I notice that Dog Stew has linked to my earlier post below on South Korean democracy (thanks are in order) and the subsequent discussion between myself and Skip. I have to say that although this discussion was useful, I was slightly disappointed that it got stuck on the details of what happened in Kwangju in 1980, on which myself and Skip obviously could not agree.
Under the current circumstances it would certainly be interesting to have a more wide-ranging discussion on the meaning of democracy and the strategic orientation of the US government toward it. There is no doubt that the US has staked much ideologically on the word ‘democracy’ using it as a sort of psychological pressure point designed to be repeated endlessly, eliciting a pavlovian response from the Fox-addled masses, but devoid of meaning. Zeynep Toufe of Under the Same Sun puts it thus:
All these precious words have now become something akin to brand names: “democracy,” “freedom,” “liberty,” “empowerment.” They don’t really mean anything; they’re just the names attached to things we do.
It should be obvious in the Iraqi case that free and meaningful elections under military occupation are highly unlikely. But when the occupying force has also recently destroyed an entire city, turning its residents into refugees, is backing its own favourite to the tune of millions of dollars and has an ‘ambassador’ who just happens to have run deathsquads in El Salvador and plans a reprise, then… (I’d like to add that even the limited and highly compromised form of democracy offered to the Iraqis this weekend could still cause as many problems for the occupiers as it solves. See the interesting recent discussion between Alex Callinicos and Gilbert Achcar on this at ZNet).
So the word democracy, as used around us on a thousand media outlets, is nothing more than an ideological tool in the armory of US imperialism. Of course US client states with a democratic veneer can also be strategically useful, but the US (and the UK of course) will quite happily settle for any sort of compliant regime, veneer or no (Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, Uzbekistan… how much time to we have?).
The word democracy literally means ‘people power’ and we know that if the people of the world had real power over the things that affect their lives Iraq would not be occupied and Bush, Blair et al certainly would not be in power. The important point is, as Callinicos pointed out recently at a conference, we urgently need to contest and reclaim the word democracy. We need to refill it with meaningful content. All significant steps forward in democracy from the Chartists to the South Korean movement have had to be taken by the people themselves. Imperialist powers have this odd tendency to have their own strategic interests in mind when they intervene in other countries. They don’t tend to provide the necessary conditions for democracy to flourish, even by accident.