Imagine a constitutional democracy with two political parties and a permanent electoral majority in favour of one of those two parties. Since only one of the parties could ever be elected to power can this country can still claim to be a democracy?
In this hypothetical situation the permanent opposition still has a role to play in questioning and challenging the assumptions, ideas and policies of the majority party. If they do this in a coherent way that represents the interests and opinions of the minority, systematic opposition can force the majority party to make ‘better’ decisions and the majority in society to be aware of the ideas and opinions of the minority.
By means of constant and aggressive opposition the majority can be exposed when it has failed in the conception and execution of policy. The population at large can be made to realise when the majority party is incompetent and/or corrupt and encouraged to respond accordingly.
Under this ‘adversarial’ model the claim can be made that democracy is possible even if electoral maths do not support a regular change of government. But this system only works to the extent that the opposition is capable of, and committed to, systematic opposition to the majority. In other words it is only possible if the opposition is sufficiently organisationally and even ideologically, separate and opposed to the majority*.
But that is clearly not what we have got now in developed capitalist societies. What we do have is often understood as a Controlled Opposition model -a term usually associated with Conspiracy Theory. Head down this road and before long you are in the company of the Illuminati and Worldwide Zionism etc.
But conjectures as to the causes of failure of opposition such as these are really simply the expression of not knowing what has changed and how it has changed over the past four decades.
A serious discussion of the possibility of controlled opposition leads to two closely related questions:
To what extent is opposition ‘controlled’? and
How is opposition ‘controlled’?
The key to answering these two questions lies in understanding the dovetailing of the subjective experience of opposition and the objective needs of the system.
The objective needs of the system and the subjective experience of opposition have clearly changed. The way that political parties relate to the public and the way this relationship services the overall polity are clearly not the same as they were in the last century. So the central questions are refined to: What is the nature of the difference between now and then and: What drives it?
The Objective Needs Of The System.
The 1970’s crisis led to the merging of state and capital in the form of Monetarism and the beginnings of Financialisation. The victory of Monetarist/Marxist theory made permanent political control of the economy through control of the money supply the central plank of economics. The Anglo-Saxon world put all its eggs in the state managed capitalism basket.
This approach had an obvious problem though. Since total power over the economy was now vested in the state, if a genuine democratic opposition*(see above) did manage to get control of government it would potentially control everything. It could do incalculable damage to the interests of the elite.
This point is well Illustrated by the saga of Quantitive Easing and the ‘printing of money’ to support post 2008 collapsing financial system. Once the politically motivated mass production of money (as advocated by Monetarism), is accepted as a valid economic strategy it is only a matter of time before some bright spark advocates a ‘Peoples QE’ to benefit ordinary people instead of the banks.
A people’s QE of course, would mean the effective end of the system… it follows that such a movement can never be allowed to come to power. So in as far as a highly centralised system such as state managed capitalism is vulnerable to democratic political takeover a solution has to be found.
The solution to this centralisation problem was the Democratisation of Money and the creation of the Permanent Credit Economy. The Democratisation of Money would take care of the international element of the new system and the Permanent Credit Economy would take care of the national element.
The Democratisation of Money is the creation of an international economic alternative monetary system to the nation state system. It is stateless money. No matter what happens to any, or indeed every, state issued currency, the use of Democratised Money in the form of derivatives and other financial instruments means there is a safe haven for international finance.
At the same time The Permanent Credit economy creates a decentralised planning system; this is planning through bank credits to control national economies. (This model of decentralised planning through banks is subscribed to by economist Michael Hudson)
Now a new decentralised system is nearly in place and successfully stabilised, which means all the eggs are no longer in just one basket. Now there is some room for flexibility. This means that objectively for the first time in four decades some form of opposition is possible.
This describes the objective reality of opposition: The amount of opposition in any society at any given time is the amount of opposition that can be afforded by that society. The presence of internal opposition is an expression of power and stability. When a society is fundamentally threatened, as at time of war, it will allow no internal opposition.
But the restructured system we have now necessarily means that the nature of re-emerging opposition is fundamentally changed. How is opposition changed?
In the transition period after traditional opposition was discarded in the 1970’s and before Democratised Money and the Permanent Credit Economy were bedded down, it was not objectively possible to have any kind of opposition. It was just too dangerous. The economy and society were effectively on a war footing.
Beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, through Clinton and Blair and so on, traditional adversarial opposition has been effectively ended. But it is vitally important that you understand that not just ‘left wing’ opposition was done away with – ALL opposition was done away with.
Under Blair and Clinton, ‘right wing’ opposition was decimated and traumatised just as violently as the ‘left wing’ had been under Thatcher and Reagan. Look back to the rise of Newt Gingrich and the emergence of the Tea Party in the USA, look back to the Conservatives in Britain under Hague and Howard, and you will realise that ‘right wing’ parties on both sides of the Atlantic basically had an extended nervous breakdown.
Traditional adversarial opposition of the kind I describe at the beginning of this piece requires a legal framework, an open media and society. But after the 1970’s the media became overtly partisan and concepts of legality were revised (e.g. Glass-Steagall repeal and liberal military intervention) so as to be unrecognisable. This affected ‘left’ and ‘right’ in opposition equally.
The Subjective Experience Of Opposition
Which brings us to the Subjective Experience Of Opposition and the rise of cultural constituencies. There is no societal support mechanism for one unified, critical opposition of the kind I described any more. This means that existence as adversarial opposition is no longer a viable strategy for mainstream political parties in the Anglo-Saxon world. It means that a party has to get elected at any cost.
With media and broader society no longer willing to support traditional opposition the cost of failure is too high. From this perspective you can understand the subjective experience and motivation of Clinton and Blair…The great move towards the ‘centre ground’ started when politicians like Clinton and Blair became conscious of the new reality; institutionalised adversarial opposition was over. You could no longer justify your party’s continuing existence on that basis. Opposition was now to be redefined as meaning solely understudy to government; to be a government in waiting.
So how does Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders and Alexis Tsipiras and of course Donald Trump, fit into this description of the world ?
First of all they all clearly operate in stark contrast to the ‘understudy to government’ team. Compare Corbyn to his rivals in the Labour Party leadership race; compare Bernie Sanders to Hilary Clinton or Trump to his republican rivals.
Trump, Sanders and Corbyn all represent Cultural Constituencies as opposed to mainstream understudy politicians. Mainstream politicians are seen as shifting, empty and vacuous, in thrall to corporations, whereas cultural constituency representatives are seen as the opposite of this; vital and authentic. This is because Cultural constituency representatives espouse real, absolute moral positions as opposed to the governmental compromises of understudy politicians.
This works because it is not as if the compromises required for national government are even seen as being that practical by the mass of people anymore. Most people understand that international finance and trade have comprehensively restricted the ability of national politician to act freely in pursuit of their goals, whatever the nature of those goals might be.
From this point of view, the approach of Jeremy Corbyn is not only morally superior, but has at least as good a chance of actually achieving something as the compromises of a Tony Blair.
There is much more to say about all this but for now the main message to take away is that since the elite have successfully created a decentralised financial/political system we will have many decentralised oppositions.
And the nature of these oppositions is that they will subjectively be cultural constituencies.
Because that is what the new world order can objectively support.