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PR and Totalitarianism

about Nazis and PR

Well, people on this list have finally got around to talking about the Nazi seizure of power, the "Machtergreifung" prior to world war two, in relation to voting systems. Awhile back, I did a good deal of looking into this.

A good book to read on the subject if you have the time, and I only ever got part way through it, is "The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945". This is the kind of history I like, which looks at things at the micro level, rather than the macro level of mighty events and characters.

The thing is, the reason the Nazis were able to seize power was not because they won free elections; they never did. It was not just because their goon squads beat and murdered all opposition, though that was a big part of it. It was because they were very well organized and funded. They did not have a huge following, but a very committed one. Their opposition was divided and dispirited.

But to achieve this organization and support required funding. They were funded by very wealthy people inside and outside of Germany, just as right wing political movements are today. In fact, Dubya Bush's Grandfather was the lead banker in charge of streaming donations from the U.S. to the Nazi party.

So it is not so much of a mystery as to why Uncle Adolf and his merry band were able to take control of a highly advanced society. It was in the works for a long time before 1933. However, there is no way in hell they would ever have won a fair election. They won by intimidating opposition parties and suppressing their vote.

I do not want to get into a long essay about how they did it. What this has to do with voting reform is that it helps to show that no voting system will preserve democracy if the social factors are not there. The Weimar republic had a pretty good voting system. It did not matter.

Someone earlier in this discussion said that the Nazis could have won under the plurality system. My take on it is that they would have had a harder time under a plurality system, which could tell against proportional voting. However, with a plurality system the situation where the Nazis arose could never have occurred; the proliferation of radical parties, the old elite struggling to regain control.

Under plurality the Germans would have soon been polarized between two centrist parties, with the Nazis and the Communists shut out. It would have been easier for the army and feudal aristocracy to back one party and the industrialists another; much like the Conservatives and the Liberals in nineteenth century Britain.

Limitations of PR

The upshot is that unless there are already strongly developed democratic institutions in the society, PR is can be dangerous. If you have powerful factors in the society which really do not accept democracy, and if large parts of the public are turned off by politics or have a submissive authoritarian mentality, you can get a radical group with minority support able to monopolize power just as much as with plurality.

The perfect example of this after Weimar is present day Israel. The extremists have strong power bases in the country and have largely subverted democracy. They have made their views the mainstream.

In the U.K. the minority situation has meant nothing; the neo-liberals are able to ram through their austerity agenda despite public opposition. In The Netherlands, they have one of the most thoroughly proportional system in the world; yet after the recent elections there the legislature has shifted to the right despite the desires of the public. People there have complained that the smaller parties, mainly left, were shut out of news coverage.

All this gives me some worries about the effect of PR in Canada, especially here in Ontario. Everybody likes to think we have a very progressive society here. But we clearly have an elite which does not really accept democracy.

The culture is much too submissive/authoritarian in the same way the Weimar Germans were. The mentality of the garrison colony and the Orange Order is still strong. Local government and community organization is extremely limited here. There is little depth to democracy in Canada.

This is not an argument against PR, because we eventually have to grow up here and develop a stronger democracy and that entails a modern voting system. But people have to understand that there is more to building democracy than just that. And we are making this transition at a very bad time, when anti-democratic forces are on a rampage all over the world.

I think I have already written something to this list about the, not just neofascism, but a kind of neofeudalism, that is a growing threat in these times all over the world. Neoliberalism is way too mild a term. There is a need to work quickly if this is to be headed off and people all over the world are doing just that, even in complacent Canada.

more than just PR

I have a hard time getting voting reform people to get it that it is necessarily about democratic reform, not just voting reform. In addition to PR, we need to be demanding steps to address the three big ways in which the neofeudalists work to subvert democracy. These are voter suppression, funding of political organizations, and mass propaganda through corporate as well as so called independent media.

As for voter suppression, some people are finally waking up and noticing that the vote is being cooked. Elections Canada had been semi-independent, now they are becoming political hacks. There has always been a problem with the gerrymandered constituencies and with the appointment of chief returning officers by incumbents. I have personally worked on election enumerations and seen efforts to fiddle voting lists; missing low income apartment buildings, rooming houses, etc.

As for the use of massive amounts of free money by the elites to maintain systems of control, the real campaign goes on before the election and it is done through non profit groups of all types. The aim is to prime people's minds, identify the opposition, and organize supporters. Those who print their own money will usually get what they want in elections.

I spend a lot of time analyzing the media and I can tell you that much of the independent media is not independent at all. The internet is not the solution for mass propaganda, it is another medium for it. Almost as bad, it is a conduit for 'journalism', people who want to 'report' their ignorance to us.

What is good about the net is that it is also a medium for those who would do serious analysis and public education about important topics, ones which they actually know something about. But such people also need money to do this work. They have to try to get through all the bad noise thrown up by funded media of all kinds.

So what are the solutions for these issues to bring as demands to politicians? That is what needs to be talked about. However, most of it is outside the window of acceptability of middle-muddle Canadians. Such discussions are further along in many other lands.

The first thing we really need is a flat ban on private media. It should be illegal to publish on matters impinging on public policy unless you are funded solely by subscribers to your service. This would make it much easier to implement the second objective, getting money completely out of politics, by shutting down private campaigning in and between elections. Political parties should be publicly funded according to votes received.

As for voter suppression, the party that engages in it should be outlawed; permanently. This would be much easier to enforce under a P.R. system; the guilty party would not likely have control of the legislature which must enact the outlawing.

implementation

I would love to see these ideas run by all the political types in Ottawa. I can imagine the reaction. Of course it would be impossible to get such reforms, no matter how necessary, presented as part of a package with voting reform. But they would have to follow very rapidly on a proportional representation voting reform.

That means they would have to be part of a strategy which would have to be ready before the next federal election. If a movement for voting reform can succeed against the kind of opposition it will face, it should not be too hard, while the momentum is there, to put these other reforms through, too.

If these things sound too far fetched, they are all things being talked about in other countries and sometimes in Canada. Some are already doing them, or partial versions of them. We had partial versions of some of them in Canada until recently. They are easier for most people to get their heads around than proportional representation and thus easier to sell to the public when you can reach the public.

I think I could wrap this up by saying that they should be put through during the term of the first parliament under P.R. That is when it will be easiest. What will also make it easier is that there will be several other countries implementing measures similar to these by the time the next elections happen, and would serve as examples. I am also pretty sure that the need for them will be more obvious by then.

So, in addition to getting opposition parties to commit to a citizen's assembly and referendum on voting reform, we need commitment to a discussion of the means to get money out of politics. I say again, without that then getting voting reform would be a hollow victory. P.R. will not stop a new wave of totalitarianism if it has unlimited money and media dominance behind it.

I hope people are starting to get this. tr