[News] The Democratic Fraud and the Universalist Alternative

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Thu Nov 24 16:02:28 EST 2011

The Democratic Fraud and the Universalist Alternative | by Samir Amin



Universal suffrage is a recent conquest, 
beginning with workers’ struggles in a few 
European countries (England, France, Holland, and 
Belgium) and then progressively extending 
throughout the world. Today, everywhere on the 
planet, it goes without saying that the demand 
for delegating supreme power to an honestly 
elected, multiparty assembly defines the 
democratic aspiration and guarantees its realization­or so it is claimed.

Marx himself put great hopes on such universal 
suffrage as a possible “peaceful path to 
socialism.” Yet, I have noted that on this score 
Marx’s expectations were refuted by history (cf. Marx et la démocratie).

I think that the reason for the failure of 
electoral democracy to produce real change is not 
hard to find: all hitherto existing societies 
have been based on a dual system of exploitation 
of labor (in various forms) and of concentration 
of the state’s powers on behalf of the ruling 
class. This fundamental reality results in a 
relative “depoliticization/disacculturation” of 
very large segments of society. And this result, 
broadly designed and implemented to fulfill the 
systemic function expected of it, is 
simultaneously the condition for reproduction of 
the system without changes other than those it 
can control and absorb­the condition of its 
stability. What is called the “grass roots,” so 
to speak, signifies a country in deep slumber. 
Elections by universal suffrage under these 
conditions are guaranteed to produce a sure 
victory for conservatism, albeit sometimes a “reformist” conservatism.

This is why never in history has there been real 
change resulting from this mode of governance 
based on “consensus” (i.e. the absence of 
change). All changes tending toward real social 
transformation, even radical reforms, have 
resulted from struggles waged by what, in 
electoral terms, may appear to be “minorities.” 
Without the initiative of such minorities, the 
motive force of society, no change is possible. 
Such struggles, engaged in by such “minorities,” 
always end up­when the alternatives proposed are 
clearly and correctly defined­by carrying along 
(previously silent) majorities and may by 
universal suffrage receive ratification, which 
arrives after­never before­victory.

In our contemporary world “consensus” (its 
boundaries defined by universal suffrage) is more 
conservative than ever. In the centers of the 
world-system the consensus is pro-imperialist. 
Not in the sense that it implies hatred or 
contempt for the other peoples who are its 
victims, but in the everyday sense that the 
permanence of the flow of imperialist rent is 
accepted because that is the condition for 
overall social reproduction, the guarantor of its 
“opulence” in contrast to the poverty of the 
others. In the peripheries, the responses of 
peoples to the challenge (pauperization resulting 
from the process of capitalist/imperialist 
accumulation) is still muddled, in the sense that 
they are fated always to carry with them a dose 
of retrograde illusions of a return to a better past.

In these conditions, recourse to “elections” is 
always conceived by the dominant powers as the 
best possible way to rein in the movement, to end 
the possibility that the struggles become 
radicalized. In 1968 some said that “elections 
are for assholes,” and that view was not 
unconfirmed by the facts. An elected assembly, 
right away­as today in Tunisia and Egypt­serves 
only to put an end to “disorder,” to “restore 
stability.” To change everything so that nothing changes.

So should we give up on elections? Not at all. 
But how to bring together new, rich, inventive 
forms of democratization through which elections 
can be used in a way other than is conceived by 
the conservative forces? Such is the challenge.


This stage scenery was invented by the Founding 
Fathers of the United States, with the very 
clearly expressed intention of keeping electoral 
democracy from becoming an instrument that could 
be used by the people to call in question the 
social order based on private property (and slavery!).

With that in mind, their Constitution was based 
on (indirect) election of a president (a sort of 
“elective monarch”) holding in his hands some 
essential powers. Presidential election campaigns 
under these conditions naturally gravitate to 
“bipartisanism,” which tends progressively to 
become what it now is: the expression of a 
“single party.” Of course, ever since the end of 
the nineteenth century this has represented the 
interest of monopoly capital, addressing itself 
to “clienteles” that view themselves as having differing interests.

The democratic fraud then displays itself as 
offering “alternatives” (in this case, the 
Democrats and the Republicans) that cannot ever 
rise to the level required by a real alternative 
(offering the possibility of new, radically 
different, options). But without the presence of 
real alternative perspectives democracy is 
nonexistent. The farce is based on “consensus”(!) 
ideology, which excludes by definition serious 
conflicts between interests and between visions 
of the future. The invention of “party primaries” 
inviting the whole electorate (whether its 
components are said to be leftist or rightist!) 
to express its choices of candidates for the two 
false adversaries accentuates still further that 
deviation so annihilating for the meaning of elections.

Jean Monnet, a true anti-democrat is honored 
today in Brussels, where his intentions to copy 
the U.S. model were fully understood, as the 
founder of the “new European democracy.” Monnet 
deployed all his efforts, which were scrupulously 
implemented in the European Union, to deprive 
elected assemblies of their powers and transfer 
them to “committees of technocrats.”

To be sure, the democratic fraud works without 
big problems in the opulent societies of the 
imperialist triad (the United States, Western 
Europe, and Japan) precisely because it is 
underwritten by the imperialist rent (see my book 
The Law of Worldwide Value). But its persuasive 
authority is also bolstered by the consensus 
“individualist” ideology; by the respect for 
“rights” (themselves acquired by struggles, as we 
are never told), and by the institution of an 
independent judiciary (even though that of the 
United States is partially based­as in most of 
the “sovereign” states­on elected judges who have 
to finance their election campaigns by appealing 
to the ruling class and its opinion-makers); and 
by the complex structure of the pyramidal 
institutions charged with guaranteeing rights.

Historically, continental Europe has not long 
experienced the calm waters of the democratic 
farce. In the nineteenth century (and even up to 
1945) struggles for democracy, both those 
inspired by the capitalist and middle-class 
bourgeoisies and those expressing the working 
masses, ran up against resistance from the 
anciens régimes. Hence their chaotic pattern of 
advances and retreats. Marx thought that such 
resistance was an obstacle fortunately unknown in 
the United States. He was wrong, and 
underestimated the extent to which, in a “pure” 
capitalist system (like that of the United States 
in comparison to Europe) the “overdetermination” 
of political processes, that is to say the 
automatic conformity of changes in the 
ideological and political superstructure to those 
required for management of society by the 
capitalist monopolies, would inevitably lead to 
what conventional sociologists call 
“totalitarianism.” This is a term that applies 
even more to the capitalist imperialist world 
than anywhere else. (I here refer back to what I 
have written elsewhere about “overdetermination” 
and the openings which it makes available.)

In nineteenth century Europe (and also, though to 
a lesser degree, in the United States) the 
historical coalitions put together to ensure the 
power of capital were, by the force of 
circumstance­the diversity of classes and of 
sub-classes­complex and changeable. Accordingly, 
electoral combats could sometimes appear to be 
really democratic. But over time, as the 
diversity of capitalist coalitions gave way to 
the domination of monopoly capital, those 
appearances dwindled away. The Liberal Virus (as 
one of my books is titled) did the rest: Europe 
aligned itself more and more on the U.S. model.

Conflicts among the major capitalist powers 
helped cement the components of the historical 
coalitions, bringing about, by way of 
nationalism, the domination of capital. It even 
happened­Germany and Italy being particularly 
exemplary­that “national consensus” was made to 
replace the democratic program of the bourgeois revolution.

This deformation of democracy is now virtually 
complete. The Communist parties of the Third 
International tried in their way to oppose it, 
even though their “alternative” (modeled on the 
USSR) remained of questionable attractiveness. 
Having failed to build lasting alternative 
coalitions, they ended up capitulating­submitting 
to the system of democratic electoral farce. So 
doing, the part of the radical left consisting of 
their heirs (in Europe, the “United Left” 
grouping in the Strasbourg parliament) gave up 
any perspective of real “electoral victory.” It 
is happy to survive on the second-class seats 
allotted to “minorities” (at most 5–10% of the 
“voting population”). Transformed into coteries 
of elected representatives whose sole 
concern­taking the place of “strategy”­is to hang 
on to these wretched places in the system, this 
radical left gives up on really being anything of 
the sort. That this plays into the hands of 
neofascist demagogues is, in these conditions, unsurprising.

A discourse styling itself “postmodernist,” which 
quite simply refuses to recognize the scope of 
the democratic farce’s destructive effects, 
incorporates submission to it. What matter 
elections, they say, what counts is elsewhere: in 
“civil society” (a muddled concept to which I 
shall return) where individuals are what the 
liberal virus claims them­falsely­to be, the 
active subjects of history. Antonio Negri’s 
“philosophy,” which I have criticized elsewhere, 
is an expression of this desertion.

But the democratic farce, unchallenged in the 
opulent societies of the imperialist triad, does 
not work in the system’s peripheries. There, in 
the storm zone, the established order does not 
enjoy any legitimacy sufficient to stabilize 
society. Does the possibility of a real 
alternative then reveal itself in the watermark 
of the paper on which the “Southern awakenings” 
that characterized the twentieth century (and 
which go on making their way in the twenty-first 
century) are written by history?


The current storm is not synonymous with 
revolution, but is only the potential carrier of revolutionary advances.

Not simple are the responses of the peripheral 
peoples, whether inspired by radical socialist 
ideals­at first, anyway (Russia, China, Vietnam, 
and Cuba)­or by national liberation and social 
progress (in Latin America, in Asia and Africa 
during the Bandung period). They bring, to 
varying degrees, components with a universalist 
and progressive outlook together with others of a 
deeply retrogressive nature. To unravel the 
conflicting and/or complementary interferences 
among these tendencies will help us to 
formulate­further on in this text­some possible 
forms of genuine democratic advances.

The historical Marxisms of the Third 
International (Russian Marxism-Leninism and 
Chinese Maoism) deliberately and completely 
rejected any retrograde outlook. They chose to 
look toward the future, in what was in the full 
sense of the term a universalist emancipating 
spirit. This option was undoubtedly made easier, 
in Russia, by a long preparatory period in which 
the (bourgeois) “Westernizers” vanquished the 
“Slavophile” and “Eurasian” allies of the 
autocracy; in China, by the Taiping Uprising (I 
here refer you to my work: The Paris Commune and the Taiping Revolution).

At the same time, those historical Marxisms 
committed themselves to a certain 
conceptualization of the role of “vanguards” in 
social transformation. They gave an 
institutionalized form to that option, symbolized 
as “The Party.” It cannot be said that this 
option was ineffective. Quite to the contrary, it 
was certainly at the origin of the victory of 
those revolutions. The hypothesis that the 
minority vanguard would win support from the 
immense majority proved to be well founded. But 
it is equally true that later history showed the 
limits of such effectiveness. For it is certain 
that maintenance of centralized power in the 
hands of these “vanguards” was far from 
uninvolved in the subsequent derailment of the 
“socialist” systems that they claimed to have established.

Did “enlightened despotism” constitute the theory 
and practice of those historical Marxisms? One 
can say so only on condition of specifying what 
were and­progressively­became the aims of those 
“enlightened despotisms.” In any case, they were 
resolutely opposed to völkisch nostalgia. Their 
behavior in regard to religion­which they viewed 
as nothing but obscurantism­testifies to that. I 
have expressed myself elsewhere ( 
“L’internationale de l’obscurantisme”) about the 
qualifications which need be appended to that judgment.

The vanguard concept was also broadly adopted 
elsewhere beyond those (Chinese and Russian) 
revolutionary societies. It was the basis for the 
Communist parties of the whole world as they 
existed between 1920 and 1980. It found its place 
in the contemporary national/populist third-world regimes.

Moreover, this vanguard concept gave decisive 
importance to theory and ideology, implying in 
turn putting similar importance on the role of 
(revolutionary) “intellectuals” or, rather, of 
the intelligentsia. “Intelligentsia” is not 
synonymous with the educated middle classes, 
still less with the managers, bureaucrats, 
technocrats, or professoriate (in Anglo-Saxon 
jargon, the “elites”). It refers to a social 
group that emerges as such in some societies 
under specific conditions and becomes then an 
active, sometimes decisive, agent. Outside Russia 
and China, analogous formations could be 
recognized in France, in Italy, and perhaps in 
other countries­but certainly not in Great 
Britain, the United States, nor generally in northern Europe.

In France, during most of the twentieth century, 
the intelligentsia held a major place in the 
country’s history, as, for that matter, is 
recognized by the best historians. This was, 
perhaps, an indirect effect of the Paris Commune 
during which the ideal of building a more 
advanced stage of civilization beyond capitalism 
found expression as nowhere else (see my article on the Commune).

In Italy the post-fascist Communist Party had an 
analogous function. As Luciana Castillana lucidly 
analyzes it, the Communists­a vanguard strongly 
supported by the working class but always an 
electoral minority­were actually the sole makers 
of Italian democracy. They exercised “in 
opposition”­at the time­a real power in society 
much greater than when associated with 
“government” subsequently! Their actual suicide, 
inexplicable otherwise than as result of the 
mediocrity of their post-Berlinguer leadership, 
buried with them both the Italian State and Italian democracy.

This intelligentsia phenomenon never existed in 
the United States nor in Protestant Northern 
Europe. What is called there “the elite”­the 
terminology is significant­scarcely comprises 
anyone but lackeys (including “reforming” ones) 
of the system. The empiricist/pragmatist 
philosophy, holding the entire stage as far as 
social thought is concerned, has certainly 
reinforced the conservative effects of the 
Protestant Reformation­whose critique I stated in 
Eurocentrism. Rudolf Rocker, the German 
anarchist, is one of the few European thinkers to 
have expressed a judgment close to mine; but 
since Weber (and despite Marx) it is has been 
fashionable to unthinkingly celebrate the Reformation as a progressive advance.

In the peripheral societies in general, beyond 
the flagrant cases of Russia and China, and for 
the same reasons, the initiatives taken by 
“vanguards,” often intelligentsia-like, profited 
from the adhesion and support of broad popular 
majorities. The most frequent form of those 
political crystallizations whose interventions 
were decisive for the “Southern Awakening” was 
that of populism. A theory and practice scoffed 
at by the (Anglo-Saxon style, i.e., pro-system) 
“elites,” but defended and accordingly 
rehabilitated by Ernesto Laclau with solid 
arguments that I will very largely make my own.

Of course, there are as many “populisms” as there 
are historical experiences that can be called 
such. Populisms are often linked to “charismatic” 
figures whose “thought” is accepted, undiscussed, 
as authoritative. The real social and national 
advances linked to them under some specific 
conditions have led me to term them 
“national/populist” regimes. But it must be 
understood that those advances were never based 
on ordinary “bourgeois” democratic 
practices­still less on the inception of 
practices going still further, like those 
possible ones which I will outline further on in 
this text. Such was the case in Ataturk’s Turkey, 
probably the initiator of this model in the 
Middle East, and later in Nasser’s Egypt, the 
Baathist (Iraqi and Syrian) regimes in their 
initial stages, and Algeria under the FLN. During 
the 1940s and 1950s, under different conditions, 
similar experiments were undertaken in Latin 
America. This “formula,” because it answers to 
real needs and possibilities, is far from having 
lost its chance of renewal. So I gladly use the 
term “national/populist” for certain ongoing 
experiments in Latin America without neglecting 
to point out that on the level of democratization 
they have incontestably entered on advances 
unknown to those earlier “national/populisms.”

I have put forward analyses dealing with the 
reasons for the success of advances realized in 
this domain by several Middle-Eastern countries 
(Afghanistan, South Yemen, Sudan, and Iraq) which 
appeared more promising than others, and also the 
causes of their tragic failures.

Whatever the case, one must be on guard against 
generalizations and simplifications like those of 
most Western commentators, who look only at the 
“democracy question” as boiled down to the 
formula that I have described as the democratic 
farce. In the peripheral countries the farce 
sometimes appears as a fantastic burlesque. 
Without being “democrats” some leaders, 
charismatic or not, of national/populist regimes 
have been progressive “big reformers.” Nasser was 
exemplary of these. But others have scarcely been 
anything but incoherent clowns (Khaddafi) or 
ordinary “unenlightened” despots (quite 
uncharismatic, to boot) like Ben Ali, Mubarak, 
and many others. For that matter, those dictators 
initiated no national/populist experiments. All 
they did was to organize the pillage of their 
countries by mafias personally associated with 
them. Thus, like Suharto and Marcos, they were 
simply executive agents of the imperialist powers 
which, moreover, hailed them and supported their powers to the very end.


The specific limits of each and of all 
national/populist experiments worthy of the name 
“populist” originate in the objective conditions 
characterizing the societies comprising the 
periphery of today’s capitalist/imperialist 
world­conditions obviously diverse. But beyond 
that diversity some major converging factors shed 
some light on the reasons for those experiments’ 
successes and then for their retrogressions.

That aspirations for a “Return to the Past” 
persist is not the result of thoroughgoing 
“backwardness” (as in the usual discourse on this 
subject) among the peoples involved. Their 
persistence gives a correct measure of the 
challenge to be confronted. All the peoples and 
nations of the peripheries were not only subject 
to fierce economic exploitation by imperialist 
capital: they were, by the same token, equally 
subjected to cultural aggression. With the 
greatest contempt the dignity of their cultures, 
their languages, their customs, and their 
histories were negated. There is nothing 
surprising in these victims of external or 
internal colonialism (notably the Indian 
populations of the Americas) naturally linking 
their political and social liberation to the 
restoration of their national dignity.

But in turn, these legitimate aspirations are a 
temptation to look exclusively toward the past in 
hope of there finding the solution to today’s and 
tomorrow’s problems. So there is a real risk of 
seeing the movements of awakening and liberation 
among these peoples getting stuck in tragic blind 
alleys as soon as they mistake retrogressive 
nostalgia for their sought-for highroad of renewal.

The history of contemporary Egypt illustrates 
perfectly the transformation from a necessary 
complementarity between a universalist vision 
open to the future, yet linked to the restoration 
of past dignity, into a conflict between two 
options formulated in absolute terms: either 
“Westernize!” (in the common usage of that term, 
implying denial of the past) or else (uncritically) “Back To The Past!”

The Viceroy Mohamed Ali (1804–1849) and, until 
the 1870s, the Khedives, chose a modernization 
that would be open to the adoption of formulas 
reflecting European models. It cannot be said 
that this choice was one of “Westernization” on 
the cheap. The heads of the Egyptian state gave 
the highest importance to modern 
industrialization of the country as against 
merely adopting the European model of consumer 
markets. They committed themselves to 
assimilation of European models, linking it with 
renewal of their national culture to whose 
evolution in a secular direction it would 
contribute. Their attempts to support linguistic 
renovation bear witness to that. Of course, their 
European model was that of capitalism and no 
doubt they had no accurate conception of the 
imperialist nature of European capitalism. But 
they should bear no reproach for that. When 
Khedive Ismail proclaimed his aim “to make Egypt 
into a European country,” he was fifty years 
ahead of Ataturk. He saw “Europeanization” as 
part of national rebirth, not as a renunciation of it.

The inadequacies of that epoch’s cultural Nahda 
(its inability to grasp the meaning of the 
European Renaissance), and the retrograde 
nostalgia embodied in its main concepts­on which 
I have expressed myself elsewhere­are no mystery.

Indeed, it is precisely this retrograde outlook 
which was to take hold over the national-renewal 
movement at the end of the nineteenth century. I 
have put forward an explanation for this: with 
the defeat of the “modernist” project that had 
held the scene from 1800 to 1870 Egypt was 
plunged into regression. But the ideology that 
tried to counter that decline took shape in this 
retrogressive period and was marked by all the 
birth defects implicit in that fact. Moustapha 
Kamel and Mohamed Farid, the founders of the new 
National Party (Al hisb al watani), chose 
back-to-the-past as the focal point of their 
combat­as their “Ottomanist” (seeking the support 
of Istanbul against the English) illusions, as well as others, reveal.

History was to prove the futility of that option. 
The popular and national revolution of 1919–1920 
was not led by the Nationalist Party but by its 
“modernist” rival, the Wafd. Taha Hussein even 
adopted the slogan of Khedive Ismail­“Europeanize 
Egypt”­and to that end supported the formation of 
a new university to marginalize Al Azhar.

The retrograde tendency, legacy of the 
Nationalist Party, then slipped into 
insignificance. Its leader, Ahmad Hussein, was in 
the 1930s merely the head of a minuscule, 
pro-fascist, party. But this tendency was to 
undergo a strong revival among the group of “Free 
Officers” that overthrew the monarchy in 1952.

The ambiguity of the Nasserist project resulted 
from this regression in the debate over the 
nature of the challenge to be confronted. Nasser 
tried to link a certain industrialization-based 
modernization, once again not on the cheap, with 
support to retrograde cultural illusions. It 
mattered little that the Nasserists thought of 
their project as being within a socialist 
(obviously beyond a nineteenth century ken) 
perspective. Their attraction to völkisch 
cultural illusion was always there. This was 
demonstrated by their choices concerning the 
“modernization of Al Azhar,” of which I did a critique.

Currently, the conflict between the “modernist, 
universalist” visions of some and the “integrally 
medievalistic” visions of others holds 
center-stage in Egypt. The former are 
henceforward advocated mainly by the radical left 
(in Egypt the communist tradition, powerful in 
the immediate years after Second World War) and 
getting a broad audience among the enlightened 
middle classes, the labor unions, and, even more 
so, by the new generations. The back-to-the-past 
vision has slipped even further to the right with 
the Muslim Brotherhood, and has adopted its 
stance from the most archaic conception of Islam, 
the Wahhabism promoted by the Saudis.

It is not very difficult to contrast the 
evolution that shut Egypt into its blind alley to 
the path chosen by China since the Taiping 
revolution, taken up and deepened by Maoism: that 
the construction of the future starts with 
radical critique of the past. “Emergence” into 
the modern world­and, accordingly, deploying 
effective responses to its challenges including 
entrance onto the path of democratization, 
guidelines for which I will put forward further 
on in this text­has as its precondition the 
refusal to allow retrograde cultural nostalgia to 
obscure the central focus of renewal.

So it is not by chance that China finds itself at 
the vanguard of today’s “emerging” countries. Nor 
is it by chance that in the Middle East it is 
Turkey, not Egypt, that is pedaling in the race. 
Turkey, even that of the “Islamist” AKP, profits 
from Kemalism’s earlier breakaway. But there is a 
decisive difference between China and Turkey; 
China’s “modernist” option is supposed to reflect 
a “socialist” perspective (and China is in a 
hegemonic conflict with the United States, that 
is to say, with the collective imperialism of the 
Triad) conveying a chance for progress. While the 
“modernity” option of today’s Turkey, in which no 
escape from the logic of contemporary 
globalization is envisaged, has no future. It 
seems successful, but only provisionally so.

In all the countries of the broader South (the 
peripheries) the combination of modernist and 
retrogressive tendencies, obviously in very 
diverse forms, is to be found. The confusion 
resulting from this association finds one of its 
most striking displays in the profusion of inept 
discourses about supposed “democratic forms in 
past societies,” uncritically praised to the 
skies. Thus independent India sings praises to 
the panchayat, Muslims to the shura, and Africans 
to the “Speaking Tree,” as though these outlived 
social forms had anything to do with the 
challenges of the modern world. Is India really 
the biggest (in number of voters) democracy in 
the world? Well, this electoral democracy is and 
will remain a farce until radical criticism of 
the caste system (a very real legacy of its past) 
has been carried through to the end: the 
abolition of the castes themselves. Shura remains 
the vehicle for implementation of Sharia (Islamic 
canonical law), interpreted in that word’s most 
reactionary sense­the enemy of democracy.

The Latin American peoples are today confronted 
with the same problem. It is easy, once one 
realizes the nature of Iberian internal 
colonialism, to understand the legitimacy of the 
“indigenist” demands. Still, some of those 
“indigenist” discourses are very uncritical of 
the Indian pasts at issue. But others are indeed 
critical and propose concepts linking in a 
radically progressive way the requirements of 
universalism to the potential to be found in the 
evolution of their historical legacy. In this 
regard, the current Bolivian discussions are 
probably able to make a rich contribution. 
François Houtart (El concepto de Sumak Kawsay) 
has made an enlightening critical analysis of the 
indigenist discourse in question. All ambiguity 
vanishes in the light of this remarkable study, 
which reviews what, as it seems to me, is 
probably the totality of discourse on this subject.

The contribution­a negative one­of retrograde 
cultural illusion in relation to the construction 
of the modern world, such as it is, cannot be 
attributed primarily to the peoples of the 
periphery. In Europe, outside its northwestern 
quadrant, the bourgeoisies were too weak to carry 
out revolutions like those of England and France. 
The “national” goal, especially in Germany and 
Italy and, later, elsewhere in the eastern and 
southern parts of the continent, functioned as 
means of popular mobilization while screening off 
the nature of such nationalism as a compromise, 
half bourgeois/half ancien régime. The retrograde 
cultural illusions in these cases were not so 
much “religious” as “ethnic,” and were based on 
an ethnocentric definition of the nation 
(Germany) or on a mythologized reading of Roman 
history (Italy). Fascism and Nazism­there is the 
disaster that illustrates the arch-reactionary, 
surely anti-democratic, nature of völkisch 
cultural nostalgia in its “national” forms.


I am going to speak here of democratization, not 
of democracy. The latter, reduced as it is to 
formulas imposed by the dominant powers, is a 
farce, as I have said (in “The Democratic Fraud 
Challenges Us to Invent Tomorrow’s Democracy”­see 
above). The electoral farce produces an impotent 
pseudo-parliament and a government responsible 
only to the IMF and the WTO, the instruments of 
the imperialist triad’s monopolies. The 
democratic farce is then capped off with a 
“human-rightsish” discourse on the right to 
protest­on condition that protest never gets 
close to mounting a real challenge to the supreme 
power of the monopolies. Beyond that line it is 
to be labeled “terrorism” and criminalized.

Democratization, in contrast, considered as full 
and complete­that is, democratization involving 
all aspects of social life including, of course, 
economic management­can only be an unending and 
unbounded process, the result of popular 
struggles and popular inventiveness. 
Democratization has no meaning, no reality, 
unless it mobilizes those inventive powers in the 
perspective of building a more advanced stage of 
human civilization. Thus, it can never be clothed 
in a rigid, formulaic, ready-to-wear outfit. 
Nevertheless, it is no less necessary to trace 
out the governing lines of movement for its 
general direction and the definition of the 
strategic objectives for its possible stages.

The fight for democratization is a combat. It 
therefore requires mobilization, organization, 
strategic vision, tactical sense, choice of 
actions, and politicization of struggles. 
Undoubtedly these forms of activity cannot be 
decreed in advance starting from sanctified 
dogma. But the need to identify them is 
unavoidable. For it really is a matter of driving 
back the established systems of power with the 
perspective of replacing them with a different 
system of powers. Undoubtedly any sanctified 
formula of the revolution which would completely 
and at once substitute the power of the people 
for the capitalist order is to be abandoned. 
Revolutionary advances are possible, on the basis 
of the development of real, new, people’s powers 
that would drive back those power centers that 
continue to protect the principles underlying and 
reproducing social inequality. Besides which, 
Marx never expounded any theory of “the great day 
of revolution and definitive solutions”; to the 
contrary, he always insisted that revolution is a 
long transition marked by a conflict between 
powers­the former ones in decline and the new powers on the rise.

To give up on the question of power is to throw 
out the baby with the bathwater. Only someone of 
extreme naïvete could ever believe that society 
can be transformed without destroying, albeit 
progressively, the established system of power. 
As long as the established powers remain what 
they are, social change, far from dispossessing 
them, leaves them able to co-opt it, to take it 
over, to make it reinforce, rather than weaken, 
capitalist power. The sad fate of 
environmentalism, made into a new field for the 
expansion of capital, bears witness. To dodge the 
question of power is to place social movements in 
a situation in which they cannot go on the 
offensive because they are forced to remain on 
the defensive in resistance to the attacks of the 
power-holders who, as such, retain the 
initiative. Nothing astonishing, then, in Antonio 
Negri, the “prophet” of that modish anti-power 
litany, fleeing back from Marx to St. Francis of 
Assisi, his original starting point. Nor anything 
surprising in that his theses should be played up by the New York Times.

I will here put forward several major strategic 
objectives for the theoretical and political 
discussion about social and political struggles 
(inseparable one from the other), which must 
perpetually confront the practical problems of 
those struggles, of their successes and failures.

First of all, to reinforce the powers of workers 
in their workplaces, in their daily struggles 
against capital. That, it is said, is what they 
have trade-unions for. Indeed, but only if the 
unions are real instrumentalities for 
struggle­which they scarcely ever are any more, 
especially the “big unions” that are supposedly 
powerful because they group together large 
majorities among their target groups of workers. 
Such seeming strength derived from numbers is 
really their weakness, because those unions 
believe themselves bound to make only “consensus” 
demands that are extremely modest.

What reason is there to be astonished that the 
working classes of Germany and Great Britain 
(called “strong union” countries) have accepted 
the drastic downward adjustments imposed by 
capital over the course of the last thirty years 
whereas the “French unions,” grouping as members 
only minorities of the class and thus supposedly 
“weak,” have better (or less badly) resisted such 
adjustments? This reality simply reminds us that 
organizations of activists, by definition 
minoritarian (since it is impossible that the 
class as a whole should be made up of activists), 
are more able than “mass” (and thus made up 
largely of non-activists) unions to lead majorities into struggle.

Another possible field of struggle to establish 
new forms of power is that of local government. I 
certainly want to avoid hasty generalizations in 
this area­either by affirming that 
decentralization is always a gain for democracy 
or, on the other hand, that centralization is 
needed to “change the power-structure.” 
Decentralization may well be co-opted by “local 
notables,” often no less reactionary than the 
agents of the central power. But it can also, as 
a result of the strategic actions of progressive 
forces in struggle and of local 
conditions­sometimes favorable, sometimes 
unfavorable­fill out or substitute for general 
advances in the creation of new popular power structures.

The Paris Commune understood this and so 
projected a federation of Communes. The 
communards knew that on this question they were 
carrying forward the tradition of the Mountain 
(Jacobins) of Year One (1793). For the latter, 
contrary to what is unreflectingly said (how 
often do we hear that the Jacobin “centralists” 
completed the work of the Monarchy!), were 
federalists (is the Fête de la Fédération to be 
forgotten?). “Centralization” was the later work 
of the Thermidorian Reaction, capped off by Bonaparte.

But “decentralization” is still a dubious term if 
it is counterposed as an absolute to another 
absolute, that of “centralization.” The challenge 
confronting the struggle for democratization is 
to link the two concepts to each other.

The problem of multiple­local and central­power 
centers is of crucial importance for those 
countries that, for various historical reasons, 
exist as heterogeneous agglomerations. In the 
Andean countries, and more generally in “Latin 
America”­which ought to be termed Indo/Afro/Latin 
America­the construction of specific power 
structures (“specific” here denoting that they 
are endowed with areas of genuine autonomy) is 
the necessary condition for the rebirth of the 
Indian nations, without which social emancipation has scarcely any meaning.

Feminism and environmentalism are likewise fields 
of conflict between social forces whose 
perspective is that of overall social 
emancipation and the conservative or reformist 
power centers consecrated to the perpetuation of 
the conditions for perpetual reproduction of the 
capitalist system. It is certainly out of place 
to treat them as “specialized” struggles, because 
the apparently specialized demands that they put 
forward are inseparable from overall social 
transformation. However, not all movements that 
consider themselves feminist or environmentalist see matters that way.

Coherent linkage of struggles in the diverse 
fields mentioned here­as well as others­requires 
constructing institutionalized forms of their 
interdependence. It is a matter, again, of 
displaying creative imagination. There is no need 
to wait for permission from the actual laws to 
start setting up institutionalized systems 
(informal, maybe “illegal”), by permanent and de 
facto compulsory employer/employee negotiation, 
for example, to impose equality between men and 
women, or to subject all important public or 
private investment decisions to thorough environmental review.

Real advances in the directions here advocated 
would create a duality of powers­like that which 
Marx envisioned for the long socialist transition 
to the higher stage of human civilization, 
communism. They would allow elections by 
universal suffrage to go in a direction quite 
different from that offered by 
democracy-as-farce. But in this case, as in 
others, truly meaningful elections can take place 
only after victory, not before.

The propositions put forward here­and many other 
possible ones­have no place in the dominant 
discourse about “civil society.” Rather, they run 
counter to that discourse which­rather like 
“postmodernist” ravings à la Negri­is the direct 
heir of the U.S. “consensus” ideological 
tradition. A discourse promoted, uncritically 
repeated, by tens of thousands of NGOs and by 
their requisite representatives at all the Social 
Forums. We’re dealing with an ideology that 
accepts the existing regime (i.e. monopoly 
capitalism) in all its essentials. It thus has a 
useful role to play on behalf of capitalist 
power. It keeps its gears provided with oil. It 
pretends to “change the world” while promoting a 
sort of “opposition” with no power to change anything.


The virus of liberalism still has devastating 
effects. It has resulted in an “ideological 
adjustment” perfectly fitted to promoting the 
expansion of capitalism, an expansion becoming 
ever more barbaric. It has persuaded big 
majorities, even among the younger generation, 
that they have to content themselves with “living 
in the present moment,” to grasp whatever is 
immediately at hand, to forget the past, and to 
pay no heed to the future­on the pretext that 
utopian imaginings might produce monsters. It has 
convinced them that the established system allows 
“the flourishing of the individual” (which it 
really does not). Pretentious, supposedly novel, 
academic formulations­“postmodernism,” 
“postcolonialism,” “cultural studies,” Negri-like 
animadversions­confer patents of legitimacy to 
capitulation of the critical spirit and the inventive imagination.

The disarray stemming from such interiorized 
submission is certainly among the causes of the 
“religious revival.” By that I refer to the 
recrudescence of conservative and reactionary 
interpretations, religious and quasi-religious, 
ritualistic and “communitarian.” As I have 
written, the One God (monotheism) remarries with 
alacrity the One Mammon (moneytheism). Of course 
I exclude from this judgment those 
interpretations of religion that deploy their 
sense of spirituality to justify taking sides 
with all social forces struggling for 
emancipation. But the former are dominant, the 
latter a minority and often marginalized. Other, 
no less reactionary, ideological formulas make up 
in the same way for the void left by the liberal 
virus. Of this, “nationalisms” and ethnic or 
quasi-ethnic communalisms are splendid examples.

Diversity is, most fortunately, one of the 
world’s finest realities. But its thoughtless 
praise entails dangerous confusions. For my part, 
I have suggested making conspicuous the 
heritage-diversities which are what they are, and 
can only be distinguished as positive for the 
project of emancipation after being critically 
examined. I want to avoid confusing such 
diversity of heritage with the diversity of 
formulations that look toward invention of the 
future and toward emancipation. For in that 
regard there is as much diversity both of 
analyses, with their underlying cultural and 
ideological bases, and of proposals for strategic lines of struggle.

The First International counted Marx, Bakunin, 
and followers of Proudhon within its ranks. A 
fifth international will likewise have to choose 
diversity as its trump suit. I envisage that it 
cannot “exclude”: it must be a regroupment of the 
various schools of Marxists (including even 
marked “dogmatists”); of authentic radical 
reformers who nevertheless prefer to concentrate 
on goals that are possible in the short term, 
rather than on distant perspectives; of 
liberation theologians; of thinkers and activists 
promoting national renewal within the perspective 
of universal emancipation; and of feminists and 
environmentalists who likewise are committed to 
that perspective. To become clearly conscious of 
the imperialist nature of the established system 
is the fundamental condition without which there 
is no possibility of such a regroupment of 
activists really working together for a single 
cause. A fifth international cannot but be 
clearly anti-imperialist. It cannot content 
itself with remaining at the level of 
“humanitarian” interventions like those that the 
dominant powers offer in place of solidarity and 
support to the liberation struggles of the 
periphery’s peoples, nations, and states. And 
even beyond such regroupment, broad alliances 
will have to be sought with all democratic forces 
and movements struggling against democracy-farce’s betrayals.

If I insist on the anti-imperialist dimension of 
the combat to be waged, it is because that is the 
condition without which no convergence is 
possible between the struggles within the North 
and those within the South of the planet. I have 
already said that the weakness­and that is the 
least one can say­of Northern anti-imperialist 
consciousness was the main reason for the limited 
nature of the advances that the periphery’s 
peoples have hitherto been able to realize, and then of their retrogression.

The construction of a perspective of convergent 
struggles runs up against difficulties whose 
mortal peril to it must not be underestimated.

In the North it runs up against the still broad 
adhesion to the consensus ideology that 
legitimizes the democratic farce and is made 
acceptable thanks to the corrupting effects of 
the imperialist rent. Nevertheless, the ongoing 
offensive of monopoly capital against the 
Northern workers themselves might well help them 
to become conscious that the imperialist 
monopolies are indeed their common enemy.

Will the unfolding movements toward organized and 
politicized reconstruction go so far as to 
understand and teach that the capitalist 
monopolies are to be expropriated, nationalized 
in order to be socialized? Until that breaking 
point has been reached the ultimate power of the 
capitalist/imperialist monopolies will remain 
untouched. Any defeats that the South might 
inflict on those monopolies, reducing the amounts 
siphoned from them in imperialist rent, can only 
increase the chances of Northern peoples getting out of their rut.

But in the South it still runs up against 
conflicting expressions of an envisioned future: 
universalist or backward-looking? Until that 
conflict has been decided in favor of the former, 
whatever the Southern peoples might gain in their 
liberation struggles will remain fragile, limited, and vulnerable.
Only serious advances North and South in the 
directions here indicated will make it possible 
for the progressive historic bloc to be born.

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