The democratic fraud and the universalist alternative

Published on Pambazuka News, by Samir Amin, Nov. 23, 2011.

Elections won’t change the world unless we can work out how to ‘bring together new, rich, inventive forms of democratisation’ through which they can be used in a way other than is conceived by ‘conservative forces’, argues 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 realization—or so it is claimed … //  


  • 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 protest—on 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 complete—that is, democratization involving all aspects of social life including, of course, economic management—can 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 … //


  • 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 future—on 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 animadversions—confer 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 weakness—and that is the least one can say—of 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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