Critiques of "democracy"

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888
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Feb 10 2010 21:32
Critiques of "democracy"

Maybe I'm just thick or a democracy fetishist but I don't really get the point of them. Firstly, going on about how you're opposed to "democracy" will make you sound like some kind of totalitarian vanguardist to the uninitiated - but that's really an issue of how you present yourself to the outside world, not a problem with the critiques of democracy.

Second, it all seems rather abstract - UAW workers may have voted for a no strike clause and then immediately contradicted it, but what is there to be done about this except note it as a rather interesting phenomenon? Surely all the groups that have a "critique of democracy" still operate on democratic principles? I see no alternative. Except that having a supposed critique of democracy might provide ideological cover to allow you to excuse your own Machiavellian political maneuvering.

Finally, one of the problems democracy apparently has is that is "separates decision and action" - so fucking what? Is this some kind of uselessly abstract complaint against separation, alienation and mediation one often sees in the more annoying philosophical distortions of theory turned in on itself (see for example John Zerzan's opposition to "mediation" taken to its absurd conclusion). In a practical sense, I have no problem thinking about what I'm going to do before doing it, even if I might change my mind when the moment comes - it's certainly better than the alternative.

Boris Badenov
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Feb 10 2010 22:00

Abstract anti-organizational ramblings are of course useless bollocks, but critiques of democracy as ideology are very useful I think especially in regards to leftism and its role in capitalism (and the idea of socialism meaning the "expanding" of democracy within the current framework). The "uninitiated" (not the best term imo) take democracy as a great historical development rather than a simple organizational tool that works in specific situations.
This is what I think is the main gist of this article:
http://libcom.org/library/democracy-as-the-community-of-capital#footnote6_mfhus50
that you commented on recently, not the "separation of thought from action" thing.

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Feb 10 2010 22:25

Critiques of democracy make some valid points, I don't deny that. Clearly there are certain times that it is necessary to act even if the majority is against it, but it is very hard to separate these instances from the times that said action is substitutionist, individualistic, or just badly timed and stupid. In either case it will be justified and condemned in the same way.

Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean by your link - this quote?
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

Leo
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Feb 10 2010 22:19

888, I'd say check this out: http://www.sinistra.net/lib/upt/compro/liqe/liqemcicee.html

"While preserving as much of the incidental democratic mechanism that can be used, we will eliminate the use of the term «democracy», which is dear to the worst demagogues but tainted with irony for the exploited, oppressed and cheated, abandoning it to the exclusive usage of the bourgeoisie and the champions of liberalism in their diverse guises and sometimes extremist poses."

Boris Badenov
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Feb 10 2010 22:27
888 wrote:
Critiques of democracy make some valid points, I don't deny that. Clearly there are certain times that it is necessary to act even if the majority is against it, but it is very hard to separate these instances from the times that said action is substitutionist, or just badly timed and stupid. In either case it will be justified and condemned in the same way.

Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean by your link - this quote?
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

I fucked up the link. I meant the whole article.

Boris Badenov
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Feb 10 2010 22:36

Also, the fact that critiquing democracy automatically means you're a fascist says quite a bit about democracy itself don't you think?
As I said, in my view, the point to such critiques is not, or shouldn't be, to drone on about whether decision predates action and so on, but expose what is today termed democracy as the sham that it is, a sham that is not salvageable, that cannot be "expanded." You may think that critiquing capitalism is enough, but it isn't necessarily. State socialists and leftists of every shade can fake an anti-capitalist stance precisely because most people who dispute capitalism don't really dispute democracy.
Voting Labour to keep the other guys out, supporting Chavez, etc. this is what "democratic" leftism breeds, and this is why I think critiques of democracy are important even if they sometimes verge on philosophical crapola.

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Feb 10 2010 23:11

Of course, but I was mainly interested in the parts of those critiques which go beyond a critique of bourgeois democracy, like the Wildcat(UK) piece does. As does the Bjork article, perhaps less explicitly.

We've run into the point of confusion that I should have seen coming - when are we talking about "bourgeois democracy" contrasted to "proletarian democracy" or "direct democracy", and when are we talking about all forms of democracy? The critique of bourgeois democracy is already built into the foundations of anarchism, less so of Marxism (judging by Marx's actions at least).

(Haven't taken a look at Leo's link yet, will do now)

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Feb 10 2010 23:23

this can be a very practical question in struggles. i mean a lot of strikes have started with wildcat action either unanimously initated or voted on in a mass meeting (e.g. the Miners Strike). in such instances the democracy of the secret ballot is an attempt to isolate workers and make it easier for them to vote against action without having to look their co-workers in the eye. in a very real sense a mass meeting contains peer pressure and often an overflowing of anger and the like which is undemocratic by bourgeois standards. however, i think often critiques of democracy are more-radical-than-thou posturing and/or a fig leaf for substitutionism/abstentionism. as 888 says, a critique of bourgeois democracy is inherent to any half-decent anarchism, and it's always sensible not to fetishise democratic forms without regard to their content (e.g. mass meetings can be organs of self-organised proletarian struggle, or a democratic rubber stamp for decisions alreay made by union officails over the heads of the workers).

Wellclose Square
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Feb 10 2010 23:42

Coming at it from another angle (and apologies for trying to condense what should be a more extensive argument to a couple of lines), would it be fair to say that democracy or 'democratist ideology' is consistent with the ideal of the civil society of the atomised, sovereign, bourgeois individual (itself a manifestation of the universal equivalence of the commodity) and therefore is incompatible with communism?

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Feb 11 2010 00:19

i guess, but personally i would say mass meetings, delegate councils etc are democratic, only it's a public democracy not an atomised one (arguably closer to the Greek root of the word in fact, mob rule). i guess that's where the bourgeois/proletarian democracy distinction comes in.

Wellclose Square
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Feb 11 2010 01:54
Quote:
Coming at it from another angle (and apologies for trying to condense what should be a more extensive argument to a couple of lines), would it be fair to say that democracy or 'democratist ideology' is consistent with the ideal of the civil society of the atomised, sovereign, bourgeois individual (itself a manifestation of the universal equivalence of the commodity) and therefore is incompatible with communism?

In response Joseph Kay said:

Quote:
i guess, but personally i would say mass meetings, delegate councils etc are democratic, only it's a public democracy not an atomised one (arguably closer to the Greek root of the word in fact, mob rule). i guess that's where the bourgeois/proletarian democracy distinction comes in.

I get your point, and on certain levels would wholeheartedly agree (based on the blurb about a BBC Horizon programme tonight about several different infinities existing, but in a contradictory though simultaneous manner - watched Embarrassing Illnesses instead). In such a contradictory vein, I can't quite accept that bourgeois and proletarian democracy are quite so opposed to each other if democratism is inherently bourgeois (at least terminologically - though 'mob rule' in the Hellenic sense might overcome such an apparent quibble).

I'm making a second attempt at reading Saree Makdisi's William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s (starting from where I left off), which grapples with the contradictions (or not - and both simultaneously) between the 'discourse' of political despotism/democracy and actual economic despotism (economic despotism - the dictatorship of the market, if you will - which free market-oriented political reformers like Tom Paine tended not to question, while reactionaries like Burke - more honestly, saw an isomorphism between economic and political despotism.). I feel the book would impinge on any extant or forthcoming debate on the issue of 'democracy' and 'popular power' (proletarian dictatorship, mob rule, 'fierce rushing' (Blake's phrase used in America, which appears to convey echoes of the Gordon Riots of 1780)), and wonder if anyone else is familiar with it. Sorry if this seems all over the place, but it's all part of the process(es) of 'theoretical clarification'/muddying the waters, etc.

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Feb 11 2010 02:17

yeah i don't really ever use the bourgeois/proletarian democracy distinction myself, although i can see why it exists. there is a good theoretical case for saying 'communsts not democrats' since 'from each according to ability, to each according to need' is not a democratic principle. but to be honest, i don't have much problem with pointing out the 'sham' democracy that exists and juxtaposing it to the democracy of mass meetings, workers' councils etc. yes, leftists speak this language, but it's not what makes them leftists. they simply want to make capitalist social relations more democratic, whereas we want a revolution in social relations, which will incidentally be quite democratic. it's like i'm a big critic of 'self-management' (see the Parecon debate for instance), but i don't have a problem when my organisation (SolFEd) says we want a society based on "self-management and libertarian communism", as together it's clear that we're not talking about merely self-managing our exploitation.

Spikymike
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Feb 15 2010 14:29

The library article critique on democracy as ideology is useful and the following 'Communism against Democracy' perhaps makes a good companion:

http://gci-icg.org/english/communism4/htm#communism_dem

Also the article 'Against the myth of Democratic Rights and Liberties' in Communism No 8 on the same site.

These articles heavily influenced the 'Wildcat article' mentioned above which was however a poor reflection of that influence.

I recall my attempts at introducing these ideas (along with others from the old 'Workers Playtime' publication) to stimulate a discussion at a long past Libertarian Workers Network meeting in Sheffield got me accused by a member of the DAM/SolFed of neo-fascism or something along those lines, but I think he has a different view now.

I admitedly sometimes think the title of the GCI article recomended above is aimed more at shocking the lefts 'democratic cretins' than encouraging a thoughtful debate amongst genuine pro-revolutionaries.

Spikymike
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Feb 15 2010 14:36

Sorry that link above doesn't seem to work but you can go direct to the gci-icg website. or try this:

http://gci-icg.org/english/index.html

Spikymike
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Dec 14 2015 17:33

For the benefit of anyone belatedly picking up on this thread the relevant ICG/GCI texts (and some others) are all available on libcom these days as here:
http://libcom.org/library/communism-against-democracy-communism-4 and
http://libcom.org/library/against-the-myth-of-democratic-rights-and-libe...
as well as this more useful text:
http://libcom.org/library/implosion-point-democratist-ideology
but perhaps also read Roi Ferreiro's critique and my comment in the libcom library.

kingzog
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Dec 17 2015 17:07

I've heard a lot of this from ultra-lefts. Typically, they even argue that democracy is a capitalistic form despite democracies existence long before capitalism. Or that democracy is somehow linked to the "value form." See IP's article "towards a critique of the Democratic form".
https://libcom.org/library/towards-critique-democratic-form-draft

Anarcho
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Dec 19 2015 12:10

Well, it all depends on what you mean by "democracy" -- in the 19th century, it generally meant representative (bourgeois) democracy in a centralised, indivisible, unitary republic. This was the standard meaning on the French left as well -- which was why Proudhon attacked the notion.

For other kinds of democracy -- decentralised, federal, bottom-up based on elected, mandated and recallable delegates -- then he supported it and used the term "labour democracy" to describe it.

We should also not confuse majority decision making with majority rule. We should also not confuse a group making its own decisions by majority vote with a group electing someone to make decisions for them (i.e., a government) -- what Bakunin called "the principle of authority".

I've actually just written a chapter of a book on this, on anarchist organisation. If anyone wants to see it, contact me.