Written By: - Date published: 12:28 pm, February 15th, 2011 - 25 comments
Categories: activism, capitalism, class war, community democracy, Deep stuff, democratic participation, equality, International, political alternatives, political education, Politics, socialism, unemployment, workers' rights - Tags: Arab World, democracy, egypt, revolution
When the regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled, it wasn’t surprising that no democratic alternatives to Soviet ‘one man’ management systems had been developed by the people prior to the collapse of the regimes. So there were no examples of democratic management or instances of democratically run organisations that could be expanded,developed and applied over society in general. Consequently, the peoples of Eastern Europe were powerless in the face of predatory western corporations and financial institutions.
Unlike the former dungeon states of the USSR that were ‘transitioned’ to capitalism via external influences, the Arab world has nowhere to transition to. They have been under the yoke of western interests for a long, long time.
That aside, as the regimes of the Arab world are subjected to pressure from below, the same problem exists there as did in Eastern Europe. The people have no readily available and substantive democratic options.
Some people in Tahrir Square may well be speculating how to run and maintain public transport systems democratically; or what a democratic medical system might look like and how it might be administered and run; or how to organise democratic workplaces; or how to develop communities democratically; or how democratic principles might interact with the building and maintenance of necessary infrastructure; or how policing could embody democratic principles; or how the army might be democratically structured. But since they have no experience of organising and acting democratically, any actions they might take will be overwhelmingly informed by old ways of thinking and old habits.
So, in line with Eastern Europeans, Arabs may well achieve multi-party elections for parliamentary rule, but the foundations and framework of the old regime (financial, political and institutional) will remain in place.
Meaning that hunger will remain. And unemployment will remain. And former arrangements with foreign governments will be honoured by any incoming administration. For an example of crushed dreams or thwarted aspirations, one need only look at the so-called revolution in South Africa where the ANC’s political ambitions (and those of the people) were neutered by an old guard who secured themselves the real seats of power in the financial sector. It’s a case of “He who holds the purse strings…” and the Arab world, like South Africa or Eastern Europe is financially and firmly locked down and in place.
This is very different to the prospects for peoples in Latin and South America where experiments in substantive forms of democracy are well under way. These experiments involve developing institutions that will amass their own distinct institutional memories and allow the people of the region to gain knowledge and habits of democracy. And every step in the development of this new, substantively democratic culture is accompanied by a back step on the part of the old model of organising; a weakening in the hand of corporate and financial elites.
And so, if for some reason or other, the peoples of Latin and South America find themselves gathering in their own ‘Tahrir Squares’, they will have applicable and practical democratic alternatives in their armoury. And crucially, they will have the ‘hands on’ experience of behaving or acting democratically – experience that people across Eastern Europe lacked and that people across the Arab world lack.
In terms of our own situation, we might want to reflect on our own democratic experience and ask how we would or could move forward from our own Tahrir Square moment. There is no spontaneous ‘raising of consciousness’ that will allow us to suddenly act as fully functioning and empowered citizens in a democracy. It takes time. It takes practice. And in that space, if it is during times of crisis, traditional forms of power, informed by established thought processes and habits, will simply be reconstituted and re-asserted.
The fact of that matter is there for all the world to see at the moment in North Africa and the Middle East.