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John Passant

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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Is our society really democratic?

Is the right to vote in elections enough to make a society democratic asks Paul D’Amato in Socialist Worker in the US?

FOR SOCIALISTS, democracy exists only in name unless it consists of genuine popular control from below.

The American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 were tremendous steps forward because they replaced autocratic rule with forms of representative democracy.

They were propelled by mass popular action from below, under the slogans of freedom and brotherhood. For the masses of people, these slogans reflected the desire to be rid of all economic and social inequality.

But in each case, wealthy merchants, bankers and industrialists repressed the most democratic elements of the popular movements–in order to consolidate their own class’s power.

Formal democracy–the right to vote–was established. But alongside this right went many restrictions.

In 1851, Karl Marx analyzed the French Constitution, which “guarantees liberty,” save for “exceptions mode by law.”

“For each paragraph of the constitution contains its own antithesis, its own Upper and Lower House, namely, liberty in the general phrase, abrogation of liberty in the marginal note,” Marx wrote.

In Britain, the working class had to organize mass protests in order to win complete universal male suffrage without property restrictions–and women didn’t win the right to vote in the U.S. until the 20th century.

Long after slavery was abolished, millions of Blacks in the South–and many poor whites–were denied the right to vote.

To this day, it’s possible–due to an antiquated electoral system designed to give more political weight to the slave owners–to win the presidency in the U.S. without winning the popular vote.

In fact, workers have had to fight for the extension of democracy at every step of the way against ruling classes fearful that complete universal suffrage might threaten their rule.

But universal suffrage, as it turned out, has not constituted such a grave threat to capitalism. Parliamentary democracy gives, in reality, more votes to those who have more wealth.

To use an old but appropriate cliché–money talks.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IS MY right to free speech equal to that of Rupert Murdoch, who owns a multibillion-dollar media empire? Moreover, a large part of the state apparatus–the military and the state bureaucracy–isn’t subject to elections.

The voting population doesn’t make decisions like whether or not to go to war. Workers have no democratic say-so over the most basic economic decisions that affect their lives.

We can’t fire our boss or vote to change working conditions. Even today, every freedom granted to us is hemmed in by political and economic qualifications. In many states across the country, for example, public workers are denied the right to strike.

That’s why, in spite of our right to vote, we’re forced to engage in demonstrations and strikes that are outside the formal political process.

Parliamentary democracy–in which we choose unaccountable misrepresentatives every two, four or six years–has been fairly successful in providing the illusion of real democracy in a society where a small number of very wealthy people and the bureaucrats who serve them make all the important decisions.

But there are times when even formal democracy becomes too threatening to the powers that be–as the many military coups around the world show. As the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg pointed out at the turn of the l9th century:

In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in content the instruments of the interests of the ruling class.

This manifests itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are sacrificed by the bourgeoisie, and by its state representatives.



Comment from TerjeP
Time April 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm

We could appoint our legislature using sortition instead of elections and it would entail no voting at all and yet be arguably more democratic.

Comment from John
Time April 30, 2012 at 7:26 am

Except it wouldn’t involve conscious participation by people, thinking about the issues and policies, listening to debates, and hearing leaders’. It would depoliticise an already very depoliticised political environment in Australia which I suspect would suit the agenda of the ruling class in Australia.

Comment from Chris Warren
Time April 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

Terje alert ……

With sortition, the average ability and interests of representatives will equal the average ability and level of interest as the whole population.

Capitalists and the capitalist media will then rule society with an iron grip by raising all manner of canards and frenzies.

Comment from TerjeP
Time April 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

John – your point is a quite reasonable one. In my view the way around it is to retain elections for the house of representatives and use sortition to appoint senators. The house of review would be the demos. The house of government would be where mandates are formed. The house of review would be like a grand jury deciding whether or not initiatives of government should be passed or vetoed.

My preferred process for appointing senators would be as follows:-

1. Candidate gathers petition with 20 citizens that asset they are capable of doing the job. This is largely a filter to ensure that candidates are truly motivated and not just frivolously putting there name on the list.

2. Candidate is assigned a number.

3. Every month the full list of current candidates is published in some public forum.

4. Once a month a candidate is appointed to the senate via a public lottery based on the candidate numbers. The electoral commission would use the same basic public lottery process they use today for assigning ballot sequences.

5. Senators would retire after a fixed term.

Comment from TerjeP
Time April 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm


Comment from John
Time April 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm

TerjeP, your response get held up because it perhaps contains some favourite words of spammers who have hit me hard in the past. So it will only appear when I have got back to check the site. Like now.

Comment from John
Time May 1, 2012 at 6:18 am

I think, TerjeP, that this is actually anti-democratic. It is interesting that sortition comes from ancient Greece. The slaves were excluded from the process. This looks like a more sophisticated version in practice where the slaves are included to perhaps reinforce the slave system. The ruling class are comfortable now with the current electoral system that gives the illusion of choice. Sortition doesn’t challenge that but does undermine concepts that I mentioned before of leadership, politics, debate and the like.

Comment from alfred venison
Time May 1, 2012 at 8:03 am

dear comrade
sortition was used in conjunction with direct demoracy – no farm was more than a day’s walk from the agora & all freemen took part in the deliberations & votes. sortition was used to ensure that the rich & well spoken didn’t corner all the positions of state at the expense of the commoners & tongue tied.

the internet gives us the means to have direct democracy again; we lack the will at this time to make it so. and don’t come to me about the cost – people who bellyache about the dollar cost of democracy deserve to be slaves.

in the meantime, i’d like to know why we don’t have parliament on tv in australia like they do in canada & not just a portion of question time, either. the house, senate & every committee that’s sitting should be broadcast every minute its in session. with the nbn there is no excuse not to broadcast our representatives at the all work they do in our name. with time, we the represented should be voting on these deliberations, too. then there might be a place for sotition, perhaps to fill committees with the represented as well as the representatives.
yours sincerely
alfred venison

Comment from TerjeP
Time May 1, 2012 at 11:58 am

Sortition doesn’t challenge that but does undermine concepts that I mentioned before of leadership, politics, debate and the like.

I don’t see debate as some special art form. Anybody can deliberate in a group and politicians have no special ability in this regard. Their skills have more to do with horse trading to advance the cause of sectional interests. It would be refreshing to have senators who vote on each issue on it’s merits rather than on how it fits into some broader party strategy.

What matters in my view is that the senate be representative, that the debate be informed and that the individuals be self motivated. This seems like something that senators selected by sortition from a list of volunteers with nominated by a modest petition process could readily deliver.

I think it is useful to read about a real world example before leaping to conclusions. Here is one:-