Democracy

Democracy for the people, not for the money-bags

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The centenary of the Russian Revolution provides an opportunity to re-examine important questions. Sally Campbell argues that a deeply democratic impulse was at the heart of the revolution.

According to David Remnick, author of a book called Lenin’s Tomb and editor of the New Yorker magazine, Lenin, the foremost figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917, held a “view of man as modelling clay and sought to create a new model of human nature and behaviour through social engineering”. He quotes Richard Pipes, a right wing historian and critic of the Russian Revolution, who sees it as an attempt “to subject the entire life of a country to a master plan”.

Can socialist planning work?

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  • There is intense planning under capitalism, but it is done to maximise profit
  • Planning under socialism would be driven from the bottom up based on mass participation and democracy

    For many people the words socialist and planning in the same sentence will conjure up images of Stalinist horror: brutal five year plans, inefficiency and waste.

    Yet at a time of deep, protracted economic crisis many are questioning whether capitalism is the best way of organising society. Alternatives are being discussed.

  • Is the American working class different?

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    In this article from 1986, Duncan Hallas takes up the argument that the American working class has been historically immune to socialist ideas.

    One of the most important developments over the last year has been the revival of radical movements in the US. The uprising in Wisconsin, the Occupy movement, the Oakland shutdown and now the protests over the killing of Trayvon Martin (see Jonathan Neale in this issue of Socialist Review) all point to a new mood. American workers have long presented an enigma for socialists.
    Why has the most powerful working class in the world never been able to create even a mass Labour-type party (the Democratic Party has always been a purely capitalist party).

    Hallas explains how the conditions of American capitalism initially acted to prevent the emergence of stable working class organisation and to limit the influence of socialist ideas, but argues this no longer applies.

    The central question in discussing the American working class is why there is not, and has not been, a political labour movement of any significance in the United States. This is in spite of the fact that the US is today the major capitalist power in the world and has been, since the turn of the century, one of the two or three major capitalist powers.

    There are a number of explanations put forward. The first set of arguments are what you might call the "sociological" arguments. They can all be found in letters which Engels wrote to various people in America in the 1880s.

    Capitalism versus democracy

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    Towards the end of last year, unelected "technocrats" were installed in power in both Greece and Italy. John Molyneux argues that while capitalism came into being with grand claims about universal freedom, each expansion of democracy has had to be fought for - and is never completely secure.

    In the 21st century all politicians, almost without exception, proclaim their commitment to democracy. This goes not only for the likes of Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel and Cameron, but also for Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP. Even the most obviously anti-democratic political forces and organisations say they believe in democracy. So the Swedish fascists call themselves the Swedish Democrats while Mubarak's party in Egypt was the National Democratic Party.

    Their democracy or ours?

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    Donny Gluckstein looks at what democracy means under capitalism - and our alternative

    Democracy is today's all-popular buzzword, beloved alike of mainstream politicians, the Arab revolutionaires, and young people protesting in Spain. For people like David Cameron democracy means a parliament which gives rein to the tyranny of market forces, and the grotesque inequalities that brings. Those facing poverty and unemployment expect the opposite of this democracy - freedom from want, and a just society.

    Internet democracy going offline

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    There has been a lot of talk on newspaper technology pages recently about the threat to "net neutrality" - the principle that all information available online should be kept freely and equally accessible by the networks that provide access to them.

    Say, for example, that my home broadband service is provided by BT. I spend a sizeable chunk of my time visiting three websites: YouTube, BBC News and Socialist Review. Despite the fact that YouTube and the BBC have internet services far in advance of Socialist Review's, and considerably greater financial resources, BT gives no preferential treatment to the giants. Sure, YouTube will have hi-tech servers which are faster and perhaps more reliable, but as far as BT is concerned it's all the same.

    Democracy: Revolution Alone Can Save the Earth

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    Paul Foot's final book The Vote: How It was Won and How It was Undermined is a splendid piece of historical writing, says Ian Birchall.

    Paul Foot's death last year was a terrible personal loss to all who knew him. But as the months have gone by the extent of our political loss has become clear. We have watched the charade of the US presidential election, Labour's assault on civil liberties and the attempt to foist 'democracy' on Iraq by force of arms. How we needed Paul's majestic contempt for the rich, the powerful and the stupid (often the same people), and his unquenchable enthusiasm for the victims of oppression and injustice.

    Democracy: Their System, Our Fight

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    The democracy of our rulers is a pale reflection of the real thing, writes Sabby Sagall.

    Bush and Blair constantly proclaim their abhorrence of dictatorship, their insistence that the war on Iraq was motivated by their love of democracy, a system they will generously endow on the Iraqi people once the 'terrorists' are crushed. We can be forgiven some head-scratching. Didn't the US, with British support or connivance, help to install the most brutal dictatorships in Iran (1953), Indonesia (1965), Congo (1965), Chile (1973), Colombia (1990s till now)?

    Democracy: A Grand Delusion

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    Capitalism as economic democracy? Paul Foot has heard it all before.

    For at least a hundred years there has been a continuous and hard-fought struggle between capitalism and democracy. Now a miraculous solution has been discovered by New Labour in the shape of its dynamic secretary of state for trade and industry, Patricia(n) Hewitt. Capitalism and democracy, she asserts in her new pamphlet A Labour Economy: are we nearly there yet?, are the same thing!

    People Power

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    Workers' power is far more democratic than parliament.

    When I went to live in Tottenham in 1964, I was surprised to learn that local people had elected a Tory MP. Walking through the relentlessly working class streets, I could not understand how the people had elected a Tory. Then I discovered that they hadn't. A left wing Labour MP elected in 1959 had 'changed his mind' in 1960 and crossed to the other side. The voters of Tottenham could do nothing until the next general election. This illustrates one of the great defects of parliamentary democracy.

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