Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
I have a right to express my anti-capitalist views, said a schoolboy arrested in the anti-WTO, anti-Railtrack fracas at London’s Euston station. Thanks to the audacity of thousands of diverse activists like him, being ‘anti-capitalist’ is back on the mainstream agenda again. Newscasters no longer say it with a sneer. What is needed now is practical thinking about alternatives, starting with a form of democracy that resists being co-opted and corrupted by capitalism.
It was revealing to see the grotesque paramilitary-style effort to keep the World Trade Organisation completely sealed off from public access, symbolising dramatically the extent to which governmental institutions have become separated from the people they are supposed to represent. While on the other hand we have witnessed the persistence of popular support for Ken Livingstone against some of the most determined manoeuvres this government has ever engaged in. This proves that ordinary people are doggedly determined to win back some power for themselves. That these two events coincided served as a vivid reminder that it is no longer enough to ‘think global and act local.’ We need to both think and act at both levels simultaneously.
Social movements are doing that already. The Brazilian landless movement occupies local land, marches on the federal capital and sends a mass delegation to international summits to block further deregulation of trade. The Exodus collective organises locally while also hosting activists from around the world at its Luton farm. But what about governmental and parliamentary institutions – the institutions of representative democracy, as distinct from the participatory democracy of DIY social activists? Do we even want or need such institutions? After Seattle, one is tempted to agree with the anarchists that state institutions have so thoroughly discredited themselves that we can no longer rely on them for anything.
One problem unresolved by anarchism is distribution. We need government institutions of some kind, both globally and nationally, because they are necessary for a massive redistribution of wealth if the majority of the world’s people are to enjoy real autonomy and self-determination. For example, a massive transfer of resources is the only way to unite the legitimate concerns of US trade unionists over child labour and the immediate needs of poor families in India and Africa.
Official OECD aid, for instance, has declined in recent years from 0.7% to 0.3% of GDP; merely raising it to the modest Development Decade target of 1% could provide families in the South with a basic income, in exchange for which they would promise to send their children to school – as has already been done in the Brazilian cities governed by the Workers Party. In the EU, a very significant move towards transnational redistribution was taking place; shamefully, the British government is forcing a compromise. The original European tax plan shows the way to what is needed globally.
But institutions with the power to redistribute on the sort of scale that is necessary will need to be strong; how can they be kept genuinely democratic and accountable? How do we avoid having state institutions that claim to act for the people but exclude us from effective control? This is where participatory democracy is so important. We need co-government, a sharing of decision-making and responsibility between representative and direct democracy.
Experiences across the world show that where radical social movements converge with left parties – or sections of left parties – with a foothold in power, a new effective democratic government is possible. Democratic institutions with a participatory base can have the necessary moral authority to call concentrations of wealth and power to account, and the necessary administrative capacity and political clout to carry out redistributive reforms of real scope and bite. Such sharing of power between parliamentary and direct democracy locally and globally is surely one alternative for ‘anti-capitalists’ to explore.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
How can the heavily-armed Israeli state claim to be victimised by one teenage activist? By Richard Seymour.
Governments are manufacturing a new 'enemy within', write Yasser Louati and Malia Bouattia
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism