Saturday, 4 July 2009

Ultra-Left vs Democracy (unfinished)

[some things need more work. if you can think of a better definition of democracy, please send it.]

Today I've been reading a couple of ultraleft critiques of democracy, Gilles Dauve's Contribution to a Critique of Political Autonomy and the pamphlet Communism against Democracy, containing texts from Wildcat and Against Sleep and Nightmare.

Dauve's text, at 32 pages, is not particularly clear or useful, but the latter two are. The below quote is from And Democracy Continues its March by Sleep & Nightmare.

No scheme for managing society will by itself create a new society. Highly democratic, highly authoritarian and mixed schemes are now used to administer capitalism. The basic quality of capitalism is that the average person has little or no control over their daily life. Wage labor dominates society. You must exchange your life to buy back your survival. Whether people under capitalism make the decisions about which records they buy, which inmates serve long sentences, what color the streetlights are, etc., is irrelevant.

The community that escapes capitalism will involve people directly controlling the way they live.
This is the individual and collective refusal of work, commodity production, and exploitation. This will involve much collective decision making and much individual decision making. The transformation cannot be reduced to a set way of making decisions or a fixed plan of action.

Not believing in democracy means not automatically knowing how to proceed if people have profound disagreements. So be it.

The Ultra-Left love their rhetoric.

But anyway. The critique of democracy should begin at a brief definition of what capitalism is, versus what communism is. They say, "The basic quality of capitalism is that the average person has little or no control over their daily life", which is fair enough as a 12 word summary. This arises from the division of social production into independent commodity producers (via the commodity form) and from the internal division between owners and non-owners of capital (via private property).

Communism, on the other hand, "will involve people directly controlling the way they live." Again, fair enough, this will arise from common control over the means of life.

So, what the hell is democracy? Actually, I'm gonna eat my words, Dauve actually does make one point in particular better than these lads:

Ancient Greece’s real contribution to history was not the principle of democracy as a set of rules and institutions by which citizens make collective decisions. The innovation went deeper. It invented what democracy is based upon: a special time-space reserved for confrontation, and distinct from the rest of social life. In that specifi c sphere, a person is taken away from his private interests, from fortune and status differences, from his social superiority or inferiority, and placed on an equal footing with all the other citizens. Equality of rights alongside social inequality: that is the definition of politics.

Well done Gilles. Have a link, you deserve it.

Ok, so let's say that democracy is a model of governance that constructs a specific space of governance for a polity and allocates equal decision-making to all members within this space.

Aha!! So, we can immediately start the critique by targeting the fallacy that implies that
- formal equality of power within the decision-making space is equivalent to real equality in the polity, thus subduing the actual relationships of power that define the people in the polity and ultimately overdetermine the construction of the democratic space itself. Boom!

Which leads us to a more substantive awareness of the separation between power and policy-making within modern society. Historically, these emerged from the strategic separation of these spheres as a defensive manouevre by Enlightenment liberals, so that politics becomes an issue of determining to what extent political power can intervene in economic matters. This, of course, again surfaces in the liberal doctrine of 'negative freedom', and all these bum concepts have at their basis the desire of the emerging capitalist class to ensure their freedom and security of property against state power.

In this way, we can see how democracy as separate space for arbitration of disputes and issues between private individuals is a very sensible political method for dealing with the problems of a society of property owners. As the boy I.I. Rubin wrote:

The distinctive characteristic of the commodity economy is that the managers and organizers of production are independent commodity producers (small proprietors or large entrepreneurs). Every separate, private firm is autonomous, i.e., its proprietor is independent, he is concerned only with his own interests, and he decides the kind and the quantity of goods he will produce. On the basis of private property, he has at his disposal the necessary productive tools and raw materials, and as the legally competent owner, he disposes of the products of his business. Production is managed directly by separate commodity producers and not by society. Society does not directly regulate the working activity of its members, it does not prescribe what is to be produced or how much.

But the market cannot solve everything. As these autonomous firms proceed solely upon their own interests they necessarily come into conflict with each other (I'm visualising capitalism as a day at the bumper cars here). As such, there is clearly needed a space of arbitration, where the autonomy and independence of the market can be laid aside, so that matters can be resolved in the interest of the polity as a whole.

Anyway, I have another problem, one of my own construction, and that is that:
- the 'polity' that is governed by democracy, is often, in fact, constructed via democracy. Which is a fancy way of saying that democracy rests on a people; it implies the self-governance of a particular, identifiable group.
- However, the group that is governed is not cast in iron; it is composed of many sub-groups, and it has many connections which exceed the bounds of the group.
- Democracy, as an abstraction, reinforces the bounds of group and limits sub-groups within these bounds.
- Democracy then allows for the 'people' (or organisation) to be posed over and against the real people
- Democracy then acts as a limit of the activity of sub-groups, and these groups consequently experience their membership of the democratic group as unfreedom.

Democracy in a Lefty Organisation
As mentioned earlier, I'm interested in developing ideas for how an anarchist organisation can run itself better.

Now, I think the thing to emphasise here is the practicalities of what needs to be decided.

I will first of all say that the theory of the organisation should be immediately connected with its activities. It does not need a position on the Chinese Revolution if it is concerned with organising tenants to agitate for social housing. However, an anarchist organisation will need to share a common outlook on the nature of its environment (i.e. society), the changes it wishes to make, and some general principles about making them.

To direct its activity, however, an anarchist organisation does not need reams of analysis. The general orientation and approach to the environment supplies the basis, the next steps will be taken autonomously, by the interaction of individuals and sub-groups with the environment.

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