WDIE Masthead

Year 2010 No. 10, March 12, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Oxford Political Forum Series on Democratic Renewal

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Oxford Political Forum Series on Democratic Renewal

Daily On Line Newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

Web Site: http://www.rcpbml.org.uk
e-mail: office@rcpbml.org.uk
Subscription Rates (Cheques made payable to RCPB(ML))
170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA.
Phone: 020 7627 0599:
Workers' Weekly Printed Edition:
4 issues - £3.15, 6 months - £19.95 for 26 issues, Yearly - £36.95 (including postage)

Workers' Daily Internet Edition Freely available online
Workers' Daily Email Edition Subscribe by e-mail daily:Free / Donate
Subscribe to WDIE Lead Article RSS Feed (free) {Valid RSS}

Oxford Political Forum Series on Democratic Renewal

Since last October, the Oxford Marxist-Leninist Study Group has been holding a series of political forums having the aim of raising the level of political discussion, focusing on the necessity for democratic renewal.

The current period, particularly since the latter half of the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been marked by the anti-social offensive: the erosion of the welfare state; the opening-up of all social programmes to the plunder of the monopolies either through direct privatisation or private finance initiatives and other schemes; cuts in the funding of social programmes and the gearing of society to paying the rich. The drive to impose monopoly right and the attempt to align the world under the domination of the US as the only superpower in the face of challenges to its supremacy has led increasingly to war, fascisation and now financial meltdown. At the same time, the current period is characterised by the problem of democratic renewal that has been posed for solution by history.

The series was launched with an examination of the recent scandal over MPs’ fraudulent expense claims, which has thrown the outdated nature of parliamentary democracy into sharp relief. Already the crisis of the system was such that MPs in general were being seen to have failed to represent the electorate. With the expenses scandal, the media whipped up a kind of feeding frenzy in order to denigrate politics as a whole.

The issue taken up in the forum was how to change the situation in a way that favours the people. The position presented for discussion was that the system of representative democracy as it exists is the essence of fraud and corruption and that the system which brings establishment parties to power has had its day and must go.

The series continued with a forum dedicated to the need to organise for an anti-war government, with direct representatives of the people standing as anti-war candidates. Nowhere is the necessity to organise for the alternative more brutally apparent than in the drive to war and other forms of foreign intervention. In Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, the British government is creating havoc in attempting to impose by force what it defines as legitimate representative democracy according to the doctrine of “universal values”. The anti-war movement has raised the issue of democratic renewal, from the historic demonstration on February 15, 2003, to the People’s Assemblies held in Westminster, and to the standing of its own candidates that come from the movement. The direct experience of the millions involved is that political empowerment is at the heart of the solution.

The forums then moved on to begin to involve people in going into the matter at hand by discussing the nature and history of governance in Britain. A set of meetings were held examining the archaic Westminster system of parliamentary democracy based on the “Monarch in Parliament”, with its Royal Prerogative, and the history, nature and role of political parties in this system.

Alongside the imposition of monopoly right in all aspects of the economy and society, politics has become monopolised by a set of major political parties, which form a kind of cartel to maintain their dominant position as the gatekeepers of power. These political parties have become an integral part of the state in its current form, carrying out the function of governance. Their raison d’être is to facilitate capitalist state rule; in other words, to preserve power as the privilege of the wealthy élite.

However, the present demands of the people have far surpassed the possibility of their satisfaction through the current political system. Solutions cannot be found within the existing archaic institutions and process based on constitutional monarchy and parliamentary sovereignty. The role of modern political parties is to stand for a break with all that is old and to uphold the sovereignty of the people.

The need of the people is to have those elected serve their interests. There is a burning need for democratic renewal. A modern political party at the very least must organise itself around this aim. Its work must at minimum be one that politicises the electorate to be able to raise its involvement in the political life of the country, to transform the electorate from simply being “an electorate”. Its existence must involve the politicisation of the people to realise this aim.

A political party consistent with the requirements of the present is a modern mass party, whose role it is to politicise the masses and organise them for a definite aim. Such a party is a new mechanism for the empowerment of the polity, working to enable the people to set the agenda for discussion and encouraging the people to actively involve themselves in the selection of candidates for election, in the electoral process and in the entire political life of the country.

The forum then took up the question of rights and a modern constitution that would enshrine those rights. This is deeply connected with the issue of democratic renewal.

The big powers constantly justify their activity in the world on the basis of what they call “human rights”. The discussion took up the question of a modern definition of rights as connected with a definite historical context, rather than in the abstract. It was argued how human rights in the modern world must be seen as what is required for people to be fully human. Modern society requires a definition of rights consistent with the reality that all human beings are born to society, and have definite claims on society to exist as human beings. At the same time, people belong to various collectives, such as women, workers, youth, and so on. People have rights by virtue of being human and being members of these various collectives with their objectively existing needs.

The requirement for a modern constitution was then approached from the perspective of how the demand for the recognition of rights should be carried forward and what social and political system, what institutions and mechanisms, should exist to provide rights with a guarantee. A modern constitution, a product the very people in their struggle for rights, is required to codify the recognition of rights on a modern basis. Then there are those institutions that are needed to ensure a modern constitution is carried out in actuality.

One key right is the right to participate in the political process, which brought the discussion once more to the issue of democratic renewal. Examining the historical experience, particularly the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union, the deep interconnection between rights, the constitution and political empowerment was brought out. These aspects are central to the question of democratic renewal.

The current series concluded on Wednesday, March 10, returning to the general theme in the light of the detailed discussion that has gone before. It was entitled “Democratic Renewal of the Political Process”. The discussion raised the issue of the sharpest class struggle taking place on the central questions of who are the decision-makers, and what the legitimacy of the political process consists of. It pointed out that today, more than ever, the system of “representative democracy” is being used to marginalise the electorate from political power and raises the immediate need for democratic renewal. It correlated the rise of competitive political parties with the growth of the proportion of the adult population which comprise the electorate, as a mechanism to marginalise the polity even further from political power. The crisis of legitimacy stems from this, in that parliament is seen not to be transforming the political will of the electorate into the legal will, and that the legal will itself is being exercised increasingly by elements who are not being held accountable to the people. This crisis of legitimacy cannot be resolved under the archaic democratic institutions and requires democratic renewal. To effect this, it was argued, the electorate must reject the political theory on which the present political system is based, and participate themselves in working out their own political theory, which acts as a guide to action in the people coming themselves to power, without the mediation of these competitive political parties.

All these parties are themselves speaking of the necessity for change, but the change they are proposing is in the nature of foisting on the people the same vicarious “choice” between leaders as is exercised between contestants in television reality talent shows.

The progressive forces, the working class and people, must occupy the space for change in organising to build a movement for the alternative, in which it is they who are empowered to set the agenda, not reordering the arrangements of the old system. The participation in elections is participating in the arena of class struggle, and to assist the working class and people to challenge the old arrangements, fight for democratic renewal of the political processes and institutions, and put forward the demands for an anti-war government, and to stop paying the rich and increase investments in social programmes. It is to take a stand against the alliance with US imperialism, and against the Europe of the monopolies, and affirm that the vision of the Gordon Browns, Tony Blairs and others is archaic and retrogressive, and that the vision of a socialist Britain in modern colours is what society is calling for, and that this can be created under the leadership of the working class.

Article Index

RCPB(ML) Home Page

Workers' Daily Internet Edition Index Page