‘We Are the Ones Who Will Awaken the Dawn’

Rather than saying the defense of property is the State’s goal, it’s said the State’s goal is to maintain order, which becomes an association of democratic practices with hooliganism and criminality, says Vijay Prashad.

 By Vijay Prashad
Tricontinental: Institute
for Social Research
Millions of people are on the streets, from India to Chile. Democracy is both their promise and it is what has betrayed them. They aspire to the democratic spirit but find that democratic institutions – saturated by money and power – are inadequate. They are on the streets for more democracy, deeper democracy, a different kind of democracy.
Sharply, in each and every region of India, ordinary people unaffiliated to political parties alongside the Indian Left have taken to the streets to demand the withdrawal of a fascistic law that would turn Muslims into non-citizens. This immense wave rises even when the government tries to declare demonstrations illegal, and even as the government shuts down the Internet. Twenty people have been killed by the police forces thus far. None of this stopped the people, who declared loudly that they would not accept the suffocation of the Far Right. This continues to be an unanticipated and overwhelming uprising of the population.

“Democracy is both their promise and it is what has betrayed them. They aspire to the democratic spirit but find that democratic institutions – saturated by money and power – are inadequate. They are on the streets for more democracy, deeper democracy, a different kind of democracy.”

Democracy has been shackled by capitalist power. If sovereignty were merely about numbers, then the workers and the peasants, the urban poor and the youth would be represented by people who put their interests first and would be able to command more of the fruit of their labour. Democracy promises that people would be able to control their destiny. Capitalism, on the other hand, is structured to allow the capitalists – the property owners – to have power over the economy and society. From the standpoint of capitalism, democracy’s full implications cannot be allowed. If democracy gets its way, then the means of producing wealth would be democratized; this would be an outrage against property, which is why democracy is narrowed.
Systems of liberal democracy grow around the State, but these systems cannot be allowed to become too democratic. They are to be held back in check by the repressive apparatus of the State, which claims to constrain democracy in the name of ‘law and order’ or security. Security or ‘law and order’ become the barriers to full democracy. Rather than say that the defense of property is the goal of the State, it is said that the State’s goal is to maintain order, which comes to mean an association of the widest democratic practices with hooliganism and criminality. To demand an end to the private appropriation of social wealth – which is itself theft – is called theft; it is the socialists, not the capitalists, who are defined as criminals not against Property but against Democracy.
Shonali Bose, New Delhi, 19 December, 2019.
By this sleight of hand, through the financing of private media and other institutions, the bourgeoise is able to convincingly show that it is the defender of democracy; and therefore, it comes to define democracy as merely elections and the free press – which can both be purchased as just another commodity – and not the democratization of society and economy. Both social and economic relations are left outside the dynamic of democracy. Trade unions – the instrument for the democratization of economic relations – are disparaged openly and their rights curtailed; social and political movements are defanged, and NGOs emerge, with the NGOs often narrowing their agenda to small reform rather than to challenge the property relations.
As a result of the wall between elections and economics, between reducing politics to elections and preventing the democratization of the economy, looms a sense of futility. This is illustrated by the crisis of liberal democracy’s representational framework. Decreased voter turnouts are one symptom, but others include the cynical use of money and the media to divert attention from any substantial discussion about real problems into fantasy problems, from finding common problems to social dilemmas to inventing false problems about society. The use of divisive social issues allows for a diversion from the issues of hunger and hopelessness. This is what the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch called the ‘swindle of fulfillment’. The benefit of social production, Bloch wrote, ‘is reaped by the big capitalist upper stratum, which employs gothic dreams against proletarian realities’. The entertainment industry erodes proletarian culture with the acid of aspirations that cannot be fulfilled under the capitalist system. But these aspirations are enough to push aside any working-class project.
It is in the interest of the bourgeoisie to destroy any working-class and peasant project. This can be done by the use of violence, the law, and by the swindle of fulfillment, namely the creation of aspirations within capitalism that destroy the political platform for a post-capitalist society. Parties of the working-class and peasantry are mocked for their failure to produce a utopia within the boundaries of capitalism; they are mocked for their projects which are said to be unrealistic. The swindle of fulfillment, the gothic dreams, are seen as realistic, whereas the necessity of socialism is portrayed as unrealistic.
Max Beckmann, Hölle der Vögel, 1937-38.
The bourgeois order does, however, have a problem. Democracy requires mass support. Why would the masses support parties that have an agenda that does not fulfill the immediate needs of the working-class and the peasantry? It is here that culture and ideology play important roles. ‘Swindle of fulfillment’ is another way of thinking about hegemony – the arc of how the social consciousness of the working class and the peasantry is shaped not only by their own experiences, which allow them to recognize the swindle, but also by the ruling class ideology that whips into their consciousness through the media, through educational institutions, and through religious formations.
The swindle is magnified when the basic structures of social welfare – pushed by the people onto the agenda of governments – are cut to bits. To ameliorate the harshness of social inequality that results from the private appropriation of social wealth by the bourgeoisie, the State is forced by the people to create social welfare programs – public health and public schools, as well as targeted schemes for the indigent and the working poor. If these are not available people will begin to die – in larger numbers – on the streets, which would call into question the swindle of fulfillment. But, as a consequence of the long-term crisis of profitability, these schemes have been cut over the past several decades. The outcome of this crisis of liberal democracy due to the neoliberal policy of austerity is high economic insecurity and growing anger at the system. A crisis of profitability becomes a crisis of political legitimacy.
Reginald Marsh, Bread Line – No One Has Starved, 1932.
Democracy is a game of numbers. Oligarchies are forced by the establishment of democratic systems to respect the fact that the masses must participate in political life. The masses must be political, but – from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie – they must not be permitted to control the political dynamic; they must be political and de-politicized at the same time. They must be agitated sufficiently, but not agitated so much so that they challenge the membrane that protects the economy and society from democracy. Once that membrane is breached, the fragility of capitalist legitimacy ends. Democracy cannot be allowed into the arena of the economy and of society; it must remain at the level of politics, where it must be restricted to electoral processes.
Regimes of austerity hurt the lives of the masses. They cannot be deluded into the belief that they are not suffering from cuts and from joblessness. Austerity washes away the fog of delusion; the swindle of fulfillment is no longer as compelling as it was before the cuts sliced away at basic necessities. The bourgeoisie prefers that the people are consolidated into ‘masses’ and not ‘classes’, into indistinct groups of a variety of conflicting interests that can be shaped according to the framework produced by the bourgeoisie rather than by their own class positions and interests. Whereas neoliberals see their political project exhausted as their own dreams of fulfillment around terms such as ‘entrepreneurship’ become nightmares of unemployment and bankruptcy, the Far Right emerges as the champion of the moment. 

“A crisis of profitability becomes a crisis of political legitimacy.”

The Far Right is uninterested in the complexities of the moment. It does address the main social problems – unemployment and insecurity – but it does not look at the context of these problems or look closely at the actual contradictions that have to be engaged so that the people can overcome them. The actual contradiction is between social labour and private accumulation; the unemployment crisis cannot be solved unless this contradiction is resolved on behalf of social labour. Since that is unspeakable for the bourgeoisie, it no longer seeks to resolve the contradiction but settles for a ‘bait and switch’ strategy – it is acceptable to talk of unemployment, for instance, but there is no need to blame private capital for that; instead, blame migrants, or other scapegoats.
To accomplish this ‘bait and switch’, the Far Right has to go against another seam of thought in classical liberalism: the protection of minorities. Democratic constitutions have all been aware of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, setting barriers to majoritarianism through laws and regulations that protect minority rights and cultures. These laws and regulations have been essential for the widening of democracy in society. But the Far Right’s democracy is premised not on these protections but on their destruction. It seeks to inflame the majority against the minority in order to bring the masses onto its side, but not to allow the classes within them to develop their own politics. The Far Right has no fealty to the traditions and regulations of liberal democracy. It will use the institutions as long as they are useful, poisoning the culture of liberalism which had serious limitations, but which at least provided space for political contestation. That space is now narrowing as a very violent defense of the Far Right is increasingly becoming legitimized.

V. Arun Kumar (People’s Dispatch), Rapid Action Force, Delhi, 19 December 2019.
Minorities are disenfranchised in the name of democracy; violence is let loose in the name of the feelings of the majority. Citizenship is narrowed around the definitions of the majority; people are told to accept the culture of the majority. This is what the BJP government has done in India with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019. It is what the people reject.
By the swindle of majoritarianism, the Far Right can appear to be democratic when it operates to protect the membrane between politics (merely in the electoral sense) and society, as well as the economy. The protection of this membrane is essential, the abolishment of any potential expansion of democracy into society and the economy forbidden. The fiction of democracy is maintained as the promise of democracy is set aside.
It is this promise that provokes the people onto the streets in India, Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, and elsewhere.

Vijay Prashad, an Indian historian, journalist and commentator, is the executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the chief editor of Left Word Books.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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7 comments for “‘We Are the Ones Who Will Awaken the Dawn’

  1. Dale Rose
    December 28, 2019 at 11:19

    I hear in this article Mr. Pollock’s voice, stripping me of any illusions. He was my 10th grade social studies teacher, and it was the most profound and lifechanging class I ever took.

    Tenth grade is a good time to learn this stuff; one is still resilient enough to recover rather than become embittered, to act rather than suffer silently and alone.

    Fifty years have passed since that classroom and now I am afraid I am becoming embittered. Fifty years of action attempted, successes overturned, failures magnified.

    I hope that comments on this article will restore some measure of hope to my spirit.

  2. michael
    December 27, 2019 at 10:47

    Neoliberalism is the system where capital can move freely across all borders while labor cannot mix and reach a common level. Adam Smith defined capital, in part, as the labor it was worth. When you have cheap labor markets where money can move, instantaneously gaining huge value in the cheap labor market, then return by way of valuable goods and huge profits relative to the same goods produced in a fair labor market, the system is broken. The simple solution is to not allow the goods to return; profits can still be made if the product is valuable to the cheap labor market that produces it. Taxes, rather than tariffs, on the goods or the profits thereof is another straightforward solution. In the US both Republicans and Democrats have been exploiting this broken Neoliberal system on the behalf of political donors to the detriment of the fair labor market and inevitably the economy.
    I have read Prashad’s jibberish twice. The problem has nothing to do with “right wing”, which is a non-specific reaction to the forced austerity of neoliberalism. The problem is the exploited loophole that needs closing, regardless of which ideological group closes it.

  3. AnneR
    December 27, 2019 at 07:08

    Thank you Mr Prashad for this summation of our so-called “democratic” reality.

    Clearly, what you have written about India could as easily apply to the facts of “democracy” as they exist in, and have existed throughout the history of, the USA (and the UK and almost certainly throughout the world wherever the national claim is that it is a “democracy”).

    Regarding the USA – the so-called FFs made abundantly apparent, via the written words of Madison, that the “bewildered herd,” i.e. us, the vox populi, the working classes, the poor, were most definitely *not* to have any *real* say, any true power, in how American society was to be structured, ruled, governed. After all, Madison mused, were the clodpoles to be able to wield total democratic power which, given their greater number by comparison with the bourgeois-elites, the property of those elites would be endangered, taken from their “rightful” owners. Divvied up more equally among the whole population; capitalism would be damaged if not destroyed. And *that* cannot be allowed to happen.

    So construct a fake democracy, one that gives the appearance of a true expression of the “people’s governance” by representation (thereby preventing a potential uprising against those very ruling elites), but really ensures the continued rule by the financially, property-owning, political elites.

    And it has worked, withstanding several potential breakage points, remarkably well. An electoral circus every two and four years and those representatives (including the Prez) go to DC and from then on do what the plutocrats, the Lobbying groups (who represent, one way or another, only those with obscene levels of financial clout) demand. As an additional safeguard, ensure that many of those “representing” the vox populi are themselves numbered in the top 10% of the wealthy; and (as at present) a number of them are from the world of the MIC and intelligence agencies.

    Also ensure that, aside from a handful of issues, like the “diversity” one (which is used to much effect by the “Dems” as a tool to divide and conquer), the “two” parties are in fact as one on *all* issues that really, truly affect the working classes and poor: social welfare, housing, medical care, wage levels, employment.

    Austerity on behalf of the plutocrats, the corporate-capitalist-imperialist real rulers. Keep the bewildered herd bewildered via social media, Hollywood, exhaustion, despair, homelessness or its nightmare possibility, indebtedness and the pretend democratic circuses and make certain that they likely won’t or can’t vote anyway.

  4. Kuldip Singh
    December 27, 2019 at 04:33

    The elites are unable to see the trend. We are moving from the Age of Falsehood to the Age of Righteousness.
    These millions out on the streets protesting, are the ‘meek who shall inherit the Earth. ‘

  5. Vivek Jain
    December 27, 2019 at 03:59

    As someone who grew up in a Jain household here in the USA, I support the protests against the CAA. We all must unite against the “strongmen” Trump and Modi, whose anti-worker, anti-Indigenous, anti-working class policies are antithetical to freedom, democracy and justice. Thank you, Vijay. Solidarity!

  6. Babyl-on
    December 26, 2019 at 22:22

    There is a problem with the Western left, no matter what the problem or circumstances the answer is some kind of democracy which will never exist. Problem of war, starvation mor democracy will fix it, just one more election, hope and change over and over without results.

    A few things about the great French Revolution we didn’t learn in school. The revolutionaries were financed by the same bankers who financed the royals. The bankers and elites profited from both sides throughout and never had a loosing year. Additionally the great revolutionaries clearly had no concerns for the citizens of their imperial holdings, nor with the idea of empire. The great French Republic was from day one a brutal empire slaughtering people across Africa. The French Democratic Empire and the people loved it and voted for empire time after time.

    Western liberal democracy has slaughtered over 100 million innocent people in the last 75 years and the people voted for it every two years over and over and they will again next year democrats vote for slaughter and empire. That is the record of every single European, Scandinavian or North American “democracy” empires all before and after the “revolutions”

    Democracy is the springboard to slaughter.

  7. December 26, 2019 at 18:33

    I grew up thinking the people like Madison and Hamilton and all the rest were pretty smart people. Creating a constitution that could be amended and a bill of rights seemed a very sound framework for governance. And over time the constitution has been amended for the better and you have to wonder if the problems we are facing with powerful interests hijacking the process were ever any different. What is different, perhaps is the honing of the skills of those powerful interests to hijack the idea of a democratic republic and the capture of the means by which we get our information. Yes, Hearst could create a war, but I think what we sense all around us is far more menacing. George Orwell saw it happening but the way it has happened is more devious and less obvious.

    But all in all, I think it is wise to go back to what the founders had in mind and find a way that it can operate in the national interest and the interests of each and everyone of us. Maybe a national conversation about the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes might be a start, I don’t know. A mass of people of goodwill working together could do wonders.

Comments are closed.