Answer to “Democracy and its possible downsides”

Author: Alberto Miranda Bedate

Recently, Ricardo Castanha posted an article which deliberates about the possible problems of Democracy inside a political movement like DiEM25. Alberto Miranda Bedate responds to this article by saying: ‘ours should be a work completely based in one single compromise called ‘Democracy’, in my view, the worthiest value of DiEM25. Consequently, questioning an excess of Democracy inside of our movement is contradictory’

Recently, Ricardo Castanha posted an article which deliberates about the possible problems of Democracy inside a political movement like DiEM25. Here I literally enumerate the doubts that he exposed in his work:

  • How can we guarantee that the DiEM25 democratically selected policy does not end up being the same as that of the Pirate Party or that of GeenPeil?
  • How can I know that the political course of DiEM25, democratically selected by its members, represents my own views?
  • To what extent, will the democratically selected policy proposals of DiEM25 stay in line with the intention of its founders?
  • How will DiEM25 balance its commitment for democracy with the pragmatism required to define a financially viable policy?

From my standpoint, I fully agree with the conclusions of the author, provided we consider the frame of a political party. As I understand it, a political group which is focused on reaching or participating in a government should have a certain internal discipline or a “work of compromises”, like the author described. Otherwise, a potential voter could not know exactly what would happen next if that party actually wins the elections, and there would be no way to assess the validity of the candidature in advance. In other words, from a practical and functional perspective, organic structures are needed, including specific representative groups inside them who design policies, transmit them to the rest of the supporters and execute the required actions to implement those policies.

Traditionally, all these processes have been performed with an almost total absence of voters’ counterbalance; and it is that lack of bidirectionality that has led us to face some of the current problems in the socio-political arena. Moreover, institutions have what I would like to call a “contagious effect”:

Being engaged inevitably makes you, sooner or later, resemble them. Institutional activity acts like a medieval fortified castle: it is difficult to get in and, once you are inside, the gloss of power completely blinds the outside, and bad habits are quickly acquired. We can see remarkable examples of this in the socio-democratic parties across Europe (Parti Socialiste in France, PSOE in Spain, PASOK in Greece, SPD in Germany and, recently, PvdA in The Netherlands), which, by the end of the last century, started interiorizing the neoliberal premises and, today, they are practically indistinguishable from their governmental colleagues in the conservative parties. In a way, they have been transformed into “conservative left wing parties”. So at the very end, the lack of transparency and Democracy within these political groups usually leads the way towards something completely different from their initial and, in most of cases, honorable principles. Then, how good is it to have (more) Democracy in politics? The answer for me is clear: crucially necessary.

However, when it comes to a grassroots movement, we should be very cautious in copying what I have described above for political parties. From my personal point of view, the primary aim of a political movement (like DIEM25 among others) is not the development of a political program. Far from that, a grassroots movement should be a space of discussion, a “think tank” if you want, where a lot of people from totally different backgrounds meet to discuss. Ideally, the final result is a group of people able to exercise political pressure, who have reached a democratic consensus on what the members collectively, and not I as an individual, want. Thus, every member should have an equal weight in the decision process (one person one vote) after the proper deliberation. Consequently, both the procedural and the deliberative part of democracy are indispensable. People living in a society should decide by themselves what they want in their social contract, leaving behind the harmful misconception of the population as a child in terms of political culture.

So, going back to “Democracy and its possible downsides”, the author was concerned about the possibility that DiEM25, due to an excess of Democracy, can become something undesirable for him. Effectively, as I explained, it can happen. But, unlike what occurs with a traditional political party, we overcome their conservative tendencies with “collective intelligence”, avoiding an “elite intelligence”. And as such, it is a conglomerate of ideas in constant evolution, positive in some cases, adversary in some others, to your partial understanding.

Take an extreme case: whether or not basic income or the cooperative economy finally pop up on the DiEM25 white paper should play, to a certain extent, an irrelevant role helping me decide whether or not I enlist in the movement. Those could turn out to be useless proposals in a couple of years, and they could be withdrawn from the front line of action due to this perpetual analysis of reality. Therefore, using the author’s terminology and within DiEM25 context, ours should be a work completely based in one single compromise called ‘Democracy’, in my view, the worthiest value of DiEM25. Consequently, questioning an excess of Democracy inside of our movement is contradictory because a) it was born from a necessity, and b) the presumptuous concept of “partial” Democracy does not make any sense. If the latter comes to be, it can only mean that somebody has kidnapped our essential right to equally participate in taking decisions.

Finally, I would like to address two more of the author’s concerns. Firstly, if the ideas resulting from the collective discussion and Democracy happen to be quite similar to those from certain political parties, this is an advantage by itself. Far from criticizing them, we should move closer to these parties because, at the very end, overlooking the undesired use of violence, the parliamentary way is the only one to make our purposes real. Lastly, the author is a bit concerned about the divergence of funders political lines because of Democracy. If by means of vertical mandates those ideas are imposed, Democracy would have been challenged in a movement that, again, claims for it and, thus, we should not accept it.

In summary, there is no such thing as an excess of Democracy. There is Democracy or there is none. I find it hard to construct different “shades of grey”. Therefore, if we want Democracy, let’s work for it without hesitations.