It is not by accident that the progress in democratic participation is being made at the level of the city and not at the level of the nation state.
At the level of the nation state, there is no progress. Instead, we are going backwards. More and more the American model is being imposed at the level of the state: a two-party system with alternation of electoral victories for the two sides, both of which are controlled by “big money”, i.e. the capitalist class. This is accomplished by control of the mass media. Voters are given the “choice” of two capitalist alternatives and are forced to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” Electoral candidates at the national level spend millions of dollars and are usually millionaire capitalists themselves. A few exceptions are elected from time to time, but they have only a few votes against hundreds of others that simply represent the interests of the capitalist class.
But one should not be surprised at this. As I have shown in the History of the Culture of War, the nation-state has literally become the culture of war in the course of recent centuries. And it is the capitalist class that continues to profit from the culture of war. Socialism does not survive in the competition of nation-states, because it does not profit as much from the culture of war. We saw this most clearly in the case of the Soviet Union, but we see it today in countries like Cuba and Vietnam.
As a result, the budget of the modern state is largely devoted to preparation for war since military domination is necessary for the success of the capitalist class. Not surprisingly, since it heads up the American empire, the most extreme example is the United States where more than half of the national budget is devoted to the military expenditures, nuclear weapons and interest payments on previous military expenditures. This does not include social security which should be treated as an insurance investment by citizens since they have already paid for it.
To see progress we must look below the level of the state. At the level of the city there is continuing progress in democratic participation, as illustrated in the examples of participatory budgeting in this month’s bulletin of the Culture of Peace News Network. This, too, should not be surprising, since cities, over the past few centuries, have lost their previous culture of war. No longer do they have armies or patrol borders or need to pay for military contracts. Unlike the relations of nation states, the rich cities do not exploit the poor cities.
At the level of the city, progress is best seen in participatory budgeting, “presupuesto participativo” in Spanish, “orcamento participativo” in Portuguese, a process by which citizens at a local level are able to decide directly what should be the priorities for expenditures in their neighborhoods.
And it should not be surprising that participatory budgeting began in Latin America and is being practiced there more than anywhere else. As we have seen in previous blogs in March 2014 and February 2013, Latin America is the most advanced region of the world in developing a culture of peace.
In participatory budgeting, people improve immediately the quality of life for them and their neighbors. In no case, do we see people voting for war against an “enemy neighborhood.” or a city in another region or country. Instead, as we see in this month’s bulletin, they vote for simple projects that directly improve their quality of life, such as parks, jogging paths, cooperatives for sewing circles, toy-making or local fruit and vegetables production. In fact, sometimes their decisions are so ordinary that rich people can make fun of them. This was the case a few years ago when the New York Times gave space in one of their local pages to a participatory budgeting project in their city by putting it under the headline “The Voters Speak: Yes to Bathrooms.”
Of course, participatory budgeting by itself will not be enough to bring us to a culture of peace, but when we see it in the context of progress in all of the eight domains of a culture of peace, such peace education, free flow of information, equality of women, etc., then we begin to see how the world can get ready for a new way of governance when the nation states collapse under the weight of their culture of war as has happened in the past.