What, by the way, is Inclusive Democracy?
Inclusive Democracy perceives the world to be in a multidimensional crisis, caused by the concentration of power in the hands of various elites, as a result of the establishment of the system of market/growth economy, representative democracy and the related forms of hierarchical structures.
Civil society and “radical democracy”
The collapse of state socialism, in its forms of ‘actually existing socialism’ in the East and social democracy in the West, means that today the liberation discourse has moved from socialism to democracy. However, the usual discussion on democracy involves various versions of what has been called ‘radical democracy’.
The common characteristic of all these approaches to democracy is that they all take for granted the present institutional framework, as defined by the market economy and representative democracy, and suggest various combinations of the market with forms of social/private ownership of the means of production, as well as the ‘democratization’ of the state in the sense of the enhancement of autonomous-from-the-state social institutions and civil movements.
In our problematique, the ‘civil societarian’ approach, from which the conceptions of radical democracy emanate, is both ahistorical and utopian in the negative sense of the word. It is a-historical because it ignores the structural changes, which have led to the internationalised market economy and the consequent impotence of the civil societarian institutions (unions, local economies, civil associations etc). It is utopian because, within the present institutional framework of the market economy and representative democracy, which civil societarians take for granted, the enhancement of autonomous institutions is only possible to the extent that it does not contravene the logic and dynamic of the internationalised market economy and state power.
The “new” social movements
At the same time, it is now obvious that the “new social movements” have failed to fulfill their potential of offering a truly radical alternative to the status quo. Thus, the mainstream element of the feminist and multicultural movements has abandoned the original demands of those movements for a fundamental change in the social, economic, and political structures and now only seeks a more equitable piece of the pie. As they welcome their token integration into the corridors of power within modern advanced capitalist society, they no longer challenge institutional domination per se, or the hierarchical structures which express the concentration of social, economic, and political power in today’s society.
This journal’s problematique is therefore differentiated from both the civil societarian “Left” and the mainstream Green movement, since neither poses the question of basic social change, but both, instead, take the existing system for granted, dreaming of radical decentralisation of power in the former case, or in the latter, seeking technological solutions to the ecological crisis. That is why this journal differs radically from the usual “Left” and ecological journals which concentrate on the symptoms of the multidimensional crisis rather than on its systemic causes.
The green movement, in particular, despite the growing ecological crisis, has lost almost all of its radical potential. Part of it, especially in Europe, has been integrated into the existing social system and is engaged in expressing in the corridors of power the disquiet of the middle classes about the deteriorating quality of life. Another part, especially in the USA, has adopted either “idealist” or irrational and frequently mystical approaches to the ecological problem, which are both compatible with the reproduction of the existing social system and certainly inconsistent with the project for democracy. Finally, some radical greens prefer a strategy of lifestyle changes, building “communes”, food co-ops etc., instead of a direct challenge in the political and social arena. However, this approach, although helpful in creating an alternative culture among small sections of the population and, at the same time, morale‑boosting for activists who wish to see an immediate change in their lives, does not have any chance of success—in the context of today’s huge corporate concentration of power—in building the democratic majority needed for radical social change.
Concentration of power: the cause of the multidimensional crisis
For us, democracy, which, properly defined, implies the abolition of the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power, is not only the political expression of a project with freedom as its aim, defined as individual and collective autonomy. Democracy is also the only way out of the present multidimensional crisis. This is so, because it is the concentration of power in the hands of various elites that marks the foundation of every aspect of this crisis. This concentration, in turn, can be traced back to the establishment of the SYSTEM of the market economy and the consequent growth economy, two centuries ago.
Thus, it is the concentration of economic power, as a result of commodity relations and the grow‑or‑die dynamic of the market economy , which has led to the present economic crisis. This crisis is expressed, mainly, by the continuous expansion of inequality, the relentlessly growing gap not only between the North and the South, but also between the economic elites and the rest of society within the North and the South. The triumph of the particular over the general interest, expressed by neoliberalism, is inevitably followed by the aggravation of class, gender, ethnic, race, and religious conflicts. Furthermore, with male and national chauvinism rampant, women and minorities continue to be the first victims of the massive unemployment induced by neoliberal capitalism.
It is also the concentration of economic power in the hands of economic elites which fuels the social and cultural crisis, as expressed by the parallel enhancement of the dialectic of violence, both personal and collective, drug abuse, general social irresponsibility, as well as cultural homogeneity. The growth economy has already created a growth society, the main characteristics of which are consumerism, privacy, alienation and the subsequent disintegration of social ties. The growth society, in turn, inexorably leads toward a “non-society”, that is, the substitution of atomised families and individuals for society, a crucial step to the completion of barbarism.
At the same time, the concentration of political power in the hands of professional politicians and various “experts” has transformed politics into statecraft, where, in the context of the present neoliberal consensus, even the old ideological differences between the Left and the Right have disappeared. Elections have become beauty contests between “charismatic” leaders struggling to attract the attention of the electorate in order to implement policies constituting variations of the same theme: maximisation of the freedom of market forces at the expense of both the welfare state, which is steadily undermined, and the state’s objective to secure full employment through the actual creation of jobs, which is irrevocably abandoned. All this has resulted in a crisis of traditional politics, as expressed by the growing reluctance of citizens to participate in it, as members of political parties, voters etc. The current “war against terrorism” launched by the transnational elite as well as various national elites all over the world—a “war” that has plunged humanity towards a new Middle Ages—is both a cause and an effect of the concentration of power at the hands of various elites.
Last, but not least, the ecological crisis, as manifested by the rapid deterioration in the quality of life, is the direct result of the continuing degradation of the environment that the market economy and the consequent growth economy promote. It is no accident that the destruction of the environment during the lifetime of the growth economy, in both its capitalist and state socialist versions, bears no comparison to the cumulative damage that previous societies have inflicted on the environment. The fact that the main form of power within the framework of the growth economy is economic power, and that the concentration of economic power involves the ruling elites in a constant struggle to dominate people and the natural world, could go a long way toward explaining the present ecological crisis. In other words, to understand the ecological crisis we should refer not simply to the prevailing system of values and the resulting technologies (as the environmentalists and the deep ecologists suggest) nor exclusively to the capitalist production relations (as eco‑marxists propose) but to the relations of domination that characterise a hierarchical society based on the system of market economy and the implied idea of dominating the natural world.
In this context, humanity is faced with a crucial choice between two radically different proposed solutions, what we may call the “conventional environmentalist” and the “eco-democratic”. The former, defined here broadly as one seeking the causes of the ecological crisis in the dominant system of values and the technologies used, is pushed energetically by the capitalist system and supported by the mainstream green movement. This solution therefore takes for granted today’s institutional framework of the market economy and power relations and naively presumes that a massive change in values and technology (assumed -by those who are not antitechnological-to be “neutral” with respect to the socio-economic system) is possible, if only we could persuade people of the need for them. Alternatively, the eco-democratic solution seeks the causes of the ecological crisis in a social system that is based on institutionalised domination, not only economic exploitation, of human by human, and the implied idea of trying to dominate the natural world. It is obvious that this solution requires forms of social organisation that are based on the equal distribution of political and economic power.
The Inclusive Democracy project
The ecological dimension of the crisis, as well as all its other dimensions, bring us back to the issue of democracy. This demands not just reviving of the tradition of the Greek polis but transcending it as well. Thus, the public realm has to be extended beyond the traditional political domain to the economic and broader social domains so that the reintegration of society with the economy, polity and Nature can be achieved. In this sense, democracy should be seen as irreconcilable with any form of inequity in the distribution of power, that is, with any concentration of power, political, social or economic. Consequently, democracy is incompatible with commodity and property relations, which inevitably lead to concentration of power. Similarly, it is incompatible with hierarchical structures implying domination, either institutionalised (e.g., domination of women by men), or “objective” (e.g., domination of the South by the North in the framework of the capitalist division of labour), and the implied notion of dominating the natural world. Finally, democracy is fundamentally incompatible with any closed system of beliefs, dogmas, or ideas. So, democracy, for us, has nothing to do with the present dominant liberal conception of democracy, nor with the various conceptions of the ideal society which are grounded on religion, spiritualism, or irrational beliefs and dogmas.
In this framework, the need for a new liberatory project is both imperative and urgent. Inclusive democracy is not seen as a utopia but as probably the only way out of the present crisis. We believe that a serious proposal on the form of a future post-capitalist society can neither be the outcome of the dialectics of History (as dialectical materialism does), or of the dialectics of Nature (as Social Ecology’s dialectical naturalism does) nor the object of some intellectual’s vision and the moral values he draws from social struggles (as for example Parecon does). In other words, we reject both modernist objectivism, with its close historical associations to totalitarian outcomes, as well as post-modernist subjectivism which inevitably leads to various types of ideological soups masquerading as “moral visions” respectively.
In our view, for a liberatory project to be credible today, it must constitute a fully-fledged political project (with its own historical analysis of the emergence of the present society, as well as a transitional strategy towards it), which, integrated into one of the historical traditions of the Left, draws the organisational principles of the future society from a systematic analysis of present society and the trends within it. Therefore, we do not adopt neither any theoretical schemes founded on some closed rationalist systems which assume the existence of ‘objective’ truth in interpreting social phenomena, nor any irrational ideologies (e.g. religion, spiritualism, esoterism, New Age mysticism etc). In other words, we do not base the democratic project on any “objective” or irrational truth but on our own personal and responsible choice between coexisting tendencies and the interpretation that our choice implies. However, this is not an arbitrary choice or just another utopia. Inclusive democracy is not a utopia since not only it is based on today’s reality, which is summed up by an unprecedented crisis of the ‘growth economy’, but it also expresses the discontent of significant social sectors, their (explicit or implicit) contesting of existing society and their manifest trends towards democratic forms of organisation.
If therefore we define the liberatory project in terms of the demand for social and individual autonomy, we do so because we responsibly choose autonomy, as well as its expression in democracy, and we explicitly rule out the possibility of establishing any `objective’ laws, processes or tendencies which, inevitably, or ‘rationally’, lead to the fulfilment of the autonomy project. However, once we have chosen, broadly, the content of the liberatory project, some definite implications follow regarding our interpretation and assessment of social reality. In other words, the very definition of a liberatory project conditions the `way of seeing’ and criticising social reality.
The Inclusive Democracy project that we adopt is derived from a synthesis of two major historical traditions, namely the classical democratic and the socialist, and it encompasses the contemporary movements for emancipation: the radical green and feminist movements, as well as the indigenous and radical Third World movements.
All this amounts to a new conception of confederal inclusive democracy, i.e. a confederation of demoi, namely, communities run on the basis of direct political democracy, as well as economic democracy (beyond the confines of the market economy and statist planning), democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. Politics in this sense is not anymore a technique for holding and exercising power but becomes again the self-management (in a broad sense that includes the political, as well as the economic and broader social domains) of society by its members.