Notes on Arnold Petersen; Democracy - Past, Present and Future

VOL. 109 NO. 10


The title of Arnold Petersen's DEMOCRACY -- PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE clearly implies a concept of development. It is not one that postulates a beginning, maturity and decline or death, but that views the democratic process in terms of evolution as humanity evolved as a social being, and as its means of livelihood and wealth production evolved from the primitive to the highly complex. This concept recognizes periods of retrogression and of defeats, but it nevertheless sees the process as one of growth, sometimes of a distorted growth that provides its own lessons that will assist the human-guided evolution of democracy to full maturity and perfection through socialism.

Petersen pays much more than a formal tribute to democracy in this work. He relates a history of the beginning of democracy in humanity's earliest origins as a social being in primitive communist society. He records what may be called the rediscovery of democracy in political and private-property society. And he outlines the social and material forces that have brought humankind to the threshold of the new socialist era in which INDUSTRIAL democracy will universalize the rule of the people. He shows that this will be done on a material basis that will ensure democracy's perpetuation and make of it an everyday practice of the useful producers of the socialist society.

The people of primitive society could not have survived without the democracy of the gens (commonly called "clan"), or without their primitive communism, with its obligation of all to contribute to the common store of the requirements of life. The history of human development from the nonpolitical, communistic society of primitive life to the beginnings of private property and class-ruled society tells us that democracy -- political democracy -- was necessary at the latter stage of development, too.

The author's story of Solon, Cleisthenes and the ruling-class democracy of ancient Greece, like the story of the Roman republic's development, presents us with a story of historic necessity. Athens could have political democracy for its citizens and complete subjection for the citizens' slaves. Historic developments show that political democracy could, and does, exist alongside of economic despotism, and that the more the latter developed the more political democracy retrogressed. We know that in our own country the tradition and practices of political democracy continue while the mass of the people are as subject to economic despotism as the slaves of Athens were. And, of course, as in Germany, Italy, Brazil, modern Greece and other lands in the course of the 20th century, the reality of economic despotism proved to be the cause of the abandonment of political democracy for political despotism. Petersen's work relates part of this history -- and shows the danger of its repetition in this country with even greater implications for all of humankind and the future of the world.

In his chapter on "The Economic Basis of Industrial Democracy," the author brings the reader very near to the present period, in which the private-property and class-rule necessities of the past have become socially obsolete and socially destructive. History does indeed show that these things were necessities to social development. Despite the parasitism implicit in the few having more than the many, and in ruling the many as the means of holding onto and increasing their wealth and relative security, the inequality did provide the leisure for some (including surrogates for the possessors of wealth) to develop art, literature, history, mathematics, mechanics, astronomy and so on, leading to the accumulation of knowledge and to a further development that, in turn, led to the real golden age of science in this capitalist era.

Capitalism, as Marx and Engels said, produced wonders that surpassed the wonders of the ancient world. But its wonders of manufacture and commerce produced the monstrosities of capitalist war, of almost universal exploitation and of insecurity. It proved to be far more wasteful of humanity than Rome was of the people its ruling class robbed, enslaved and killed.

Capitalism's development led by its industrial revolution to the social need for a new economic and democratic order. It also led to this by its retrogressions from the idealism of political revolutions against monarchical and feudal restrictions on the new capitalist economy that was developing in the feudal economy. The evolution through thousands of years to this need for socialism is told in this work, capped by the author's explanation of how democracy can be revitalized through genuine socialism. The knowledge and logic called upon to tell this story of humankind and its society, and to tell it with realistic hope rather than with despair, are products of Marxism-De Leonism. Studied, this work can help to raise the reader's sights to the certainties of the cooperative and democratic society of socialism. The certainties include the raising of humanity's stature, the solution to its problems of taking care of its needs, and the institution of the means -- through Socialist Industrial Unionism -- of governing itself so that never again will people rule and exploit other people.

The reader will note in studying this work that its discussions of the particular problems at the time of its original publication on the eve of World War II are as timely now as they were then. The reader will, therefore, learn about the meaning of current events, as well as about the past, the present and the future course of democracy, and of society. By learning these lessons well, the reader can become a more potent link in the evolutionary, and revolutionary, chain of action that will lead to a better social world.