A citizens’ coalition road to real democracy

Posted on April 2, 2018


Strategically, and from a democratic viewpoint, principled unity is the only unity that should matter.  It may be tactically advisable for any principled group to unite with others on a single, common issue,  but only if principle is not forsaken.  So a truly egalitarian and socialist group could — and should — join, for example, an anti-racist campaign that may even include homophobes, sexists and those opposing a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy.

At the same time, should such issues arise during the single issue campaign, the arguments should be joined.  Those who plead for unity  “on the basis of what unites us” while burying those often crucial issues that divide groups and individuals, create, in their supposed unity, an intellectual and ideological swamp in which principles putrefy.

What is required in a principled united front is clarity of purpose.  This means knowing what the front is for and that should define what it is against.  Groups and individuals that submerge themselves in a united front only on the basis of broad-based opposition, contribute to the creation of an ideological sludge that can readily be stirred and manipulated,  but which remains fundamentally stagnant and directionless.  And when the tenuous walls of unprincipled unity crack or collapse, the groups forming this swamp tend to spill forth and dissipate.

Unfortunately, in the absence of any principled alternative that advocates a clear, broadly-based programme in which contending tactical considerations can compete, a swamp will emerge.  The question then arises:  does such a programme exist to provide the basis for a principled, democratically organised united front?

It does, in the Bill of Rights.  This egalitarian document can be summarised as advocating that every individual should have the right to do exactly as they please provided that, in the exercise of that right, they do not impinge on the rights of anyone else.  Here is the basis for a true united front that would, of course, exclude those who do not agree with this fundamental, democratic principle.

Adherence to such a programme means that it is not possible to remain part of such a front while campaigning for sexism, for homo and xeno phobia or while supporting the death penalty or opposing the right of women to choose regarding pregnancy.  Such a programme proposes, in broad terms, what the united front is for and that, in turn, makes it evident what it is, again in broad terms, against.

Of course, there will be many differing views about how best to achieve the various goals necessary to attain a truly egalitarian and democratic society.  Such debates must be as widespread and democratic as possible.  This means avoiding one of the fundamental problems of the United Democratic Front (UDF) of the 1980s where membership — and voting power — was given to organisations.  So a cultural club with 100 members, for example, would be on the same footing as a trade union with 10 000 members.  This is clearly undemocratic and also encourages groups to set up front organisations to increase their voting power.

Thirty or so years ago, such a structure might have been necessary.  It no longer is.  Courtesy of modern communications technology — notably the cell phone, but also internet connectivity — it is possible to communicate instantly with individuals and groups almost everywhere.  United Front units formed in factories, neighbourhoods, streets and elsewhere could register their memberships, using ID numbers.  This means that a UF member registered in a factory unit, for example, could not vote again in another unit.

Within such an environment various political strands, traditions and political ideas should flourish, framed by the egalitarian principles of the Bill of Rights.  Units, coming together perhaps on a constituency or ward basis, could elect representatives who would be wholly answerable to, and recallable by, their electors.  Such a development would be a real alternative and not just another repetition of the same, stale processes of the past.

Above all, an organisation on this basis removes the false dichotomy between politics and economics;  it acknowledges that it is necessary to achieve majoritarian political power and influence throughout society in order to guarantee the transformation of the social and economic environment.  A start toward this can be made through the present party list parliamentary system.  Initially, in the absence of pre-defined constituencies, 400 candidates for the national assembly — all people broadly known and accepted by voters in different regions — would have to be nominated.

These candidates should sign a contract agreeing to be answerable to, and recallable by, the voters in the electoral region (constituency) to which they are finally allocated.  And the allocation and definition of constituencies should be on the basis of the number of votes cast for what would be, in essence, a democratic coalition of citizens.

The co-ordination of such a structure should be managed by a communications hub that should have no political authority.  The staff of such a hub would be technical employees of the coalition whose role would be to ensure the maintenance of internet and cell phone communications and the website(s) or whatever methods of mass communication chosen.

Individuals who agree with the (Bill of Rights) programme of the coalition and who wish to join, should be encouraged to affiliate to or set up units in their neighbourhoods or workplaces or wherever.  Such units (minimum 5/10 members?) should meet regularly to discuss issues and vote on the way they wish these issues to be dealt with by their elected representatives. Comments, criticisms, instructions and suggestions should be openly debated at unit level with elected representatives giving voice to the argumnts and instructions of their constituents.

Obviously, for such a hub to function efficiently, programs would have to be written that allow for the registration of individuals and units in a way (using ID numbers) that do not allow for duplication of comments and votes.

Posted in: Commentary