The heart of the matter
Democracy claims to be the most difficult objective to achieve, and the most vital, the ideal desired by all human beings: the theory and practice of collective freedom. Democracy is equated with organizing social life by common decisions which take into account everybody's needs and desires as much as possible.
But that ideal also claims that to be more than just an ideal, this process of common decision-making should happen in conditions of equality between us all. Mere political equality gives each citizen rights but ineffective powers: real democracy implies socio-economic equality, with no more rich and poor, no more master and servant, no more boss and employee. So a total reorganization and sharing of riches which is fair will enable each of us to have a fair share in decision-making on big issues as well as on minor ones. We'll have a democracy that's not just formal, but real.
This is where we encounter a logical flaw.
Sharing is a basic and elementary necessary human attitude, but no-one seriously expects it to solve the social question. At best, it can alleviate it. No moralist or prophet has ever convinced the rich and the mighty to divide their wealth and power fairly between all human beings. We're entitled to ask where this social (and not just political) "fairness" is going to come from ? Democracy can't achieve it on its own. This so-called "real" democracy lacks reality.
Democracy is a contradiction: it pretends to give and guarantee something essential which inevitably evades it.
Still, while most people go on at length about the failings of democracy, very few are willing to discuss its nature, because it appears as the best framework for human emancipation, and the only way to get it. Any resistance to exploitation, and any endeavour to create a world without exploitation, has to face the hard fact of the exploiters' control over the exploited. The endless struggle against factory despotism, against boss rule on the shop floor and outside the factory, and also the struggle for rank and file control over a strike, go beyond the mere refusal to depend upon a boss, a local politician, or even a union or party leader. That negative has a positive dimension. It's the first step to direct and non-competitive relations, which entail new ways of meeting, discussing and making decisions. No social movement, big or small, can evade the issue: Who rules ? Otherwise, without procedures and structures different from top-down ones, the "lower classes" will eternally be treated as inferior. Be they called a commune, a committee, a collective, a soviet, a council, or a simple general meeting, every participant in these bodies achieves his individual freedom as well as his collective existence. Liberty and fraternity are experienced through acts.
Now, do these forms create the movement or just structure it ?
It's no use dismissing our question on the grounds that they do both...
...because the nature of democracy is to treat debate and decision, not as what it is, a component of social life (and therefore of all positive change), but as the prime condition of social life (and therefore of all positive change). That's what we'll be discussing
On the way, we'll also have to show how the blinding light of democracy is even more attractively deceptive because the word itself is confused and confusing.
But first, a little historical meandering, to see how our critique differs from others.