Glen T. Martin

(Published in Across Frontiers - A WCPA/GREN Publication for Humanity, March-April, 1999 and May-June, 1999).

          The planet earth is on the verge of a global democratic revolution or it is on the verge of probable death. Our world-historical situation at the cusp of the 21st century is such that we can either dialectically enlarge our conception of democracy to encompass the entire planet as its only legitimate sphere or we can retain outmoded conceptions of democracy which hinder the dialectic of history and impede human emancipation. For the two earlier phases of democratic thought discussed in this paper (which I call ‘bourgeois political democracy,’ on the one hand, and ‘territorial socialism’ on the other) have become impediments to the emancipatory enlargement of history. The concept of democracy must be globalized in the 21st century to dialectically include what is true in both bourgeois political democracy and territorial economic socialism and go beyond them to a deeper and more liberating dimension.

          That dimension is planetary and the only political sovereignty that is legitimate in the 21st century is the sovereignty of the peoples of the earth. Political and economic rights must be synthesized within a larger framework in which the true meaning of democracy begins to emerge in world history – the only historically legitimate democracy is that which is grounded in the sovereignty of the people of the earth in such a way that human liberation takes a quantum leap forward. In this paper I will trace the historical movement of this dialectic from bourgeois political democracy through territorial economic socialism to its synthesis in planetary democracy.

          One could say that the struggle for democracy, freedom, and equality has been the fundamental thrust of the modern world. Various notions of democracy have tended to revolve around a broad constellation of ideas from which we can conclude that there is no narrow "essence" to democracy but rather a number of interrelated concepts such as ‘sovereignty of the people,’ ‘effective participation in decision making,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘equality,’ ‘inalienable human rights,’ ‘human dignity,’ ‘universal justice,’ and ‘promotion of the common good.’ These and similar concepts are taken to be normative in that their realization is understood to be a fundamental moral imperative. And they are taken to be universal in that they apply to all human beings and societies equally as integral to the dignity of being human.

          With Marx, I wish to characterize the most essential thrust of the historical movement towards democracy as the struggle for human emancipation, the dialectic of which Marx noted in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. If democracy implies freedom from illegitimate forms of political coercion, or from systems of economic or class domination, and if it implies freedom for the realization of human potential within a framework that maximizes everyone’s human potential, then it is a key concept in the struggle for human liberation that has characterized the modern world.

          Marx applauded the bourgeois democratic revolutions of the early modern period with the assertion that "political emancipation certainly represents a great progress. It is not, indeed, the final form of human emancipation, but it is the final form of human emancipation within the prevailing social order." Merely formal democracy, constitutionally giving people political rights, is a step forward in the process of human liberation. But a more adequate form of human emancipation will require substantive democracy where merely formal political rights are seen for what they are – an abstract freedom and equality effectively belied by concrete economic slavery and dehumanization under capitalism. Substantive democracy requires socialism or communism where liberty and equality are extended to both the political and economic dimensions of a society.

          Indeed, the dialectic of the struggle for democracy has led to a number of territorial socialist revolutions in the 20th century and the creation of a number of important documents, such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which have enlarged the bourgeois notion of democracy as political rights and freedoms to an understanding of democracy as including economic rights and freedoms, making possible a community, as R. H. Tawney puts it, "of responsible men and women working without fear in comradeship for common ends, all of whom can grow to their full stature, develop to their utmost limit the varying capacities with which nature has endowed them."

          Cuban society since the Cuban Revolution has struggled against the tremendous odds imposed by US imperialism to approximate this ideal of democracy. Tawney’s conception of the role of socialism in actualizing and diversifying human possibilities reminds one of Che Guevara’s ‘new man,’ a new person whose deeply human capacity for identification with the suffering of other persons worldwide brings a new dimension and a new greatness of soul to human life. The wonderful accomplishments of the Cuban people since their revolution are documented by Venezuelan author Carlos Mendez Tovar in his book Democracy in Cuba?

          Tovar documents Cuba’s tremendous gains in literacy and education, culture, work, equality of women, health care, and science and technology and contrasts this with the effective lack of many of these features of democracy in the United States. Finally, Tovar argues that the Cuban people have also made tremendous strides in what he calls ‘love.’ He defines ‘love’ as "Cuban philanthropy and altruism, a school of love that extols and dignifies people, giving them their genuine human dimensions. Values such as comradeliness, internationalism, solidarity, patriotism and integrity", he says, "are the backbone of the principles defended by the Cuban model." Such persons find the meaning and purpose of life in solidarity, compassion for all those who suffer worldwide, and the struggle to build a new world of human emancipation.

          Territorial socialist societies such as Cuba have added a new dimension to the struggle for democracy in the modern world. But democracy, as Marx understood, is a movement for human liberation, not simply liberation of particular societies within a world writhing in pain, oppression, injustice, and economic exploitation. As Fidel Castro said in his 1979 address to the UN General Assembly, "I speak on behalf of the children of the world who do not even have a piece of bread." The dialectic of history has moved the world forward from bourgeois democracies, to the socialist enlargement of democracy, to the dialectical demand for global democracy. The claim made in the bourgeois constitutions that ‘all persons are created equal and have inalienable rights’ expresses a demand at the heart of the historical process to universalize democracy, to move beyond political and economic democracy to global democracy and the ultimate sovereignty of all human beings on our planet.

          Among the concepts that characterize democracy, such as ‘universal rights and equality,’ the one concept that has not been universalized is ‘sovereignty of the people.’ ‘Sovereignty of the people’ has nothing to do with territoriality. Like the other basic concepts of democracy, it is both normative and universal. Territorial conceptions of sovereignty function today as a reactionary fetter on the dialectical expansion of democracy.

          On the cusp of the 21st century, many thinkers have realized that the world faces so-called ‘global crises’ beyond the scope of individual, territorial nation states to address. Human equality and liberty on the planet have been steadily declining since the end of the Second World War in large part because of the descent of third world peoples ever deeper into massive poverty and social chaos. Yet the crisis of global poverty is compounded by multiple ecological disasters. While the planetary population is exploding, possibly doubling to 12 billion by the year 2025, the global environment is rapidly declining, deforestation, for example, is taking place on a planetary scale at the rate of an area one half the size of California every year.

          Global warming, the depletion of the ozone layer, depletion of global fisheries, loss of agricultural lands worldwide, desertification, and other ecological disasters portent a possible global ecological collapse. Fidel Castro said it well in his speech outlining many of these crises at the 1992 Rio Conference on the Environment. He stated simply that "tomorrow is too late." Unless the nations of the world act now, in massive cooperation, President Castro said, there will not be a habitable planet for future generations.

          As the 1987 UN sponsored report entitled Our Common Future pointed out, global poverty and global environmental destruction are interrelated. Any solution must address both dimensions of our planetary crisis. Yet our planet is currently dominated by global capitalism unhindered by any significant restraining force and hence perpetuating both global poverty and global ecological destruction. The planet is also dominated by a regressive system of more than 180 sovereign nation states, each promoting its own ‘national interests’ in competition with all the others. The result is planetary chaos: the freedom of multinational corporations to rape resources and exploit peoples worldwide, and a trillion dollars per year in global military expenditures so these insecure nation states may be ready to defend themselves, or to murder their own populations, or for powerful states to engage in imperialism against weaker states.

          What can revolutionary people do in the face of unprecedented global destruction and death brought on by the ever deepening global poverty, an ever increasing global population, and the on-going destruction of our planetary habitat? How is it possible to foster global democracy in the face of the twin structural impediments of planetary capitalism and the system of territorial sovereign nation states? The answer is suggested in the international solidarity created by the Cuban revolution described above by Carlos Tovar as one of the great accomplishments of that revolution.

          The same point was also made by Fidel Castro in his 1989 speech on the 30th anniversary of the revolution. "I would daresay" President Castro asserts, "that the level of massive internationalist consciousness achieved by our people has never been achieved by any other country." A wonderful accomplishment. But the work of Karl Marx makes it very clear that a change of ‘consciousness’ is not sufficient to create social transformation. What is required is a profound structural change. What is required is a progressive transformation of global capitalism in the direction of planetary socialism and the abolition of the system of sovereign nation states in the direction of global democracy.

          Hence, the fundamental movement of the modern world towards democracy and human emancipation is thwarted today by the twin regressive institutions of global capitalism and the system of territorial sovereign nation states. Socialist democracy may have shown us the way beyond capitalist fragmentation towards human fulfillment. But it has not shown us the way beyond the system of territorial sovereign nation states which constrict and distort the very meaning of democracy. For democracy as the movement towards human emancipation is inherently universal, inherently applying to all persons, inherently premised not on limited territorial sovereignties but on the sovereignty of the peoples of earth.

          In the face of the nexus of global crises outlined above which portent unspeakable human and environmental disasters within a relatively near future, what can supporters of human emancipation do that is most effective, timely, and dialectically progressive? Socialism has historically tied itself to the territorial sovereign nation state and progressives are here challenged to further radicalize and enlarge their thinking to the scale of truly global emancipation, which cannot be territorial, but only planetary. The movement for democratic world government under the sovereignty of the peoples of earth must be synthesized with the movement for world socialism.

          This imperative is not simply an abstract demand for people to enlarge the scope of their thinking, because a concrete vehicle for the first step in this synthesis already exists in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Promoted by the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) and the Global Ratification and Elections Network (GREN) (world wide organizations already in place), the Constitution for the Federation of Earth is a profound world-historical document which explicitly addresses global poverty and misery simultaneously with global environmental destruction.

          It addresses these twin nightmares of our present planetary crisis through moving democracy dialectically forward in a synthesis of political and economic democracy premised on the sovereignty of the peoples of the earth. It establishes a non-military democratic world government which eliminates all weapons of war, guarantees all persons economic and political rights, establishes an effective system of checks and balances to prevent tyranny, and mandates the world government to restore the integrity of the environment and eliminate global poverty.

          Global capitalism, while not yet abolished, is placed under deep constraints by the mandate of the world government to eliminate all weapons, to ensure that no private or public enterprises destroy the environment or the earth’s non-renewable resources, and to eliminate global poverty. The premises of the Constitution include the simultaneous guarantee of economic and political rights within an institutional framework charged with promoting the common good of the planet and the diverse peoples of the earth. Each present nation state becomes a unit within the world federal system free to determine its own economic and political system within the limits of the Constitution’s guarantee of these rights to all persons. Imperialism among nations is eliminated with the demilitarization of the world, including the world government itself, and the guarantee of territorial integrity to each nation is protected with a system of federal courts to resolve disputes.

          Democracy as the movement for human emancipation has moved dialectically through the phase of bourgeois democracy to the phase of territorial socialism and is now confronted with the possibility of an expanded synthesis which can address the impending global cataclysms of the 21st century. This synthesis simultaneously eliminates many of the regressive features of present global capitalism, along with the regressive system of territorial sovereign nation states. It understands that democracy, human rights, and human liberation cannot be confined or limited to a territorial basis.

          It allows socialists to work freely within a democratic, worldwide political system to promote and further their vision of the ultimate goals of human liberation. The debate between capitalism and socialism then becomes centered on who has the best arguments, on who has the greatest wisdom, and no longer hinges on force of arms, propaganda, and coercion. Only within a planetary framework of the democratic rule of law can the ultimate meaning of human social existence be decided.

          Yet this global rule of law in a demilitarized world is not simply a visionary result of the dialectical enlargement of democracy. It is also absolute necessity if we are to survive on this planet. As the poet Holderlin wrote, "There where the greatest danger looms, there also lies our greatest hope." Faced with the cataclysms of the 21st century, we have at our fingertips a practical way out. Ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth by the people and nations of the earth is the next concrete step in the dialectic of human liberation.


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