Democracy is a product of struggles and sacrifices of the working classes. The October revolution, French revolution in Europe and anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia and Americas shaped democracy. The struggles for freedom, equality and justice, anti-capitalist struggles, and people’s movements against war and terrorism, social and political movements for livelihoods have helped to deepen democratic practices all over the world. The Coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on the rotten and inefficient political, economic, and social systems. The human cost of the crisis makes present look gloomy and the future is inconceivable. The discontinuity with everyday lives and emergency measures create an illusion that normality will return to its own place and pace. These illusionary desires help the crisis ridden bourgeois democracy and capitalist state to survive, and continue to create havoc in the lives and livelihoods of the masses.
The decade long practice of neoliberal market led democracy eroded both the abilities of the states, governments, and democratic political traditions to deal with different forms of crisis. As a result, the relationship between state and citizens is deteriorating along with the democratic traditions. The crisis is not only showing the cracks within different democracies but also questions the very foundation of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Any attempt to return to business as usual in a post pandemic world will reproduce a dead end for the masses under capitalist democracy. It is not the spectre of communism, that is haunting the world today. It is the capitalist democracy that failed people with false promises of freedom, prosperity, empowerment and development. The rising tides of reactionary nationalism, populism of the conservative forces, and neoliberal economic policies are further weakening democracy. These forces are also depoliticising the democratic processes of development and public policy making. The top down bureaucratic approach of the technocratic policy making is worsening the crisis within democracy.
The propaganda machines of the establishment hide all the failures and inefficiencies of bourgeois democracy and capitalist state. It gives an impression as if democracies and states have failed. So, the establishment today offers us an authoritarian alternative by killing the idea of citizenship, freedom and democracy; the greatest ideals, and achievements of 20th and 21st century. The propaganda machines help in socialising the masses, and normalise authoritarian neoliberal forces as permanent rulers of the world to manage chaos, in which elites are secured by the state and the masses are left to suffer alone as individuals. The father of propaganda and modern advertisement; Edward Bernays summarised this process in his seminal book called “Propaganda”, which was published in 1928.
In the first two paragraphs of the chapter one of the “Propaganda”, Edward Bernays wrote that “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet. They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world”. These prophetic words of Edward Bernays resonate with our everyday experiences with bourgeois democracies and responses of the capitalist states to the crisis in the world.
Such a crisis within democracy is a product of neoliberal politics and policies led and determined by the manipulative market forces. The rise of poverty, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, environmental disasters, and ill health are the products of the failures of bourgeois democracy and capitalist state. These disruptions to democracy can be a catalyst for exposing the limits and illusions of bourgeois democracy under capitalist system. It is important for the citizens to kill their false hopes on the failed democratic project of capitalism, which reduced democracy to voting and festivals of periodical elections. It is the time for reckoning within the opulence of miseries for the masses and island of prosperity for a small number of elites.
The unbrazen greed of the few billionaires have hijacked our democracy and state. It destroyed our hopes, fate and futures for the sake of their profit. These ultra-rich men are morally bankrupt and politically screwed to uphold the interests of the masses. It is time for the majority of people to reclaim the political space, and transform the state that belong to the working class masses. History tells us that the capitalist classes always relied on crisis to maintain their hegemony over the masses. Crisis produces power for the capitalist classes by reducing the power and autonomy of the working classes. Therefore, poverty and unemployment are not crisis but opportunity for the ruling and non-ruling capitalist classes. Peace, prosperity, and employment create conditions of empowerment of the masses and threatens the power and positions of elites.
History is the witness to the power of working classes in shaping the democratic state and progressive society. All empires and dictatorships collapsed with the power of working class unity and struggles. Marx and Engels summarised it in The Communist Manifesto; “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. These struggles can only create alternative conditions for real democracy, and shape our futures in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. The market forces are not the friends of democracy, freedom, peace, prosperity, happiness, individual liberty and spirituality. The market forces represent the perverted form of these ideals that serves their purpose to domesticate the masses. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the principles of peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy are four pillars of all our future movements for justice and equality. There is no shortcut to progressive mass movements, which can change the course of history and fortify our democratic future. It can only be achieved through collective struggles based on our collective interests.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak, Coventry University, UK