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Essential Summer Reading | Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent
Democracy was once considered a dangerous new idea and a threat to ruling elites. It brought to mind fearful images of oppressed masses demanding social and political equality. Fast forward to today and democracy is a key method by which the inequality and injustices of capitalism are legitimated and popular consent engineered. Despite the fact that capitalism can tolerate neither equal access to decision-making or truly open dissent, and in fact prioritises profit-making above all social or environmental concerns, we are nonetheless persuaded to believe that capitalism is, or at least can be, democratic. Now a new book – published by Corporate Watch* – uncovers how this contradiction is sustained, and the anti-democratic rule of capitalism protected.
Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent comprises of twenty essays – written by writers, academics and activists and edited by Corporate Watch researcher Rebecca Fisher – which collectively argue that in today’s ‘democracy’ elite interests are served by the limitations placed upon popular participation in decision-making, by the manipulation of public opinion through propaganda, and from the attempts to co-opt, marginalise and/or repress oppositional politics. This ground-breaking book reveals how despite its inherently anti-democratic nature, global capitalism is dependent upon the manipulation of the concept of democracy to survive. It thus exposes a potential weakness at the heart of capitalism, which activists and campaigners can usefully target in their struggle against oppression and environmental destruction.
The volume includes examinations of the inherent contradiction between genuine democracy and corporate capitalism, the use of corporate media, the entertainment industry, and celebrity activists as propaganda vehicles, the attempts to co-opt and neutralise NGOs and social movements, the demonisation and repression of unco-opted dissent, and the imperialist agendas behind so-called ‘democracy promotion’ interventions. These essays have been written by academics, activists and researchers, including David Cromwell and David Edwards from Media Lens, independent researchers Michael Barker and Edmund Berger, researchers at Corporate Watch and academics such as William I. Robinson and James Petras.
Important topics covered include:
– An historical overview, by the book’s editor Rebecca Fisher, of the contradictions between democracy and capitalism, exploring the development of liberal democracy as a mechanism to both hide and enable the ongoing expansion of capitalism and more recently, neoliberalism.
– An investigation by David Cromwell and David Edwards from Media Lens into how the role of the mainstream media protects corporate and state interests by ensuring that radical, challenging and systemically critical viewpoints are marginalised, excluded and delegitimated, helping to create as ‘common sense’ the acceptance of capitalist destruction.
– Sibille Merz explores how NGOs co-opt, neutralise and disarm radical grassroots dissent through a case study of NGOs in Palestine, using her own fieldwork.
– Professor Charles Thorpe’s examination of the attempts by the University of California to legitimate the police repression of student protests on its campuses, providing an illuminating case-study of how repression of dissent is justified using the rhetoric of democracy.
– Edmund Berger’s extensive examination of the US organisations involved in so-called democracy promotion, including how these agents of capitalist imperialism have used the opportunity provided by the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East to try and mould the emerging political formations to suit neoliberal agendas.
The struggles over the meanings and rhetoric of ‘democracy’ explored in this book represent a key battleground in the fight for a more just and equal world. Despite the disturbing picture described in these essays, it is suggested that the situation is far from hopeless, since the social order is dependent upon our believing its contradiction-filled myth of ‘democratic’ capitalism, a myth which in these times of financial and ecological crisis is becoming ever more difficult to sustain. By exploring some of the powerful, subtle and insidious forces and processes seemingly so adept at containing dissent, the volume brings to light how, ultimately, the consent that capitalism depends upon rests on a house of cards.
What others have said about the book
“The sharp increase in inequality, chronic high unemployment, and lack of response by nominal democracies to difficulties afflicting the majority, have made it clear to increasing numbers that so-called market-based democracy serves the market, not the demos. The growth of this understanding is a threat to dominant elites, so coping with it has become ever more urgent to those in command, who must engineer consent by hook or by crook. Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent has effective analyses of a wide range of these engineering techniques, from adapting language to make capitalism and democracy warm partners, to propaganda barrages in the press and on TV and movie screens, to philanthropic actions, to cooptation of progressive organizations and movements, and to the various forms of repression and violence. This book covers these techniques, and their mode of use at home and abroad. It is an eye-opener.”
– Edward S. Herman (among his other books, Corporate Control, Corporate Power, and Manufacturing Consent [with Noam Chomsky])
“In ancient times democracy was conceived as antagonistic to any class society. A remarkable change took place when the social technology required to combine the appearance of democracy and the reality of capitalist class rule was created in the late 18th century. This book, with daring clarity, opens the hood and investigates what machinery makes it possible to manage democracy and make it safe for capitalism. In chapter after chapter the reader is shown “how it is done” without obscuration. It is a brave book and it should not be missed.”
– Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch and Revolution at Point Zero.
“The authors of this timely anthology, Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent deconstruct the democracy myth. They describe how outright repression has been legitimated—even by declaring rioters “brain damaged,” and psychologists labeling anti-authoritarians as diseased. What makes this book essential reading is its description of the many ways in which influence is covert; how consent is obtained to inequality, corporate rule, imperialism, and war.
Journalists and academics, including some on the left, obey the silent rules of capitalist hegemony, regularly using language that disguises the deplorable inequality in political power and well-being that exists in the “flagship” “democracies.” Co-optation is subtle, and so far, it has been very effective. That is why we must become aware of its methods and thereby avoid those traps. Many positive-sounding civil society interventions have worked to stop liberation struggles in their tracks, while the liberal and reputedly impartial media generally echo corporate propaganda.
The book performs and important service by alerting those who wish to progress towards a truly democratic world.”
– Joan Roelofs, author of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism.
“Understanding the continuing economic and political turmoil following the ‘credit crunch’ is a big project. This diverse collection of essays is an important contribution to unravelling the multiple threads and tensions obscured by the ongoing crisis of contemporary capitalism. Combining analysis of the internal dynamics and contradictions of neo-liberalism with rich accounts of events in Europe, America and the Middle East this collection begins to make sense of ‘shock doctrine’, the management of dissent and the massaging of the messages reaching the public sphere. In an era that promotes experiments in participatory democracy with one hand, whilst simultaneously using anti-terrorist surveillance measures against citizens with the other, this is a book to read. The collection points the way towards meaningful democratic forms that can challenge institutional and corporate power. Don’t expect to agree with everything in here but do expect to find clues and pointers towards a progressive politics for the contemporary milieu.”
– Ian Welsh, Reader in Sociology, Cardiff University
“While capitalism has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable by turning the energies and ideas of its opponents into methods for its survival, radical movements have struggled to find ways to counter this recuperation. This book is an excellent step, moving from insightful analysis of co-optation not into defeatism, but a renewed spirit of revolt.”
– Stevphen Shukaitis, Autonomedia / University of Essex
+++Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent Capitalism, Democracy and the Organisation of Consent Contents
Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent – new Corporate Watch book, available now.