The democratic system is experiencing notable erosion in the so-called consolidated democracies of Europe, and the United States is suffering a process of acute deterioration which restricts the democratic spaces through practices believed to be dead and buried after the nightmare of McCarthyism and institutionalised racial discrimination.
Although the appearance of a democratic system has been maintained, for over a decade the Old Continent has witnessed a gradual process of dismantling of the welfare state, an increasing limitation of civil rights and a growth in the rejection of minorities with mounting expressions of racism and xenophobia.
But Europe is also experiencing the electoral upswing of the far right and the renewal of a colonialist spirit of a new type that ranges from individual states’ adventures overseas to the ever stronger commitment to the imperialist strategy of the United States. This happens through NATO, which has become a sort of armed wing of western capitalism.
The European bourgeoisie is discarding a model of capitalism with a human face reached through so much effort after the Second World War. Now the Europe of the merchants is rising and proceeding to dismantle the framework of securities in all ambits; although this does not eradicate the class struggle, it does provide a certain stability and control, albeit temporary, of the system’s most harmful tendencies.
Regardless of the political colour of those who govern, the taking apart of the institutional foundation in which the democratic game is played continues to advance.
The current strategy attempts to return to classic capitalism, to the full freedom of capital. It aims to return to a state that while ensuring enormous and immediate profits for the landowning classes, also exacerbates the system’s natural contradictions and engenders revolutionary tensions, as happened in the past.
Emboldened by the temporary weakness of the forces of labour, the right continues applying the same formulas that have led to the present debacle to a crisis the scale of which cannot be measured yet and which could well be described as equal to or worse than the Great Depression of 1929.
The deterioration of democracy begins with its material basis when the mechanisms that guarantee the satisfaction of collective basic needs (employment, health, education, pensions, housing etc) fail.
Today a world of merciless competition and cold calculation reigns in which the condition of the citizen -that fundamental achievement of humanism- is replaced by that of the simple consumer.
The deterioration in the value of the person as such is obvious and in its place the market in its “wisdom” is establishing the well-known dogma of “you are what you own”.
But the erosion of democracy’s material basis is occ urring just as other key elements of the system are collapsing and the panorama is transforming relentlessly in all aspects of daily life.
Politics is reaching its lowest public approval ratings. It is commonly associated with corruption, deception and inconsistency.
Electoral promises are formulated in the knowledge of their later disregard and leaders who in their best moments stir the hopes of wide sectors of the citizenry (Obama and Zapatero, for example) end up becoming dumb instruments in the hands of minority -but very powerful- forces; those that really decide.
If the votes of millions of people are worth less than that of a banker, electors will fall first into discouragement or indifference before moving on to indignation, protest and the search for different paths (not necessarily the best ones).
Parties are no longer the ideal channels of political participation; in fact, they have lost their marks of ideological identity and their internal structures are anything but democratic.
Socialists and social democrats do not even advocate the most moderate formulas of Keynesianism anymore; and the christian democrats abandoned the ideal of reformed capitalism with a human face years ago. Both have given in and act today as the most convinced neoliberals and proceed as such.
Governments and parliaments decide little or nothing; the important decisions are openly dictated by minority groups of bankers and speculators, the very wealthy, the parasitic and decadent bourgeoisie and multinational companies that accumulate wealth and power sometimes far in excess of entire nations.
It is not strange then that public ethics are also deteriorating.
Cynicism, lies and dirty play weigh more than consistent and clean behaviour, commonly considered a sign of weakness or of a lack of leadership.
Those in power assure themselves of total impunity for their public acts and the leap from politics to business and vice versa is quite frequent nowadays, leading to the distance that should exist between public and private affairs being eliminated.
The streets of France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Czechia, Spain, Portugal and other places in Europe are now the scenes of gigantic demonstrations of discontent, of general strikes, popular mobilisations and open rejection of government measures.
The unrest is now impossible to hide and nobody understands how, precisely at the time when more wealth is generated than ever before in human history, efforts are made to convince the population of the inevitability of a future with more work and less welfare.
It seems a bitter irony that today, when there is enough wealth for everyone (even for the poor periphery of the world system) there is an even greater reduction of the labouring classes’ share while the benefits of capital grow without restraint.
A more forceful and effective answer from the population comes as a result of a common programme which gives shape to proposals and clarifies solutions, although progress has been made in this direction.
Therefore, it is understandable that there are proposals to stop the process of rapid deterioration of the current set-up (in all spheres) and that there are attempts to reclaim what has been lost.
Achieving it involves demanding, for example, the exercise of rigorous control of financial capital by the authorities and the creation of a solid public banking system.
It also involves carrying out a deep reform of the tax system so that capital contributes in proportion to its profits and, consequently, those with higher incomes pay more tax, or increasing salaries and social spending in general, not only for reasons of fairness but because it is a proven way of increasing employment, consumption and, therefore, economic activity.
From a more global perspective, it is worth highlighting the demand for a different Europe in which it is sought to equal the levels of welfare taking the highest standards as the point of reference (and not the lowest, as has been the case until now). To do that, it would be necessary to have state and supranational powers able to control the pathological dynamics of capitalism (particularly of financial capital).