Democracy continues to be the most important source of division among the coglomeration of radical movements active today.
The radical wings of socialism, anarchism and liberalism are all alive and kicking in the current movements for social change, although they have undoubtedly both learned and innovated in the face of a changing politico-economic habitat. Each of the ‘big three’ have historically carried substantially different meanings of ‘democracy’, and each have been attached to real-life experiments with democracy in various settings.
The precise character of democracy has attained absolutely crucial importance in the face of the use by hegemonic elites of arguments for democracy to insist on their own legitimacy in engineering social change in the direction which they define.
Each of the big three ideologies considers some form of the mass control of political decision making – taking their favoured form – is key to achieving their vision of social change. Logically, of course, if any of them are right it invalidates the other ideologies’ vision of a better world. However, at one easy step of abstraction we find agreement: each believes that if ‘the people decide’, given certain conditions of freedom of thought and availability of information, then a more just society will emerge.
And beyond this, much else in the prescriptive side of these ideologies is guess work, attempting to demonstrate that given information and time then people will eventually come around to the ideologist’s point of view. Needless to say, a dangerous passtime if ever the ideolgist gets any power because surely the temptation to forgo the formalities, in the name of efficiency and all who suffer, and simply dictate to the people what they might have decided for themselves must be unbearable.
What we find at the most fundamental level, then, is a question of precisely which particular form of democracy should be advocated. We must surely be compelled to ask, then, to what extent are the visions of practical democracy offered by those around the radical left-liberal nexus compatible. It is precisely to this extent that there is hope that the forces for radical social change may coherently, effectively unite.