The Crisis In Social Democracy: A Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
(William Blake, 1794)

Social democracy is in crisis. Its officialdom, represented by Socialist International, won't publically state this of course. The leadership of the constituent members will put on a brave face when confronted with the proposition, alternating between flippant rejection or trivial claims of an electoral cycle. But more privately, or at the very best among its small class of theorists and intellectuals, they surely know the problem. All over the world social democratic parties are losing elections, and often dramatically. Even with the support of other, smaller left or environmental parties, there is a strong trajectory towards conservative or neoliberal parties, far greater than what has been seen for decades.

The Broken Kolo and Humanitarian Intervention

The Kolo, a folk dance practised among the Southern Slavs, involves several individuals engaging in synchronised steps whilst holding each other around the waist. Once upon a time, it may have served as an appropriate political metaphor of Yugoslavia for the people who practised it; Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Slovenes. Long forgotten was Tito's desire for Bulgaria to join with Yugoslavia to form a complete federation of the southern slavic people, a position strongly opposed by Stalin - and pivotal in the breakup in relations between the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia. Now, instead, the dead are many, and the degree of distrust between these different but similar nationalities will take more than a generation to repair.

The period of "Brotherhood and Unity", the slogan used by the Yugoslav Communist Party, came to a crashing end when Milošević's sought to centralise power in the federal system at a time when leaders of other republics were seeking more autonomy. On 23 December 1990, Slovenia held a referendum, which passed with 95% votes in favor of independence, with a turnout of 93.2%. On May 19, 1991 an referendum on independence for Croatia was held which received a 93.24% vote from an 80% turnout (many local Serbs - who constituted 12.2% of the total population of Croatia - boycotted the referendum). The prevention of Croatian Stjepan Mesić for taking the role of the rotating presidency in 1991 also proved to be a turning point. Shortly after this, on June 25, Croatia and Slovenia declared independence and the breakup of Yugoslavia began.

After the Dalai Lama: Tibetan Democracy

The Tibetans may be the first people who got something like a democracy before even getting a country, which they may never get. After the Dalai Lama who for 60 years has been a symbol of their national cause, announced that he was going to resign from his post of a political leader of the government in exile, the Tibetans voted for a leader of their own for the first time. Eventually, this is the 42 year old Harward alumnus Lobsang Sangay who got 55% of the vote. The election itself was rather strange... It took place on March 2 and the large-scale organisation of the event included TIbetans living in 30 different countries. Almost 83400 exiles had the right to vote, and over 49000 ballots were cast. In China itself of course no vote took place. So in the end, Sangay won over his rivals Tenzin Tethong who collected 37.4% and Tashi Wangdi with 6.4%.

One of Sangay's nicknames is the Tibetan Obama. He is called like that because he is young, energetic, ambitious and he brings hope for a better future. On the one side, he is the first freely elected leader of the Tibetans and the expectations are naturally excessively big. He will step into office as prime-minister in exile in August. Until now this post used to belong to the Dalai Lama, who in practice used to take all important political decisions - he had the right to pass laws, convene and dismiss parliament, fire and hire ministers and appoint referenda. In principle the prime-minister of Tibet is a position which has been in place since 2001 but until now he did not have any significant jurisdiction because most functions were in the hands of the Dalai Lama. But this will change soon because the spiritual leader wants his political functions to be only symbolic and to focus entirely on his role as a religious figure, which he intends to keep playing to his last day.

The purpose of the resignation of the Dalai Lama is to modernise and democratise the Tibetan political system which is an anachronistic remnant from a theocratic past amidst a predominantly secular modern world.

But this does not mean that he would stop traveling around the world as a spiritual leader. As a Dalai Lama he will continue to advocate the Tibetan interests and he will be the face of the Tibetan struggle for civil rights, although not in the quality of a political figure. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso has stated many times that the Tibetans need a leader who is freely elected by them, someone he could handle his political functions to, someone outside of Chinese control. The Dalai Lama also emphasised the importance of a democratic government which could function autonomously without his instruction. And his concerns have their reasoning, because the Panchen Lama who usually selects the new Dalai Lama incarnate has disappeared several years ago and is probably held by the Chinese, and a new one has taken his place.

Rejection of Imposed Authority Divine or Human

Presentation to the Melbourne Atheist Society, Tuesday May 10th, 2011

As David Miller, co-ordinator of the Atheist Society has pointed out Dr. Joe Toscano, of the Anarchist Media Institute, was supposed to be speaking this evening. It is very unfortunate that the has been unable to attend due to family matters and I am humbled that he nominated me to take his place; although I have had only a short period to prepare for this presentation, I will be using the title nominated by Dr. Toscano, and hopefully it will be in a similar spirit.

I will take this opportunity to mention that Dr. Toscano is one of the great radicals of Melbourne. A medical practitioner and surgeon, he was the chief organiser of the 1986 Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations, has run the Anarchist World radio show on 3CR since 1977 and produced a weekly newsletter, the Anarchist Age Review, since 1991, which is nearing a thousand issues. One of the most prominent recent campaigns he has been involved in is founding and promoting "Defend and Extend Medicare" through decentralised community groups. That attracted not only the criticism of the government's health minister as well as briefing papers on the activists by "a senior intelligence official".

If there are any "senior intelligence officials" in the audience, I hope you enjoy tonight. Please listen carefully and take plenty of notes. You and your masters might learn something.

Imposed authority; it can blunt and obvious, as the truncheon on the skull, or can be subtle, through laws, regulations and very importantly property relations. It can be carried out by legal authority which claim a legitimate monopoly on violence, or it can be carried out by illegal groups. It can be carried out in an organised fashion or randomly. It can be carried out by individuals, groups, or through formal institutions. But ultimately it relies on the use of force against individuals who have not breached their natural, subjective rights or those rights that arise from inter-subjective agreement. That particular classification is noted in order to distinguish against that those who engage in imposed authority against these natural rights of others will find that their rights are temporarily suspended. One who engages in violence against another may discover that, contrary to their will or consent, that others will restrain their actions of harm, and this applies equally to the criminal or the government.

More radically, one include in this is the right to an equal share of natural resources; the distinction between economic land, labour and capital is often overlooked since political economy has become a very specialised rather than general discipline. "Land rights" are natural rights - following Locke, Rousseau, Paine, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and through to contemporary economists such as Galbraith, Friedman, Solow, Samuelson, Vickery - the withholding of natural resource to the exclusion of others without compensation is an act of subtle violence. As this address is being made in a Unitarian church hall, I feel it appropriate to refer to Harriet Martineau's comment: "The old practice of man holding man as property is nearly exploded among civilised nations; and the analogous barbarism of man holding the surface of the globe as property cannot long survive. The idea of this being a barbarism is now fairly formed, admitted and established among some of the best minds of the time; and the result is, as in all such cases, ultimately secure"; to secure land to exclusion of others without compensation to the community is to be a enslaver.

Lessons for the UK; The Canadian Election and Voting Systems

On May 2nd Canada held a Federal election, contested primarily by the governing Conservatives, the opposition Liberals and the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. The election was called because the ruling Conservative Party suffered a motion of no-confidence, subsequent to the electoral commission found that the Conservative Party had contravened the Elections Act five years prior. The Conservatives promised to re-introduce warrant-less Internet surveillance legislation along with a bundle of crime-related bills emphasising punishment, in contrast with preventative measures suggested by the opposition. The Conservatives promised to purchase no less than 65 F-35 attack jet fighters, whereas the NDP preferred a more defensive naval orientation. The Conservatives claimed that they were economically responsible, successfully steering the country through the financial crisis. The Liberals countered this, claiming that they had left the country with a $13 billion surplus which was now in deficit. The Conservatives wanted to cut company tax down to 15%; the NDP wanted to increase it by 1.5% and double the pension plan.

During the election the Conservatives expressed fears that there would be a left-wing coalition between the Liberals, the NDP, Le Bloc and the Greens. Prior to the poll, there was an enormous swing to the New Democratic Party, but most of this came from the Liberals and Le Bloc. This was replicated on polling day; the Conservatives, with a mere 39.62% (+1.96%) of the vote, have achieved a majority government with 167 seats (+24). The progressive vote was split between the New Democratic Party (30.63%, +12.44%, 102 seats, +66 seats), the Liberals (18.91%, -7.36%, 34 seats, -43), Bloc Quebecois (6.04%. -3.94%, 4 seats, -43) and the Greens (3.91%, -2.87%, 1 seat, +1).

This is the second election is succession won by the Conservatives with the range of left-leaning opposition parties achieving around 60% of the vote each time. This is absolutely maddening for the majority of Canadians who, once again, have to put up with a government that the majority does not support and will implement policies that they are opposed to. The reason for this alienating outcome is quite simple; Canada, like the United Kingdom, uses a first-past-the-post electoral system, which ultimately means for each seat (or "riding") that victory is given not to the majority, but to the biggest minority regardless of preferences or proportionality, a fact quickly pointed out by Fair Vote Canada.

Of course, many Canadians have some understanding of this. Not surprisingly, the NDP has strongly argued for mixed-member proportional representation. The Conservatives are certainly aware of the popular desire for electoral reform, but will not support any method that creates large ridings (which basically means opposing MMP) whereas the Liberal Party has consistently taken no position. When taken to referendum however, a single-transferable vote proposal received majority support but failed to reach the required 60% support in British Columbia in 2005, and MMP options failed to receive even a majority in Prince Edward Island, also in 2005, and Ontorio in 2007. Notably in the latter case those most of those who were aware of the issue were going to support the case for change, but over half the population were not.

How beautiful is freedom

كيف جميلة هي الحرية

Since December 2010 there has been revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, a pending change of government in Yemen, a civil war in Libya, and an insurgency in Syria, along with significant protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. Yet there is a disturbing distrust among some towards what has become known as The Arab Spring (although it is not limited to Arabs), a mistrust that can only be characterised as a racism towards Arabs and a bigotry towards Muslims. With the benefits of liberal democracy, some are questioning the motives of the revolutionary protesters suggesting that they will institute governments as despotic as those that currently exist, or that they will seek to establish theocratic dictatorships.

On one level such attitudes are the result of an apparent inability to consider life from the perspective of a person living in such countries. For decades these countries have been ruled by absolute monarchs, dictatorships, or regimes with only a pretence of democracy, all of which have engaged in gross violations of basic human rights. At the same time there has been economic development in the Arab world; living standards have improved (especially in those countries with exploitable natural resources), as has education levels. Yet the people remain poor, with the price of staple food increasing along with a long-standing high Gini coefficient in the region. Technology and demographics have played their role as well, the region having a relatively high youth population and with increased knowledge of government corruption and nepotism identified through avenues such as the Wikileaks diplomatic cables.

It is extraordinary to think that anything else could have happened; a young population, educated in the ways of the contemporary world, aware of the wealth of their countries, aware of the lack of democracy and civil rights, aware of the degree of corruption and painfully aware of the level of economic insecurity. When one considers the arab as being a normal flesh-and-blood human being, with the same existential desires as any other member of the species, why is it all surprising to witness these revolts? Is it surprising to see the importance of Internet technologies in these uprisings? If these basic human conditions are insufficient surely then the empirical evidence should serve; rather than taking the path of repression, successful revolts have achieved not insignificant improvements in civil and democratic rights, and none have taken the path of religious fundamentalism.

The Land of Ire

The Irish General Elections have witnessed a remarkable 15% swing to left-wing parties (9.3%, +16 to 36 seats for Labour, 3.0%, +9 setas to 13 for Sinn Fein, 2.6%, +5 seats to the United Left Alliance) but a complete wipe-out of the Greens (down 2.9%, loss of all six seats). The opposition centre-right/traditionalist party, Fine Gael also gained 19 seats and a swing of 8.8%. The previously governing conservative-populist Fianna Fail lost a remarkable 24.2% of the vote, more than 50% of its vote, and 59 seats, the worst result in the party's eighty-five year history. In all probability there will be a new governing coalition between Fine Gael and Labour in the 166 seat lower house (Dáil Éireann).

The election results are being widely interpreted as punishment of the Fianna Fail party (and the Greens, who were in coalition) for economic mismanagement. Ireland's two largest banks (Allied Irish Bank) and the Bank of Ireland were each bailed out for €3.5 billion. The smaller Anglo Irish bank was nationalised when the government determined that a bailout would not save the bank after it had conducted circular hidden loans. The EBS Building Society was also nationalised. These bailouts contributed to the Irish debt levels and the worst recession on record, requiring a EU bailout of some a €85 billion. Needless to say, the cost of such speculation and economic collapse is borne once again by ordinary people who have responded in anger at the ballot box.

The following quote directly from Wikipedia explains the cause of the problems:

Morgan Kelly, a professor of economics at University College Dublin, was particularly concerned about the real estate bubble which was reaching its climax in the summer of 2006. He noted that a fifth of Irish workers were in the construction industry and that the average price of a home in Dublin had increased 500% from 1994 to 2006. He published a news article in the Irish Times, asserting that Irish real estate prices could possibly fall 40 - 50%. His second article was rejected by the Irish Independent and lingered unpublished at The Sunday Business Post until the Irish Times agreed to run it in September 2007. Kelly predicted the collapse of Irish banks, which had fueled the rapid rise of real estate by increasingly lowering their lending standards and relying on foreign cash infusions.

Libyan Action: Write to Your Libyan Ambassador and Encourage Them To Resign


Libya was ruled by the Ottomans for three hundred and fifty years, then ruled by the Italians for fifty. At least a 1/3 of the local population were killed in resisting Italian rule and colonists reached up to 20% of the population. In 1951 independence was achieved, under the rule of a King Idris and a progressive constitution. However Libya underwent a military coup in 1969 and has been under control of Muammar al-Gaddafi since. Political parties were banned in 1972. Trade unions do not exist (although professional associations are integrated within the governmental system). There is no right to strike. After the coup, oil reserves (currently making up 58% of the GDP in revenue) were nationalised and collectivised.

Following the examples of Tunisia and Egypt, the people of Libya have risen to overthrow this ailing dictatorship. The response has been swift and brutal, with over 500 estimated deaths. On 18 February demonstrators took control over most of Benghazi, the second largest city of Libya, with some military and police units defecting, with subsequent protests in the capital Tripoli and Al Bayda. A number of Libyan diplomats have resigned in protest and others claim that they no longer supporting the Gaddafi regime. Saif El Islam, Gaddafi's second son, has threatened the protestors warning: "We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet. We will not lose Libya. We will not let Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and BBC trick us."

Radical Peace: An Interview With Prof. William T. Hathaway

Peace flag

William T. Hathaway is a US Special Forces combat veteran turned peace activist. He has just published his fourth book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War, which presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in North America, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany.

RADICAL PEACE has aroused controversy in the USA because of its positive portrayal of illegal resistance to war: helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military vehicles, and sabotaging defense contractors. Conservative critic Joanne Eddington described it as, "Loathesome ... further evidence that the hatred of America is reaching hysterical dimensions." On the other side of the political spectrum, Noam Chomsky described it as, "A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message."

Hathaway wrote the following introduction for ISOCRACY about the book, and afterwards we interviewed him.

More Than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now... Edited by Mark Davis and Miriam Lyons

The Centre for Policy Development, an Australian based progressive policy think-tank, has produced its first hard copy book ‘More Than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now’. It’ also available for free pdf download at their website ( ). The book is a collaboration by policy analysts and public figures from a diverse range of backgrounds with the unifying thread of promoting progressive, practical and solution-focused policy to Australia’s social, sustainability and economic problems. The book goes beyond the usual criticisms of current policy blunders and political incompetence to actually provide constructive criticism and viable solutions to the often complex dilemmas our country is facing and will face in the coming years.

The book challenges our current government to adopt strategies which go beyond the mere ambition of re-election, and to actually implement policy which affects real change and is progressive enough to break free from the current political climate of pandering to big business while not wanting to upset voters from the middle-class mindset. It challenges Gillard to actually make Labor stand for something, which for those of you who have watched Labor’s performance over the past few years will welcome with open arms. The book doesn’t just target the government, but also emphasizes the role the Australian public has to play in progressing change- “When we stop paying attention to politics we make it easier for politicians to stop paying attention to us”.

The content of the book itself is very easily digestible. Chapters are brief and focus on specific policy areas such as education, human rights, the economy, sustainability, Indigenous issues and strategies for strengthening democracy in Australia. Highlights include a courageously innovate new system for Medicare, addressing social apartheid in our schooling system, and an analysis of the implications for Australia not having a Federal Charter of Human Rights. Also of note is a sobering expose of the current policy toward asylum seekers and the media fed frenzy surrounding ‘boat people’.

Overall this book is a breath of fresh air in what has been a particularly stale period in governmental policy. The main challenge will be for the ideas put forth in the book to be widely disseminated enough to have an impact. Having great ideas is the first step, but getting politicians to adopt these policies and think beyond the framework of the 3 year election term will require some considerable effort...


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