The strategists of capitalism are worried. Global levels of distrust in democracy are at an all-time high. In reality, this represents a growing dissatisfaction with capitalism itself.The University of Cambridge has just released its 'Global Satisfaction with Democracy' report. It is based on surveys taken from the 1970s to 2019, representing nearly 2.5 billion individuals across 77 nations.
Capitalism therefore has to take its conclusion seriously: that a clear majority - 57.5% - are "dissatisfied" with democracy in their countries.
The report gives 2005 as the global high point - although, even then, 39% were still unhappy with their democracy. But since that time, in the aftermath of the global recession of the late 2000s, there has been a sharp rise in dissatisfaction. Some of the most populous parliamentary democracies - the United States, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico - have led the way.
In Britain, following temporary peaks in dissatisfaction following Blair's decision to support war in Iraq (2003) and the scandal over parliamentary expenses (2009), dissatisfaction has surged since the Brexit referendum result. It now stands at around 60%, a majority of British respondents for the first time since the mid-1970s.
Are these results really any surprise? Of course, real power in a capitalist democracy remains with those who own and control the economy, not with parliament. But democracy still matters for the working class.
Even in Britain, the universal right to vote for your MP in the supposed 'mother of parliaments' was only won through determined working-class struggle. Internationally, many have perished at the hands of dictatorships or in the struggle to overthrow them.
But workers who voted for politicians in the hope they would make their lives better are increasingly disappointed. For growing numbers of people, 21st century capitalism is failing to lift their living conditions.
The report goes through different regions and countries globally. The failure of capitalism to deliver for its citizens is starkly shown by the corresponding levels of disillusionment in parliamentary democracy.
In Europe, for example, the report notes a growing "satisfaction gap" between the still-relatively-stable Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, and growing discontent in France, Greece and Spain. The rightward collapse of former mass workers' parties will have added to the general distrust of politicians.
The failure to deliver real change for the mass of the population through either the Arab Spring revolutions, social-democratic governments in Latin America, or the end of apartheid in South Africa is also all evident.
The report acknowledges where the problem lies. "If satisfaction with democracy is now falling... it is not because citizens' expectations are excessive or unrealistic, but because democratic institutions are falling short of the outcomes that matter most for their legitimacy, including probity in office, upholding the rule of law, responsiveness to public concerns, ensuring economic and financial security, and raising living standards for the larger majority of society."
It concludes that "the best means of restoring democratic legitimacy would be for this to change." But that will be much easier said than done for crisis-bound global capitalism.
The report points out how right-wing populists like Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil have profited from this dissatisfaction by falsely presenting themselves as standing for 'the people' against the establishment politicians. Boris Johnson has, of course, done the same over Brexit. In reality they also represent the interests of big business against workers.
As workers realise they have been duped by Johnson - and by Trump and the other right-wing populists - their dissatisfaction with the results of capitalist "democracy" will only rise further.
A socialist society would be based instead on public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and huge wealth they generate, planned under democratic workers' control and management. Mass workers' parties fighting for socialism, to allow ordinary people to genuinely "take back control" of their lives, are urgently needed to provide a way forward.
- Read the full report via cam.ac.uk/stories/dissatisfactiondemocracy
- This article was carried in the Socialist newspaper, 05.02.2020.