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Brexit and the sham of capitalist democracy

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Issue 2646
Our rulers invent rituals and traditions to reinforce the idea that the way society is run is natural.
Our rulers invent rituals and traditions to reinforce the idea that the way society is run is natural. (Pic: Flickr/UK House of Lords)

Votes that aren’t “meaningful”. Votes on the already defeated policies of a government without a majority. And votes blocked by parliamentary conventions from over 400 years ago.

That’s what “democracy” looks like in Britain.

The Brexit shambles has underlined how hollow democracy is under capitalism. We aren’t just witnessing a crisis of Theresa May and the Tory government, but of the whole way that official politics is done.

Parliamentary democracy isn’t based on ordinary people making decisions for themselves.

First it limits participation to voting every few years in a general election. Then once the results are announced, people are supposed to let MPs get on with the business of “running the country”.

To make the process seem even more remote, our rulers invent rituals and traditions to reinforce the idea that the way society is run is natural.

But there is a far bigger problem with parliamentary democracy. Decisions made by the government and MPs can have a big impact, but real power doesn’t lie in parliament. It lies in the boardrooms of the banks and multinational corporations, which make all the major economic decisions.

They use their immense power to make sure governments push through policies that put profit above people and planet.

Occasionally—as with Brexit at the moment—big business loses control. But it has a vast armoury of financial and other instruments to bend governments to its will.


There is an alternative to the parliamentary farce that means we don’t just have to sit back as spectators. That alternative is fighting back—whether that’s getting out onto the streets, organising strikes or taking direct action.

That’s why it was so important to see the 1.5 million people take part globally in the climate strikes last Friday. Thousands marched around London—and defied the authority of the cops. 

And the following day up to 25,000 people marched in London as part of a worldwide day of action against racism and the far right.

Movements outside parliament have the power to take on our rulers.

Whenever people take action, they begin to see that they can challenge their “betters” and make decisions for themselves.

There are always individuals who take a lead in organising action at the beginning.

But as movements grow, they face questions about how to make sure the greatest possible number take part in decision-making.

Real democracy flows from participation in action and discussion. And through taking action we can fight for an entirely different society, a socialist society, where ordinary people call the shots at every level.

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