beyond democracy


“It’s a set of principles that involve a commitment to individual freedom and democracy.”

Okay…so how are we defining each of those terms?
By what metric does individual freedom and democracy necessitate a market economy?
By what metric does individual freedom and democracy necessitate a class structure built around access to capital – with a dominant class controlling society’s productive gears and a subordinate class having nothing to sell but their labor?
By what metric does individual freedom and democracy necessitate enclosures to resources and intellectual property?
This isn’t nitpicking – it’s just noticing that there is a social context through which we understand those political ideals of freedom and democracy.

This is why Marxists call liberals “idealists” – not because they have lofty ideas that supposedly defy reality, but because they fail to recognize the way in which material conditions give rise to ideologies (and how those ideologies are usually tailored to reproduce those material conditions). Liberalism defines individual liberty and democracy in a very particular, very historical way – a way which reproduces the material conditions of capitalism. These ideas don’t just form in a vacuum, in our “detached, rational minds”, and then just externalize to create social systems – it’s the opposite. Not all ideologies exist to reinforce the status quo (socialism, for example, wouldn’t exist as an ideology if this was the case), but they’re still almost always direct responses to the material relations of the status quo, whether in support or in opposition.

For this reason, if you were to ask a socialist what individual freedom and democracy means, you would receive different answers from liberals. We tend to believe that individual freedom shouldn’t come with the proviso that you generate labor that is profitable to someone else much more powerful than you (as under capitalism) – we believe that resources should be collectivized, automation should be fully utilized, and otherwise necessary labor should be divvied up so that the *individual* isn’t burdened by economic necessity and grueling workloads and class domination, giving them the ability to pursue what they’re passionate about. According to liberals (and the core ideologies surrounding capitalism), this isn’t individual freedom – and it’s not considered individual freedom *because* it doesn’t reproduce the conditions and mindsets necessary to keep the present system afloat.

What about democracy? Socialists believe that democracy means nothing if it doesn’t include your workplace, living spaces, and communities. This goes way beyond basic political democracy, even as socialism necessitates that as well – this is about recognizing that democracy is hollow and powerless as long as it only includes voting for one of two elite-selected suits every two-to-four years; it’s hollow and powerless as long as a small class of people control society’s productive gears *autocratically* for their own profit and structure the political game in their favor (which is, again, a major part of the system reproducing itself through ideology and social practice).

Liberals of all stripes absolutely must understand that their supposedly “detached” reference points for individual freedom and democracy are intensely ideological and dependent on particular material conditions – the material conditions of capitalism, the material conditions that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Those with power in this system will propagate whatever ideology they need to reproduce their power – this usually takes the form of liberalism, though it will often congeal into fascism when the system starts to wobble on shaky legs and the people start demanding a new system (fascism is the ruling class’s response to the demands for a new system from below; it’s a more overt and violent method of maintaining capital accumulation when the people demand an end to the concentration of resources by elites, and in the end fascism absorbs both nationalists and liberals whilst suppressing opposition from the left-wing that threatens ruling class material interests). It’s not about “principles” or “a commitment to high ideals” (for liberal politicians and the rich, anyway) – it’s about sustaining capitalism by obscuring the material conditions with fancy-sounding rhetoric and ideological justification.

In other words, Orwellian doublespeak (a term ironically/not so ironically used by liberals to oppose justice movements and reinforce the status quo).

In general, I find the U.S. conception of “freedom” is anachronistic: it’s based on classical liberalism, and is hence the freedom of the landowning class (which historically is everyone from poor homesteaders to robber barons, but not the urban working class, or indeed the urban middle class) to dispose of their property as they wish, including their property in people (indentured servants, chattel slaves, and, to an extent, employees). European conceptions of freedom are more consequentialist: i.e., they look at the actual lived experience of the individual in the context of society, and out of the difference between these two perspectives, you have everything from American libertarianism and the Republican party and right-to-work states on the one hand, and European social democracy, weaker free speech protections, and a stronger social safety net. Not all of either category is good or bad; if I had my druthers, I’d rather have American free speech protections and a European taxation scheme/social safety net, and I think the fact you can’t home-school your kids in Germany is a little dumb.

One of the outcomes of this distinction is that Europe is, on the whole, slightly less democratic, but substantially more free. Your freedom to live your life as you choose is stronger where you can rely on not having to give up your dreams if you have a run of personal calamities, and for most people, for whom politics is a minority interest except for a few weeks on either side of major elections, this is what’s important when it comes to ‘freedom.’ The fact that you can, in principle, treat your workers like shit if you owned Wal-Mart is not relevant to the lives of most Americans, who do not own any stake in Wal-Mart, but because we have predicated our understanding of freedom in the United States on a myth of the individual as island and of all choices of association as being free choices of association, your day-to-day ability to govern your own life and choices in America is less, unless you are already comparatively well-off (and it is about the same as it would be in Europe if you are).

It’s relevant to the American experience of freedom that for a large chunk of the country’s formative adolescence, for about half the nation the word included the meaning of “free to own other human beings,” and that this wasn’t seen as in any way a contradiction; that specific property has been deemphasized, but the general metaethical rule behind it (i.e., freedom attends only to individual capacity for action, not the consequences of those actions on other people, especially not where the government is involved). That plus the frontier structure of society for large parts of the country for most of its history and the fact that democracy came relatively early to the United States–and hence could not try to improve on earlier models of democracy, like the Weimar Republic and postwar Germany could–means that ironically America is one of the least free liberal democracies on Earth right now, even among the unfree liberal democracies of the Anglosphere (for cultural reasons, I would say that Ireland, the U.K., the United States, and Australia are all less free than, say, Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, the Benelux countries, Austria, and Denmark.).

Two notes: obviously, we’re talking about a narrow range of “free” versus “unfree;” once we move beyond well-established liberal democracies these differences are so small as to be irrelevant, but they’re still large enough that I would never, ever consider moving back to the United States at this point, even if Bernie Sanders was President, the Republican party dissolved itself, and a constitutional amendment was adopted mandating a universal basic income and single-payer health insurance. Two, the “slightly less democratic” thing is least relevant to the only two countries I’ve lived in long-term in Europe, Germany, whose only major failure of democracy happens to be that they keep electing the same woman chancellor because she’s enormously popular, and Ireland, which uses what I’m pretty sure is the best voting system on Earth, even though it’s burdened with hilariously fucked up small-town politics–because, well, it’s basically a small country full of small towns.

moorhead, minnesota. november 2016. 

it wasn’t punditry, strategic error, or even a weak democratic candidate. the stone cold truth is that we live amongst millions of selfish, complacent, imbeciles who, in 2016 with the entire world at their fingertips, obtsinately refuse to see beyond themselves. democracy itself can never work with an electorate that seethes with anger at thoughtfulness, at pragmatism, at compassion despite difference, and at smart people.

the think pieces trickling in calling liberals out for losing because of an “elitist attitude” are terribly, terribly misguided. to villify the young, moderately well-educated people that overwhelmingly voted for hillary – most of whom are crippled by student debt – for not caring to understand the plight of the supposedly oppressed masses of middle america is bullshit. on the contrary, we are deeply thoughtful, we are deeply concerned, and we surely care about their well-being more than they care about anyone other than themselves. we are the ones racked with anxiety over climate change, over equality, over the fate of the world and we therefore unequivocally occupy a moral high ground when all is said and done. it is now high time we begin villifying the trumpisti and their retrograde “values” of anti intellectualism, fear, and every man for himself. this will be a rough four years, but i still believe the idealists, the readers, the travelers, and the artists own the future. on pense, donc on est.

to the deplorables: enjoy your new jobs shoveling coal, assholes.

anonymous asked:

Hello, can you please help me understand why some communist/anarchists are against religion other than the point that they impose hierarchical structures ? This would be very useful & please anyone add additional information that maybe relevant. Cheers.

Not all communists and anarchists are opposed to religion and spirituality, actually. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that they oppose the hierarchical and oppressive aspects of institutionalized religions, but as far as I’m concerned, there is no internal contradiction between believing in a higher power of some kind and believing that human society ought to be as horizontal as possible. A popular anarchist slogan is “No Gods, No Masters”, but there are also Christian anarchists, for instance. Likewise, spiritual Marxists are somewhat common – hell, I consider myself one. I think most leftists may be nonreligious (or at least not conservatively religious), and many argue that capital R religion as an institution will wither away when class society is abolished, but I don’t know any leftists who actively oppose the idea of people and groups being religious/spiritual of their own accord. Metaphysically, I generally don’t care what you believe – if you push for direct democracy beyond class society, then you’re probably my comrade.

I’m legitimately baffled that Trump has this much of a lead. I apologize to all of you for being so cocky over the past couple months, with regard to me saying how definitive it would be in Clinton’s favor. This is….shit.

Friends: Now more than ever we’re gonna need to build some anti-capitalist alternative. A labor party with working class interests needs to be built from the disparate leftist factions and organized into a cohesive opposition against the reactionary right. Worker councilism as an idea needs to gain traction so that socialism can once again earn favor among working class folks who are ignored by the two-party system. Electoral politics alienates people left and right; we need to bring politics to the grassroots level and the workplace level. Now more than ever, a genuine alternative to neoliberalism, to imperialism, to capitalism is needed. It won’t take form through the Democrats, guys – we need to build something truly revolutionary here, something that takes the energy of the Sanders campaign and multiplies it tenfold towards full economic democracy beyond capitalism.


The Democracy Scam

Tom takes on a sacred cow with Frank Karsten, co-author of Beyond Democracy