Friday, 19 July 2013

Democracy’s Past, Present and Future: Identifying the Historical Antecedents of Socialist Participatory Democracy

I delivered this paper at the 15th Conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics conference held at the Centre for Socio-Economic Research (Cf SER)
London Metropolitan University.
Email me if you want a copy of the paper-


The present crisis of global capitalism and liberal representative democracy underlines the importance and necessity of investigating democracy’s past as part of the struggle for a more democratic future. Yet most contemporary liberal political theorists proceed on the assumption that the only viable model of democracy to have emerged thus far in history is liberal representative democracy. Indeed, the term ‘democracy’ is generally used as if it applies exclusively to liberal representative democracy since no other previous or possible form of government can be legitimately described as democratic. In my book – The History of Democracy – I demonstrate at length that this assumption is highly disputable on historical grounds and that the history of democracy is more complex, varied and inspiring than liberal depictions of democracy suggest, with Athenian, liberal and socialist forms of democracy being worthy of recognition and consideration. Specifically, in this paper I focus on the historical antecedents of socialist participatory democracy arguing that these antecedents can be identified in Athenian democracy, liberal representative democracy, and the tragically curtailed revolutionary experiments with socialist participatory democracy. The central argument is that socialist democracy, if it is built in the future through a process of collective societal transformation, will be built on the historical foundations of what has come before. This is the one limited line of defence of the feasibility of socialist participatory democracy that will be explored in this paper. There are many potential objections and counter-arguments ranging from the standard Austrian school critique of central planning to the critical rejection of the classical Marxist conception of a radically democratic workers’ state by deliberative democrats and autonomist Marxists that in order to keep the discussion within manageable limits cannot be considered here.
The contents are as follows.

1)  The Collapse of Stalinism and the Turn Towards Liberalism in Contemporary Left Political Theory

2)    The Social Dimension and Central Institutional Features of Athenian Democracy

3)    Liberal Representative Democracy: Democratic Principles and Civil Liberties

4)    The Historical Mission of Capitalism and Representative Democracy

5)   Socialist Participatory Democracy: Building on the Achievements of the Past to Make the Future

"The History of Democracy" A talk at the Bookmarks Bookshop, London

I spoke about my book to a small gathering at the world's best socialist bookshop- Bookmarks- in London on Thursday, July 4th. People raised some really interesting questions and made some thought provoking comments. Even sold a few copies of the book!
Big thanks to Jon and Andrea for making it possible and to David for helping with advertising.