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Capitol Hill is not where democracy ends

When the limited democracy we have under capitalism is threatened, socialists must rush to its defence while making a case for a deeper economic democracy, writes SEAN WATERS

THE events of last week constituted “a carnival of reaction.” 

It’s important to remember that this failed putsch in Washington has not come from a clear blue sky, and the left was consistently ridiculed when outlining the risk Trump possesses. 

But it did not take long before denunciations of violence echoed from the same luvvies who lambasted Corbyn for refusing to sit down for dinner with the New York Mussolini and regularly offered defences of his views.

Boris Johnson  — or the British Trump, a label coined by the president himself — regarded the insurrectionary attack on the US as at odds with their international reputation as the guardians of “democracy around the world” and president-elect Joe Biden solemnly declared that “our democracy is under unprecedented assault.”

The internationalists among us were quick to ridicule the statement of Trump’s facsimile.

The “US empire,” of course, represents not a virtuous undertaking in spreading democracy and peace across the globe but a brutal proponent of imperialism and terror. Not enough attention has been paid to the latter point. 

In attacking the Capitol, the protesters were fundamentally rejecting the social contract of the US and some have gone as far to argue that an attack on these buildings represents “an attack on democracy itself.”

In essence, this is true. Of course there are local authorities and state legislatures, but the evacuation of Congress exhibited that the business of the House of Representatives — the people’s own voice in federal power, had been threatened.

Socialists should be abundantly clear in our rejection of the attempts of fascists to frustrate democracy.

However, just as we support calls for lockdown but demand additional measures to safeguard livelihoods, we must go further.

When our democracy is under attack, we should not resign ourselves to defences of incomplete processes but start campaigning for their fulfilment. 

Now should be the time that we demand an expansion of democracy, including on this side of the Atlantic. 

Under capitalism, despite our hard-fought democratic rights, real power is held by the wealthiest and is hoarded away from the working class. 

We have a vote every few years, but the government has already sacrificed influence over swathes of the economy to wealthy individuals who are accountable to nobody.

Corbyn often opined that his politics would be realised through the democratisation of society. 

This meant policy proposals encompassed not just an improvement in the treatment of people through politics but an expansion of what it even means to be a democratic society. 

An extraordinary socialist principle is the commitment to giving working people a greater say in their lives.

For instance, the 2019 Labour manifesto committed the largest companies in Britain to giving workers “up to 10 per cent” collective ownership of that organisation. 

This principle is beyond socially just. It represents a politics that centres democracy and therefore power at many centres rather than one.

Importantly, not only do the present systems of governance in Britain and the US represent an incomplete complete democracy, it is a more vulnerable one. 

When we see cries of anguish that the business of the people was halted, socialists should raise the point that it is foolish to focus so much power in one place and in the hands of so few.

No collection of buildings should have the authority to claim to be the heart of a society’s democracy and this failed coup has exposed the frailty of such a system. 

A genuine people’s democracy is where rule by the workers runs through politics, the economy and our lives.

This should not be read as an attempt to underplay the significance of what has happened. 

These fascists should be condemned in the strongest possible terms for attempting to deny people the small voice they have. 

The threat they hold is incredibly serious and should be met with long sentences in the courts and opposition on the streets when the contemptible face of white supremacy inevitably rises once again. 

When democracy is threatened, socialists must rush to its defence while making clear that the status quo is not sufficient.

We must ask how opponents of democracy could derail its processes if worker participation was present at every level of politics and economics and equally available to all, regardless of class, gender, race or sexuality.

Democratic control of transportation, water, energy and post alongside affording workers a voice alongside their employers at work would prove to the genesis of a people’s democracy, wherein compromising a government building would signal a serious crime but the obstruction of only one facet of a democracy whose vastness affords it a decentralised and anti-bureaucratic character.

The prospect of a people’s democracy, therefore, relegates the power enemies of democracy have in terms of halting the will of the people as they cannot storm every factory, warehouse or train station which would become arenas of democracy every day.

A people’s democracy would divert democratic power towards the hands of the workers and away from those wealthy elites and precipitate a culture where democracy is iterative and constant rather than sporadic and conducive to apathy. 

Only 6 per cent of voters want a return to the way of doing things before Covid-19, just as we are seeing a resurgence of socialist ideas such as the vital importance of universal broadband.

We must see the crossroads of a post-pandemic politics as an opportunity to campaign for a transformation of the balances of power and democracy.

When the far right agitate to frustrate democracy and liberals declare their institutions to be infallible, socialists must articulate a radical democracy capable of empowering workers and engraining democratic participation so deeply in society that a challenge to the will of the people is inconceivable. 


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