The End of Hierarchy / Spineless Democracy
My more troubling articles always seem to start “Over at Comment is Free…” and I’m afraid this one isn’t really going to be the exception. Ian Leslie has been exploring the impending doom of the political party as an organisational concept as a result of the expanding role of the internet in reaching and organising voters and campaigners without the need for a great deal of overarching administration.
Barack Obama has recently become the first Presidential candidate since 1976 to refuse federal funding for a general election campaign, taking the gloves off the glibly wielded fist of the finances he has raised. Leslie cites how Obama has raised about 90% of his campaign funds from individuals giving a hundred dollars of less, citizens numbering some one and a half million.
This bothers me immensely. We’re talking about electing a man to the most powerful office on the planet for four years with absolutely no recourse to him except the mid-term elections. Bearing in mind that around 10% of seats are even contested for mid-terms, the US Presidency is effectively a quadrennially chosen tyrant. Now people can reach this office without having to win round party political activists; our leaders now proffer a Facebook democracy as a sop for emasculating the democracy of the Party.
If ever there was a democratic check and balance, it has been the capacity of political parties to regulate their own leaders. The primary system in the US makes this impossibly hard already – and now there is this new method of basically elevating oneself so far above interaction with normal people and basically relying on some fiery speeches and a media campaign to intersect with the mood of the time.
The possibilities of this system if introduced into the UK, as internet financing of politics gradually expands, is completely disturbing. It would represent on a national level the introduction of One Man One Vote for various positions and issues within the Labour Party: it destroyed democratic dialogue and supplanted it with suave rhetoric and well-coiffed politicians who could market themselves.
One Man One Vote represents the despotism of apathy and inactivity over the efforts of those who are genuinely engaged with politics. At a national level it would collapse the pyramid that connects rulers to people, however undemocratic that appears, and replace it with a free floating top-stone, the Nietzschean superman operating independently of the material circumstances which begat him.
My nightmarish vision aside, what I feel is undeniable is that any politician elected by such a system would be chosen without challenging the dominant discourse of his day. In order to reach the widest number of people, the aim would continue to be monopolization of the political centre ground to make ones fundraising base as wide as possible. If one said something the media could pounce on, fundraising might dry up.
This political territory would itself shift right and left based on events, as it has due to the War in Iraq in the USA, and not on a constructive debate between those of nuanced, well-developed political ideals and those without. From the point of view of those hoping to continue with the status quo this situation is attractive: excepting a dramatic economic collapse formal democracy would patter on much unchanged.
It would only be in the context of a global depression that the situation might change: the class battle lines would become less obscured as the media fell into line behind their capitalist overlords and reprinted whatever was needed to put down any genuine left wing challenger to the status quo, attempting to reform the system from within. More frightening still would be the potential support cast to a right wing demagogue.
Internet fundraising opens the potential for massive fundraising and the embarkation on new strategies in political operation, but before we bow to the modernisers and the advocates of internet-based democracy we should remember that only through a centralism alien to this new way will we ever be able to co-ordinate collective opposition at a time when it really matters.
This love affair with the internet has been going on since the Chiapas incidents in Mexico and the anti-globalisation protests when everything was organised online. Yet we need to remind ourselves that unfocused mass demonstrations have achieved precisely nothing, and I submit that this is precisely because of the populist manner in which they came about: not merely with no conscious direction. That is as much true of Red Clydeside’s Bloody Friday as the February Revolution.
They came about with no potential for conscious direction because of their dislocation from the working class basis of popular opposition to class-based rule.
Finally we need to remember that this points us towards what ‘internet democracy’ is really a mask for. The purveyors of the death of ideology and the end of history leap upon it like drowning men clinging to a raft while the sharks circle their precious, unprepossessing dream. The represents the ultimate environment for our separation into marketing groups, entirely mediated by capital, rather than the potential for class unity without regard for trivial differences.
The political party is not an ahistorical phenomenon and we should remember that: the mass political party was born of socialist struggle to fight for suffrage, the redistribution of wealth and the unity of the working classes under one banner. Any attempt to render it impotent is a step in a reactionary direction and we should oppose it fervently.