Is Democracy Always Good?

Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
~Sir Winston Churchill

When George Bush was trying to export democracy to the Middle East before the attacks on Manhattan and the Pentagon, I thought it had to be a mistake, since trying to export a form of government has usually the same results that trying to impose your language to a foreign nation. Karl Marx hypothesed in Das Kapital, that Democracy is archived in an evolutionary fashion, and it is only when a nation is ripe for self government, when Democracy can plants its roots.

Analysing the problem with Democracy in places that it was imposed by foreign policy, we discover that it has not always yield to any results. A lot of countries in Africa are now democratic, but they are dirty poor. In Latin America, the new democracies, with exception of Chile and Brazil, have not achieved the desired economic welfare that it was expected.

Returning to the Dutch Disease problem that I mentioned in a previous post, some countries in the bottom billion are resource rich, democratic nations, and they remain trapped in poverty. These phenomena need to be explained by dissecting Democracy in its two main components: Free elections and internal restrains.

What the USA has being trying to export is a system of free elections. In such model, political parties compete for the electoral favour of the citizens. Every number of years, a political campaign would start, the political parties will compete against each other, and the people will go and vote.

This is a deadly system for some countries. In many of the resource rich countries, the party in power will deplete the national treasury to get re elected. They will have more resources (money, control of radio and TV, utilization of public works as a mean to gain voters) than competition. Politicians are not worry about governing but about getting re-elected. Even in a mature democracy like the United States, the first term is used as a mean to get a second term.

The second element in Democracy is the system of check and balances. This means a real opposition, a working government model, and an active civil society. These elements cannot just be exported, they need to be conceived and develop within the host society. That is the failure of the model of exporting democracy; you can export an effective electoral system, but without the check and balances that Democracy needs, the system will quickly move down to a bunch of corrupt officials buying the population vote.

There is something that the developed world can do to help democracies thrive, we will see this in coming posts.


5 Responses to Is Democracy Always Good?

  1. adski says:

    Interesting site, Manuel. I like your take on nationalism. I live in Quebec and the ethnocentrism that goes on here makes me sick to the stomach. To think that this is happening in a country like Canada, in the 21st century…mind boggling…

    As a European, I know how destructive the tribalism à la Quebec can be…I guess people who live here haven’t seen a war in a really long time, so they don’t know…

    I’ve written a little about Quebec’s nationalism and nationalism in general myself.

    Take care and good luck.

  2. Jessica Marks says:

    ‘Karl Marx hypothesed in Das Kapital, that Democracy is archived in an evolutionary fashion, and it is only when a nation is ripe for self government, when Democracy can plants its roots.’ Could you please give a citation on that; generally, when Marxists write about a government and it’s nature and characteristics, they first describe the government’s ruling class. Viz, which social force or class or group in society is the dominating power in society, because they will control the government and state, and then they will determine the government’s nature and characteristics. To say merely ‘democracy’ is insufficient because it doesn’t provide an explanation to who has the democracy and who doesn’t.

    Secondly, notice the countries that are democratic republics, who have strong democracy parliamentarian institutions, eg USA, England, Western Europe, Scandanavian countries, Australia, etc, etc. All of these countries have rich and long labour histories, violent strike action, industrial protests, and many times the countries have fallen into political crisis thanks to these revolts. I would argue that it’s these labour struggles which are the key democraticising force in human history. Democratic republics are made not by elite politicians writing up fancy constitutions, but in the great majority of the population, ie the workers, engaged in political activities. Let’s take the example of the US… they have a very long labour history, including the 1890 strike actions that brought the country to a standstill, the 1918 riots that saw large sections of the country shut down, the 1936 union movement which saw workers and unionists fighting against FDR’s repressive police force, the 1960s where there was a unionisation of the southern black workers, etc, etc; a very long history of labour struggles, and the US is one country in the world where democratic principles, such as voting, freedom of assembly, etc, are still available to the people.

    Look at the countries that are not democratic republics, that do not have parliamentarian democratic institutions, and you’ll find that there is a small, low and uninteresting labour history. For example, we have Saudi Arabia, the most tyrannical and miserable place to live on Earth… they have a tiny and effectively worthless labour history.

    Unfortunatley, thanks to the defeat of the labour movement in the 1970s, we saw a total collapse in union and labour power, which then saw the corporate community begin to monopolise power and take over the entire society. And just take a look at how this has negatively affected the democratic institutions of the US… Now, voters simply don’t care who they vote for or who wins the election, because they know that both parties are piles of garbage, and that no one deserves to be in government; voter turnout has been going down for a long time now; and zig-zag voting is far more common than it was earlier on.

  3. Thanks for your comment Jessica. If you read Das Kapital, you can see how Marx describes the evoultion of society from feudal reigns to burgesy to capitalism and democracy and finally to socialism. I am not trying to describe a country government, but the reality that democracy cannot be exported. Democracy is the rule of the people (Demos + Crat) in any sort of government.

    I will argue that Democracy arrives when there is a big middle class that has the time and the means to participare in civil movements. Not all the countries with strong labour movements became democracies. You have a long history of labour movements in (Latin) America starting with the Mexican Revolution in 1910, but these countries did not became democratic until the mid 80s and 90s.

    After all, free elections do not guarantee a democracy. If the government does not have a system of check and balance, and an active social participation, it cannot be defined as a democracy since the people does not rule.

  4. Jessica Marks says:

    The question, ‘Democracy for who? Which class of/for people?’

    In Marxist terms, our society is called the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’, because from a class-to-class comparison, all of the political power belongs in the hands of the rich, and they have all the means of controlling the management of how our society is run. In comparison, the working class, who are the great majority of the population, do not get a say whatsoever in how our society is run, and often completely ignored when it comes to major decisions of policy.

    Within the rich ruling class of America, there are a myriad of opinions and points of view, and so they aren’t all following the exact same method of demanding policies. This is why there isn’t one political party to represent corporate America – but two. The rich ruling class has two parties, who represent different aspects and areas of the business community and its concerns.

    Just take a look at the Health Care Debate and you see this painfully clear. Firstly, we have the working class of America, who are the ones that experience the health system first hand, who have friendly or family members in health crises, and who worry every day of their lives about their health and the bills; what did the majority of Americans want from their health care – answer, the majority wanted a single payer nationalised health care system, something that would put resources into protecting their health and conditions. Was single payer health care mentioned in the mainstream media ever, by journalists or media? Answer: only ever so that it could be dismissed.

    The Republicans, for one, represent the section of the US business community that doesn’t hire many workers, but who gain their profits from alternative means, such as high-value resource production (oil), financial capital (Wall Street, speculators and bankers), and various other forms of fiscal and productive industry whereby labour is not a major concern for them. Because their businesses don’t hire many workers, they couldn’t really give a damn about working class health, and so they were always opposed to reforming the health care system. If workers got good health, and had healthy bodies, this would either do nothing or hinder the profit-making of those businesses. As the Republican Party represents those businesses and their interests, it wasn’t that surprising how badly they fought to oppose and prevent the legislation from passing.

    The Democrats, ie the party of slavery, have never cared about the working class and never will; their track record proves this point beyond doubt. But they represent the sections of the American business community that require labour to make their profits, and therefore require health workers in order that their business functions properly and that the money keeps on rolling in. They don’t care about the workers as human beings, or anything like that; they only see the financial benefit that there is in having a healthy workforce versus an unhealthy workforce. I’m talking about manufacturing, retail, tourism, etc, etc, industries that hire lots of labour. Those rich people knew that reforming the health system is something they desperately needed to do, in order that they remain profitable, and that’s why the Democrats have for the last 7 years been fighting for a health care system.

    Now, the US is a ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’, meaning that the rich control society and the poor do not. Within the rich and elites, there can be democracy, and so different sections of the business community may have disagreements and debates over things. But inter-class democracy, whereby different members of different classes had political debates about policies, does not occur at all.

    And then take a look at how the health care debate occurred? It was a battle between the weak, soft and disgusting Democratic health care plan versus the Republicans kill the bill mentality. In other words, the two opposing sides were the two sections of the bourgeois class, and it was they who decided in the end what the policy was going to look like.

    Nothing that the working class people ever wanted or needed was ever debated, or even registered into the public debate.

    The question, ‘Democracy for who? Which class of/for people?’ This is a question that has been coming up a lot in my readings, because I’ve been reading a lot of Lenin’s writings lately. First I read his ‘State and Revolution,’ and now I’m reading ‘Socialist Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky’. Again and again, this same issue keeps coming up.

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