SOCO40X355Y SOCIOLOGICAL PROJECT
Chapter One: Theories of Democracy 7
The Emergence of Liberal Democratic Thought 7-13
Critique of Liberal Democracy Conclusion 13-16
Chapter Two: British Democracy and Capitalism 17
Capitalism Today 17-21
Giddens’ Apology for the Capitalist Order 21-26
Chapter Three: The Case for Participatory Democracy 27
International Examples: Cuban Democracy, Australian Deliberative
Policies and Brazilian Participatory Budgets 28-33
Participatory Economics 34-38
Participation Democracy and its Link to Direct Democracy Groups 38-41
As the 2004 ‘state of the nation’ poll clearly shows, there is a question mark over how democratic and how empowering the present democratic system is. There is a clear feeling in this country today that democracy is the ideal political system that people wish to live under but feel that the present government is undermining this system.
Whilst it is clear that people do not believe democracy is being delivered to them there is no clear ideology amongst the people that offers an alternative or even an adequate critique. The purpose of this dissertation is to attempt this as it is clear that people do not see the present system as working as a democracy should, but do not have the institutions in which to express there disempowerment. This dissertation will discuss the state of democracy in
This dissertation will critique British democracy and show that in its present form large sections of British society are excluded from participating in any real, empowering decisions and that debate is limited to the political elite who are themselves limited by the system of capitalism.
When British and western democracy are viewed retrospectively we see that the interests of capitalism have shaped the form of democracy and the notion of liberalism that we have today. Representative democracy was established and formed at a time when capitalism was in its infancy and has grown to be a form of democracy that protects capitalism.
This dissertation will discuss how the ideas originating from the Enlightenment about human freedom have been distorted by capitalist interests and specifically the sanctity of private property. That liberalism now sees the concept of human freedom reduced to limiting the power of the state. This dissertation will argue that present day liberal thinkers ignore the fact that capitalism is itself a large bureaucratic system that restricts freedom by centralising power in the hands of transnational corporations.
Conservative notions of liberalism (that being that private property will increase freedom) lead to a refusal to seek any alternative to capitalism. This in turn leads to conservative notions on the legitimacy of any given order.
From this critique this dissertation will draw the conclusion that greater democratic participation is needed from an informed electorate to counter the interests of the capitalist order. We will see also from this critique of liberal, capitalist democracy that increased democracy in the workplace and the economy in general is essential if we wish to create a truly democratic society.
This dissertation will discuss the origins of liberal, representative democracy in the seventeenth century onwards and will be based on secondary sources discussing democratic theory. This will lead to an evaluation as to the usefulness of liberal ideas in the context of a fully formed representative democracy and in particular the concept of private property. This dissertation will outline how that these liberal theories were apologies for the emerging system of capitalist organisation, but nevertheless have important concepts and theories to do with democracy which are vital in building an argument for increased participation in society.
We will then go on to discuss how capitalist organisation operates today and the affects this has on people and democracy. This will lead to a more in depth theoretical discussion on how some modern thinkers on democracy and capitalist organisation are in fact apologising for capitalism, as the liberal thinkers of the seventeenth century did, and how this restricts the possibility of an alternative to representative democracy. This will be done with secondary sources and will involve a theoretical discussion on how are freedom of choice is narrowed and the possibility for change dismissed by modern social theorists.
The last section of this dissertation will discuss the practical possibilities for change in the way we perceive and organise democracy in
This dissertation will then conclude with a discussion on the possibilities for building a participatory democracy and argue that it is in the work place, in the economic sector, that this must take place if we are to achieve any real gains.
Chapter One: Theories on Democracy
The Emergence of Liberal Democratic Thought
In order to understand British democracy today it is necessary to outline the stream of liberal thought running through the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This stream of thought began somewhere in the middle of the seventeenth century amidst a complex arrangement of circumstances, circumstances that are too complex to detail fully here (Held: 2006). However it is possible to say that at this time there were the beginnings of great antagonisms in European societies. Shifting power relations between the old elite of monarchs and noblemen towards the new bourgeois class of capitalists meant new ideas on what democracy was and who should hold power in any given democracy were forming. Indeed this period saw a radical shift away from the idea that democracy should involve the active participation of all to the new ideas of representative democracy. It was the re-emergence of ideas dating back to ancient Greece and the philosophy of Plato that saw this radical change occur in the modern context of the new capitalistic form of social relations (Held: 2006).
To understand this period of change we must mention a current of ideas known as the ‘Enlightenment’ (Baylis and Smith: 2001). This period marked a radical shift away from religion and superstition to the emergence of scientific, empirical and rational thought. Harman (2002) notes that the thinkers and writers of the Enlightenment although characterised by the methodology of their approaches to new thought varied widely in their beliefs; these beliefs often reflecting the beliefs of one class within the society or another. Out of this belief in rationalized thought came what is now described as ‘classical liberalism’ and with it ideals on democracy.
Some of the first men to espouse liberal democratic ideals were Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704), both of whom advocated representative governments in varying degrees (Held: 2006). Lively & Lively (1994) explain that Hobbes believed before governments were established in human societies men lived under ‘natural equality’, a state in which men lived in ‘perpetual warfare’ (1994: 101). This was a time in which man fought for supremacy over one another. Hobbes concluded from this view of man as a selfish individual that in order to escape from himself and this form of existence, man must form a sort of contract by which they decide how they should be governed (Lively & Lively: 1994). This meant that individuals must see government (or any other type of higher authority) as sovereign; above their individual interest, protecting themselves from themselves.
This view may seem completely undemocratic, however it is the idea that humankind, paradoxically, must give himself up to a supreme authority to escape savage equality and that this supreme authority is derived from man forming a contract of consent to escape from this equality (Lively & Lively: 1994). This supreme authority is seen to be democratic in nature because for it to be legitimate it would ‘appoint one Man, or Assembly of men, to beare their Person…’ i.e. a representative government protecting the interests of mans’ contract with each other (1994: 106). This does not explicitly imply any kind of voting system or elected officials, but it does imply consent to a higher agency, a sovereign entity. It can be said that Hobbes gave a very early and embryonic articulation of the sovereignty of the state.
Hobbes’ viewed the state as a way to temper the natural equality of humankind that led to them competing amongst one another (Baylis & Smith: 2001). In giving sovereignty to the state man could lessen the likelihood of warfare against other states. Although Hobbes is considered a liberal he was effectively sanctioning the existence of an entity that stood above man the individual, thus taking authority away from the individual. This seems to be a view of human nature that sits squarely against human liberty and illuminates how early conceptions of the state and its representative nature took away the possibility or acceptance of the ability of man to act responsibly as individuals. This is indeed a corruption of liberalism, for if the individual is limited in influence as to how society is run they are anything but liberated. Barber articulates this point thusly;
“Without participating in the common good life that defines them and in the decision-making that shapes their social habit, women and men cannot become individuals.” (1984: xxiii)
Hobbes’ view on the nature of man as a contest between each other and its resolution through man giving themselves to sovereign entities resonates with the ideal of parliamentarianism and representative democracy because he sees this contest amongst people and their interests as a constant feature of human affairs. Hirst (1990) makes the point that politics is the sphere within society that exists to settle competing interests and many writers and thinkers on politics see democracy as such: A place for decisions, not discussion. Conflict is inherent in society and no amount of deliberation will resolve this. For Hobbes this inherent conflict within society meant that government must touch all spheres of society in order to keep the contract that man has agreed to enter into.
This has clear repercussions for the discussion that will follow on participatory democracy. How can we reconcile the ideas put forward by Hobbes, if at all, with the moral imperative of addressing the problem of democratic participation in
John Locke disagreed with Hobbes’ view that government should be an all powerful body that touched all aspects of society. Held (2006) says that far from being sovereign, man must use government as an instrument by which needs are met.
Held (2006) points out that, like Hobbes, Locke was ‘concerned about what form legitimate government should take…’ (2006: 62). This statement points to a fundamental point in both Locke and Hobbes’ conception of government. For it is the motivation of both these men to legitimatise the already existing order of capitalist production. These men, supporters of the legitimacy of private property, both sought to reconcile themselves with the society they found themselves in. Coupled with their views on human nature being one of inherent conflict, they both produced treatises on state power and democracy. Although differing in degree and said to be liberal thinkers, Hobbes and Locke both outlined a form of democracy that imbedded the right of individuals to own their own property at the heart of society.
Jean-Jacque Rousseau (1712-78) differed in as much as he believed that the form of democracy that would better serve society would be more a participatory one (Baylis & Smith: 2001). In fact if we are to put forward a case for participatory democracy it is essential we mention Rousseau. The liberal theorists we have so far mentioned have failed to acknowledge participation as necessary for a functioning society. Of course the definition of a functioning society is subjective and reliant on what kind of society is strived for. However, if societies are to uphold values such as equality, and truly believe in creating conditions whereby each individuals potential is met, Rousseau believed society must maximise the political participation of all its citizens. This concept of ‘maximum self-development’ is central to the participatory ideal (1992: 20).
This concept of putting the individual at the centre of decision making and political life was a radically different way of looking at democracy when compared to Locke and Hobbes. The differences appear to reside in their conceptions of what ‘state of nature’ man was in before the advent of governments. However we can see comparable points of view in as much as they all, to some extent, believed in a contract by which men must establish the society they live in. It is just that, as Held (2006) states, the origins and processes by which these contracts arose differ for Rousseau when compared to Locke and Hobbes. Rousseau believed that before governments man was relatively equal and content only for him to begin to believe that if he was to survive in nature he must develop his inherent ability to reason. Rousseau also believed that if man was to see his concept of liberty flourish, he must develop democracy, laws and cooperation, etc. This ideal could only come about through the active participation of all in building a society whereby individuals are instrumental in its creation. This participation would form what Rousseau called (and named the book in which he outlined these theories) a ‘social contract’.
Indeed Rousseau would not see our society as democratic or free. Lively & Lively (1994) refer to a remark that Rousseau made about how the English were free only once every seven years, commenting at a time when this was the maximum time period allowed to pass between elections. Without continual participation a society could not call its self fair or equal. For Rousseau the participation of individuals in the processes and decisions that constructs and maintains a society was essential: Equality of the individual in the political system (Pateman: 1999).
However there is one aspect of Rousseau’s theory that correlates with representative theories; the right of individuals to own property. This right to own property, for Rousseau, enables and produces ‘good government’ (Pateman: 1999). For the purposes of this dissertation it is important we outline how Rousseau foresaw the particulars of the right of individuals to own property. It is an extremely delicate area that must be explained adequately if we are to understand how property rights can be legitimised.
Rousseau drew the important distinction that the right to property should be thought of ‘…as a limited right to only that amount of property commensurate with an individual’s need for material security and independence of mind’ (2006: 47). This Rousseau believed would be best achieved through a ‘…broad similarity in economic conditions’ (2006: 47). How could this be achieved if the right to own property is enshrined in law, as Rousseau would have wished? How do we limit the amount of property if we hold onto the belief that property, in-itself, is sacred? This distinction implies a need to limit private accumulation of property. This idea is in line with liberal thinking on the right of an individual to be able to live in a society that enables their own betterment, but contradicts the sanctity of private property. It seems to point us in a direction away from capitalism, which of course depends entirely on the rights of private property and would not exist without it, where it could possibly lead us will be discussed later.
It is clear that the economic condition of individuals is an imperative issue that we must evaluate; for if people’s economic position in society is uneven then democracy is largely useless. Therefore we see that it is in the workplace first that democracy must exist primarily. This issue will be expanded on later, however for now we must take what we can from Rousseau.
For this dissertation we must hold on to the notions of participation that Rousseau developed. Particularly the notion that through participatory democracy we can develop an educative form of constructing society, whereby individuals are instrumental in developing themselves as individuals and developing their own social consciousness. The idea that participatory democracy is self-sustaining and developmental enables us to see more easily the possibility that individuals can see above their own interests. These ideas are essential if we are to try and map out a more participatory democracy relevant and workable for modern
Critique of Liberal Democracy Conclusion
We can now conclude that liberal thought has contributed to the discourse on democracy only a very narrow conception of what democracy means. Liberalism, whilst attempting to reconcile its original principles with the capitalist means of production, has had to present a new form of democracy that is no longer, perhaps never was, sufficient for the majority of society. Liberalism ‘serves democracy badly’ (Barber: xxii) and it is necessary for us to explore alternate paths in which democracy may flourish and serve as a system that promotes the ideals of liberalism that are worth saving; equality of the individual, empowerment of the individual and the ideal that the state as an oppressive force on human freedom must be reduced to a maximum.
However we must remove the liberal notion of private property, a notion that today has become a central plank of liberal thinking. This notion has led us to conclude that liberal ideas on democracy are as Raby (2006: 22) says, ‘the preferred political expression of advanced capitalism.’ 
It is possible to say that, even with the re-emergence of participatory thinking with Rousseau, liberal thinkers were locked into the bourgeois class and the sanctity of private property. What characterised all the ‘classic liberal’ thinkers was the belief in the individuals’ right to pursue their own goals (Chomsky: 2005). Thus Hobbes, Locke and even Rousseau, although discussing a way to permit human freedom within society, did not appreciate fully the restrictions on human freedom that private power would have.
As Chomsky (2005) opinions, early liberal thinkers would have had no conception of how all pervasive the power of private property would become under capitalism. He draws attention the early liberal thinker Wilhem von Humboldt, writing in 1792, who discussed the restrictions on human freedom that society had begun to embody. Humboldt, Chomsky argues, wrote at a time when he could not of foreseen ‘the ways in which the notion of a private person would come to be reinterpreted in the era of corporate capitalism’ (2005: 16); how undemocratic corporate power competed with and often surpassed the power of the state and with it the state’s potential to restrict human expression, at either the level of the individual or a socially co-operative one. In imbuing classical liberalism with the sanctity of private property Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke allowed private interest to take precedence over all else, i.e. consideration for private profits over considerations for human freedom.
The early liberal thinkers that discussed democracy were in effect apologising for capitalist effects on the truest form of democracy. Although they may not have had a fully formed, conscious recognition of what capitalism was, they were reflecting the society that they saw in front of them. However it is important to stress that classical liberalism did reach towards a freer conception of societal organisation and expresses many of the ideals that we wish to keep in our argument for greater participation in British society. Chomsky (2005) summarizes this point thusly;
“…classical liberalism. Its doctrine is that state functions should be drastically limited. But this familiar characterization is a very superficial one. More deeply the classical liberal view develops from a certain concept of human nature, one that stresses the importance of diversity and free creation, and therefore this view is in fundamental opposition to industrial capitalism with its wage slavery, its alienated labor, and its hierarchic and authoritarian principles of social and economic organisation.” (2005: 22)
We can extract from this analysis that true liberal thought has been hijacked (perhaps inadvertently and without a true conception of how capitalist organisation would develop) by apologists for capitalism. This is as true today as it was when Hobbes and Locke were writing; only now we have a far better conception of how capitalism works and how it is a repressive force that hinders democratic society.
Chapter Two: British Democracy and Capitalism
It is important now to bring the theoretical arguments discussed into a modern context. Of particular importance is a discussion on how democracy today in Britain is framed and defined by capitalist organisation, how this relates to what we have already discussed concerning the liberal apologies for capitalism, and how old forms of exploitation and alienation have been redefined into a modern context.
We will then pay particular attention to Anthony Giddens and his social theories and demonstrate how they are, like the liberal theorists of the seventeenth century, apologies for capitalist organisation. In the twentieth century liberal, representative democracy has become the only form of democracy that the populous has lived under. We will argue that it is the inherent mechanisms of capitalist society that perpetuate this form of democracy and exclude the ideals of participatory democracy.
All ‘new’ and ‘alternative’ ideas on how government should be run are in fact revisions of the same ideal of representative democracy and capitalist organisation. This includes Tony Blair’s New Labour and his apparent re-birth of social democratic ideals. This re-birth is in fact the continuation of the old order or social relations, encapsulated in Giddens’ concept of society and order.
Sennett describes our character as that which ‘concerns the personal traits which we value ourselves and for which we seek to be valued by others’ (1999: 10). Under modern day capitalist organisation our characters have had to change in order to cope with the more ‘laissez faire’ style economic practices used by business. The terms ‘flexible’ and ‘time-efficient’ can seem like -and are indeed designed to –come across as fairer and improved ways of doing business. However for the workers, even the highest paid workers Sennett uses as examples, flexible and time-efficient can mean increased anxiety and lesser freedom and spare time. Time, or our labour, is the one commodity we all have to sell, and if that is put to ever greater degrees of strain then so are we (McIntosh: 2002). When a worker is at the mercy of flexible time practices, salaried hours, even 24 hour call, he has become completely a commodity of the capitalist system. No amount of remuneration can make up for a human beings complete loss of time.
The structure of capitalist production is evermore bent towards short-term goals, which inevitably means that workers must too search for short-term goals during their working lives (Sennett: 1999). The ‘flexible’ nature of capitalist production, free from stringent rules and regulations, have not set us free as humans, but imposed new structures of power and control. This new system of power, Sennett argues, has three elements to it: discontinuous reinvention of institutions; flexible specialization of production; and concentration of without centralization of power.
‘Discontinuous reinvention of institutions’ involves a more fragmented arrangement of business hierarchies that can change and alter in shape and form in order to re-invent new and more productive forms of doing business and constructing institutions (1999: 47). To the average worker this way of reorganising a business to be more productive means job cuts, which lead to increased work-load, which leads to increase in workers stress’ and anxiety. In practice this is a chaotic and messy affair that by no means increases efficiency.
‘Flexible specialization of production’ is designed to allow businesses to get ‘more varied products ever more quickly to market’ (1999: 51). This system enables businesses to change what they are producing, where they are producing and how much at the very short notice. New flexible networks are set up to enable businesses to co-operate, supported by national governments, in finding new niches in the market in which to start new production. This pressure to change is of course passed on to the workers who, if they cannot change quickly enough, often lose their jobs to other more flexible factories of plants elsewhere on the globe.
‘Concentration without centralization’ means in short that there are more and more small work groups, or businesses, who are expected to do an ever increasing number of diverse tasks (1999: 55). This new way of organising business appears to de-centralise control to these smaller work groups. However Sennet (1999) shows that in reality the managers at the top are able to gather information on the these smaller work groups far easier than before, thus increasing the pressure on them to perform and compete with other work groups from other countries around the world.
Through these new capitalist practices workers have become enmeshed in a capitalist system that is characterised by impermanence and de-stabilisation of job security. Naomi Klein (2000) articulates how modern capitalism has morphed into a system of production that has left workers in a state of almost permanent flux. She states
“Factory jobs are being outsourced, garment jobs are morphing into homework, and in every industry, temporary contracts are replacing full, secure employment” (2000: 231)
This form of capitalist organisation leads to less and less control by workers of the places they work, unions are harder to form and have less power because work is taken overseas and broken up and the control transnational companies have over their workers is increased. This new form of capitalist production has decreased the amount of say workers have over their lives and therefore decreased the democratic accountability of employers. Of course this is all supported by the democratically elected leaders of the representative system because capitalism creates jobs and an economy to feed the state. However we have to ask the questions; who exactly should our leaders be representatives of? The capitalist system that has produced this new and stark form of alienation or the workers that produce the goods that makes up the sum-total that is the economy? It is now clear that if a better more encompassing democracy is to be achieved in
The question is how do we look towards an alternative to capitalism? This question I will try to cover in the last chapter, but for now we must outline how it is possible to break the hold that capitalism, supported by social theorists such as Francis Fukuyama, who extolled the ‘end of history’, and specifically Anthony Giddens, has over democracy (Held: 2006).
Giddens’ Apology for the Capitalist Order
Giddens’ close attachment to the Blair government and their social democratic ideals is illuminating in that it reveals his dependence on already existing power structures. In trying to find a new path for social democracy in general, his attempts to find a theoretical base on which to stand his ‘third way’, Giddens reveals his adherence to the order of capitalism (2000: vii). His political book ‘The Third Way’ (Giddens: 2000) is an exercise in ending debate on a field of sociological investigation that still has many ideas and concepts relevant to modern day society and democracy.
As we have shown the modern form of British democracy, representative democracy or liberal democracy, was shaped and formed alongside capitalism and by the interests of those who see capitalism as the most ideal and ‘workable’ form of social organisation. The political debate Giddens’ engages with in ‘The Third Way’ (Giddens: 2000) is simply a reflection of his acceptance of capitalism as the one and only possible societal order. He has become, like the liberal thinkers before him, an apologist for capitalism.
Giddens expands on his theories of capitalist order in the ‘Constitution of Society’ (Giddens: 2004). In this book he takes Freud’s ‘psychic organisation of the individual’ and substitutes it for his own model of consciousness; ‘basic security system, practical and discursive consciousness’ (2004: 41). Giddens takes these psycho-analytical terms and uses them on a social plane to further the stabilisation of order and in so doing misplaces the schematics of consciousness to fit in with his already formed ideas on order in society; how the crisis of capitalism as a legitimate ordering of social relations forces Giddens into a reworking of consciousness.
Giddens uses practical consciousness (half of the social personality, meaning the part of ourselves that we actively engage with – and are defined by - other agents) to explain subservience to order and is an apology for man’s unthinking role in the modern world. Through the protective screen of practical consciousness the agent does not see the pervasiveness of his actions. He does not see that every action on the level of practical consciousness supports and maintains his existence and the overall shape of society. Giddens recognises this but fails to appreciate the level that this concept contributes to maintenance of order and that it is only through our acquiescence to this order that enables its existence.
It is through what Giddens calls ‘discursive consciousness’ that we can see that agents are capable of thinking above and beyond the realms that practical consciousness limits us to (Giddens: 2004). It is at this level of consciousness that an agent ‘has to ‘think’ about what he or she is doing for that activity to be carried out ‘consciously’’(2004: 45). With this recognition of an agents ability to ‘think’ we can see that the possibility that an agent can consciously consider an alternate reality and turn this into praxis is only contingent on the boundaries we set for practical and discursive consciousness.
These ideas are directly linked to the concept of freedom outlined by Jean-Paul Sartre. Priest (2001) notes that Sartre expresses the point that when an agent reaches ontological security (security of being in-itself) he then faces utter freedom. They always have a choice and thus always have freedom to operate within a ‘small movement which makes of a totally conditioned social being someone who does not render back completely what his conditioning has given him’ (1974: 35). However the choices presented to an agent are limited by power structures such as societal order. Practical consciousness hides from the reality of freedom in everyday episodes. It is a consciousness that brings order to society but creates an uncertain being, a being unaware of the power structures he is operating his freedom within.
Sartre (1974) uses the example of Heinrich, a character from his play ‘Le Diable et Le Bon Dieu’, who’s choices of action are limited by his circumstances; either he betrays the poor, or he betrays the Church. Neither choice is desirable but it is a choice all the same. Freedom is limited to choices of behaviour within the ultimately fragile notion of society. If, as Giddens describes, ‘the self is the agent as characterised by the agent’ (2004: 51), then an agent with the knowledge of a contradiction in their societal existence of action with other agents knows and is fundamentally shocked into the reality that the agent they formerly recognised in themselves as living in an ordered reality was a lie, illusion or false consciousness.
This idea of a false consciousness is conceived by Marx in his work on the objective reality of capitalist organisation and the resultant synthesis of the relations of production that is alienation (MacIntosh: 2002). In the modern world the fundamental conditions of capitalism that Marx described (the relations of production) still exist concretely and can be said to be inescapable; we cannot live outside this order if we are to have work that in turn enables us to live.
The realisation of Giddens work as an apology for order helps us to better understand British democracy (and its present ruling party) as inherently linked to the capitalist order. It also helps us to understand why alternate forms of democratic organisation are not discussed. Individuals in
In ‘The Third Way’ Giddens quotes a German politician (whom he seems to agree with) who declares that for a social democratic party to become elected they must appeal to the ‘affluent majority’ (2000: 19). This is a claim we should have a great deal of concern with as it implies that the majority of a typical Western European capitalistic nation-state are affluent. This is simply not the case. Take
These statistics were found on the governments’ website with the following footnote:
“The wealthiest 1 per cent owned approximately a fifth of the
This footnote clearly requires reflection. It seems peculiar for this claim to made and aptly demonstrates the lack of political will to challenge inequality in the capitalist system. No democratic reflection is permitted on the issue of wealth distribution by the government.
Giddens clearly has no problem with the lack of wealth distribution in
Statistics alone do not show how representative democracy is bent towards an ever decreasing portion of society. However if the opinions of the electorate on the whole are anything to go by it seems that the masses are increasingly of the view that democracy has very little to do with them. We must now look towards the theories and practical examples that will help us show that participatory democracy is possible in
Chapter Three: The Case for Participatory Democracy
How then do we contend with the problem of what form democracy should look like in British society today? If democracy is to remain as the ideal way in which people exert some influence over society and its future decisions how should we organise it? Is their any real thirst from the British electorate for more participation in society? And are there any real practical examples which we can base the chances of participatory democracy working? Answering these questions (and a few more besides) is necessary if we are to give a good enough case for participatory democracy.
To begin with it is wise to outline what we mean by ‘working’. Indeed we are often told that this or that system ‘doesn’t work’. What exactly is meant by this and by what criteria do we judge a system working? Indeed any system or society can be deemed not to be working anywhere in the world. There is no industrial society, no first or third world, no society from the north or south, that has eliminated poverty of means, education and health care, inequality or any other indicator that we judge a society to be successful completely. Of course it is often the case that a society is judged by Gross National Product (GNP) or economic growth. This is the capitalist society’s indicators of a successful society and pays no attention to many of the criteria that an individual may view their individual life to be ‘working’ or indeed interested in.
International Examples: Cuban Democracy, Australian Deliberative Policies and Brazilian Participatory Budgets
Cuba, for example, is a failure in the eyes of the US (a fact reflected in the western press) when we use their criteria for a successful democratic state, even if this third world country with third world resources has been able to maintain free healthcare for all and free education up to doctorate level for over 40 years (Chomsky: 2000) and operates a democratic system that is more participatory and direct than the US, having rejected the western, liberal style representative elections at an early stage of the revolution (Raby: 2006).
Contrary to the west’s negative view of democracy in
There are of course problems with Cuban society, particularly the lack of democratic mechanisms at the national level of political decision making. Above we have shown that at a local, or municipal, level Cuban’s have a great deal of influence. However at higher levels of governance ‘it is still the case that there is only one candidate for each position at provincial and national level, and the nomination process is less open than at municipal level, so that the election is more like a popular ratification of a preselected list of candidates’ (2006: 127).
However we can nevertheless take some positives away and attempt to apply these to
The participatory budgets of Porto Alegre (PA) are an example of how complex economic management can be achieved with the active participation of the people it directly affects. It is the case that in PA the people have shown that it possible to create an ‘innovative bottom-up experience of democratic administration, with no need for a previous law establishing the position and the limits of participation of citizens in their relationship to the state’ (2005: 276). In other words it is possible to trust the people to be able to manage their own finances.
Baierle (2005) states that the ‘Participatory Budget’ (PB) forums have become part of the daily life of the citizens of PA and that anyone who wishes to have their comment on where money is budgeted and allocated can attend the monthly meetings which determine the management of local problems. Priority goes to individuals having an equal share, with no organisation, national or community-based, having a special status. This is empowerment of the individual for the benefit of the community and highlights the kind of liberalism that we showed earlier to have become corrupted by the sanctity of private property and capitalist organisation.
Although there is a degree of representation in PA, the basis and mandate that any elected representative must carry through is decided through participatory processes of deliberation (Baierle: 2005). If at any time the representative fails to represent the views of the people they are immediately recalled. In PA there is a city-wide PB that is broadly agreed upon through popular assemblies and forums, whilst the budget as a whole is discussed by state councillors who nevertheless have no power to increase their own wages or redirect funds beyond the original mandate given to them.
This kind of active participation by citizens managing their own resources allows for a more democratic allocation system, meaning private interest is eliminated from the equation. Corruption is negated as the people have the power and realise they must act responsibly towards their own city in order for it to be a place worth living in. The people in
“Knowledge comes to us through a network of prejudices, opinions, innervations, self-corrections, presuppositions and exaggerations, in short through the dense, firmly founded but by no means uniformly transparent medium of experience” (2005: 104)
Decision making processes are contingent on an adequate level of knowledgeability. Once people have reached this level they are then capable of discussing and deliberating until a consensus is reached. This deliberation process relies on individuals overcoming their individual preferences and deciding what is best for all. Evidence of the possibility that people can often overcome big differences of opinion comes from the ‘Issues Deliberation
This is a not-for-profit group promotes global and group dialogue and deliberative forms of education and research on important issues such as the reconciliation process initiated by the Australian government in order for people to better understand the rights of aboriginal people’s and the Muslims and Non-Muslims in Australia.
The reconciliation process in Australia, for example, grew from a decade of action to promote building a bridge with those that originally lived on the land but had been the victims of hundreds of years of systematic, institutionalised abuse, with those who were the descendants of those who perpetrated these atrocities and continue to support a system that undermines any efforts at an equal footing between the two. It has been said that this ‘decade of reconciliation’ was only a token gesture, as systematic inequalities are still widespread, such as the watering down of the ‘Native Title Act’ in 1992 with the amendment in 1998 (Pilger: 2002). However we must concentrate on one week that is of particular interest to our aims of finding; the ‘National Reconciliation Week’
This week brought together a disparate collection of individuals, organised by IDA, into an assembly that enabled an open discussion of some very contentious issues such as land rights and, in particular, the need to say apologise for past atrocities committed. Over the weekend it was shown that despite living on each others doorstep, the non-indigenous knew very little about the actual conditions of the indigenous. This was surmised as being because of the lack of truth in the media about the conditions the indigenous live under. It is through these assemblies that IDA ‘facilitate the informed voice of the people’. In conclusion it was found that through the process of deliberation and open discussion both sides went away with a massively improved knowledgeability of each other.
In this last section we have established that the people of
However, how do we enable this possibility to grow into a participatory democratic form of organisation in
It is clear that we need to think beyond capitalistic forms of organising if we wish to open up participatory democracy. This means developing a praxis that moves the theoretical propositions we have outlined into actions such as the ones we have highlighted above. We have not been able to outline all of the examples of participation in democracy and economic management that exists today. It is clear though that a new form of economic management of society is needed if we are to develop a
Michael Albert (2004) expresses similar views and values that we have outlined in this dissertation. He has outlined a form of economics that would allow ‘equity, solidarity, diversity, self-management, and ecological balance’ (2004: 9) to flourish. He calls this economics, participatory economics, or ‘Parecon’ (Albert: 2004). Parecon is a form of economics that would allow us to achieve the values listed above whilst radically increasing the democratic participation of people. It is not a call to increase the participation of people in the political sphere of society, government, etc. Rather it is a theoretical outline of how we can achieve democratic participation of people in the workplace in a non-dogmatic way, altering from one place to another, with choices made dependant on what degree the decisions made will affect those making them (Albert: 2000).
Parecon can be said to consist of five main priority areas in which the values we wish to uphold can be delivered. These are; ownership relations, allocation institutions, division of labour, remuneration and decision-making (Albert: 2004). Decision-making determines the type of economy we wish to construct and, according to Parecon thinking, is largely dependant on the previous four priorities: not an economy for its own sake but an economy designed to complement values we wish to uphold through democratic decision making. Therefore the ownership of the means of production is no longer a consideration. In a Parecon ‘ownership of the means of production no longer exists as a concept’ (2004: 90). This means that there is complete equality over all things made and produced in society. The allocation of the products society produces is decided, not by capitalists or the state, but by democratic mechanisms.
These ‘allocation institutions’ under Parecon are different from the allocation institutions that already exist today; competitive markets, central planning, etc. Parecon enables the participation of economically equal individuals to be the arbitrators of allocation through worker and consumer councils which are organised in varying ways, dependent on how each group of individuals that make up the councils wish it to be organised. Worker councils would decide on what would happen in any one workplace, perhaps split into smaller sub-sections, depending on the necessities of the product being produced. Consumer councils would began at the level of the family and gravitate upwards through over social units such as local wards, neighbourhoods, councils, regional, state, etc. Each level would democratically decide on consumption that affected them, for example, ‘The quality of playground equipment in a park affects all in the neighbourhood. The number of volumes in the library and teachers in the high school primarily affect all in a ward.’ (2004: 93).
Division of labour would alter to take into considerations ‘balanced job complexes’ (2004: 10). Balanced job complexes are designed in order to tackle the disproportionate amount of ‘rote’ or ‘undignified’ work done by people by portioning out the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jobs that any one workplace has to do evenly amongst its workers. This new division of labour begins to tackle the unfair amount of alienating work done by workers. To do this Albert advocates a system in which all jobs have an ‘average overall index’ that will enable us to ‘allot to each job not a homogenous batch of tasks at only one empowerment level, but a combination of tasks with varied empowerment qualities whose total empowerment effect is the average for society’ (2000: 65).
Parecon relies on a new way of remunerating people for the tasks they undertake in society. People would no longer be rewarded dependant on the property they own, or their intellectual input into society, etc, but would instead be rewarded for their effort and sacrifice (Albert: 2004). Considerations such as free healthcare, schooling, etc, would be democratically decided upon, but anything removed from the overall sum-total of societal output must be quantified by the amount of effort and sacrifice the individual put in. This, again, would be decided democratically by the workers councils. What is democratically deemed fair for any individual person to consume, taking into consideration the multitude of factors needed to quantify this, is decided upon what society can afford to give.
This of course brings us back to allocation, which brings us back to the need for democratic and economic equality. It also brings us to the point that all of Parecon depends on a large effort on the behalf of people to make this work. We have shown in the last section that through deliberation and trust of the people to be able to democratically manage the allocation of resources, it is possible to radically alter the shape of democratic participation.
The form this participatory democracy will take is flexible and there is no one system that can be implemented everywhere all at once. However it is essential that any participatory democracy is structured in a bottom-up fashion, free as can possibly be from bureaucratic structures. Voting systems can be two-thirds majority, unanimous or of any other variation. However we do not have space to outline all these permutations.
However it would be appropriate to outline Albert’s hypothetical take on how Pareconist principles might look in action. To do this he hypothesises the publishing company Northstart Press (NP). The criteria by which NP is run differs from a capitalist company in the sense that its primary motivation is to be a publishing company, not a profit driven enterprise who happens to print books. This does not mean the ending of the exchange of money for books but the reconstituting of incentive. NP workers, ‘consider themselves successful when readers are entertained or enlightened’ (2004: 174-175), not when they have sold a profitable quantity of copies. Does this mean that efficiency is replaced by romantic publishers? Or does it mean that inefficient allocation of resources are replaced by efficient ones?
This dissertation holds the contention that businesses can be better businesses if the incentive is shifted from profit to the point of the business. This can only work if said business is run on a democratic basis that gives each member of said business an equitable say in how the dynamics of the organisation is run. Neither does this mean that the publishers become the arbitrators of what is published, as is the case in a capitalist publishing firm. It is the quality of the book that determines whether it is of publishable or not.
We outlined in the first section that Liberal notions of democracy are limited in the sense that they are over reliant on the sanctity of private property, which in turn enables capitalism to flourish, thus corrupting the original aim of liberal thinkers to inhibit oppression of people by large bureaucratic entities. We then discussed how the affects that modern day attempts by capitalism to limit bureaucratic organisation have failed and only replaced the old systems of oppression with new ones. Using Giddens’ concept of order and social consciousness we were able to show that if we reposition his theories to allow the possibility of change we can open up a sphere in which debate is possible. We have now shown there are possibilities and concrete examples showing that a participatory form of democracy is possible if we expand it fully enough to encompass the economic make-up of society. In this last section we will look at the prospects for participatory democracy in Britain today by evaluating the growing ‘Anarcho-Civil Society’ that is taking the form of direct democracy in opposition capitalistic organisation.
Participation Democracy and its Link to Direct Democracy Groups
There is a distinct anarchic feeling to these groups, a feeling that they no longer see the bourgeois democratic institutions as a viable pathway to their aims. This is not the political definition anarchy, but the intellectual anarchy of nineteenth and twentieth century thought. In fact these groups no longer see the bourgeois democratic institutions as democratic in any sense of the word and see the only way to challenge the perceived order is to directly express their wishes. This is the will manifested directly, a will that sees participation in society completely obsolete unless that participation is in all spheres, including primarily economic and political. Anarcho-syndicalist Rudolph Rocker summarised this feeling nearly 70 years ago when he said that ‘…the political struggle…must take the form of direct action, in which the instruments of economic power which the working class has at its command are the most effective’ and when the ‘socialist labour parties…have been obliged to rely on the economic fighting power of the working class…the focal point of the political struggle, then, is not in the political parties, but in the economic fighting organizations of the workers’ (2004: 77).
This ‘Anarcho-Civil Society’ can be said to be the expression of a democratic will struggling to find a space in capitalist society; activism as the expression of the democratic will of the people. Far from there not being any will amongst the people to live in a democratic society, there is in fact a significant amount of people who wish to be directly involved in the deliberation of political ideals. There are numerous meetings discussing participatory ideals through out
All over Britain ‘autonomous spaces’ used to direct social action or ‘direct’ democracy are growing in size and frequency. The focus of the groups is wide spread but the way in which they conduct themselves is very similar; many are linked to Indymedia, a media resource for activists, all are anti-capitalist, and all are fiercely democratic in the way they operate. Speaking to numerous activists it seems that there is no conscious decision to be democratic, democratic organisation happens of-itself, i.e. it is the only form of organisation that enables their aims to keep them together against increasing government opposition.
Institutions in the main stream are also beginning to organise around the themes I have outlined in this dissertation. Autonomous groups gathered recently at
It seems that it does not take much for these groups to get going, another sign that the thirst for institutions and networks that express the democratic will of people in
It is groups such as these and many more that the desire for increased democracy in
Through councils controlled by individuals free from government, political party or union influence, it is clear that people are able to make a choice if they are informed of all the consequences of their decisions. How can it be correct that in a representative democracy we are expected to choose who best represents us if we are told that the people we must elect are elite specialists who make decisions on our behalf on issues we cannot understand? If we do not understand the issues they are dealing with how do we know they are capable of making decisions for us? This Weberian form of ‘competitive elitism’, as Held (2006) describes it, is a shallow form of democracy that shows no trust in the electorate. Weber was a critic of capitalism and in particular its bureaucratic nature,
“The bureaucratic structure goes hand in hand with the concentration of the material means of management in the hands of the master. This concentration occurs, for instance, in a well-known and typical fashion, in the development of big capitalist enterprises, which find their essential characteristics in this process. A corresponding process occurs in public organizations.” (1967: 221)
Held (2006) shows that although Weber was critical of capitalism and bureaucracy, he still thought it impossible to escape from due to the rationalisation of large scale organisations. He came to terms with the ‘inevitability’ of capitalist production and its resultant affects on individual liberty and democracy. Another apologist for order, Weber’s concepts of just how far democracy can permeate in society bear remarkable resemblance to
If we do not understand or are not capable of choosing the correct path how can we make the correct choice in deciding who makes these complicated decisions for us? For example politicians are perhaps debating in government how high tax should be for the self-employed. In a representative democracy we are told that career/elite politicians are the only people capable making these kind of important decisions. How do we know they are capable? What criteria determine our choice as to electing these managers of society? To understand the necessary capabilities required to perform a task we must be able to understand the decision making process involved. If we understand the process we can understand why particular decisions are made and can therefore make the decisions ourselves.
The more an individual’s perceived freedom is reduced the greater the resistance. To combat this governments reduce or distort their perceptions of what freedom is and how much of it we have. This technique is used to diminish people’s knowledgeability and increase government’s control. The limits by which reality is viewed is set so as to not break down or threaten existing power structures.
When individuals structured reality is confronted with further imposed restrictions, or regresses to a less civil (liberal) code of conduct than the present, an individual or group will attempt to counter these measures with direct democracy: The will expressed manifestly. This dialectic is resolved in either two ways; the government (or any given power structure) relents and removes its course of action or the individual or group accepts a restriction of their structured, manufactured existence. This occurs through a gradually diminishing set of compromises in any socially reformist society by means of minute changes of already existing codes of conduct. All other possibilities are a continuation of this dialectic of conflict: Reform or revolution, hidden behind the muddle of concessions.
How can it be correct that in a representative democracy we are expected to choose who best represents us if we are told that the people we must elect are elite specialists who make decisions on our behalf on issues we cannot understand? If we argue that we need careerists to become experts we argue that ultimately politics is beyond the understanding of the masses. We do not understand so we must choose someone who does.
Again we are faced with searching for criteria as to how to choose these elected officials. In British representative democracy we put forward our ultimate desires and goals we wish to see achieved, i.e. health, education and choose the person who convinces us that they can deliver these wishes. This is the limit of power placed on the masses in decision making. No right of recall for inept officials, no right (with a few exceptions) to be involved in the decision making process that attempts to achieve our desired goals. For those who do not own any means of producing currency, products, etc (part of the stock a society produces) the only outlet for democratic decision making is limited to representation by another who declares they embody your wishes.
This dissertation has shown that during the process of decision making politicians are limited in choice due to their adherence to the representative system, more so than the ordinary individual. Putting aside threats to personal job safety, we can say that a politician imbedded within the bourgeois democratic system is limited to this (capitalist) system. In any particular decision making process open to all a non-capitalistic decision may be made. This is maybe at odds with and in conflict with capitalist interest. We see now that participatory democracy may come into conflict with capitalistic interests.
This dissertation has shown that democracy cannot be limited to politics if we wish democracy to actually become a mechanism for control and change within society. In order for a more democratic society to flourish in Britain and for democracy to actually mean anything to the British people, the sum-total of what a society produces must benefit all that contribute to it. Unfair principles that have been set into institutionalised practices inhibit the liberal notions of equality, self-betterment and freedom and can only be rescued through the active participation of and informed society committed to upholding said values.
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 Nine out of ten (90%) believe ordinary voters should have ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ of influence over government policies. Nearly two thirds (63%) agree that it [British democracy] needs ‘quite a lot’ or a ‘great deal’ of improvement. Over half (55%) believe
 It is important to note at this point that all democracies up until the 20th century invariably excluded large numbers of people, most notably women. We must take a tautological approach to dealing with any model of democracy in case we become bogged down in analysing each and every democratic model discussed. For the purposes of this work we must overlook these major historical points. Therefore I may use the term ‘men’ or ‘man’ to refer to ideals held on human society in general.
 Italics in original
 Baron Anthony Giddens was made a Labour Life Peer in 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Giddens (accessed
 Italics added
 www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=2 (accessed
 In a 2001 ICM/Guardian poll economic factors ranked 6th behind health, tax, crime, immigration and education on a list of what issues ranked most important when voting. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/vote_2005/issues/4506035.stm (accessed
This report details a Cuban dissidents meeting held in and supported by the
 This rejection of liberal, representative democracy was supported by the people of
 Chomsky (2000: 83) The US veto vote in the UN over Cuban trade and sanctions is used despite being “100% isolated, because the one state that reflexively has to vote with the
 “In 1997 at the WTO when the European Union brought charges against the
 At local elections in
 ‘New Internationalist’ magazine, Vol. 400 May 2007
 ‘The Challenges of Building Participatory Democracy in
 The ‘Serious Organised Crime Act’ (SOCPA) led to the arrest of over 30 activists at one peaceful demonstration outside parliament which I attended and was also arrested. ‘Sack Parliament’ demonstration (
 http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/nottinghamshire/2007/02/362716.html (accessed
 http://www.londonarc.org/social_centre_network.html (accessed