically distances it from paternalism, and that incorporates, as
>Marcus suggested, the idea (from the liberal democratic state) of the
>seperation of powers, and a multiplicity of channels (perhaps through
>autonomous social actors).

...and i would say that yet another 'reform' of this system will not 
get us very far. But i have no grand plan in front of me for another 
system - there are plenty out there though (a decent place to start 
to look through them would be the World Social Forum - 
http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br/). My main point was that 
democracy has *never* been the promise that marcus talked of - and 
that it had in fact been used to obscure this fact, and promote 
itself as a system worth fighting / living / voting for (as though 
you ever had any real choice in the matter)

>Also the relationship of activist groups to the (a) state also needs to be
>rethought.   I find highly problematic the familiar situation where
>activist opposition _to_ the very concept of the nation-state is presented
>simmultaneously with demands for responsibility _from_ the nation-state.

do you find it problematic on a strategic or idealogical front?

a quick response to this would be,

a) there is no one set of activist groups - they are all different, 
and use different tactics. so of course there will be 
'inconsistencies' between them.
b) these inconsistencies can be useful - consider it a swarm attack. 
Multiple attacks from multiple angles (the refugee / borders 
campaigns is a case in point - a combination of refugee action 
collectives, human rights NGO's and no borders activists all working 
to attack a single entity to achieve differing aims. Is this useful? 
This is an interesting question...)
c) when one group does it, it could be a difference between 
strategies (long term goals and direction) and tactics (short term 
goals and aims). A 'holding' action could aim for legislative change, 
whist the group maintains its 'anti-state' strategic goal...

>  >The question is not "how do we bring about a 'real' democracy", for there
>>is no >>'real' democracy to base any comparison on.>  The question is, does 
> this myth >>have an power to bring about a society in which we wish to live?
>  >
>  >I'd say no - its (his)tory is so tainted, from mercantilism, imperialism,
>>class >  >division, patriarchy, racism=8Aetc, that it is near impossible to 
>> 'clear out' >  >the concept and make it usable.
>Does the concept of democracy neccessarily have to be intertwined with
>capitalism, even though its (recent) history has been so?

my understanding is that it *is* intertwined (so closely as to almost 
be indivisable) - its not a question of rhetoric....I don't know of a 
period where democracy wasn't explicitely involved in capitalism (or 
mercantilism & imperialism). But, I'm not an accademic, or a 
historian, so perhaps someone could set the record straight for me - 
when was democracy not a front for for capitalism (ah, yeh, i know 
about Athens, but wasnt that a patriarcal slave trading mercantile 

>It has been the
>familiar line of Western propaganda (particularly US) that the exportation
>of democracy can only be achieved by establishing free market capitalism.
>The propaganda argument goes something like this: the free market is the
>means to democracy, which is the end, ie. the idealised concept of
>democracy is used as a justification for capitalism.

i agree completely - jonathan jay posted something on this list a 
sort time back that said exactly that:

"-- The cynical notion of "Exporting Democracy" is in practice a conceptual
fulcrum, a brilliantly conceived piece of meta-propaganda, effective both
internally and externally to gain policy traction from the political classes
(who pride themselves on proper 'values' while ignoring the fact that mass
politics is a hermetically sealed spectator sport).  The true role of
'democracy' is as a trojan horse to accelerate the the scale-up of Western
Capital's (19th century Imperial fantasy) of Global Neoliberal Empire."

>Where as the reverse
>is more to the point: democracy is the means to the free market, which
>becomes the end.

i'd take issue with this. As far as i read history, the two notions 
evolved together - democracy (and the work ethic) were intimately 
bound up in the successsion of the bourgeoisie to the  'throne'. that 
would make democracy and capitalism both the means and the end for a 
small section of the global population

>Also, the whole history of suffrage, from the time when only the property
>holding elite (men) were entitled to elect their parliamentry
>representatives, to the present situation of universal suffrage, is
>characterised much more as a movement _away_ from class division,
>patriarchy and racism.

...though, down here in the arse-end of the Global North, patriarchy 
is alive and well, racism never went away (from the life expectancy 
of indigenous australians, to the fear of being swamped by 'asians'), 
and class division (if we're just measuring the wealth disparity) is 
growing. But to that last point i would add that you cant measure 
such ti-hings purely within the boundaries of a nation-state. our 
economy is so intimately bound up in the global economy, it makes far 
more sense to take about the global population - and there it is 
clear that democracy has made the fewest of concessions vis-a-vis 
suffrage, and generally maintained the class division,
patriarchy and racism that characterise it...

>We must
>remember that these rights were not "granted" by the ruling class, the
>invisible hand of the market, or any of the traditional configurations of
>power, but were won by resistance and struggle.


>This trajectory of democratic reforms had its beginning with
>the Enlightenment, and it is precisely this trajectory, away from the
>traditions, religion and mythology that fostered patriarchy and racism,
>that I would not like to see jettisoned (with the nation-state) in the new

why does the victories won by the multitudes of struggles and 
resistances form nothing more than a trajectory of democratic 
reforms? were these reforms the ultimate goal of the struggles and 
resistances? I'd hazzard a guess that those that were struggling had 
hoped for much more...

>There are also more substantial problems with
>>the myth, the issue of 'representation' being the most important. 
>>Also, a myth
> >so laden with historical baggage is all to easy prey for recuperation by the
>>powers that we would claim it from. Its (his)tory makes it an 'unbalanced
>>sword', always leaning towards its past of mercantilism, imperialism, class
>>division, patriarchy, racism=8Aetc  in 'mythical' and cultural warfare.
>I think what is missing here is the role of the mass media. The mainstream
>media, owned by the the ruling class, carry all of this baggage and, to a
>large extent, determine what democracy is. I believe that it is the media,
>more than any other political institution, that succeed in radically
>narrowing the scope of democratic choice. One way they do this is by making
>sure that the political adgenda is dominated by economic concerns.
>Political parties must play the game and add up all the accounts, balance
>the books, and conform to the puritan ideal of "thrift" in order to appear
>to be credible.  This limits the possibility of any long term vision, and
>hence any possibility of social change.  Progressive political parties,
>forced to reduce their ideas to a banal economic register, become pale
>reflections of the conservative parties  If anything, the scope of
>democracy needs to be expanded, perhaps in much the same way that the scope
>of the labour movement expanded in the late 1960s.

there have been massive changes in the make-up of the political 
landscapes of nation-states and democracy from the time of the early 
industrial revolution to today, but i would argue that the mass media 
have not fundamentally changed the way in which the myth of democracy 
is contructed (its basic promise that is). the selling of that myth 
has become far more complex and non-linear though...the point being 
that there was never any 'real' democracy underneath all of the 
promises and tales told.

>There   is no longer any opportunity for making
>deals (such as productivity deals) with capitalism (to liberalise it),
>since there is no longer anything (like the threat of communism) to bargain
>with. We must look for new strategies, new tools....

 i agree totally, which is why i would see the myth of democracy cast aside...


>Ian Andrews
>Metro Screen

I was such an optimistic kid. I'm an anarchist because I'm angry 
about not being able to be an astronaut

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