Austerity V Democracy
It seems in these austere times everything is up for sale, even our democratic freedoms; limited as they are by this unequal and undemocratic social system. In Britain, we have a government that has no mandate. As it was pointed out to me on Twitter, ironically by a critic, not even Conservative voters have voted for the programme of government spelled out in the Coalition agreement. Most Liberal Democrat voters seem, if we are to judge by their en mass decamping to Labour, to have been more inclined to want a deal done with Labour. Conservatives meanwhile have to suffer the indignities and compromises of being burdened with their paler partners. Nobody is really happy and that is ultimately one of the things that will bring this government crashing down.
Oblivious to his complete lack of democratic legitimacy, David Cameron seems determined to push ahead with a highly unpopular piece of legislation – the NHS Reform Bill. He doesn’t exactly start from a high base – as I have just illustrated – but to push ahead with a bill which is completely reviled throughout the country, from the farthest left you can go to the inner sanctum of the Coalition Cabinet, shows a complete contempt for democracy and the people of this country. Still, what else should we expect from ‘Flashman’?
Meanwhile, in Greece, the Greek people and their MP’s have been told they must except the latest round of austerity ‘or else’. This despite the fact that there is widespread rioting, striking and general disapproval of the governments direction. The government of Greece is holding the people of Greece hostage against their will therefore what we see on the streets of Greece is the democratically legitimate response to the hijacking of the Greek government by a cartel of vested interests. Greece, like Britain, is governed by a narrow, self-interested clique whose only interests are to defend themselves and finance capital.
Fiscal austerity is slowly transforming representative democracy into oligarchy the world over. This is because in order to maintain finance capital’s position and feed the beast governments are turning on their own people. Traditionally, representative democracy has rested on support from the middle and working classes, when the working classes were attacked the middle classes were enriched and enlarged (though not by as much as rightist thinkers insist). However, now both the working and middle classes are under sustained attack; therefore the social basis of support governments can enjoy necessarily narrows and it becomes a self-perpetuating process. Don’t expect things to get any better – as the social devastation caused by austerity continues to bite this process could well in the long run terminate the time of representative democracy itself. If you don’t believe me look at Italy, whose government is definitely not elected but certainly was appointed by finance capitals fiat.
The solution is an alliance between what I think properly are the two democratic classes in society. Traditionally, it has been insisted that the working class was the only democratic class, however, this was dubious even at the time of its insistence – certainly, in country like Germany it was plausible to contend that the organised working class constituted the majority in society but this definitely did not hold true in countries like Russia. Now the rules of the game have changed and the vast majority of people consider themselves middle class (even if they actually are not), this co-option of working class people into the middle class dream was a deliberate gambit (home-owning etc) which was financed by the boom in freely available and relatively cheap credit, and therefore we on the left need to address that. The material conditions to sustain this co-option no longer exist (think tuition fees policy, the aspirations of the middle and working classes are no longer financed) and the banks are calling in all debts and we all being made to pay.
I don’t care what people call themselves or see themselves as, nor do I intend to waste time and energy arguing with people over this, but I would argue that the working and middle classes, the ‘99%’, have common cause and material interest in a democratic socialist future. If that future does not come about then the fact is that representative democracy will wither and die and austerity will bring with it a new age of oligarchy and that would be a tragedy for most people who will no longer find themselves even represented. This process has already started (look at declining rates of participation, a symptom of extreme alienation especially of the poorest) at the margins in latter years and is now accelerating in pace. Austerity must be stopped because if it isn’t it wont be just our livelihoods we will lose, our freedoms will vanish without trace right along with them.