Topic 2
Lectures 3-4


Sep't. 19&21,2000.

Robert Buddan

We discuss democratisation in order to show that:

1. Democracy was achieved over many years of struggle and as a result has stronger roots in the industrial countries where it emerged;

2. Democracy was not the result of a western civilisation that was morally superior nor of farsighted and noble founding fathers as the western myth tends to suggest but was driven by social classes, each seeking political representation for their material interests ;

3. Many of the failings of democracy in developing countries today are characteristic of the early experiences of industrial countries themselves;

4. There are different paths to democracy among the industrial countries which explain much of their comparative politics today;

5. Democracy still has 'unfinished business', particularly because it has not shed its elitist, class tradition, despite its claim to be of and for all 'the people.'

Description: At its core, the concept of democracy, by modern standards, is measured by:

- constitutional protection of the political and civil rights of individuals;

- representative government, that is, government of the people through their elected representatives;

- universal adult suffrage or the right of all adult citizens to vote regardless of gender, beliefs or property;

- a free and fair electoral system where voting is by secret ballot;

- a competitive system where parties or individuals compete for votes cast not in exchange for money (or by patronage of any sort), but on the merit of the candidates and the personal judgement of the voter.

Democratisation is the process (periods of time and nature of events) by which these standards are achieved, usually incrementally.

Some clarifications.

A distinction should be made between 'democracy' and 'government.' Huntington says, elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy. On the other hand, "Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities may make such governments undesirable but they do not make them undemocratic." (1991:10).

He makes another distinction, between 'representatives of the people,' and 'power of the people.' He states: "Conceivably, a society could choose its political leaders through democratic means, but these political leaders might not exercise real power. They may be simply the fronts or puppets of some other group. To the extent that the most powerful collective decision makers are not chosen through elections, the political system is not democratic. Implicit in the concept of democracy, however, are limitations on power. In democracies elected decision makers do not exercise total power. They share power with other groups in society." (Ibid).

These clarifications are important to judge both the nature of democracy in the industrial countries and how democratic they have been in their historical and contemporary contexts.

Overview of Democratisation.

We will rely on Huntington for a broad historical overview of democratisation in the industrial countries. (1991:13-26). He discusses three historical waves of democratisation. He points out that the initial push towards democracy in the west occurred in the first half of the seventeenth century. In 1750, at the start of the industrial revolution, no democracy existed in the Western world. By 1828, the first wave of democratisation had begun - in the United States. In that year, more than fifty per cent of adult white males were able to vote in presidential elections; and, the executive was responsible to an elected legislature chosen in periodic elections. By 1914 (First World War), most of the industrial countries were well on the way towards being democracies.

The first wave of democratisation had its roots in the French and American revolutions although the emergence of national democratic institutions is a nineteenth century phenomenon. From the 1850's onwards, western countries gradually expanded voting rights, reformed constituencies, introduced the secret ballot and executives became more responsible to legislatures (rather than to monarchs). Apart from the United States, countries like Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, had made the transition to democracy before 1900.

The second wave begun after the Second World War when authoritarian, fascist governments were replaced by democratic ones in West Germany, Italy, Austria and Japan. The third wave begun in 1974 and included Portugal, Greece and Spain (along with mostly developing countries which, as in the second wave, emerged from colonisation and includes the English-speaking Caribbean). Huntington ended his survey in 1990 but since then, and after the end of the cold war, Russia and eastern Europe have joined the group of (emergent) democracies.

Explanations of Democratisation.

The most obvious and notable thing about industrial societies is the relationship between level and form of development and democracy. In other words, the form of development is related to the form of politics. This is important because if industrial societies have experienced a different historical form of development it would explain the ways in which their politics is different from other societies. The form of development, whether it is conceived in terms of industrialization, the market economy or capitalism is related to democracy. Max Weber made the statement that modern democracy can only occur under capitalist industrialization. (Lipset, 1959: 46). In other words, industrialization, urbanisation, wealth and education favour the establishment of a democratic system.

We need to look at the relationship between development and democracy by looking at the relationship between:

Modernisation, markets and democracy,

Classes, capitalism and democracy,

Elites, organisations and democracy.

Modernisation, markets and democracy.

Pluralists account for democracy in two ways: as an outcome of the process of modernisation, and as a necessary complement to market capitalism.

(1) Modernisation: Pluralists developed modernisation theory which basically said that as societies become more modern, that is, more industrialized, they develop the basis for democratic politics. Modernisation theory is a theory of development.

Seymour Martin Lipset's study, Political Man (1959), made the general finding that the more developed a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy. (pp.49-50). He found the following:

1. The wealthier a society, the more democratic it was. Wealth was measured by per capita income, number of persons per motor vehicle, number of persons per physician, the number of radios, telephones and newspapers per persons. (p.54).

2. The more industrialised a country, the more democratic it was. Its Level of industrialisation was measured by the number of persons employed in the industrial as against the agricultural sector. (p.54).

3. The higher the degree of urbanisation, the more democratic a country was. The more cities and the greater the concentration of the population in cities, the more the country was democratic. (p.55).

4. The higher the educational level of a population, the better the chances were for a democracy. Democratic countries had the highest rates of literacy, ranging from 85 per cent to 96 per cent. (p.55). More members were enrolled in the primary, post-primary and higher educational levels. The higher the level of one's education the more likely he is to support democratic practices, have better and more tolerant attitudes to minorities and have a broader outlook. Lipset found that education was a more significant factor favouring democracy than income or occupation. (pp. 55-56).

Another way to understand these factors is too see them as interdependent ones in the process of modernisation. Therefore, one might state, as modernisation theorists do, that as a country becomes more modernised, it improves its chances to become more democratic.

What Lipset found in 1959 was confirmed more recently by Samuel Huntington in his book, The Third Wave (1991). Huntington found a high correlation between level of economic development and the existence of democratic regimes. He said, "A more industrialised, modern economy and the more complex society and educated populace it entails are more conducive to the inauguration of democratic regimes..." (pp.273-274). For Huntington the higher the level of economic development, the more highly educated the public is and the larger is the middle class. These in turn generate stronger civic attitudes such as trust, satisfaction and competence and these lead to a greater support for democratization.(p.69).

Industrialization is said to lead to or create the conditions for democracy. Thus more industrial countries practice democratic politics. Britain was the country that started the industrial revolution in about 1750. But at that time no national democratic governments existed in the western world. (Huntington, p.13). According to Huntington, the first wave of democratisation begun with the US in 1828 and by 1900, countries such as England, Switzerland, France, Australia, New Zealand and several smaller European countries had made the transition to democracy. (p.17). Late industrialising countries like Germany, Russia, Japan, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy developed authoritarian systems but eventually became democratic. The cases of Germany, Japan and Russia show that industrialisation need not develop directly into democracy. It might require authoritarian states to create rapid industrialisation under communist or fascist governments. But once the societies are industrialised they have the basis for a transition to democracy.

Market capitalism and democracy.

While many argue that high levels of economic development produced by industrialisation leads to democracy, others specify that a special form of economic development, that is, capitalist development leads to democracy. It is not industrialism per se but capitalist industrialization, that creates the conditions for democracy. It is widely held that capitalism and democracy go hand in hand. The argument is that economic development driven by capitalist interests in competition with each other, also brings about political freedom and democratic participation in government. The phrase, 'capitalist democracy' suggests that capitalism and democracy are seen as virtually identical. Capitalists need freedom of markets and competition. This leads to other freedoms such as the freedom to organise, form and join political organisations, vote and participate in government. It leads to the development of rights such as the right to private property and to hold governments accountable for their use the taxes they derive from private property. In fact, nearly all full-fledged democracies are associated with capitalist political economies. The findings show that there is a positive correlation between capitalist development and democracy. (Rueschemeyer, p.4). This is reinforced in Holden that, the empirical evidence shows that overwhelmingly, liberal democracies exist in capitalist countries. (p.173).

Why do they exist together? Coe and Wilber say:

"Both systems are based on the belief [in] freedom of individual choice...A capitalist market economy relies on the ...decisions of individual consumers and producers...A democratic political system relies on the decisions of individual voters. In both cases power is widely dispersed. Thus each system reinforces the other." (Holden, p.174).

Heilbroner could also say:

"There is one striking generalisation that can be extracted from the indeterminate history of democracy. It is that political freedom in modern times...has only appeared in capitalist states." (Holden, p.174).

Holden himself says:

"The free market can be seen as necessary to preserving liberty, since it disperses decision-making and therefore, power. But it can also be seen, as a key liberty itself, or a system of liberties...individual liberties are necessary for, or presumed by, the operation of a free market, freedom of trade is itself an important liberty, and more generally, that the whole notion of laissez faire can be seen in terms of the most extensive form of liberty possible." (p.176).

The evolution of capitalism has historically coincided with the evolution of democracy in the industrialised countries. But what forces within this capitalist evolution has been mainly responsible for democracy? The traditional view is that capitalists or entrepreneurs were the ones to break down old feudal structures and relations and introduce a money economy or a capitalist market. It is they who were the modernising forces.

2. Classes, capitalism and democracy.

The class perspective on democracy is another view. Rueschemeyer et al say:

"Capitalist development is associated with democracy because it transforms the class structure, strengthening the working and middle classes and weakening the landed upper class. It was not the capitalist market nor capitalists as the new dominant force, but rather the contradictions of capitalism that advanced the cause of democracy." (p.7).

Notice that they are saying it was not the capitalist market but the class struggle produced by capitalism's contradictions that, in turn, produced democracy. What contradictions are the authors talking about. Capitalist industrialisation gave rise to a working class. The same liberties that capitalists enjoyed were fought for and won by the working class to advance popular rights such as the universal right to vote. This led to the development of national electoral systems, mass parties and popular participation in government. It is this working class that has made democracy.

According to their historical evidence, the authors found that:

1. The working class was the most consistently pro-democratic force.

2. The landed upper-class was the most consistently anti-democratic force, depending on cheap labour.

3. The bourgeoisie was generally supportive of installing constitutional and representative government but opposed extending full rights to the lower classes.

4. The middle class pressed for their own rights and democracy. But they would form different alliances with the working and lower classes and the bourgeoisie depending on what they wanted and when they wanted it. (p.8).

The Marxist position also focusses on the contradictions of capitalism. However, wheras as Ruschemeyer at al suggest that those contradictions have advanced liberal democracy, the Marxist expectation was that those contradictions would lead to a class struggle between workers and capitalists resulting in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the emergence of a communist society. Marxists viewed capitalism as producing a limited form of democracy, that is, a liberal or bourgeois democracy and bourgeois democracy and capitalism were a temporary and transitional stage toward a people's democracy and communism.

Classical Marxism expected that the class struggle would lead to a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and bourgeois democracy at the industrial stage of their development. What has happened? Pluralists, like Lipset, suggest that modern societies have developed mechanisms to integrate the working class into society and that these societies have developed values of consensus around democratic institutions which give them the legitimacy to manage class and other conflicts. (1959:19-27). Joseph Schumpeter for example, argues that democracy has developed a political formula based on: (1) a body of beliefs that specify which institutions are legitimate, such as political parties, a free press etc., (2) methods of changing leaders, such as periodic elections, (3) and rules that allow for a relative peaceful "play" of power so that the "outs" respect the decisions made by the "ins" and the "ins" respect the rights of the "outs". (Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1947, pp.232-302; 269).

The democratic political system allows leaders to change and gives all major groups, including the working class, the opportunity to participate in politics and government. Democracy and economic development have ceased to make revolution necessary. As Lipset put it, "Economic development, producing increased income, greater economic security, and widespread higher education, largely determines the form of the 'class struggle', by permitting those in the lower strata to develop longer time perspectives and more complex and gradualist views of politics" (p.61).

Lipset had found that the importance of communist parties related to levels of economic development. They were weakest in the wealthiest countries like the US and Canada. There were moderate parties of the left in the next category of New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, Denmark, Australia, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. At that time countries that had the lower per capita incomes had the strongest communist parties, such as France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Spain and Greece.

The fall of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the decline of communist parties and working class radicalism after 1989 have led some to believe that capitalism and liberal democracy do represent the end stage of the ideological conflicts of history and that democracy and capitalism have triumphed. Political philosopher, Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay called the End of History (1989). He said that the ideology of liberal democracy was the only viable one remaining:

"what we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War...but the end of history as such: that is, the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." It is a triumph of the liberal democratic idea.

Elite development and democracy.

The elite perspective looks at the development of democracy in a different way. Scholars such as Max Weber and Robert Michels have argued that as societies become more modern they develop more numerous, complex and larger organisations, both public and private. Governments and their agencies grow in size and private corporations and other organisations do too. As this happens society gets more bureaucratic. As it gets more bureaucratic, it gets less democratic. Although societies might have elections, multi-parties, and representative parliaments, its institutions are governed or managed more by elites than by the people. Weber felt, nonetheless, that these democratic institutions were important and should not be underestimated. Michels was more pessimistic about democracy. For him, all large organisations give rise to oligarchy.

This has enormous implications for both capitalist democracies and socialist democracies. Whereas Marx felt that communism would be more democratic because it would replace class divisions, Weber believed that capitalist and communist societies would evolve large bureaucratic organisations and there would always be divisions between elites and non-elites. For instance, communist societies evolved large bureaucratic states which alienated the people.

The problem that Weber posed was that bureaucratisation of modern society was inevitable. On the one hand, it was positive in that it facilitated efficiency, the organisation to administer complex societies and political/administrative neutrality. However, it undermined democracy. Robert Michels felt that modern societies would develop into systems of oligarchy where government or management by a small group of persons would co-opt their successors and that this was common to all large organisations. (Political Parties, 1949).

Charles Lindblom adds his voice:

"Enormously large, rich in resources, the big corporations...command more resources than do large government units. They can also...insist that government meets their demands, even if these demands run counter to those of citizens expressed through their polyarchal (democratic) controls...They are on all counts disproportionately powerful...The large private corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit." (p.356).

If this is true then capitalism and democracy have not triumphed in industrial societies. It is bureaucracy and oligarchy that have. Modern writers (such as Andrew Schonfield, Modern Capitalism: The Changing Balance of Public and Private Power, 1965) have sympathised with this argument. They refer to modern capitalism as corporate capitalism, the capitalism of large corporations such as multinational corporations, or what Marxists call monopoly capitalism, the capitalism of large monopolies. Others might use the term, 'industrial democracy'.They stress the illiberal and anti-democratic character of corporate capitalism. Capitalism is controlled by large corporations which in turn are run by managerial elites. Democracy is controlled by large organisations such as political parties and governments, which in turn are run by political and governmental elites. The notion of competition only means that both the economy and the polity are characterised by competition between elites.

In summary, pluralists believe that modernisation has created the conditions for democracy and that a market system and liberal democracy complement each other. They have a positive view of democracy.

Marxists believe that working class struggles have advanced democracy but that democracy is still limited by the contradictions of capitalism such as income and power inequality. Democracy is bourgeois democracy, the democracy of the capitalist class.

Elite theorists believe that the power of large organisations make democracy an elitist or oligarchic system. Nonetheless, democratic institution are important but what exists is democratic elitism.

These perspectives raise some critical issues about the state of the politics of industrial societies.

Holden (p.124) enunciates these concerns:

1. Political alienation. Because modern Western societies are so vast and complex the ordinary person cannot have any meaningful influence on government. Apathy and disillusionment result. The population size of these societies and their bureaucratization by large organisations are responsible for this. This is an issue surrounding the EU.

2. Social inequality. Though modern, developed, industrialised and democratic, these societies cannot provide the quality of life expected. Problems such as pollution, urban congestion, discrimination against ethnic minorities, dehumanisation of the workplace, and inequalities remain acute. Europe now has its highest rate of unemployment in 40 years.

3. Political inequality. In these industrial democracies of corporate capitalism, there is inequality in political resources. Large corporations have more influence on policies than the ordinary voter, even if the ordinary voter has the power to elect governments. People elect governments but whichever is elected, corporations influence policies. Japanese politics often has scandals about corruption in the relations between politics and big business.

4. Sense of belonging. Industrial societies. Concerns about immigrants, unemployment, cut-backs in welfare have given encouragement to reformed communist parties, nationalism and neo-fascist parties. They raise issues about citizenship, national rights, and obligations to the society. National strikes, protests and violence suggest that these societies are not entirely stable.

Historical democratisation.

Most economic and political historians seem to take the position that industrialisation created the conditions for political reform and democratisation. Arnold Toynbee, for example, was an early proponent of the view that industrialisation led to parliamentary reform and that economic and political developments were inextricably linked together. In Toynbee's view, the growth of industry stimulated the growth of democracy. Closer to Rueschemeyer and Stephens was his position though that it was the working class that most consistently pressed for the full rights of citizenship and democracy.

There is still controversy on this point. Sean Lang believes that there was little momentum for democratic reforms before industrialisation. But Quinault holds the view that democratisation was a result, not of industrialisation but of a movement against aristocratic mismanagement in government and parliamentary corruption. It is difficult to settle this controversy because the two process coincided in historical time. What we can say is that the relationship between industrialisation and democratisation is not straightforward. In the Caribbean case for instance, democratisation occurred prior to industrialisation and it was a cultural transference of democratic values that led to the suffrage, party systems and constitutionalism. In the American case, democratisation was always ahead of industrialisation. In the European case, there was a closer correspondence between the two.

Like industrialisation, the process of democratisation took hundreds of years to culminate. It involved sharp class struggles. The history of democratisation in industrial societies was not as inevitable and there is little evidence that democracy was a farsighted design by liberal founding fathers as the myths of history suggest.

Democratisation proceeded in stages. It started as bourgeois democracy in which white men of property dominated parliaments. A second stage followed in which white men of lesser property were included in the franchise. At a third stage, white women won political rights. Finally, Blacks, especially in the United States where the process was much delayed, gained political rights. All of these stages involved sharp and often violent struggles to get to the succeeding stage.

Democracy and the right to vote.

If democracy is to be judged by the existence of a right by all the adult population to vote, then it is a twentieth century phenomenon in industrial countries. In virtually all of these countries, men got the right to vote before women did. The following table shows this.

Country Year of Male / Female Vote
France 1870 1944
Germany 1870 1919
Switzerland 1874 (Before 1900)
Netherlands 1894 1919
Belgium 1894 1948
Spain 1900 1932
Austria 1907 1918
Sweeden 1909 1921
Italy 1912 1945
United States 1828 1920
United Kingdom 1918 1928


(Source: Finer, 1997:1638, for male suffrage; Pugh, 1997: 166, for female suffrage).


Only one country permitted women to vote by 1900, three by 1910, 15 by 1920, 21 by 1930, 30 by 1940 and 69 by 1950. In Portugal, Hungary, Italy and Yugoslavia, women did not get the right to vote until as late as 1945 and 1946 in Romania (after they did in Jamaica). Most countries gave women the right to vote after the First World War because of women's agitation that if they could be asked to fight for their country they should be given the right to vote in their country, and male-dominated governments acceded in order to encourage women's participation in the war. In Britain, women were first given the right to vote in 1918 but these were women 30 years or older. Women were similarly enfranchised in stages in Iceland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium.

So male-oriented was the idea of democracy that even the French revolutionary document on the Rights of Man was literally about the rights of males only. The women's movement in France had to prepare its own document on the Rights of Women. No political party in France supported voting rights for women until the early twentieth century. Historically, democracy was a male enterprise.

Non- discriminatory voting.

Democracy grants the right of all adults to vote without discrimination on the grounds of gender or attributes such as race, class and religion. Yet, such forms of discrimination had remained entrenched in the period of democratisation in the industrial societies.

Class/cultural discrimination.

All industrial societies upheld property discrimination (a certain value of property or payment of a certain amount of taxes) for voters. Democracy was not only a male enterprise, it was a middle class enterprise. In 1750, at the start of the industrial revolution in England, only one-sixth of the population had the right to vote and by 1830, the situation had hardly changed. (Quinault, 1993). As late as 1880, after two reform acts in 1832 and 1887, still 40 per cent of the working class and poorer males did not have the vote in Britain.

Just as the aristocratic ideology that a 'woman's place was in the home,' dominated Europe and America and was used to keep women out of public life, so too did an ideology of the 'dangerous classes' and the uncontrolled passions of 'the mob' prevail to keep the majority of men and women unenfranchised. In the first 100 years of Britain's industrial revolution, the conservative 'Tories' dominated government and had little tolerance for the poor. The French revolution brought panic and reaction against ideas of extending the suffrage and it was there that the idea of the mass as 'the dangerous classes' was most developed. In 1817, a law gave the vote to French men who paid 300 francs per year in direct taxes, 110,000 in all, mainly landowners. This was reduced to 200 francs by a new law in 1830 but still only 33 persons for every 10,000 in the population were given the vote.

There was much religious and ethnic persecution too. In Protestant countries like Britain and the US, Catholics were discriminated against. It was only in the 1830's that political disabilities were removed from Catholics in Britain (Catholic Emancipation). During the French revolution, especially, which was in part a reaction against the Catholic domination of the French state and French society, there was widespread persecution of Catholics. Bishops and priests faced legal action, reprimands or suspension of stipends if they supported anti-government candidates.

Racial discrimination.

In America, democracy first came to white men of property, then to other white men, then white women, and lastly to black men and women. What is shocking is that voting rights for Blacks was still a struggle to attain even up to the 1960's. The deep-seated racism of American democracy ( a contradiction in terms) is revealed by the attitude of no less than Abraham Lincoln, credited with the emancipation of Blacks from slavery. In 1858, in an election speech, Lincoln exposed his true colours:

" I will say then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people...and in as much as they cannot so live while they do remain together, there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." (Dye, Zeigler:1993:63).

American democrats have never been able to explain the inequality accorded to Black Americans so they have tended to ignore the Black issue while exalting the founding fathers, separation of powers, constitutionalism, etc.. Odegard is one of the few American political scientists who will state plainly that the major contradiction to the American doctrine of freedom and democracy has been the position of Blacks in American life. Up to his writing in 1961, he could still see that,

"The Negro population has continued to suffer from segregation, discrimination, persecution, and exploitation to an extent unknown by other segments of the American people...Southern Negroes have lived in segregated districts, sent their children to segregated schools, gone to work and to worship in segregated streetcars, trains and buses, stayed in segregated hotels, eaten in segregated restaurants, gone to wholly segregated theaters or been forced to sit in segregated sections of those to which both whites and Negroes were admitted." (1961:71;75).

This was a bold statement from a white university political scientist at a time when Blacks were not allowed to attend white universities and an author of such a statement could have been fired or harassed for expressing these views. This was still a time when Blacks could not vote freely. Although the American constitution in 1870 had, in weakly stated language, said that one could not be prevented from voting on the grounds of colour. Yet, racial discriminated continued at least up to the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

In 1870, America had just come out of the civil war and with the defeat of the South, slavery ended. The fragile nature of the new constitution made it necessary to give ex-slaves the right to vote in an effort to make them loyal to the new order and defend it against any new attempts by the southern states to secede from or dominate the union and reintroduce slavery. But the granting of the right to vote was more a political strategy to defend the union rather than a sincere act of democracy. In effect, the relevant law, the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) gave each state the right to say who could vote and said that no one should be disqualified explicitly on the grounds of colour.

What this did was to allow each state the freedom to erect barriers against Blacks, ostensibly not on the basis of colour, but on the basis of literacy, hereditary or property qualifications, each discriminating against Blacks who suffered from these conditions precisely because they were Blacks in a racist society. Wilson explains:

"The Fifteenth Amendment, adopted in 1870, said that the 'right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.' Reading these words today, one would assume that they gave blacks the right to vote. That is not what the Supreme Court during the 1870's thought that they meant. By a series of decisions, it held that the Fifteenth Amendment did not necessarily confer the right to vote on anybody; it merely asserted that if someone was denied that right, the denial could not be explicitly on the grounds of race. And the burden of proving that it was race that led to the denial fell on the black who was turned away at the polls." (1989:125-126).

Wilson paints a fuller picture:

"This interpretation opened the door to all manner of state stratagems to keep blacks from voting. One was a literacy test ( a large proportion of former slaves were illiterate), another was a requirement that a poll tax be paid ( most former slaves were poor), a third was the practice of keeping blacks from voting in primary elections (in the one-party South the only meaningful election was the Democratic primary. )" (126). These primaries came to be called 'white primaries.'

But literacy tests and poll taxes would have denied poor, illiterate whites the vote too, so the states found a way to distinguish between whites, even poor ones, and blacks, even better off, educated ones.

A 'grandfather clause' was put into law saying that failing other qualifications, one could vote if his/her grandfather had the right to vote before 1867 (end of the civil war). Since blacks could not vote before 1867 and virtually all white males could, the law effectively confirmed the right of all white males to vote and denied that right to all blacks.

In addition, blacks were intimidated, threatened or even lynched, if they tried to vote or contest the laws. It was the black civil rights movement 100 years after that produced the Voting Rights Act (1965) which put an end to literacy tests and other forms of discrimination. (Blacks in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean had been voting freely years before).

Parliamentary representation.

To the early parliamentarians, democracy did not mean mass or majoritarian rule by the people. It meant 'virtual representation.' (Lang:1999:11). In eighteenth century England, this meant that it was not necessary for everyone to have a vote as long as a selection of the population (such as those who held property valuing forty shillings) could vote on everyone else's behalf. For instance, in Protestant England or slave-holding America, Catholics and slaves did not need to have a vote because others would speak for them.

But who would do so? Before the advent of political parties in the later nineteenth century, parliaments were dominated by different factions of the landed aristocracy and the newly emerging merchant and industrial classes. In all countries, men of wealth and status formed parliaments. Until the early nineteenth century in England, "only men of wealth, or influential connexions, were able to become MPs or Peers. A large majority of the members of both Houses of Parliament came from the established aristocratic and gentry families. " (Quinault: 188). In Quinault's words, power rested on property. Most MPs and Peers came from the same small number of families, sometimes two or more from a family, leading to the phenomenon of 'parliamentary families.'

Parliamentary representation coincided with upper class representation and the powerful families of this class. Parliamentary representation really meant class representation. Parliament was only a convenient place for them to meet, debate, consult, take votes and work together in politics.

These parliamentarians spoke for the special interests of the upper class and upper class families rather than for the people. In their view, it was these interests, not the people, that constituted the nation. So, England's woollen interests, farming interests, the Church of England or the armed forces had their spokesmen. Plantation owners in the Caribbean were the West Indian or Sugar interest and those who had investments in the East India Company were the Indian interest.

America's 'founding fathers' likewise, did not conceive of democracy the way we do now. They did not believe in majoritarian democracy and according to Dye and Zeigler, the idea of separation of powers was to break up governmental power into three separate branches, some like the Supreme Court, unelected, so that no majority of the people could control the whole government. (1993; Odegard et al: 1961:110). This was so, Dye and Zeigler argue, because these were men of property. The founding fathers numbered among the elite and the middle class was amply represented in the legislature. The great mass was disenfranchised by property-owning or tax-paying qualifications.

Odegard et al (1961:106) admits that the framers of the American constitution themselves took a dim view of democracy. Democracy to them was chaos and a threat to the owners of private property. They go on to say that, "democracy in America, as we today think of it, was not a conscious creation of the founding fathers. On the contrary, they saw themselves as the authors, not of a democracy, but of a republic by which they meant...the leaders of the people - a more or less natural elite - would represent and speak for... the whole people." (109-110).

Free and fair elections.

Elections were not representative since most people did not have the vote until the twentieth century. But, even worse, elections were often bought and were not even competitive in most cases. Sean Lang explains how corrupt early elections were in Britain:

" To anyone familiar with democratic forms of government, the eighteenth-century parliamentary system seems transparently, even comically chaotic. The distribution of constituencies was dominated by the English rural counties with a heavy weighting towards the south of England, while major new industrial centres like Birmingham or Sheffield were totally unrepresented; and burrough electorates could be tiny, enabling wealthy patrons to buy and sell pocket burroughs like so much produce. In an extreme case, the parliamentary burrough of Gatton in Surrey contained only six houses, and was frequently sold between burrough- mongers... Above all, what really offends modern sensibilities is the corruption which pervaded the system, from widespread bribery at elections to the patronage circles and faction politics that operated at Westminster, not to mention the manifold opportunities at all levels for embezzlement or fraud." (1999: 8-9).

For many years during industrialisation the rural counties had more electoral burroughs (election districts) than the urbanising ones, favouring the landed rural interests. Rich land-owners could buy the votes of the small electorates, who could otherwise be forced off the land, or face higher rents. These small burroughs (Old Sarum and Dunwich at one time had no voters but still returned two MP's each), could be easily bought and so they were called 'pocket burroughs' (in the pockets of landowners) or 'rotten burroughs' ( those that were deserted or contained only a few people making the votes easy to buy). Burrough-mongers were those who specialised in buying and selling votes or constituency burroughs.

In France the situation was not different in the nineteenth century. Tombs reports that:

"Attempts to control elections were made by governments throughout the period...Because the administrative system placed such wide powers in the hands of the State and its local agents, many kinds of gerrymandering, intimidation and bribery were undertaken. Constituency boundaries were carefully drawn and redrawn. Polling stations were shifted. Electoral registers were tampered with...If necessary, the counting of votes could be falsified...and not until 1914 was the ballot truly secret...there were many carrots and sticks at...disposal. Jobs could be offered...Decorations likewise. Concessions ranged from railway contracts to tobacconists' licenses..." (1996:106), and so on, and so on.

In France too, electoral districts were small and voters could easily be cajoled. In the first half of the nineteenth century, 75 per cent of constituencies had under 600 electors and many deputies were elected by under 200 voters.

So widespread was the incidence of buying voters and elections that many elections were uncontested and therefore uncompetitive. Early democracy therefore failed the criterion of competitive elections. Lang gives some examples from England. In the election years from 1874 to 1820, the percentage of uncontested constituency elections ranged from 70-75 per cent, excepting 1818 when it was about 60% (p. 19). In the nine elections over all of those years, more than two-thirds of constituency elections returned MPs who did not have to compete with anyone to get into parliament. In fact, for about 100 years until the 1830's the Tories dominated parliament. These were men drawn from the large landowners who owned the land on which electoral districts were created and controlled the voters who were rent-payers for the lots they cultivated on the landowners property. So, the Tory MPs, in effect, owned or controlled the electoral districts and the few voters which, in a sense, they treated like their private property.

Constitutional governments and rights.

Democracy is based on governments that have limitations on the arbitrary exercise of power and rule by law. In the 1700's, this form of constitutional government emerged in the United States (but rights were limited), and by about 1850, the principle of constitutionalism had become accepted throughout western Europe. This only came after revolutionary upheavals and regular reversals of constitutional gains. From then on, absolutist monarchs (except in Russia) and constitutional monarchies began to give way to parliamentary governments. Britain moved towards parliamentary supremacy from the 1830's, Italy from the 1840's, France and Germany from the 1870's.

But how well did these constitutional governments protect rights. We have seen that the Americans practiced segregation according to the notion of 'separate but equal races' - which is a contradiction is terms, well into the twentieth century. Those who were suspected as not in support of the 'American way,' were spied upon and harassed. It might have been the secret activities of the CIA and the FBI that have saved American democracy rather than support of its elitist and racist democracy.

In France, the period of 100 years leading up to the First World War was far from the standards of protecting constitutional rights. Tombs reveals that:

"Throughout our period, state employees risked demotion or dismissal if their loyalty was insufficiently demonstrated in times of crisis. Publicans (bar operators) could lose their licenses If they allowed their premises to be used for opposition meetings. Police powers could be used to seize or ban newspapers, forbid meetings and demonstrations, harass and arrest activists, and tear down opposition posters...Files were kept on voters' political sympathies. Secret police funds paid spies to infiltrate opposition organisations and even agents provocateurs to start violence at meetings; they also subsidised pro-government newspapers and bought off or even bought up those of the opposition." (1996: 106-107).

O'Brien writes that, during the industrial revolution in England, the state concentrated on protecting the propertied. Its authority was used harshly against the lower orders. It supported masters against servants. Large sections of the labour force went through life under an authoritarian government. That government severely curtailed their rights at work and in selecting their occupations. There was no right to strike and business-labour relations more resembled a state of feudal servitude than a system of free contract. The British House of Commons enacted 40 statutes prohibiting trade unions in the later 1700's and in 1800, it outlawed all forms of collective bargaining.

The industrial revolution dislocated many people and led to an upsurge in crime. Crime rose from 49 per 100,000 to 192 per 100,000 between 1805 and 1842 in England. (Philips: 1993: 158). At that time there was more crime in Britain than anywhere else in the world. The British state dealt with crime by enacting a Bloody Code. Philips says that under this code, over 200 offences could bring the death penalty. In general, the state suppressed disorder and supported authority and hierarchy. It enforced respect for wealth and power.

It is true that this period witnessed a growth of democratic ideas. But industrialisation also brought, ironically new means, that is, technology by which governments could control the population. Weaponry strengthened the means of police violence. New means of travel and communication meant getting faster to people to control their behaviour and propagating more effectively. The growth of bureaucracy allowed governments to have more information on more people and gave governments more bureaucrats who could help to survey the population.

Finer (1997: 1480-1481) makes this point about the Soviet Government. But the point is applicable to liberal countries too, even if the degree of control was less. Industrialisation greatly enhanced government's powers of penetration to get the population to conform. Faster transmission of information meant more instantaneous surveillance. Greater mobility allowed the police to be moved to even remote places of unrest.


The democratic tradition had been relatively weaker in some industrial countries. Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal have succumbed to authoritarian governments, such as Nazi governments and military rule. Democracy in the industrialised countries still need to control the overpowering influence of large corporations, find a better balance between male and female representation, extend equal rights to native peoples (eg. Aborigines in Australia), protect children's rights (child labour still exists), among other areas.

The history of democracy shows that it has been a long struggle, less liberal than is sometimes portrayed and one where property rights - the obsession of capitalism - is often at the centre.

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