Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pilger: "what we see happening in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and other countries is an epic attempt at participatory democracy"

A current "Comment is Free" feature at the Guardian has John Pilger, who inspired the word "Pilgerize," answering reader's questions. Almost miraculously, there is no Israel-bashing (one of Pilger's specialties) until the comment thread. Here are three of the questions and answers:
3. What are your thoughts on Hugo Chavez's recent steps towards ending term limits in Venezuela, ie removing the limit to his own term as president? (blether2)

It's too early to assess what Chavez's intentions are. This of course is what Franklin D Roosevelt did during the extraordinary years of the Depression and war.

4. Is democracy possible in a one-party state? (presidentD) Is it possible in a society without an educated electorate? (wkrj)

The question above all surely is: what is democracy? What is fascinating about developments in Latin America is that the old preserve of the western liberal elite of the concept of democracy belonging to them, and them only is being challenged. Rousseau wrote about popular sovereignty; these days we call it participation. In western democracies, especially Britain and the US, there is a crisis of participation. Liberal elites have failed in defending the most fundamental civil liberties. Latin America has long been a source of democratic experiment; and what we see happening in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and other countries is an epic attempt at participatory democracy. The debate in Venezuela, which is an electoral democracy, is the relationship between the state and communities. In other words, the communities representing grassroots democracy can be the opposition to a state assuming unaccountable powers. As for the question about an educated electorate, in my experience education never guarantees democracy; on the contrary it can allow the "training" of a particular class who are beneficiaries of power.

5. What level of democracy do you consider the whole of Latin America to be at? (Scharlach)

Again, what is democracy? The Chartists made clear that democracy really didn't exist unless it had three components: electoral democracy, social democracy and economic democracy. You can substitute the word "justice" in all three of those concepts. I listened to Chavez describing the Chartists' view of democracy and I have to say I have never before heard a leading politician invoke those principles. I believe Latin America has a long way to go before it embraces all three, but a start has been made. It would be good if a similar start, or renewal, was made in Britain!
Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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