Radical Democracy

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden

What is so radical about democracy? The problem begins with the conventional understanding of democracy, which dramatically and illogically reduces democratic decision-making rights to the periodic election of public officials and their accountability at election time. Contemporaneously, in every private place of work, "management rights" prevail, meaning that the employers and their management representatives have nearly exclusive rights of decision-making over what goods and services are produced, how these are produced and for whom.

These limitations on the understanding and practice of democracy are exacerbated by unwarranted restrictions on who can vote and further constrained by the power of private wealth over the entire electoral process. Although in principle the rights of private capitalist property owners can be limited by the right of elected public officials to set and enforce laws and regulations, the inordinate power of the wealthiest corporations over the electoral and decision-making process is particularly evident both by the extent of the divergence of governmental decisions from the popular will and in the recurring paralysis of government to make and enforce laws and regulations over the practices of these largest corporations.

Even this limited conception and practice of democracy is today and has historically been constrained by the reduction of public participation in the electoral process, evident today by the widespread practice of voter suppression and the historical and continuing practice of exclusion from the right to vote of selected categories of the population, such as resident non-citizens, incarcerated and, in some cases, formerly incarcerated persons, treated by law as non-persons for electoral purposes.

Aside from these limitations on the participation in the election of decision-makers, there is a further – and equally consequential – limitation to the conventional understanding of democracy: Inequality of income, wealth and education matters. Those with more of any one of these have greater effective say in the decisions which are consequential for life opportunities and successes.

The result is what is correctly and justifiably recognized as "a rigged system", one that serves the top echelon of private and public decision-makers, elected and unelected. Judging by the resulting inequalities in income, wealth and decision-making authority, this limited form of democracy has been as effective as any tyranny in advancing and protecting the advantages of the already privileged. The evident reason for this result is the effectiveness of the illusion of democracy in masking the reality of an exploitative relationship between the actual decision-makers and their subjects. This political illusion corresponds to the economic illusion of a competitive, "free" market economic system. The evident contemporary economic reality is a globalized monopolistic finance capitalism, characterized by economic inequality within each national political jurisdiction and oligarchy from the top of the pyramid of an increasingly networked, even when internally competing, transnational capitalist class.  

Any genuinely democratic form of self-governance "of the people, by the people and for the people" will indeed be a radical departure from prevailing political and economic practices. To achieve such a radical democracy will require breaking with all the illusions associated with the existing political and economic system as part of the process of breaking with the prevailing socio-economic system itself. Radical democracy means the elimination of all barriers to equal participation in societal decision-making.

We are not without tools to achieve such a radical democracy. Owing to past and continuing struggles, the limited conventional forms of political and economic democracy nevertheless include a growing list of acknowledged, if not regularly practiced and supported political and human rights, up to and including the right to peaceful civil disobedience when these political and human rights are ignored by political or economic institutions. It is increasingly evident that we will, in every political jurisdiction and in global solidarity, need to exercise the right to peaceful civil disobedience to achieve a radical democracy, a necessary condition for achieving a just, sustainable future.

A just, sustainable society will be radically democratic

Engraved in the collective consciousness of humanity today are the images from space of our finite shared home, and a growing recognition of the finite endowment of natural resources, including a steady but finite stream of solar energy, which supports the entire diversity of life upon which our own still expanding human population depends. We increasingly understand through scientific research and education the nature and extent of human impact on the biosphere, the constraints this imposes on us and the direction we need to take to meet this challenge. This consciousness has emerged just in time, before natural limits to human existence in the Earth’s biosphere have been surpassed and at a time when scientific and technological knowledge is within reach of identifying more sustainable alternatives to current practices.

Also emergent is a developing struggle to challenge the prevailing oligarchic capitalist socio-economic system. This struggle is fueled by growing recognition of the origin of the capitalist system at a time when the Earth’s resources appeared to be infinite for all practical purposes, when it appeared that the wealthiest could continue to become relatively wealthier while the rest of humanity could at least continue to achieve a sustainable existence. It is now increasingly apparent that this inherent justification for the existing system is no longer supportable. A more just and equal system of use and distribution of resources is essential to a sustainable human existence on Earth. It is this growing recognition that makes a global turn to radical democracy essential to the achievement of a sustainable human existence on the only planet within reach that is capable of sustaining us.

The liberation through radical democracy of all the latent human capacity yet unrealized and unrealizable in the currently prevailing socio-economic system will be necessary for achieving a sustainable human future. There is increasingly little room left for levels of inequality that suppress the realization of this capacity. The severity of the socio-environmental challenge is only equalled by the magnitude of the opportunity for all people to achieve personal fulfillment in a more just, sustainable socio-economic system. The path to a sustainable future is necessarily through the maximization of the health & well-being, education and participation in socially productive activity of every person. While meeting this challenge will require high levels of individual courage, tenacity, imagination, generosity and social cooperation, the potential reward for this effort, beyond humanity’s survival, is the greatest opportunity for individual human freedom and fulfilment.

Not only is a radical democracy the means to a just, sustainable future, participation in the struggle for such a future has become a school for learning radical democracy. In this struggle, the indigenous peoples of the world are today challenging institutions and practices of colonial domination and recovering their traditional methods of self-government. These methods are serving as a model for all those acting in solidarity with our indigenous brothers and sisters in the struggle for just, sustainable societies and against the environmentally and socially rapacious behaviour of the mining and other extractive corporations and their industrial, financial and governmental allies. The tide is turning.

Wealth and income equality requires a radical economic democracy

In addition to the accelerated deterioration of our natural environment, growing wealth and income inequality are the wages of several decades of successful ruling class struggle to undo the prior gains achieved by working class and anti-colonial struggles. In recognition and response, renewed working class, environmental and other people’s movements are once again emergent, offering hope for a turn to a more just, sustainable future, away from the Black Hole of societal and environmental collapse towards which neoliberal policies would otherwise take us. A radical economic democracy is part of the radical democratic alternative.

A radical economic democracy means the right of every person to an equal voice and vote on the decisions about what, how and for whom they work. The exercise of this right would likely have the following consequences, each constituting a powerful argument for the achievement and enforcement of this fundamental human right:

A turn away from more environmentally destructive practices to more sustainable ones;

The cooperative operational management of all economic enterprises, organizations and units by those who work in them.

Coupled with radical political democracy, the achievement of a radical economic democracy would also mean:

An end to legal priority given to private property rights, including private profits from economic activity, over the public interest in a sustainable natural environment and the equal right of every person to share in nature’s bounty.

The combination of radical economic and political democracy would likely also mean:

Transformation from vertically integrated, centrally controlled mega-corporations serving private interests, to horizontally-networked cooperating economic units, each democratically managed by their workers, serving public purposes determined by radically democratic governmental policy;

Replacement of so-called "free" trade (meaning freedom for maximum exploitation by the most powerful corporations) by fair trade, based on the principles of international solidarity and the equal rights of every person on Earth to an equal share of Earth’s bounty in accord with environmentally sustainable economic activity;

Substitution of public banking for private banking, returning profits, if any, from public investment to the public, without incurring public indebtedness, creating money equal to the value of the additional resources (labour and materials) needed for the funded projects, in the same manner that private banks create money for private or government investments, but without an obligation to return profits to private investors;

Elimination of flat taxes, which function to generate income and wealth inequality, in favour of steeply progressive taxes on income and wealth beyond levels deemed to be "basic", with the highest rates on levels that are environmentally unsustainable (taxes on luxuries);

Increasing investment in sustainable public transportation and transportation infrastructure, reducing the need for private transportation;

Expanding free public education and health care to meet the full extent and diversity of community needs, determined by ongoing consultation between those delivering and those needing these services.

This shape of a radical democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist practice is evident in the movements emergent in these first decades of the present millennium, particularly in the ideas and practices of the millennial generation, those now in their early adulthood. Exemplified around the globe by the courageous participation of young people in the front lines of the indigenous peoples, labour, environmental, pro-democracy and anti-capitalist political movements and their commitment to radical democratic organization and practice, a future beyond capitalism and its neoliberal dogmas and practices is taking shape.

Featured in these movements are:

  • the re-emergence of rank and file militancy;
  • community-rooted actions organized through informal internet communication;
  • digitally-facilitated horizontally-networked initiatives across political and geographic barriers mobilizing thousands and even millions of people for a given cause on a given day or week;
  • continuous and repeated challenges to undemocratic private and governmental practices through internet conducted petition campaigns;
  • friendship and solidarity alliances of previously isolated groups and struggles;
  • local communal responses to government ignored environmental and economic disasters;
  • generalized struggles to raise the minimum wage;
  • parent-teacher-student struggles against corporate driven efforts (including the imposition of high stakes testing) to reduce education to a source of private profits and malleable labour unprepared by education to criticize corporate rule and challenge corporate greed;
  • community organizing drives in support of non-unionized workers victimized by low wages and unhealthy working conditions;
  • legislative rallies and marches challenging the politician-lackeys of the corporate driven global race to the bottom in wages, working conditions and environmental destructiveness; and
  • electoral campaigns which challenge the power of money over politics and the anti-democratic practices and austerity policies of neoliberal politicians.

A radical green social democracy requires a cultural revolution

Through struggles like those listed above, a cultural revolution is currently underway, a process of shedding illusions and identifying misrepresentations that serve as barriers to the achievement of a much needed democratic revolution. Featured as the intellectual sources of this cultural revolution are reflections and discussions among those participating in the pro-democratic political movements, an outpouring of books, articles, public panels, media events, public lectures and artistic work challenging the status quo, while encouraging human generosity, cooperation and solidarity as an alternative to possessive individualism and consumerism. Needed is a turn of publicly supported education and science away from serving the narrow self-interests of corporate capitalism to education for participation in a more just, sustainable, and democratic society, including the development of skills and knowledge through apprenticeship in these struggles.

For extensive argumentation and detail about all of these features of a radical democracy, consult the sections and chapters of our book-length work, Towards a Green Social Democracy, posted on www.greensocialdemocracy.org. Organized in a manner that can be entered for short periods of concentrated critical reading and reflection, this work is designed for those otherwise busy meeting life’s incessant demands and enjoying life’s abundant opportunities for creative activity. With your critical feedback and suggestions for our further learning, this work will continue to be developed to meet some of the needs of those in struggle for a more just, sustainable future. Please write to us with your comments, questions and suggestions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.