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People Aur Politics

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Freedom to choose… — I — Dr Saulat Nagi

Posted by admin On August - 16 - 2013


In the name of exporting democracy, the industrialised western nations have resorted to overt coercion

“Election of masters does not abolish the masters or slaves… it only testifies to the efficacy of the controls” — Herbert Marcuse.

According to Eric Hobsbawm “there are words nobody likes to be associated with in public, such as racism and imperialism. On the other hand, there are others for which everyone is anxious to demonstrate enthusiasm, such as mothers and environment. Democracy is one of these”.

Unlike the concept of a ‘nation state’ that has a history of no more than two-and-a-half centuries, the concept of democracy can be traced back to the infancy of human existence. The tribal era was most consistent with democracy wherein humanity had nothing to lose in the shape of private property since such a concept was inherently incompatible with the norms and functions of a classless society that unlike the civil society of today had the better sense of equality and social justice.

The latest form of modern or, more precisely, liberal democracy finds its origin in halcyon years of capitalism. For its practical implementation, it requires a nation state where capitalistic mode of production — modestly or absolutely — has found its roots. In US constitution, the 13th Amendment was not the consequence of the prevalence of what Lincoln stated as “better angels of our nature”, but was in fact the outcome of changing social conditions when slavery had become redundant and capital was riding roughshod to expropriate the surplus of ‘free’ labour power.

Democracy can be seen in the same vain. With the introduction of free market economy, the concept of free choice was floated. The subjects needed to be replaced with citizens who had to prove themselves on market as consumers or as free economic subjects beholden to commercial interests. For these ‘free’ subjects, democracy was propelled as a need, which was prescribed as equally imperative as the free choice in commodity. In fact, people were offered a limited choice of electing rulers among the ruling classes and not beyond. Even this vague choice carried a heavy price tag. For centuries, people had to toil to achieve this milestone.

Democracy as defined by Lincoln is a system for the people, of the people and by the people. However, even its most ardent defenders tacitly acknowledge that the last part of this statement is farce. Democracy can be anything thing but a rule by the people. The liberal democracy has two components: the political or electoral and the socio-economic. The electoral component does not even guarantee economic freedom to the extent of offering the possibility of developing a welfare state, which once was made possible under Keynes system in order to counter the Soviet influence. It can at best help to out vote a corrupt unpopular government but its mandate is sadly limited beyond this point. To the people oppressed by poverty, a false hope of wellbeing may be offered but without having an iota of truth in this claim.

According to Marcuse, “Election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves” and even “free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear — that is, if they sustain alienation. And the spontaneous reproduction of superimposed needs by the individual does not establish autonomy; it only testifies to the efficacy of the controls.”

Even for the ruling classes, this is not a very enviable situation to be in. Despite being the representatives of big business, those classes that are ruling the roost need to save their faces. During the periods of cyclic boom and burst of capitalistic mode of production — the hallmark of this system — people and even the big business look towards the state for salvation (since this is what the state is for). By weakening the state, the laissez faire has brought its nemesis. In US and Italy, the concept of a strong government was never rife, but ever since their economies are in a state of limbo, the people’s resolve is forcing the ruling hierarchy to concede that “a retreat from market oriented policies and return to protectionism is a real possibility” (Larry Summers, former US secretary of Treasury). But the horn of the dilemma remains there. With this power structure is it possible to retreat? Perhaps not!

Not only the US but also the democracies of the entire industrial world are haunted by the curse of what once President Woodrow Wilson proudly stated “democracy of business.” According to Andy Kroll, “America will repeatedly vote in a contest set up by the companies often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual elections.” In 2012, an estimated $3 billion went to political consultants and $6 billion in advertisements. According to Kroll, Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul, paid $16.5 million to promote Newt Gingrich as the Republican presidential nominee and later invested more than $30 million in getting Mitt Romney elected as Republican’s presidential candidate.

Realising the fact that state is overtly identifying itself with the capital, people while considering the process of election as an exercise in futility are losing their faith in democracy. In the West, much before the popularity of the cliché of ‘war on terror’ — which actually is the expansion and realisation of capital — the state had developed a totalitarian structure. In the midst of twentieth century, Herbert Marcuse had already exposed it. He states, “By virtue of the way it has organised its technological base, contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian. For ‘totalitarian’ is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests. It thus precludes th,e emergence of an effective opposition against the whole. Not only a specific form of government or party rule makes for totalitarianism, but also a specific system of production and distribution, which may well be compatible with a ‘pluralism’ of parties, newspapers, countervailing powers, etc… [Hence] a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilisation.”

In the name of exporting democracy, the industrialised western nations have resorted to overt coercion. Not only the states that are non-industrialised are their chief victims but also the masses of their own countries are equally maimed. Their privacy and individual freedom (which were myths already), now in the name of national and homeland security have been relentlessly revoked. According to US Assistant Defence Secretary Michael Sheehan the war on terror from Boston to FATA will continue unabated. President Obama has recently conveyed that in this instance ‘national security’ has surpassed the Bill of Rights. In the name of abstraction ‘democracy’ and through the cliché of war on terror, viable but totalitarian states of Iraq, Libya and Syria (with incomprehensible human cost) have been sent to the primitive ages; parallel to this, in their own democracies, the irresistible desire of the ruling class to stifle the dissenting voices is reaching a crescendo. Human rights too is a similar abstraction, a favourite pastime of American ruling elite, which otherwise contemptuously annihilates human lives.

(To be continued)

The writer is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history. He can be reached at saulatnagi@hotmail.com

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