Thursday, January 29, 2004

Votes are power....

News reaches us of a revolt in Iran. To be sure, it is a congenial revolt, within the established political elite, but a revolt nonetheless. The BBC (yes, that BBC) reports that provincial governors are calling for the postponement of Parliamentary elections, because the Council of Guardians has basically disqualified all the candidates.

That must have been a desperate last throw of the dice for the theocratic despots. The technique of ruling through sham elections of vetted candidates relies wholly upon at least active acquiescence in the system of the bulk of the population (whether that acquiescence is obtained through outright fear as it is in Syria, or simply resignation and lack of ideological alternatives). It is a well tested technique. The Soviet Union had candidates heavily vetted by the Communist Party, Cuba still has Committees for Defence of the Revolution to screen candidates.

Of course, the political structures of the SU crumbled like a house of cards when the passive support of choosing the pre-selected candidate disappeared. Sham elections may be a tool to allow the illusion of inclusion in the political process (and of preventing an utter ossification of the public administrative process) as well as securing information flows from all parts of the political body; but they offer the threat of being used against the elites that seek to manipulate them.

There are alternative techniques – Louis Bonaparte in Imperial France relied upon the rural networks of regime loyalists to select candidates, as well as out and out gerrymandering and corruption. Modern liberal democracies use institutionalised parties, who gain a monopoly of candidate selection. If we look at Modern Britain, the Parties seek to predominate in an area so that they may control the selection of candidates to ensure they get to pick which monkey in a rosette gets elected.

In reality, we are voting between alternative Councils of Guardians, rather than for the candidates selected. This can be seen when comparing European elections, machine elections where parties pick candidates, with the Yanklander primaries – wild west democracy where the parties compete for the attentions of candidates. Of course, that is largely appearance, the Yanklander elections have their Councils of Guardians in the form of the people who bankroll the candidates in green and hugger-mugger, but the principle observation stands.

We just need to look back again, into history, to see a different sort of politics. Just reading Uncle Charlie for My ‘Illusive Connexion’ post below, revealed an even more wild-west breed of politics – public meetings where motions were put (and debated!), people attempting (though failing) to organise public meetings in support of war (where was that in our day, for all the left-war bloggers, where was there any attempt to galvanise a pro-war party, rather than hide behind the skirts of the certainty of political control of the armed forces doing whatsoe’er it please?). The anti-war bunch weren’t much better, and what debate was on the matter was trivial and circumscribed into channels of following my leader – those same leaders appointed by Councils of Guardians who provided cash and volunteers to run the ‘movement’.

My point? That passivity and acquiescence doesn’t just occur in tyrannies, and that any political system/structure gains by it – you just need to attend my Union branch meetings to see that. While the giant of the mob slumbers, the Lilliputian politicians can play their games, but when it wake, oh when it wakes...

That we can look back to a different politics, means we can look forward to it anew. The secret of history, is that looking back implies a future to look forward to. Why is this relevant, well, it all relates to Hutton, you’ll see....


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