Democracy has two contradictory meanings today: the justification of existing and aspiring states and ruling classes versus a tradition of revolutionary popular liberation. The extension of this second tradition is the future of the world in which we live. This vision of self-governance has always been held in contempt by elites everywhere who mask themselves in the language of freedom while simultaneously attempting to crush its expression and manifestation.
We believe in direct democracy. We believe everyday people can and must govern themselves. This means popular self-management through a federation of popular councils and committees where decisions are made and executed on matters of economic planning, judicial, military and cultural affairs. This is not only the best way we can imagine a more free society but also a historic necessity.
We recognize there will never be one utopian moment in history. However, direct democracy is the most ideal and pragmatic vision at this juncture where working and oppressed peoples can truly take their destiny into their own hands. The historic necessity of everyday people truly governing themselves is by no means new. We have a long and proud tradition. From ancient Athens to the Hungarian people resisting Soviet totalitarianism; from the Nuer people of Sudan and the Igbo people of Nigeria to the popular committees of the Spanish Civil War; from the Diggers and Levellers in the English Revolution to the Shanghai Commune in the Chinese Revolution; from workers self-management in Algeria to the many French Revolutions; from the liberated zones of the Zapatistas in Mexico to the historic general strikes of Argentina, Brazil, Jamaica and Trinidad; from the popular committees in the Palestinian Intifada to the Anabaptists of medieval Europe, and the historic Maroon communities of these Americas; from the rebellions of the American Revolution and Native Americans against colonialism to the dual power of Reconstruction; from the copwatchs of the Black Panther movement to the CIO labor strikes and organizing drives. We see that people have always been trying to extend their freedom in the face of those who would try and reduce them from equals to appendages of profit and property; from those who would govern themselves in fraternity to those who would be governed. Even when hurricanes and tornadoes hit and rivers overflow, or political disasters of terror in Oklahoma and New York strike, whether state sponsored or by authoritarians from below, we see that everyday people can manage their economy and provide for each others welfare and security.
The whole world lives today in the shadow of state power. This state power is an ever-present and self-perpetuating body over and above society. It transforms people into subservient units. It robs everyone of initiative and clogs free development of society. This state power, whether it is a One-Party State, Welfare State, or Multi-Party State destroys all pretense of democracy, of the people, by the people. The state is a permanent bureaucratic structure that monopolizes the means of coercion in the hands of the few. It tells us two major lies. The state is “the people” or “nation” and the state is benevolent and for our welfare. In reality, it prevents everyday people from having control over the circumstances that impact their lives by taking away the power to make decisions through the threat of violence or convincing us they, the experts of official society, know better. This is the basis for the false claims of representative democracy.
Representative democracy, whether liberal or social democratic, is a historically failed system. It has brought about relative gains for ordinary people but at a price–helping to consolidate the power of ruling political and economic elites. From claiming to defend the sick and elderly, rights for women and gays, wages for workers and opportunity for ethnic minorities, elite representative government derives its prestige and luster. However, not only are its policies and laws in the name of welfare and security constantly formulated inadequately and under attack. They are the product of compromise, co-optation and the elimination by state sponsored bloodshed of tireless heroic battles arising from below for self-government, not the state and ruling classes’ benevolence. Such policies and laws, generally called the Welfare State, are not the product of liberals and progressives’ superior vision of democracy. Rather they wish to justify their cowardly aspirations to take their turn as the ruling class, the radical bodyguard of capital and state authority.
“Progress” is not a mere myth or illusion for relative human advances are the product of our own creation. However, all ideas such as progress, the loyal opposition, human rights and development, civil society and civil liberties, as well as lobbying and electoralism create the illusion that participation in politics is a gift granted by the state from above. Everyday people, we are told, can enhance the democratic accountability of our rulers by having
permission to write a letter, march and speak at a rally, express ourselves culturally and artistically, or provide a charitable service. They say we can never truly be collectively sovereign over economic planning and decisions on war and foreign policy. These shallow ideas, which are the foundations of representative democracy, breeds nothing but corruption, weakness, and defeat as it focuses people’s energy away from collective power in our communities, workplaces, and schools on to individual attempts to enter the rules of hierarchy.
We recognize and embrace the continuing power and possibilities of a truly direct democratic revolution. We support the efforts of sincere folks who seek reforms, which are not just illusions, through direct action and direct democratic initiatives. However, we recognize not all direct action and direct democratic forms are anti-authoritarian. Direct democracy is not a remedy, it is merely an operating room. In our permanent rebellion we must not always use a sledgehammer but at times a scalpel. For instance, this is true when we consider how human nature operates in popular councils and committees.
Human nature is complicated, marked by both a great desire to be self-governing and a satisfaction with subordination. We cannot “make a revolution.” Such aspirations by radical intellectuals are nonsense. We seek to play a patient role in education and organization not just for community based grievances but community based sovereignty, help to keep the faith in our historical potential, and maintain a vigilant hostility to all attempts to compromise our freedom away.
We support the efforts of people to make society more free through their own initiatives. However, we recognize not all initiatives are anti-authoritarian, against capitalism, patriarchy, or white supremacy. We see the seizure of state power by authoritarians who imagine themselves to be our progressive ruling class, whether through electoralism or armed conflict, as not the final victory of popular struggle but quite possibly its final defeat.
Politics is an art not a science. We seek to have integrity and remain vigilant, defending direct democracy not merely as a process for decision-making, but a rich ideal that is essential to the quality and value of a politics and culture of liberation for all working classes and oppressed nationalities.
People are rebelling everyday, in factories, fields, mines, offices, schools and households in ways of their own invention. Sometimes their struggles are on a small personal scale. More effectively, they are actions of groups, formal and informal, organized around their own visions and places of community. Folks are open to taking ideas and actions seriously if not as well forging insurgent mass movements to renew democracy.
We need not live only half our lives, where institutions and systems seek not to foster, but to contain our free development, impeding our potential as individuals and societies. It is our birthright that we can aspire to be free and equal people in all aspects of life. We can even strive toward individual originality and collective genius. No longer can the bosses, politicians, and the experts try to take that away. It is time to embrace our direct democratic history and reclaim our societies.