Letter on Democracy and Capitalism

Ron Todd talks as if ‘democracy and capitalism’ are old British traditions. But the Industrial Revolution was carried through by an oligarchy, at a time when maybe one man in ten had a vote. Back then, a couple of hundred rich families controlled a majority of seats in the House of Common. The Reform of 1832 happened after a tremendous struggle but still gave the vote to maybe one man in seven. The General Election of 1885 is the first that could be called democratic – 60% of British men could vote, no women till 1918.

The use of the Ballot Box is dates back only to 1874, ending a lot of intimidation and making bribery harder. The most dramatic effect was the sudden appearance of an Irish Home Rule party that came from nowhere to win 60 seats.

All of the participants in World War One could be called Capitalist Democracies. The least liberal was Tsarist Russia, Britain’s key ally. The least democratic was the British Empire, where only white colonies got a choice about whether they’d join the war. The vast non-white majority in the British Empire were drafted in without consent and sometimes against the clear objections of their own politicians, in both World Wars. The most democratic was the USA, which however maintained racial segregation until the 1960s, and also prevented most Afro-Americans in the South from exercising their theoretical right to vote.

Leninist authoritarianism did not exist in a vacuum: it emerged in response to the massive failures of Classical Liberalism. Nowadays this gets ignored, with all the crimes of ‘our side’ forgiven and all the crimes of ‘their side’ deemed unforgivable.

Keynesianism or the Mixed Economy won the Cold War for the West. It won after conceding that both Fascism and Leninism had been reactions to the failures of Classical Liberalism. The New Right demand from the 1980s has been that the West abandon its successful Mixed Economy and return to a purified version of Classical Liberalism. I’d say its successes came from reinvigorating the Mixed Economy system when it had got deadlocked. Every subsequent move towards pure Capitalism has been an error. The big economic success has been China, which insists that it remains Socialist while encouraging a Mixed Economy

Ron Todd cites the supposed failures of Stalin and Mao as a reason not to return to Mixed Economy. Both Stalin and Mao remain very popular in their own countries – not among Westernised intellectuals, obviously, but among the mass of ordinary people who found their rule liberating. Read for instance Xinran’s ‘China Witness’ – she keeps angling for criticism of Mao but finds he is still widely admired.

Yours truly

Gwydion M Williams

This was written in 2009.  I forget who it was sent to, but I don’t think it was published.

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