The limits of bourgeois democracy revealed.
A decision by the citizens in the Catalonia region of Spain to have a referendum on whether to declare independence, has clearly revealed the limits of bourgeois democracy. In response to this aspiration for independence, the political and bureaucratic elite in the central government of Spain declared that the citizens of Catalonia have no right to decide on such a possibility. In line with this bureaucratic dictat, they threw the armed police power of the bourgeois state into the the region in an attempt to prevent them doing so by voting. Peaceful voters in many parts of Catalan were violently man-handled and injured by Spains armed guardia-civil, (real-world robo-cops) simply for being in a voting centre to register their vote. It mattered not whether their intention was to vote for or against the independence proposal; the intention to vote and their presence at a polling station was enough for Catalonians to be percieved as a malicious enemy and be treated as such.
Lets be crystal clear on the logistics of this development. A small number of politicians, holding central government posts and their bureocratic advisors felt able to declare illegal, something the local elected government and many thousands of Catalonia tax-payers thought they were, or ought to be, entitled to. Not only that but this cabal were attempting to physically enforce their minority opinions upon the whole of Catalonia and the rest of Spain. This aggressive response indicates that the modern political elite in Spain, (as elsewhere) when faced with widespread active dissatisfaction are little different in attitude to the Kings and Queens of the fuedal era or the more recent European dictators such as Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.
Their actions amount to a modern version of powerful elites demanding the rest of its citizens, just do as they are told and wait until they are informed when, where and what they should do, including what they can vote for and when they can vote. True to form, the still existing parasitic royalist hangers on in Spain, along with the politicians in the European Community condemned the peaceful voters of Catalonia but failed to condemn the gratuitous violence of the Spanish central state. And of course, this is a case of dejavue for Catalonia. For it is not the first time the people of Catalonia have been the victims of aggressive state centralists.
Homage to Catalonia.
In the not too distant past, the people of Catalonia also actively defended their rights to self-determination against a royalist – leaning and controlling elite. This occurred during what became known as the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). As a volunteer, fighting on the side of the Republican – minded citizens, in that conflict, the author, George Orwell, wrote a book entitled ‘Homage to Catalonia’. In it he describes the ups and downs of that particular struggle against both authoritarian oppression and its soft-cop twin – bourgeois democracy. In the book, he describes, the left-sectarian in-fighting which split the republican forces and sabataged any chance of success against Franco’s fascist forces. A further important conclusion he came to is as follows.
“It is nonsense to talk of opposing Fascism by bourgeois ‘democracy‘. Bourgeois ‘democracy’ is only another name for capitalism, and so is Fascism; to fight against Fascism on behalf of ‘democracy’ is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment. (Orwell. Homage to Catalonia. Appendix 1.)
George Orwell’s book, ‘Homage to Catalonia’ contains an extremely important reminder of bitter lessons learned in the past, but which are now largely forgotten. Unlike his later critical but fictionalised books on Bolshevism and Stalinism (ie ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’), this one was based directly on his personal experiences and detailed observations. They are observations and conclusions which still have relevance today, not just within Spain, but globally. Right-wing authoritarian tendencies are again on the increase and the same trap is being laid for modern-day unsuspecting citizens, by the democratic bourgeoisie. Its ‘us or the right-wing extremists’, is the intellectual subterfuge the social democrats use to confuse the trusting or naive. For although it is unlikely that full-blown Fascism or Stalinism, will raise their ugly heads once more, similar divisions between a democratic bourgeoisie and an authoritarian one are again opening up. In the USA, for example, a choice between Trump and Clinton is being created as if they were opposites, when in fact they are just two versions of neo-liberal capitalist aggression and exploitation.
In the case of Catalonia, this modern day bourgeois response to an expressed desire for independence clearly demonstrates that the top-down relationship between elites and the population has not changed significantly under the capitalist mode of production. And, as noted, this phenomena is not isolated to Spain. The modern invention of voting for political governance, reluctantly granted to us lower orders, is still only allowed when it suits the elite – otherwise they claim it is illegal. In other words belonging to a democratic community and voting is not a right but a temporary privilege to be granted or revoked at the discretion of the dominant elite.
If further evidence is needed of the international character of this bourgeois phenomenon of denying the right of citizens, to self-determination we need only to consider the response of the Turkish elite to the Kurdish struggle for independence, the reaction of the Arab Spring elites in Egypt, Syria and Yemen to their citizen aspirations for change, or that which greeted the Greek effort to control its own economy in the debt crisis of 2014. Ordinary people are supposed to ‘know their place’ and not to ‘assume’ to rise above it. But these reactionary and authoritarian responses by the various elites – including the Spanish central government elite – has also indicated far more than this arrogant, authoritarian reflex.
The above are all examples of the growing schism between 21st century elites and their civil society populations. As is the case with Catalonia, they all reveal that under severe crisis situations, even modern elites arrogantly overestimate their power with regard to the functioning of societies. By failing to grant much needed radical and manageable reforms to their citizens, they provoke further resistance which threatens the very basis of their rule. With reference to the underlying cause of the growing splits between ordinary people and the political class, the depth and breadth of the crises facing humanity cannot be overstated. Even taken at its face value, the bourgeois mode of production, is in urgent need of radical reform in at least six areas, one or more of which bear untollerably upon one section of the population or another. They are as follows: The economic system, the financial system, the political system, the legal system, the moral system and the ecological system.
The six areas of crisis.
1. The economic system, on the one hand, is excessively producing (ie overproducing) and stockpiling commodities and capital whilst on the other it is excessively producing precarious forms of employment, unemployment, global poverty along with vast inequalities of wealth. 2. The financial system has come to control and aggressively dominate every aspect of modern life. The banks and financial institutions dictate policy and practices to governments, politicians and citizens, whilst creating asset bubbles and financial instability whilst being extravagantly rewarded for these activities. 3. The political systems have abandoned all real attempts at achieving social equality, fairness and justice for the majority – although to a man (and woman) – they still hypocritically mouth egalitarian rhetoric. In reality they are all dedicated upholders of the system of exploitation even as it deteriorates.
4. The legal system has long been an agent of bourgeois rule, but it has now bandoned any post Second World War semblance of humanity or humility. It has become nothing more than a system of parasitically extracting revenue from all and sundry, whilst penalising or abandoning those who have insufficient funds to meet their exhorbitant legal charges. 5. The moral systems of modern bourgeois society, are infused with a poisonous mixture of patriarchal, racist, sexist ideas blended within a culture of insatiable greed. In pursuit of wealth and power, anything goes. Predatory wars and ethnic cleansing; predatory acquisitions of companies and public resources; predatory sexual manouvres and conquests (internal company harassments and rapes) along with racist forms of imperial style predation are all part and parcel of bourgeois religious and secular morality.
6. The ecological system balance, upon which – in the final analysis – all the above sub-systems ultimately depend, is being eroded, degraded and frequently totally destroyed by the needs of the capitalist mode of production. The productive activity of humanity, governed and controlled as it mostly is, by the needs of capital and capitalist profit-based economic activity, is polluting land, air and sea, by its unsaleable finished products, it’s waste material products and the escape of numerous other liquid and gaseous by-products, into rivers, land, sea and air. Even from such a brief outline of the six areas mentioned it is obvious that separately each one of them is in need of either radical alteration or complete termination. Together, they represent a daunting existential challenge facing humanity.
Increasing citizen discontent.
It is a progressive recognition of one or other of the systems many failures that has motivated the open demonstrations of citizen discontent which have characterised the 21st century. Uprisings in the middle east, independence or cessesionist movements in various places, along with anti-war demonstrations and altered voting patterns in the west are evidence of the global extent of this grass-roots dissatisfaction. As yet (and as already noted) this citizen disconnect from politics and the bourgeois state is expressed in reformist directions such as demonstrations, petitions, exiting from the European economic community, right-leaning nationalist tendencies and independence movements such as in Catelonia.
Paradoxically, all these varying responses to the structural crisis of the capitalist mode of production are aimed at clearing up one or other of the many symptoms whilst falling far short of diagnosing or identifying the cause. Such reformist responses are inevitable because the vast majority of those who see the need for change have not been given the intellectual tools to understand the underlying cause of the symptoms. The forensic economic analysis of the capitalist mode of production by Smith, Ricardo and Marx have not been popularised or even been given their proper credit within academic institutions. Understanding capitalism without the instrumentality of their analysis is akin to trying to understand cellular biology without a microscope; the solar system without a telescope; advanced physics without the tool of mathematics, or medicine without a knowledge of the internal structure of the human body. Without such socially developed aids, nothing better than, guess work, speculation, wishful thinking or the equivalent of attaching leeches are to be expected.
Yet, despite this drawback, in any serious struggle to deal with symptoms and reform the system in one way or another, the underlying reality of the problems and the available solutions to them will be revealed. As the multifaceted crisis continues to develop, elites who tread such stubbornly arrogant, anti-reform paths as those noted above, may be confronted by increasingly desperate populations determined to struggle for what they construe as their basic rights and taking hold of the analytical tools they will need. During such struggles, it will become obvious, if it is not already, that societies function as a result of the large-scale cooperation of ordinary citizens. When that voluntary co-operation is removed, the crises begin to take on a broad social dimension rather than a narrow political one. Politics will be seen as the problem and not the solution it promises. Uprisings and mass demonstrations, for example, reveal the extent of dissatisfaction but a general strike by paralysing economic activity can reveal just who is necessary to society and who is ultimately superfluous.
All Pyramids are built upon bases.
Modern civil societies are certainly governed in a top-down fashion, as were many previous feudal and pre-feudal ones, but this political reality is an inversion of economic and social reality. Societies are actually created and sustained by a bottom-up system of integrated, cooperative physical and intellectual labour. Without working people creating and maintaining the supply of food, water, clothing, building, electricity, transport and all the other services such as health and education, there would not be societies for politicians and other elites to exploit, distort or despoil. Once this fundamental socio-economic reality is recognised, political and economic elites become seen to be part of the problem, not part of a solution. And with the further analytical recognition that stripped of its mysticism, Capital is revealed as nothing more than the accumulated results of past labour and surplus-labour syphoned off by the elite into bank accounts and possessions, certain things follow. At that point then the reality of how societies really work will become chrystal clear.
Without a solid and sufficient sized base, the further construction of any type of pyramid cannot be achieved. And this universal fact applies to the social sphere as well as the architectural. The foundations of all societies, past, present and future have been and will continue to be, the skills and energies of those who provide the necessities for long-term human survival – sustainable sources of – food, water, clothing, housing, energy, education and health-care. How these necessities are predominantly produced defines and details the mode of production which in turn determines what kind of hierarchy and elite emerges from within it. However, once a mode of production – as guided by its elite – ceases to satisfy the essential needs of a majority of its people, then change becomes necessary. The current mode of production is dominated by the owners and beneficiaries of capital, spread across industry, commerce and finance and it is this mode of production which is increasingly failing to satisfy the short and long-term needs of humanity and failing to adequately protect the other life-forms.
Capital is the root problem.
In all the above-noted areas of crisis, the profit-driven motive of capital investment has not only massively over-produced commodities and services, but created huge commercial outlets, extensive polluting transport systems and astronomical concentrations of financial assets, all of which have spawned the numerous negative symptoms now threatening human communities and non-human life-forms across the entire planet. Furthermore, in order to compete with other (foreign-based) concentrations of capital for sales, each (indigenously-based) national concentration has progressively increased the complexity and productivity of the fixed means of production.
Automation, computerisation and integrated input and output production flows have massively reduced the need for human labour, whilst simultaneously increasing the mass of produced articles needing purchasers. Capital therefore needs more people globally with wages and salaries to buy the increased mass of finished articles it produces, precisely at the same time as it is globally reducing the number of people employed by it and lowering the general levels of pay. So the Capitalist mode of production is continually undermining 1, it’s own economic foundation – sufficient purchases of its own production – and 2, it’s social legitimacy – the creation of peace, meaningful employment and adequate welfare provision. Unemployment, poverty and therefore disatisfaction are consequently rising in every country fuelling the existing and future uprisings, protests, nationalist feelings, rebellions and independence movements.
Furthermore, at the global level, the owners and/or controllers of capital, particularly finance capital, are now able to exert influence and even manipulate the activities of whole nations. By effectively controlling the size and location of the means of production, the form and means of distribution and the monetary means of exchange they have become a financial power above the considerable power of the various nation-states. Personified in the form of the executives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) (OECD, WTO etc.) and other global institutions, (financial and academic), they draft and impose treaties (Maastrichts, North Atlantic, etc) and partnerships (Public and Private etc.), and are beyond any form of democratic control. Behind the liberal-democratic political facades, and the permitted acts of voting, it is they who are able to ultimately control bourgeous democracies.
A further measure of influence and control over nation-states, by the owners and controller’s of capital, particularly finance-capital is obtained through the medium of loans to governments. Such are the costs of propping up nation states, to maintain politicians, armies, navies and air forces, that taxation has long been insufficient to finance them. Added to this, funding the post-Second World War welfare-state systems in advanced capitalist countries has increased state expenditure, whilst the above noted technical advances (automation etc.) and industrial relocation have reduced taxation further. Governments – all governments – are technically bankrupt and totally dependent upon loans from the owners and controller’s of international finance-capital. This gives the latter a considerable degree of influence, not only upon the loan-interest charged, but, as recently witnessed in Greece, upon what a country does and how it manages it’s affairs.
To sum up. Globally we are witnessing an emerging, but as yet, only partial recognition of the negative effects of this neo-liberal phase of global domination by capital. As noted above, one or other of these effects have caused uprisings on the one hand, (in the middle-east and North Africa), changes in voting habits on the other (in Europe and North and South America), together with a tendency to retreat from this control by movements for separation (Britain) or independence (notably Scotland and Catalonia). But given the global tentacles of capital, is voting differently, physical separation or independence the complete answer?
Independence and cessation: But from what?
Whilst it should be supported, it needs to be recognised that leaving larger neo-liberal amalgamations, such as the European Union, (as Britain is attempting) does not free people from entanglement with the capitalist mode of production. Nor does it permit an escape from the machinations of its international neo-liberal representatives. Movements for independence such as those in Scotland, Kurdistan and more recently Catalonia, should also be supported for they too are attempts at anti-neoliberal self-determination. However, we should be under no illusions that such traumatic ‘separations’ will solve the wider or deeper problems facing humanity. Independence from certain political aspects (EU or central government control) of the latest neo-liberal phase of capitalism, will not remove the financial and economic tentacles of neo-liberal capital which now stretch around the world and across national and political boundaries.
At best such movements of self-determination – within the capitalist mode of production – will create a large degree of solidarity and more importantly, the struggle to achieve this status may remove any remaining scales from the eyes of those who as yet cannot see the real source of their problems. Attempting to escape the unwanted clutches of the global economic, financial and political elites will undoubtedly provoke further draconian levels of reaction from them. Their salaries, pensions and careers depend upon the greatest possible number of tax-payer contributions to fund their lavish life-styles. Viewing us largely as millions of milch-cows, they will do all they can to hang onto as many of us as possible.
The process of seriously trying to wrest reforms from an entrenched, reluctant and arrogant elite, will create a further dynamic which will potentially go beyond reform. In situations of crisis, when there is a growing recognition that radical changes are not just desired but urgently needed, yet are being stubbornly resisted by those in power, then the stakes can become proportionally higher. For example in Catalonia: How quickly will the left posturing bourgeous politicians back down and betray the reformist struggle they currently seem to favour? Will the right-wing bourgeois central powers (left or right) arrest those they consider ring-leaders or figureheads? Will they declare martial law or impose direct rule? How will the ordinary working population react to having their aspirations savagely quashed?
The unfolding answers to such questions will reveal how well both sides have prepared themselves and how determined they are to succeed. At the moment the battle in Catalonia is around ideas and constitutional issues. However, in future it can become a practical battle between the people and the elite over what another world will look like and how society will need to be organised so that humanity as a whole can benefit from the advances already made in the skills, technology and understanding of our species. Elsewhere, the Kurdish struggle for independence for example, already has an armed wing, honed in the battle against ISIS. Other struggles have become bogged down in sectarian political and/or religious turmoil. As yet there is no universal understanding of what humanity is struggling against, nor is there a general vision of what should replace the present moribund capitalist system.
Yet in many ways, the future has already made an embryonic appearance, in the form of non-profit – making public services and production for need rather than profit-led greed. For a period after the Second World War, in most European and western societies, energy, transport, communications, water, education, health-care, social services, plus the civil service, government, army, navy, airforce, parts of the legal system and some forms of commodity production were all run on a non-profit basis. And some still are. True, many of them were badly run and only reluctantly supported by ambivalent governments, but that could be easily remedied. Ceasing to build social and institutional pyramids within them and replacing them with communal control would be one way.
Just how dependent upon public services are private profit-making enterprises is revealed by the fact that they still don’t build their own roads, railways, bridges, tunnels, power stations, communications systems or fund their own armies, navies, civil services or police forces. For these essential aids to their activities, they have depended upon, and been parasitic upon, public (ie social) provision. This reliance is further revealed by the banking crisis of 2008. It wasn’t the banks who saved the banks from the consequences of their reckless and greedy speculation. It was the government as representatives of the general population – as a whole. Isn’t it time whole communities really controlled the mode of production rather than – as at the moment – the mode of production via a parasitic elite controlling whole communities? However, for that to happen, a revolutionary transition needs to take place. Another re-shuffling or refurbishing of the political class or yet another re-drawing of the boundary lines upon a new set of maps, will not usher in anything substantial different.
R. Ratcliffe (October 2017)
For another interesting analysis of the events in Catalonia and Spain see Vincent Navarro at https://www.socialeurope.eu/happening-catalonia-spain
Was the Catalonian independence movement aiming to carry through some significant economic reforms which the Spanish government would not allow?
Was there the prospect of a Catalonian government being more progressive than the central one?
Remember that in some parts of Africa regional independence movements ( Biafra, Katanga) were an attempt to monopolise mineral wealth and basically supported by capitalists who wanted to pay less tax, poor regions did not seek independence.
Catalonia is said to be the richest part of Spain so a similar principle may apply.
I don’t think the situation in Europe is comparable with the African situation you mention. Although not everything is crystal clear ( and never is) given the situation in Spain during this five-fold crisis of capitalism, somethings are becoming clear as I point out in the article. For example: 1. The limits of bourgeois democracy. 2.The confusion of the social-democratic left ( including some socialist parties) who are siding with the central elite and failing to recognise the significance of these splits ( between Catalonia and Central Spanish) among the ruling elite – between the Catalonia and Central Spanish elite. 3. Also the failure of the same left forces to recognise that a struggle for reform in a period of deep crisis can have revolutionary implications.
In a struggle between factions of the ruling elite, revolutionary-humanists cannot be neutral particularly when significant sections of working people are mobilising for a reform they see as being against the corruption and financial manipulation of the EU elite – of which Spain is a junior but active partner. See my analysis of Uprisings and Revolutions parts 1,2 and 3 for further detail on this issue. I haven’t got a crystal ball but as I suggest in the article I see this as another manifestation of the general dissatisfaction but as yet not aimed at the real source of all our problems – the capitalist mode of production. But then there will never be a straight or uncomplicated path out of this existential mess the capitalist system has got the planet and us in. Best regards, Roy
Angry people are lashing out in all kinds of directions right now, sometimes from an exasperated and possibly exaggerated feeling that they have nothing left to lose, the massive discontents which fuel separatist movements are something which I can understand but the solutions being proposed are all a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
I personally do not believe that our form of national democracy is entirely fraudulent but that it is becoming irrelevant when strangers in other lands, over whom our elected government has no power, can simply close down our major industries and maybe even own chunks of infrastructure and public services.
The outstanding ( Outstandingly bad) advocates of Brexit for instance talked a lot about sovereignty but studiously omitted to mention economic sovereignty which I know for a fact they do not want.
Just like you I welcome the cracks which are beginning to appear and I expect the path of progress to be a tortuous one.