Maggy Hoss

A Few Thoughts About An All Too Imperfect Democracy, and What We Can Do About It

Human beings are imperfect, societies are, and democracy is because it is a human endeavour. But today, we live in a democracy that simply is too imperfect.

In Germany, for instance, about 70 per cent of the population have been –  and still are – against the involvement of the country in the wars in Yugoslavía (Kosovo) and in Afghanistan.  The government chose war.
A comparable percentage of the population has for years been against nuclear power plants. In 2010, few month before the Fukushima disaster, the government chose to extend the licenses of a considerable number of aging nuclear power plants.

The people don’t count. The strange thing is that every time there has been a national election, they continued to vote for one of the two major parties – sometimes being more disappointed with the Conservatives and choosing the Social Democrats (a party that has turned neo-liberal and rather conservative, in recent years), sometimes being more disappointed with the Social Democrats and choosing the Conservatives (a party that brandishes the “Christian” “Democratic” label).

Those who didn’t want to pick one of the two, either chose small parties – among them the Greens who usually came in third with 8 to 10 or at most 15 per cent of the popular vote, a right-wing “liberal” party or the Left Party which gets between 6 an 8 per cent in national elections although more in a few Eastern states of the federal union. 

The events in Stuttgart in the summer and fall of 2010 ushered in the first really new development. In a Conservative South Western state, ruled by the Conservatives for more than five decades, the Green Party recently came in first, overtaking both major parties and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats as their junior partner. 

One thing is clear, of course. Should they disappoint the voters, should the big hopes attached to their election victory fade, apathy might again return, bringing back the old situation of  Conservative rule. Or, more likely even, the pattern of alternating Conservative and Social Democratic governments that has been so typical of national elections up to now. It is a pattern that has enshrined the strong influence of corporations on government policies, as both major parties have significant ties to big business. 

It must be mentioned that the Social Democratic leadership in Berlin knows that regaining power on the federal level depends on good cooperation with the Green Party. But that the new coalition in the German South West will fail, is possible nonetheless – given the conflicts between the coalition partners, especially the different view with regard to a major infrastructure project in Stuttgart that is speculative in character and opposed by many Stuttgarters.

The situation is open-ended. The Green election triumph in Stuttgart might herald a new stage in the political development  of Germany – if they rely more on grass-roots support. And if they motivate citizens to make use of their democratic rights, rather than confirming their belief that the game is rigged, that it is all in vain to vote and to participate in the political debate, in referendums and in street action between elections. 

I would say that both sides can make a lot of mistakes. The Green leaders in the South West and elsewhere must set a new example. If they continue to be too “professional,” the kind of “pragmatic” politicians who rather disappoint the grass-roots  than political “partners” and big business, their success will prove to have been more ephemeral than they think it is. 

If the people  don’t feel new hope and are not activated, if they put all their belief in a new government and trust too naively that “they will bring change” (and a change to the better for them), if they don’t increase pressure on the government from below, from the grass-roots level, in a friendly way, in order to encourage this new government to make bigger strides in a good direction, then the Green leaders will ultimately be much too “careful,” too “realistic” to take steps and give impulses that in the long run may bring about the needed democratic and ecological and economic change. 

One thing can also be said for sure. The new way ahead cannot be found by the people, by concerned citizens and political activists who recognize the requirements of the present and the future if there is no fairness towards all those in the political arena today who are capable of understanding the urgency of change and ready to transcend both party loyalties and personal egotism. 

We should not idealize ourselves, we should not idealize the people and we should not demonize politicians. 

Power seduces, money seduces and the people is not above that; it is just not seduced as a mass, as a multitude. It is always individuals who are “given the chance” to rise to positions of prominence, and who can be seduced.

People like Willy Brandt were committed people in their youth. And so were many people in the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party. 
Politics and party discipline and the identified “pragmatic need for compromises” they believe in or are forced to accept, due to their will to attain power or to stay in power (once they have attained it), are the big factors that change people who began as admirable activists embracing the cause of the people. 

But often the change is partial, it can be coincidental. There is the human quality in all of us that can make turn arounds possible. For the worse, but also for the better. 

Let us, the people, encourage those who show a willingness to support participative democracy, economic justice and democratic ecological responsibility. And this regardless of whether they are committed Christians inside the Christian Democratic Party, honest Social Democrats, or true ecologists and grass-roots democrats in the Green Party. Let us also be positive to all the adherents of participative and direct democracy in the Left Party, and to people inside this party who advocate economic democracy. Party egotisms have no place in a democracy movement, at a time in history when we, the people, demand our democratic empowerment. Let parties return from their arrogated “leading” role  to a democratic role, as servants of the people and thus as open pluralist platforms of debate: platforms unhindered by intra-party hierarchies, freed from the old lack of intra-party democracy. Let us ask them to make a good beginning by reducing political salaries for the chancellor, for members of cabinet, for prime ministers of the different states, for members of parliament (whether on the national or the state level) to a uniform 3,000 Euros per month, before taxes. (Okay, that amount is debatable. But it should be an amount close to the average income of ordinary citizens.) And let us ask them to make a clean slate by expelling all lobbyists of big business from their ranks. We will find out, this way, who is on our side – the side of all citizens who demand a real say in public affairs. And thus the truthful empowerment of society. Of every citizen. 

Yes, we need the honest ones, among the politicians, as well. And those outside the parties, outside parliaments: 
- the intellectuals whose services are not for sale; 
- all those at the grass-roots level who care to be very well informed, who care to be very active; 
- but also the others who struggle to comprehend. Who begin to take an active interest in their own affairs, in the public cause. 
We, the people, need all  –  in our process of learning, in our readiness to get involved

We need them: every one of them, everyone of us –  in the debates that must precede our  decisions. Decisions that we will take:  directly.  We, the people.

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