Friday, June 8, 2007

The Fruits of Liberal Capitalist Democracy

This is another example of the way liberals discredit their own values:

The reasons can be deduced from the results of a wide-scale public opinion survey conducted by the respected Yuri-Levada Institute for the independent EU-Russia Centre in Brussels, and published in late February.

The poll showed that 35% want to return to the Soviet system, 26% think Putin’s quasi-authoritarian system is more suitable for Russia, and only 16% want western style democracy. Almost two thirds of the respondents prefer a strong state assuring security to citizens to a liberal state committed to upholding liberties. Instead of favouring separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, they want an overarching state authority to coordinate the institutions of national power.

When choosing their priorities, 68% ticked “security”, 64% “housing”; and only 18% “free expression” with a measly 4% “free association”. As for national identity, 75% think of
Russia “as a Eurasian state with its own path of development” whereas only 10% consider Russia as “part of the west with a vocation to move closer to Europe and America”.


Popular opinion in the west holds that Russian President Boris Yeltsin ushered a new dawn in Russia with democracy and free market. This runs contrary to the prevalent perception in the
Russian Federation. Most Russians associate the Yeltsin presidency with the debilitating loss of a welfare state, high unemployment and inflation, mass pauperisation and gross inequality.

You see, present-day liberal capitalists are not real liberals. Today's liberal leadership has acquiesced to the needs of the capitalist system that their predecessors championed when it could plausibly be described as a multitude of independent individual economic agents, freely trading with one another according to "laws" of supply, demand, and consumer sovereignty.

It's doubtful that such a view of the market-place was ever reflected in reality. Perhaps 19th century liberals one day hoped that it would, but it never really happened. What did happen was that it produced an economic system prone to jarring cyclical ups and downs that left entire countries sullen and rebellious, to say nothing about the small capitalists ruined by these frequent depressions. But, as is obvious, the capitalist system produced winners to. People who amassed enough wealth and power to exercise an undeniable influence on the political scene. And it also produced the conditions that saw the creation of the corporate form of organization. The large corporations brought stability to many economic sectors, and were also able to finance the continual investment that produced the technological and consumer wonders of which modern-day liberals are so proud. But these corporations became giant monstrosities. Private bureaucracies governed by powerful capitalist collectives or teams of ruthless managers, that are capable of wielding far more influence over politicians than the powerful individual capitalists of the past.

The political system is therefore dominated by a relatively tiny elite, an elite that is tied inexorably to a system demanding constant economic growth for the institutions that they run. Eventually, growth is not possible by expanding markets, buying competitors, or improving efficiency. These institutions have to grow by slashing costs, both in labour costs, tax commitments, and in inputs such as raw materials. The first source of savings requires attacking their own workforces and getting their political servants to lower labour standards nationally. The second source of savings requires getting their political servants to rewrite the tax codes placing a greater burden on individuals and households to maintain the same level of public services. (It helps if you can argue that these public services are "wasteful" or an intolerable attack on individual "freedom" and shrink or eliminate them all together.) The last source of savings requires attacking national environmental regulations when the resources are domestically sourced, and installing corrupt, puppet regimes in other countries that sit atop these necessary raw materials.

It is good for these people to get the general public to buy into the idea that the government is the source of most of their problems, due to its incompetence, elitism, wastefulness, or whatever. This softens people up for your attacks on labour, environmental, and other standards, and for the shredding and weakening of the public sector. If public services fail due to cut-backs, it's portrayed as the inevitable result of government waste and incompetence. And the electorate doesn't see the democratic process as a means of restoring necessary services and taking power away from those are attacking them. Instead, voting is an irrelevant act, the government cannot help you, and it is clearly in thrall to a small powerful minority, and there's simply nothing that can be done.

This process leads to reduced political participation at home, and, when it is "spread" overseas, a-la, bush II, or Paul Martin Jr., it likewise discredits democracy. When "Western-backed" (or "US-backed") uniformly means that you are a puppet, giving away the nations resources for a song, making your people available as a pool of cheap labour for foreigners, and accepting foreign-loans to pay for the military and para-military forces necessary to compel acquiescence to this system, then "Western" democracy is discredited.

When this whole gamut of theft and repression is accompanied by demonstration elections, Western-style political parties arguing about minutae to do with neo-liberal policy options, and when values such as free speech, economic freedom, etc., are only used selectively as clubs to bash opponents to this system (the FARC, Chavez, Aristide, Saddam Hussein, etc.,) these values are corrupted in peoples eyes.

So, Boris Yeltsin was lionized in the West as a "democrat" and a "free market reformer" even though he shelled the Russian Parliament, served the country on a silver platter to a tiny band of "oligarchs," and presided over a shocking drop in the peoples living standards. Who is to be surprised if the people become disillusioned with "democracy" when its a cynical tool of Russian and international capitalist criminals? Who cares about "free speech" when it just means that capitalists can condemn government attempts to protect the people, while genuine social-justice activists are hounded and persecuted?

I guess what I'm saying is that it's pretty obvious that our elites don't really give a shit about democracy and it shows. But for people who long suffered under authoritarianism and tyranny, if their first and only experience of "democracy" is the monstrosity created by neo-liberalism, they're going to reject it. And the human race is the poorer for it. What we have to do is rethink the power of democracy, and to strategize about how we can use our nominal political power to control and then neutralize the numerically weak elites who distort and deform our present political system.

Of course, this means genuinely pursuing economic democracy. Democracy in the workplace. So long as we have no rights in the workplace and no human rights to the means of subsistence, so long will we be less than equal citizens.


Unknown said...

How leftys dicredit their values.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thwap said...


Thanks for bringing such a stupid piece of shit to my attention. Yes, indeedy, that National Union of Journalists woman said something nasty.

And you know damned well that your right-wing friends have all sorts of nasty things to say about Arabs and Muslims. And they get to disguise their bigotry behind their purported support for Israel.

But what you're trying to show isn't leftists discrediting anti-racism, but leftist hypocrisy on anti-racism.

My original post referred to how Western liberal-capitalist democracy fails by its own standards and thereby discredits democracy in general.

All your link showed me was some witless clown trying to blanket all condemnation of Israel's appalling treatment of the Palestinians as being motivated by "anti-Semetism" at heart. Which is both inaccurate and stupid.

Unknown said...

"damned well that your right-wing friends" radical right-wing friends.

"My original post referred to how Western liberal-capitalist democracy fails by its own standards and thereby discredits democracy in general." I agree with your post, that can happen.

But the far-left, and far-right get away with all sorts of racist crap, and flush their values.

I just thought I would through this out for you.

I would not call the writer a witless clown however, reality is reality.

thwap said...

I don't get your point, or your argument.

You find one person, one critic of Israel who is also anti-Semetic, and somehow this discredits the entire left?

My post was about how neo-liberalism inevitably discredits democracy, because it is an inhuman system.

And, yes Wayne, I'm afraid it's true. The express uk writer is a witless clown, because his broad generalizations are without merit.

Or are you going to tell me that ALL criticism of Israel is based on racism, and that Israel can do nothing wrong?

Scott Neigh said...

Another important aspect to consider in understanding skepticism that people outside of the most powerful countries might have about liberal-democratic institutions as being inherently the "best" way to express human desires for justice and liberation is the hypocrisy that both liberalism and capitalism have always exhibited in terms of discrepancies in treatment for those "inside" versus those "outside" the system.

For instance, capitalism has always depended not only on market relations but also on what Marx called "primitive accumulation." Marx didn't recognize this, I don't think, but more recent thinkers have pointed out that accumulation by plunder and force was not just a feature of the original class struggles that reorganized social relations to a capitalist form but it happens all the time now, too. One Marxist understanding of neoliberalism is as a process by which spheres of life previously beyond the reach of capitalism could now be plundered. Other analysts have pointed to massive socially preventable destruction like war and like disasters that are ostensibly natural but whose effects have been co-produced by social relations (a la hurricane Katrina) which result in preventable suffering and destruction that reenters economic life primarily as new opportunities for capital accumulation.

And political liberalism was founded on a double standard between those subjects it considered to be human and those it did not -- under some of the earlier formulations even working-class European men didn't count as human. Feminist theorists have outlined in detail how the liberal-democratic abstract category of "citizen" has always been and continues to be gendered male. And why on earth would people whose ancestors were being enslaved, colonized, and subjected to genocidal practices in the era when the great voices of classical liberalism were spouting off about liberty and human dignity and whatever else not be a bit skeptical about the sincerity of those claims?

thwap said...


Thanks for the perceptive comment. Personally, I think there's a lot of truth to the liberal celebration of the individual, and that liberalism is a fine base to build from.

But there is, as you state, the disconnect between those originally "inside" the liberal ideal (wealthy, eductated, white men) and those "outside" (women, the working class, non-white people living in the "periphery" of capitalist society), as well as refusal by liberals to account for the inevitablity of rhetoric being compromised by the realities of capitalist existence.