The word “democracy” (from the Greek dēmos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning power) is certainly the most used and abused word in the world of politics—particularly bourgeois politics. It is used to mean whatever capitalist power wants it to mean.
It can mean peace; it can mean war, death, and destruction; it can mean poverty (poor but “democratic” and “free”) or wealth; it is used to describe “world order” or “freedom,” and even regime change.
Our climate destruction is also justified in the name of democracy. Everything that suits capitalism can be justified in the name of their “democracy.” It’s a very flexible and powerful tool in the hands of Power.
For the people who suffer at the hands of neoliberal bourgeois “democracy” it also holds out a false promise of “making it good.” If we hold our breath long enough and prostrate ourselves before our “leaders,” for ever, we will get to the promised land of wealth and happiness: meritocracy.
Everyone loves the word democracy. It sounds good, and nice, and fair. It has that air of justice and a benevolent, mysterious status about it. It can be used to make debates sound sophisticated and a vital part of human life, such as food, water, or air. It’s as if no civilised people can live without it (or be allowed to). And yet we do. Or, at least, 99 per cent of the population do.
And no matter how much we on the left try to convince the mass of people that there is no democracy, they don’t hear it. It appears that a sizable majority cannot reconcile the link between the wealthy and what is passed off as democracy. And if they do, they think they can do nothing to change it. Even worse, a majority think it’s not their business but the business of “leaders.”
So, if the notion of democracy is so engraved in the psyche of the people, could we use it as a working tool to get people’s attention? to allow them to feel safe in their efforts to build towards a new society? Could we use the worddemocracy more in our language, like the term “work-place democracy,” “democratic public housing,” a “free, democratic health service,” and “free, democratic education system”? Use the bourgeois-democratic armour against them, rework the bourgeois meaning of democracy and freedom.
The word freedom is another infamous term. Why can we not co-opt that word too? The democratic freedom to social justice; to a socialist Ireland; the democracy and freedom of capped energy and food prices; the democratic freedom of being able to live life to the full, just as the rich can; the democratic freedom to own the means of production and distribution. Working people need to become aware of the real meaning of democracy and freedom, and that it has a meaning and daily reality for them.
For the left it is not enough to be talking about socialism and communism alone: there is a need to get the people into a working relationship with it through their living in the real world, as they experience it.
It would appear that the present travails of capitalism are going to provide fertile ground for those who will suffer most, to begin to realise that another world is possible. And, more importantly, they have a part to play in that change. We must, first of all, assist in the dilution of the power of fake leadership and eventually create the conditions where the proletariat begin to realise that they are the power for real change.
Would comrades care that with the words democracy and freedom we encouraged the people of Ireland to build and establish a workers’ republic? Any reason why we cannot turn the bourgeois “ammunition of words” against them?
Yes, so that socialists and communists are seen to be for democracy and freedom too!