Friday 23 February 2024

Democracy Denied.

Political Intervention From Above: From the early-1970s on, lobbying firms and think-tanks have grown like Topsy all across the capitalist world. Had the progressive middle-class not drawn its teeth and clipped its claws, an angry working-class might have risen to meet the Robber Baron’s challenge as it did in the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1970s. Without the kratos of the unruly majority of the demos behind them, however, the paternalist strategies of the progressives were easily countered.

DEMOCRACY WILL ALWAYS BE HATED by the rich and powerful. This is a truth that should never be, but all-too-often is, forgotten. If the kratos (power) really does reside in the demos (people) then it cannot reside in the clubs and boardrooms of the corporate elites. The stronger the people become, the more determined the elites will grow to destroy the institutions through which popular power is expressed. Much has been made recently (not least by the Democracy Project) of the political influence of lobbyists and think-tanks, as if this was somehow a new and disturbing development. It is not. All that the growing power and influence of lobbyists and think-tanks reveals is the growing weakness of our democratic institutions.

Rather than devoting their energies to building up the strength of those institutions – by aggressively re-democratising the Labour Party and the trade union movement, both of which have long-since ceased to evince the slightest democratic energy – more and more leftists are avoiding the implications of their crushing political defeat by jumping down the rabbit hole of Mihingarangi Forbes’ Atlas Network conspiracy theory.

According to Forbes’ narrative, New Zealand’s political life is increasingly falling under the influence of unseen bad actors. These dark forces are unfairly resourced with all the talents and resources needed to shape and steer decisions critical to New Zealand’s future without the public’s knowledge.

If this all sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel, it’s because both Forbes and the author of The Da Vinci Code both deal in fiction. Forbes’ dark forces are, in fact, openly acknowledged and registered pressure groups, like the Taxpayers’ Union, which operate in the broad light of day and are constantly seeking to engage with the public via electronic newsletters, public meetings, and the media. Real conspirators do not behave like this. Prior to flying hijacked planes into the Twin Towers, Al Qaeda did not issue a press release!

What Forbes is attempting to paint as sinister and illegitimate is actually a very real tribute to the power of grass-roots organising. What makes the Taxpayers’ Union so effective is what made Halt All Racist Tours (HART) so effective: a popular cause; generous donors; dedicated leadership; powerful propaganda; and a bloody huge mailing-list. It is ironic that the organising model which the Left now attempts to pass-off as diabolical, is what made the left-wing pressure groups of the past so politically effective.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the New Zealand Right borrowing the tactics of the New Zealand Left is the New Zealand National Party. National’s founders were determined that their fledgling organisation should grow into a mass party – as large, if not larger, than the New Zealand Labour Party. How else could they hope to defeat it?

Just like Labour, National gave itself a branch structure which penetrated deeply into ideologically sympathetic communities. Membership fees were kept within the reach of the ordinary voter, and the members themselves were constitutionally empowered to choose parliamentary candidates and participate in the formation of National Party policy. The “divisional” structure of the party guaranteed a large measure of regional autonomy from the party’s central office.

In short, until Stephen Joyce transformed it into a self-perpetuating oligarchy in 2003, National was a thoroughly democratic organisation. Had it not been, the party would not have been able to dominate New Zealand’s post-war politics so emphatically. At its peak in the mid-1970s, National’s membership topped a quarter-of-a-million.

What Forbes and her fellow conspiracy-theorists fail to grasp about democratic success, is that the exercise of real political power by working-class people (as evidenced by Labour’s dramatic economic and social transformations of the 1930s and 40s) does not just alarm the corporate elites.

When confronted by a confident and increasingly insubordinate working-class, broad swathes of the middle-class grow fearful that their superior social status is about to be eroded. To resist the rise of the working-class, two strategic options present themselves. The first is to effect a middle-class alignment with the ruling elites. The second is for the middle-class, using its credentialled expertise, to overwhelm the organisations of the working-class, turning lions into lambs and effectively giving the bosses two parties to play with.

The New Zealand middle-class has chosen both options. It’s commercial and industrial half backs the corporate elites in National, while its professional and managerial half makes sure Labour remains the neoliberal party it helped it to become in the 1980s and 90s. Middle-class idealists may have migrated to the Alliance and the Greens, but their more “progressive” policies have not yet contributed, in any meaningful way, to the re-empowering of the working-class.

Historically, “progressivism” represented the educated American middle-class’s answer to the brutally democratic working-class solutions developed by immigrant communities living in the United States’ largest cities during the Nineteenth Century. Dubbed “machine politics” by middle-class reformers affronted by its ruthless majoritarianism and unabashed clientism (which the reformers called corruption) progressivism successfully tamed the unruly beast that was American democracy, and made sure that working-class Americans kept their red crayoning safely inside the lines.

But, just because the kratos has been relocated in the hands of the more respectable sort of demos doesn’t mean that the corporate elites were willing to leave the political stage to those who clearly saw themselves as stepping nimbly between the Scylla of an angry working-class, and the Charybdis of Robber Baron Capitalism. Progressivism (a.k.a social-democracy) needs working-class votes if it is to wield political power, so, at least some of its measures must be to the obvious advantage of the whole population.

Not acceptable. As the capitalist elites discovered in the 1970s, even the middle-class version of democracy has a nasty habit of eventually encroaching on those parts of the system which capitalism has ruled off-limits. Give people of colour, or women, or the environment, enforceable rights and the next thing you know the cheeky so-and-sos will be wanting to use them.

What to do? Easy. Raise several well-equipped ideological divisions and throw them into the battle of ideas. From the early-1970s on, lobbying firms and think-tanks have grown like Topsy all across the capitalist world. Had the progressive middle-class not drawn its teeth and clipped its claws, an angry working-class might have risen to meet the Robber Baron’s challenge as it did in the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1970s. But, without the kratos of the unruly majority of the demos behind them, the paternalist strategies of the progressives were easily countered.

When the corporate elites discovered how intensely the working-class hated the educated middle-class that had shut them out of power, they must have known they couldn’t lose.

And, that’s the problem with democracy, isn’t it? It’s indivisible. Deny it to some, and you end up allowing its enemies to deny it to all.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project of Monday, 19 February 2024.


greywarbler said...

Democracy is a dream, an unachievable dream. Because it needs most people well-informed and committed treating it like a growing plant. It needs tending not neglect by so many who think they don't need to think this, learn that, as they employ union officials, members of cabals to do that. The WEA* was going in the right direction, but laziness and lack of fervour and commitment creeps in along with middle class complacency and self-interest.

The old timers in the stories I read around the Industrial Revolution in Brit; the wealthy gathered money and built fine houses which custom demanded must have a library with matched leather covered editions. The master may never read any of them. Women were discouraged from reading novels, and newspapers were regarded as unsuitable for the delicate minds of females. The workers were discouraged from learning to read or write. Now we have television replacing the use of mind and individual thinking and how many men read fiction and expand their minds imaginatively. They are all STEM. mechanics, tech, metals, minds set for the stars - generalising I know but majorly true.

Democracy demands thinking in the round not tunnel vision. You can't be a good democrat and specialise, ignoring other spheres on a 'There be dragons' basis. But of course they don't think like that, they assume because they know a lot about something that they will understand the background, the foreground, top and sides of society. They are WRONG.

But we can't have democracy of the people, for the people that is driven by such heightened narrow self-interest and poor understanding. We get bennie bashing, hate of ordinary people, who are 'bottom-feeders' and the poor inadequate education offered will continue the old prejudices. What we have got therefore is 'de-mockracy'. Open your eyes those interested in seeing beyond the facades and flags attracting our vision away from the little pathetic demonstrators trying to breach, broach the continuing. determined myths. We need to magnetise ourselves; need a change of compass points, not huge uplifts in society but a plan that has deliberations and moral vision in its making, and then actions are checked to see if they follow the determinations of that in the ways considered fair and efficacious.

*Founded in 1903, the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) is a charity and a voluntary sector provider of adult education, undertaking activities around the world. The WEA was extended to New Zealand in October 1914, with a national body formed in 1920.
Canterbury WEA

Workers Educational Association New Zealand where still functioning?
Seven branches are still operating. Branches in Waitakere, Kāpiti Coast, Wellington, Canterbury, Te Anau, Gore and Southland provides flexible learning to over 12,000 students each year.
Workers' Educational Association - Wikipedia › wiki › Workers'_Educational_...

Just an extra on education from our collective government in NZ.
How come the Education Ministry employs 1704 more staff ...
The Post: News from Wellington | Stuff Ltd › business › how-come-educat...
25 Nov 2023 — First up, deputy secretary Aditi Cook says it has employed 360 extra staff to plan and oversee a big rise in investment in school infrastructure.
Buildings; showy solid investment, but not in people who are software - not hard ware!

DS said...

Historically, “progressivism” represented the educated American middle-class’s answer to the brutally democratic working-class solutions developed by immigrant communities living in the United States’ largest cities during the Nineteenth Century. Dubbed “machine politics” by middle-class reformers affronted by its ruthless majoritarianism and unabashed clientism (which the reformers called corruption) progressivism successfully tamed the unruly beast that was American democracy, and made sure that working-class Americans kept their red crayoning safely inside the lines.


There was nothing remotely democratic (brutal or otherwise) about the era of machine politics in the USA. Sure, the leaders of the machines relied upon (immigrant) working class support to maintain their power, but they disenfranchised them in any meaningful sense - it was a case of "we'll get you a job and somewhere to live, now keep quiet and let us rule." Rather than "messy democracy", a better term might have been "paternalistic kleptocracy."

(There's also the point that the great machines never really recovered from the New Deal, which replaced the old local and private system of social service provision with something more centralised. Are you seriously arguing that the New Deal was somehow inimical to working class interests? The same New Deal that involved the Wagner Act, to help the unions?).

Prohibition was indeed a progressive cause that indirectly went after the urban working-class, but (as is the way in the USA) it was more a Catholic versus Non-Catholic thing than anything about class. The dirt-poor Western farmers who so rattled the political cage in 1896 tended to like themselves some Dryness along with their Silver.

Chris Trotter said...

To: DS

Rubbish right back at ya, DS.

If you truly believe that a system that could supply a working man with a job and a house - in return for his political support - was a corrupt failure, then the whole history of the labour movement and its political institutions is a chronicle of corrupt failures.

The advent of the New Deal, which replaced the crude municipal regimes of the "machine politics" era with the calm bureaucratic efficiency of the US federal government was, indisputably, an progressive advance, even if, in essence, it was the same deal. Give us your votes and we will give you social security and union protections.

If you haven't worked out by now, DS, that democracy is transactional, then you haven't been paying attention.

Finally, there was nothing at all "progressive" about Prohibition. It was driven by misguided teetotalers, small town resentment against the big city melting-pots, and the obsessions of racist protestant nativists who regarded alcohol as a dangerous threat to the dominance of Anglo-Saxon "Americanism".

LittleKeith said...

Democracy will always be hated by the rich and powerful? The new left hate it even more!

So if you include Labour's now infamous Maori caucus, and the Labour Party in general and they are included as the rich and powerful, then yes!

I have not seen a political movement so focused on the elimination of democracy than Labour/Maori. The 3 Waters structure of the unelected boards and selection boards and committees was so thick the only logical explanation was to ensure democracy was expunged, accountability made impossible and end users and payers left powerless to ever do anything about it. A non democratic bureaucracy so vast the only other guaranteed logical outcome I could see was embedded corruption.

Labour grafted away in the shadows creating this legislation and batted off a record number of submissions against it without changing a thing. Mahuta must have been kept up at night right up until her sneaky super majority clause in the legislation was exposed to daylight. Now that is dedicated to the anti democracy cause! Democracy that Willie Jackson so detests!

The loathsome Auckland Transport who never read the room and deliver exactly what the vast majority of Aucklanders don't want has its unelected board stacked with left or far left members, according to mayor Wayne Brown, talking to Sean Plunkett. And now knowing that explains AT's incompetence, indifference to the cost of anything and its woke ideology being foisted upon the rest of us. The new left used processes that do not involve being elected to create a fiefdom uncontrolled and unaccountable to the rest of us. It's not what you know, it's who you know and how you play the game behind the scenes. They certainly know how to perfectly orchestrate the council public submissions process to arrive at an answer they were going to implement anyway. It's like submitters of like mind are given plenty of prior warning and even input!

Democracy cleanses but it was legislated out of existence in Auckland. The left have used Rodney Hides bungled legislation that created Auckland Councils non elected Council Controlled Organisations seamlessly against the majority.

Honestly, if the rich and powerful want to look to anywhere for examples of how to subvert democracy, the new left are light years ahead of the game. So look no further!

Tom Hunter said...

Heh. I had an angle on this a couple of years ago after sitting in lockdown re-watching wonderful old doco series like Civilisation, The Ascent of Man and Alistair Cooke's America, and it's that last one that triggered this No Minister post, Honest Graft.

Now unfortunately YouTube would not allow me to upload onto my account the outtake from the episode dealing with immigrants so I could load it into the post (copyright is a funny thing), so you'll have to take my word for it that the following is an accurate transcript:

For that there was a character who haunted the docks and covered the tenements. He’s a type who is not greatly admired by students of political science. But nonetheless he was the lifeline between the castaway and the new society. He was usually, in New York, a Jew or an Irishman, a native American. But his parents had been immigrants, and he knew well what were the primitive needs of people.

I’m talking about the American politician.

In exchange for your vote – and that was always well understood – he would get you a job. He’d get your son out of trouble. He would hound the landlord to repair the toilet or the bathtub. You had a plain daughter? He’d go to work on the marriage broker. In bad times he brought you coal and food. He filled out your tax forms. He knew when the baby was coming, and he got the doctor.

And he did all these things through a chain of command that reached all the way up to the county leader or even to the mayor. And because he did them, he ran the cities, well or badly.

And here's the thing that gets me. They were as corrupt as hell, but that system worked. Can you honestly say that the systems we have today, the supposedly uncorrupted systems of central government, whether in NZ or the US programs of FDR and LBJ actually work as well for the poor and dispossessed as that described by Cooke? Think WINZ.

As I said in my original blog post, yes, they were crooks, as much or perhaps more than the Bidens' and the rest of the current Washington D.C. crowd.

But the difference is captured in Cooke’s description of them; they actually did good for the ordinary voters in the real and direct ways that count in everyday life.

By contrast the current crop do good entirely for themselves and for the wealthy and connected people they deal with via the mechanism of our giant governments. The voters may get the scraps of whatever vast spending bills are passed, but that’s about it; real trickle-down economics, and with almost no personal contact.

Given the choice between a grifter like that and our modern versions, I’d vote for Plunkitt every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Tom Hunter said...

Oh, and you likely have already seen this, but just in case, Unjarndycing the State.

The dogmatic political left invests its faith in the bureaucratic state; the dogmatic right trusts oligopolistic free markets – leaving New Zealand with crumbling infrastructure and corruption

And he kicks off with the story of the latest Kiwi Rail debacle with their ferries.

New view said...

I believe true democracy is a myth simply because even those who are pushed forward to lead on behalf of the people are corrupted by politics itself. There are some who remain genuine but many aren’t. Those who may have watched the American political drama The Designated Survivor, can see that even good leaders are constantly fighting business, opponents and the opposition. The weak are pushed aside, the corrupt manipulate and very few achieve the accolades of the people they represent because it’s too hard. At least that system is better than one deranged leader who literally kills his opponents and who controls the military. I’ll stick with democracy regardless of how corrupt it is.

DS said...

If you truly believe that a system that could supply a working man with a job and a house - in return for his political support - was a corrupt failure, then the whole history of the labour movement and its political institutions is a chronicle of corrupt failures.

There is a substantial difference between a working man supporting a political party on the basis that it will help people like him generally... and a scenario where agents of the political party literally provide a specific working man with a specific job and a specific place of residence in return for his support. The latter is straight-out corrupt - and more to the point, was not democratic. The system was in the hands of the Boss, who used and abused patronage to ensure all parts of the city apparatus were his to control.

(The USA is also a bit odd, in that its parties have never really been class-based. They are coalitions of regions, religions, and ethnicities - even more so in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than today. The notion of a bunch of middle-class do-gooders stamping out pesky working class democracy is simply not true, not least because you were dealing with a society that thought along ethnic lines before class lines. The most class-based election of the period, 1896, terrified the Establishment with the rebellion of dirt-poor farmers, not the unruly urban working-class).

But speaking of do-gooders: Prohibition was an outgrowth of 'Progressive' Temperance - the notion of improving society, to ensure that working class men wouldn't drink their wages away and beat their wives. There was a hefty overlay of anti-Catholicism to the thing in the USA, but it was most certainly possessed of a strong progressive streak, of a variety that we might consider a mash-up of wokery and genuine religion fervour. Plenty of working class Methodists didn't drink, even in countries that never had Prohibition.

John Hurley said...

When Erna Spijkerbosch moved to Queenstown in 1970 she says the big event of the year was the Volunteer Fire Brigade ball, where she’d know everyone by name. That year, New Zealand attracted 167,293 visitors — about one tourist for every 17 of New Zealand’s then-population of 2.85 million. Queenstown wasn’t a tourism resort then, Erna says, just a small community of 1750 people. “I used to drive down to the mall in my van, double park in front of the only Four Square supermarket, go in and get my groceries and have a chat with the lady behind the counter. When I came out there would be no one waiting to get past me.”
In 1987, Erna and her husband Tonnie decided to sell their plumbing business and venture into the fledgling tourism industry. They opened Queenstown Holiday Park Creeksyde on the outskirts of town, on the site of an old plant nursery. By then, Queenstown was beginning to change. The world began to discover Aotearoa. That year, 809,256 international tourists came here, about one for every four New Zealanders — the country had grown to 3.35 million.

Which was why I joined the Greens and soon learned how false they were.
So who made on the deal?
Someone I know formed a syndicate to buy an old building in Queenstown, paid $93,000, and later pocketed $1.3m.

Michael Joseph Savage said: We have visions of a new age, an age where all people will have beauty as well as space and convenience in and about their homes..
Nicola Willis said: "National and Labour are standing together to say Yes to housing in our back yard!".
Jack Jones said "They don't like it up-em (the fuzzie-wuzzies); they can't stand the cold steel!"
Diversity is antithetical to free speech. When the state of Singapore was formed they passed a law that made criticism of another ethnic group illegal (they had to). This is the legacy also of Labour's 1984 "experiment to turn NZ into an Asian country".

I was talking to an 82-year-old yesterday. He is still working (courier driver), trying to get enough money (plus savings) to afford a retirement home. His house is in Woolston and has a monster apartment beside it which blocks his view of the sunrise.
Like me (high density) his house is only worth it's land value (a gift to the developers).

States are usually formed around ethnic groups (a people has to start somewhere). What happened in the Balkans has been the norm throughout history.

However, this process of inclusion along national lines again had a shadow side. It excluded those who were not considered to be members of the multi-ethnic nation: travelling people and Jews until the 1870s and, up to the present day, immigrant workers and their families. The main mechanism that interlocks inclusion within and exclusion against the outside is, some what surprisingly, the establishment of the welfare state: the integration of the working classes into the national political framework, achieved through welfare state incorporation and power sharing, was paralleled by the deterioration of the status of immigrants and foreigners. 

Dominant nationhood represents the most legitimate mode since here citizenry, nation, and sovereignty fully coincide and thus correspond to the modern ideals of statehood. Excluding non national citizens on the basis of legal discrimination is perfectly sanctioned by international and constitutional law and wholly naturalised in the eyes of the world’s population (Who would claim that a citizen of Cuba should become president of the USA or that Albanian nationals should have the same access to state pension funds as Italian citizens?)
Dominant ethnicity and dominant nationhood - Andreas Wimmer

John Hurley said...

How deeply rooted is the relation between the modern nation-state and ethno-national dominance in the three forms that I have described above? And in which direction is it currently evolving, given actual trends of globalisation that put, in the eyes of most observers, a question mark against national sovereignty? A look at the historical origin of this relationship may help to determine its future. As Michael Mann has shown (1993: Chapter 4), the link between democracy and citizenship, on the one hand, and national self-determination, on the other, was greatly reinforced in the course of the Napoleonic wars. The allies of the cause of freedom had turned out to be oppressive conquerors. In much of central Europe and beyond, this constellation produced an enduring marriage between nationalist and democratic principles. 
This marriage was also concluded, one could add, where Napoleon has never appeared, from South America at the beginning of the nineteenth century to India over a century later to Lithuania and Uzbekistan after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In all these different instances, national movements and eventually nation-states grew on imperial soil. The egalitarianism of nationalist thought, replacing earlier hierarchical conceptions of society, bears a family resemblance with democratic ideals of equal participation in politics. Political practice and discourse therefore mingled, claiming freedom from ‘foreign’ dominance with fighting for popular sovereignty, because both were opposed to the principles of imperial rule. 

3 Dominant ethnicity and dominant nationhood - Andreas Wimmer

Or gloabalisation benefits the few (or redistributes the benefits offshore to the high fertility populations) and undermines democracy; it injures the working classes and limits free expression.
They aren't us.
It all comes down to who is dominant in academia and their model of human nature.

David George said...

Democracy, as we know it, is under serious threat in Britain. We have the speaker of Parliament bending/breaking the rules because of viable death threats to MPs, crowds of anti Jewish activists hounding MPs at their homes and Jihadis taking over the streets of London. Hoyle (the Speaker) is even too afraid to say where the threats to politicians came from and the police too afraid to act on what are clearly calls for, and even actual, violence - provided the threat is from one quarter only.

Most of Britain's social and political and leaders are now captured - though woke naivety or outright fear of personal safety or by having to kowtow to the Islamists for votes.
I don't know how far all of this can be pushed but I've got a terrible sense of foreboding; a sense that everything is now under threat in the home of Western democracy.

John Hurley said...

Philip Mathews calls me racist

David George said...

I obviously don't know how things will pan out in the UK; perhaps common sense will prevail. Or maybe the decline and capitulation will continue or maybe there will be major convulsion. Scary stuff either way.

Andrew Neil:
"The UK is drifting, unhappy, losing faith in previously respected institutions (like the police), buffeted by extremists (often allowed to run amok), dismayed by decline, angry at the inability of the political class to do anything about it, despairing that the Westminster politico/media bubble pursues an agenda, issues and priorities (look at the obsession with Lee Anderson) which are not most people’s — and had enough of being lectured to by a disconnected, de haut en bas chattering class. Yet we have a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition incapable of speaking up for the moderate majority, who still have pride in their country and are desperate for strong leadership and guidance through the current morass — plus some hope/sign things will get better — all within the bounds of traditional British tolerance and fair play. This vacuum is dangerous."