There has been much debate about organisation vs. spontaneity; and democratic centralist socialism vs. anarchism recently. This has been around both the organisation of the burgeoning movement against the cuts, and in questions about the way society should be run.
I will lay my cards on the table: I am happy to see the long awaited activism of students, young unemployed and workers who had been written off as politically apathetic by those who knew no better. The energy and vitalism, the new methods of communication, the lack of respect for the organs of the state are refreshing and herald a new turn in the fight for a new society. However, I am concerned that the anti-organisation, anti-leadership opinion will, if unopposed, lead to the movement fizzling out for lack of what marxist theoreticians have called the objective factor.
True democracy has not often been seen. The word comes from Ancient Greek dêmos ‘citizen body’ and kratos ‘power, sovereignty’. It was the way in which Ancient Athens ran society, and it meant that all who qualified as citizens collectively, as one body, held all power. The Assembly met every 8 days, all citizens were members, entitled to speak and vote, and all members over 30 years of age were qualified to serve on Juries which made all decisions in all trials without judges. Jurors received the average worker's wage whilst serving. There was an elected Council of 500 which met every day to ensure the wishes of the Assembly were put into effect and kept to budget. Similarly the State Officials were elected and held to account. The term of office that one could serve either on the Council or as a State Official was one year, and for the most part the number of Terms of Office was also limited. Accusations of incompetance of a State Official could be laid before the Assembly at the end of each month, and at the end of the year's Term of Office, performance was audited and debated in the Assembly. Incompetance was rewardable with fines, exile or even death!
The historians among you will realise that there are in this system many echoes of the young Soviet System of worker's councils, low wage differentials and power resting in the Assemblies (Soviets) of workers based in the factories and the barracks.
When Lenin arrived in Revolutionary Russia in April 1917, he stood virtually alone in the leadership in calling for 'all power to the Soviets' - the true democracy that placed Power and Sovereignty in the hands of the workers, as opposed to the elected oligarchy of the Constituent Assembly, which was no more democratic than our elected oligarchy in the House of Commons. He did not do this because he commanded a majority in the Soviets, on the contrary, he could only command the support of about 5% of the vote. However, he did it because he believed that the only way the revolutionary working class would be able to realise their aspisrations was through Soviet Democracy, both in the organisation of the Revolutionary actions leading to the transfer of power, and in the transformation of society to follow.
The fact that the proud democratic legacy of the Soviet System was hijacked by the corrupt Stalinist Bureaucracy in no way negates the validity of this system of organisation.
And what of Political Parties? Well the Athenian experience did not need Political Parties in the sense of electoral politics, as there were no elections to the Assembly. Blocs of support formed and reformed within the Assembly and the Council, but with low wage differntials and the possibility of being fined exiled or executed for incompetance, it was a brave or able person who put themselves forward for an Official post or a position on the Council. Decisions were taken on the basis of argument and the force with which those arguments were put.
In the last hundred years, traditional parties of the working class have variously played revolutionary, progressive, ultra-left, collaborationist and reactionary roles. In general, when really under the democratic control of workers, as opposed to the centralised control of careerist opportunists, the role played has been progressive. When control has been wrested from the workers by those careerists, then reactionary, collaborationist positions have been taken. However, on numerous occasions, when the working class has moved back into struggle, they have turned without fail to the traditional mass workers parties which had previously failed them, and have turned those parties back to the left, rather than following those revolutionaries who, understandably disgusted by previous betrayals have allowed themselves to march off into the political wilderness.
My call then, now, is for the new movements to unite with the progressive forces within the Labour and Trade Union movement; to seize this opportunity to establish a real democracy as opposed to the elected dictatorship which we currently have; and in turn for the Labour movement to welcome with open arms the new layer of activists with their unbridled enthusiasm, their ingenious methods of protest and communication, and their burning desire for a newer fairer society to enable the renewal of the movement and the change to the Socialist transformation of society which has for too long eluded us.
For more information on the history of democracy see DEMOCRACY’S ILLUSIONS by Dr. Peter Jones