“Social democracy is the new right. It has taken on the historic task of taming neoliberalism in a spirit of vacuous opportunism. It is at war with Serbia today and may be fighting its own suburbs tomorrow. All in the name of realism, not rocking the boat, above all not disturbing the status quo”, wrote Ignacio Ramonet in Le Monde Diplomatique (Social Democracy Betrayed) in April 1999.
So many people are absorbed in confronting transnational corporations and concentrating on the minutiae of WTO agreements, IMF and World Bank policies. But we must also work to deconstruct, delegitimise and dismantle the nature of this “democracy” and the systems of political and economic controls it maintains. If we agree that political parties are little more than changeable masks on the face of corporate power, why do many of us still direct so much energy towards them?
More interventionist economic policies, more regulation, with some nice words like “accountability”, “participatory”, “environmentally sustainable” and “people-centred” thrown in for good measure.
Our mission is supposed to be to save the system and affirm the freedoms and values we all supposedly shared and enjoyed before big business ruled the roost. Meanwhile we are expected to believe that those at the top can and will make real change if we concentrate our time and energies into performing like porpoises, jumping up and down enough to keep them in line.
What masquerades as “social democracy” has nothing to do with the politics of liberation and everything to do with social control. Indeed, in many places the current systems of government are founded on colonisation, occupation, and the suppression of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to self-determination. These governments’ continued existence, power and privileged place in the world rest on their access to natural resources through colonisation of the lands that they occupy and their involvement in imperial exploits of the past and present in other parts of the planet.
“Monotonous but persistent arguments that the English Westminster system or the French republican models were the only valid and civilised ways in which people could exercise self determination interacted with the belief that real law was only the product of a European mind. Complex theories about where sovereignty resided in a society, and the Victorian notion that primitive peoples could not possess it because of their ignorant nature, were colonising myths developed to ensure that colonisers could legitimate their dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.” That’s democracy, folks.
Our strategies and alternatives to the neoliberal agenda must reflect an unequivocal opposition to colonialism and imperialism in all its forms. Locally and globally.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof begins his ridiculous apology for Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan (What Is Democracy Anyway? May 3 2002) with:
Silly me, until I got to the last sentence I could have sworn Kristof was writing about the USA!
“now possesses the capacity to extend essentially the same sort of relationships it has already imposed upon American Indians to the remainder of the world. And, given the experience it has acquired in Indian Affairs over the years, it is undoubtedly capable of garbing this process of planetary subordination in a legalistic attire symbolizing its deepseated concern with international freedom and dignity, the sovereignty of other nations, and the human rights of all peoples.”
Now I am watching the lead up to New Zealand’s July 27 general election, reflecting on the resources, energy, and hopes being sucked into electoral politics. I wonder about the enormous differences that could be made if these were channelled into building extra-parliamentary communities of resistance which were prepared to contest the very foundations of this “democracy” we live in.
With a pro-war, Blairite Labour government in power here at the moment, this is the time when various people, trade unions, and community organisations make it clear that we cannot dare be too critical of this neoliberal “centre-left” party for fear of helping the neoliberal “centre-right” party win the election.
By contrast with many of the social democratic NGO-dominated movements on corporate globalisation, many of the popular mobilisations on these issues sweeping the world have little time for electoral politics, putting forward radical critiques of the systems of government operating in their country. We can see this in the neighbourhood popular assemblies of Argentina, and the slogan “Que se vayan todos” (All politicians should go!).
When communities are badgered into making submissions, attending “consultations” or lobbying MPs they are being corralled into a system in which they have no real power, and into participating in a meaningless charade, the parameters of which have already been determined. For some, the illusion of being heard and the thrill of rubbing shoulders with bigwigs is far more important than real change.
In colonial settler-states like New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the USA, we have the choice of Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Vote for Chris Columbus or Ferdie Magellan. We can vote for any party we like, so long as they are capitalist colonisers. If that’s democracy, is it worth fighting for?