Thursday, 7 May 2015
Democracy at Work
‘There is something in all this very like democracy’, William Guest eagerly declares to old Hammond as the latter explains the principles of communal decision-making in News from Nowhere (ch.XIV). And we too, at the end of this six-week campaign period, may feel that we are exercising our own democratic rights in putting crosses on ballot papers at some point in the course of the day.
However, today’s general election is a farce, from various viewpoints. First, because its only outcome will be further neo-liberalism – the hard, nasty version under Cameron’s Tories, or the with-a-human-face-and-ever-so-regretfully-but neo-liberalism-all-the-same variant from Miliband and Labour. Second, because it is operating under a corrupt first-past-the-post system which, by design, reduces all non-establishment challengers to near-impotence. Third, and most importantly, because putting a cross on a piece of paper every five years has almost nothing to do with democracy where and how it would really count – in the work-place, where most of us actually spend most of our waking hours.
If my academic colleagues and I had daily votes on the variety of issues which face an early twenty-first-century university, or if the workers at the Magnet kitchen showroom just down the road from me all decided collectively in committee how their business would be conducted, and so on, then I might believe that the term democracy had some meaning again in this society. We used to talk about this issue, about extending formal bourgeois democracy to substantive ‘industrial democracy’ – that would indeed have been part of what Raymond Williams used to mean by his ‘long revolution’. But that discourse seems to have faded away almost entirely in the neo-liberal epoch.
Until we get it back on the agenda, I am going to take comedian Russell Brand’s original advice – which was also, by the way, that of William Morris’s Socialist League in its own day – and NOT vote. By that ‘policy of abstention’ (to borrow Morris’s term) I shall, in my tiny way, avoid giving a corrupt and pointless rigamarole the show of legitimacy it craves from its victims.