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I think our problem is a mixture of several issues. There are some among who us who like the sound of their own voices but who, when faced with the actual opportunity to equalise society, are unwilling to forego their own little fiefdoms. There are also undoubtedly some who act as sleepers for the 1%, undermining and derailing on behalf of their paymasters as and when they are ordered to. And of course there are some who simply sense that there is a problem but are unwilling to let go of the emotional security of the establishment-sanctioned comfort blanket.
One of the key impacts of each of these three groups is to enfeeble individuals who question the authority of the 1%. Their first order of business, more often than not, is to stop the individuals that question them from joining up with others in to larger and more unmanageable groups. This is often done by nudging and cajoling these radicals into pointless processes and systems. And again, not all of them are doing it intentionally, some are simply stumbling around without really thinking through the impacts of their actions.
When the enfeebling strategy is no longer possible, then the second group which is normally embedded within the more radical sub-groups, will often influence individuals and smaller sub-groups towards outright criminality and anti-social behaviour in order to separate them from the rest of the herd. They are then directly attacked through propaganda and the criminal justice system.
There is not a huge amount you can do about the first two groups apart from watching out for them, and trying to minimise their impact. And the easiest way to do this is to keep reminding people that equality is built on, among many other things, equal access to knowledge and information, and the equal right to question, analyse and take a position. And it is from this position that the third group can so easily be shown for what it is.
The democratic socialists base their position on a series of assumptions that have to be questioned if we are to entrust them with bringing about socialism. Firstly, it isn’t difficult to argue that over the last 150 years of “democracy”, voting has not brought us significantly closer to living in societies where economic and political power is shared equally. In fact it has done quite the reverse. And in their defence, the powerful have been quite open about their desire to limit what is achievable through ‘democracy’ in these terms, at least among themselves,
While the people have subserviently trotted into polling booths every four years, each generation of the 1% have accumulated ever greater wealth and power, while those born into the bottom 90%, have been pushed further and further down. And where steps towards equalising society have been taken, every significant one has been achieved through the collective action of the people, and more often than not outside of the systems and processes endorsed by the 1%.
The reasons that this blind and largely misplaced faith in democratic processes has persisted, in direct contradiction to all of the evidence, is because of the grand lie that sits above all other lies, and that is that socialism can be achieved through those same democratic processes. There is a fundamental flaw in the faith certain socialists put in democratic socialism. And it is the contradiction at the very heart of the phrase itself that highlights this flaw.
Democracy as we understand it today is a political system and process by which authority is apportioned hierarchically, in order to represent the will of the voters. In the UK, a country of over 66.4 million people, the legislative body has 650 elected members of the lower house and 782 unelected members of the upper house. The executive branch of government is primarily drawn from these two houses, and comprises 1 Prime Minister and 22 Cabinet Ministers.
It is only the lower house that is elected by the UK electorate. So 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) are supposedly representing 66.4 million British people. However, in the last election there were only 47.6m registered voters, with only 67.3% of them actually turning out to vote. So based on this alone, less than a quarter of the population got to vote for half of the seats in Parliament, the 650 MPs.
Now those 650 people that half the population voted for, don’t have to go back to the UK population to ask them what they think each time there is a vote or a debate in parliament. They get to sit for the duration of the parliamentary term, normally around four years, making decisions without any mechanism for their constituents to recall them from office.
And that is without looking at the 782 parliamentarians in the upper house, who don’t even have to pretend to represent the will of the people, instead positioning themselves as the potentates and grandees of the economic, political, cultural and religious elite.
The fact is the system is intrinsically elitist. While presenting itself as representative using phrases such as electoral mandate, and will of the people the reality is that no government is actually voted in to power through a majority of the population, and even fewer take their orders from the general public. I have covered this at length previously, in 2013, and twice in 2018. So I am not going to go through it all again here.
In order to understand the fundamental flaw of democratic socialism as a method for bringing about a socialist society, one needs to understand what socialism is, what we mean by democracy, and how those two ideas relate to one another. As argued above, what we mean today by democracy is in practice something more akin to a plutocracy. Whereas socialism, for me at least, is an ongoing process to attain and maintain a functioning and progressing society built on equality. But don’t just take my word for it.
In Michael Newman’s introduction to socialism he argues that encompassing all of the various manifestations of socialism and socialist thought is the primary objective of “… the creation of an egalitarian society’. This very good book covers a lot of the history and the various disagreements and schisms but it also very clearly and simply outlines that which all true socialists have in common. And that is to be part of bringing about a society that is built and based on equality, solidarity and cooperation.
And it is in these two, some may argue overly-simplistic, definitions that the contradiction-in-terms of ‘democratic socialism’ appears. The various political systems that we collectively refer to as ‘democracies’, are hierarchies of power and authority. The societies that these systems govern, are overwhelmingly capitalist in nature. Like socialism there are different forms that capitalism takes, based on regional, cultural and historical idiosyncrasies. However what they all display is a system of organising production and ownership that creates hierarchies of exploitation and privilege. The two ideas are at fundamental odds with each other.
The only real question is why do we keep thinking that a system that only produces inequality, division and competition can be tricked into producing equality, solidarity and cooperation. If we had more time it would be an interesting thought experiment to see how long it takes for the general population to wake up to this. But the uncomfortable truth is that we need sustainable socialism now. Not in one hundred years, or even fifty years. But now.