Keeping a lid on the people

Written By: Bert Schouwenburg
Published: October 21, 2013 Last modified: October 17, 2013

Back in the 1980s, the then Labour Member of Parliament for Brent East, Ken Livingstone, wrote a book entitled If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish It. If anyone doubts the veracity of that statement, they should read Managing Democracy Managing Dissent, an excellent collection of essays edited by Rebecca Fisher of Corporate Watch, an independent research group that examines the social and environmental aspects of corporate power.

The book effectively deconstructs the myth that representative democracy is anything other than a legislative and bureaucratic framework constructed to contain dissent and prevent populations from exercising any form of real control over the corporations that dominate our lives. Liberal democracy, as it is understood in the West, is there to suppress the threat of genuine, participatory democracy, not to liberate people from corporate domination and the human and environmental damage that accompanies it.

Combining analysis of techniques used to obtain consent for inequality, unfettered capital accumulation, imperialism and war with studies of how democracy is manufactured both at home and abroad, various authors graphically illustrate how mainstream media echoes corporate propaganda via newspapers, television, radio and film. They show how language is adopted to demonstrate that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, and that those who would challenge what is clearly a dubious proposition are branded as deviant or insane because Western institutions are sacrosanct and support for the concept of private property and the rule of law is nothing more than common sense.

Capitalism has shown itself to be extremely versatile in the co-option of individuals and organisations such as NGOs that potentially threaten the hegemony of its ruling elites and there are several chapters devoted to that process in its various forms.

Sadly, none are devoted to trade unions that, in many instances, have bought in to what is referred to as low intensity democracy and devoted considerable resources to flawed notions of changing society by the ballot box. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the importance of a book which should be required reading for every member of the TUC general council and union activists everywhere.