Without Economic Democracy, Political Democracy Will Falter

This article appeared originally in Eastern Armenian on the site Hetq.am on June 22, 2018. In October, a group of local activists in the Boston area organized its translation, and this is the first time it is appearing in English.

Photo: Sofia Manukyan/The Armenian Weekly

One thing everyone seems to agree on, now that a popular uprising has overthrown the dictatorial regime in Armenia, is that systemic changes are needed.

For now, the political arena is dominated by proposals and promises for reforms aimed at strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions. There is talk of adopting a new electoral code, revisiting the law on political parties, reforming the judicial system, eliminating corruption, prohibiting business from encroaching into the arena of state governance, and the like. We consider such reforms vital and urgent, but inadequate.

Systemic change encompasses a review not only of political institutions but also of the economic system and economic relations. The economic and social issues arising from the inequitable distribution of resources have an enormous impact on people’s everyday lives; the in-depth consideration of these issues and, above all, the criticism and the reshaping of the social and economic system from which they flow, cannot remain on the margins of the political agenda.

The present transitional government and the businesspeople and nonprofits surrounding it do not take issue with the essence of the economic and political reforms undertaken by the former regimes; they see the solution to the country’s socio-economic issues in holding free elections, eliminating economic monopolies and import restrictions, fostering competition and creativity, and encouraging foreign direct investment. These proposals and promises, however, perpetuate the logic of the economic system established since Armenia’s independence in 1991.

Neoliberalism is the magic pill proposed today to cure poverty, emigration, economic monopolies, and other ills. Yet, in so many neoliberal-capitalist countries—where election results aren’t falsified, import restrictions don’t exist, and there’s plenty in the state’s coffers—class polarization nonetheless grows, with wealth concentrated in the hands of a small minority, while a great swath of people are exploited and live in poverty.

The promised inflow of investment capital does not come with any assurance that the capital will be equitably and fairly distributed. The jobs born of these investments will not necessarily afford dignity, job satisfaction, or fair pay.

Investments are not acts of charity. For the investor, they are outlays made in anticipation of profit. It is extremely important to consider the methods and conditions in which that profit will be obtained and the potential negative influences that process might have on people and nature.

Investments are not acts of charity. For the investor, they are outlays made in anticipation of profit. It is extremely important to consider the methods and conditions in which that profit will be obtained and the potential negative influences that process might have on people and nature.

Moreover, the promise that the existing punitive burden of interest on debt will be lightened does not free the citizens from the ever-present threat of renewed debt bondage so long as the present financial policies remain unquestioned and in force.

The exclusion of tycoons from serving in politics does not deprive them of a decisive say in government in the absence of mechanisms to prevent intense influence-peddling on behalf of business interests.

Even the promised economic growth and increase in budget revenue does not mean poverty will be eliminated and social justice will be established so long as there are no mechanisms to ensure an equitable distribution of wealth.

Finally, even democracy and the supremacy of law can be threatened if existing economic classes remain polarized. Political democracy remains in jeopardy and subject to counterrevolution, in the absence of economic democracy. Unbridled capital will always seek power and authority to secure greater wealthand thus further authority.

We must thus caution that the revolution must extend beyond political democratization and economic growth; we must work toward social justice and economic democracy.

More specifically, we expect the government and society

  • in science, healthcare, education, social security, and pensions, to develop, advocate, and implement policies rooted in social justice, comity, and mutual aid—rather than competition and the exploitation of public resources for private gain and business profit. In the new Armenia, we expect a balanced and fair allocation of budgetary resources, the strengthening of social security, and pushback against efforts to further privatize the sectors in question.
  • to outlaw the current usurious approach in the banking system, especially what concerns loans or lines of credit. Aim at the establishment of membership-based, just, and democratic mechanisms for the accumulation and distribution of money.
  • to develop, advocate, and implement mechanisms that ensure fair distribution of capital resources and abolish social polarization; such mechanisms include, among others, progressive taxation, basic universal income, and the collective ownership of property.
  • to strengthen and increase the effectiveness of means to defend the rights of workers, by supporting, for instance, labor unions and their self-organizing. The obligation of the state to defend the rights of workers must be codified into law. In our technological age, it is necessary to radically rethink norms inherited from the 19th century like the eight-hour workday, the relationship between work and leisure, and employer-employee inequality.
  • in environmental protection, to adopt the simple principle that the protection of the environment must be disinterested and non-anthropocentric. The organization of daily life and the economy should be guided by the approach that humans are part of the ecosystem, not above it. In the absence of public custody of the environment, with private interests taking precedence over the public interest, with legal protections and norms weakened or made into mere formalities, and supervisory bodies abolished or weakened, everyone loses—except private companies and their financial backers, including foreign investors. Meanwhile, nature gets devastated.
  • to eliminate invisible obstacles, including cultural ones, that limit the opportunities for full and equal participation of certain social categories—including women, members of ethnic and religious groups, individuals of various sexual orientations and gender identities, and those with disabilities—in political and economic relations and processes.

We are aware that the list of issues raised is not exhaustive and that they require deeper analysis and broader discussion.

We therefore call on individuals who share our concerns to make the imperatives for social justice and economic democracy a subject of broad public discussion, as a result of which a corresponding political agenda could emerge. As a first step, we initiate the establishment of an online discussion forum/blog, medium.com/sev-bibar, which is open to everyone who shares the concerns raised above.

Yerevan
June 2018

Anna Shahnazaryan
Arpine Galfayan
Hrag Papazian
Sofia Manukyan
Vahram Soghomonyan
Zara Harutyunyan

Translated by Vincent Lima

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

10 Comments

  1. Removing the local oligarchy will be a hollow victory if it only clears a path for the global oligarchy to take its place.

    • When it’s Western neo-Bolsheviks that are behind revolutions and regime changes, as in the case of Armenia, domestic unrest or foreign subjugation is inevitable. Nikol and his cohorts were put in power by a Globalist elite. They had funding from the CIA and George Soros’ Open Society. Also, and this may shock gullible Armenians, there is not such thing as democracy. It never existed, it will never exist. The “Democracy” that is exported by Western powers (at the tip a sharp bayonet and/or economic sanctions) is primarily meant to either destroy nations or make them subservient to Western powers. The reality of the fact is that the West is a plutocracy. The West is ruled by a super-wealthy elite and very special interests. The main difference between the Western model and the Eastern model is that the Western Oligarchs are much more educated and refined than their Eastern counterparts and the Western world has had a hundred years head start from all the rest.

  2. Thank you to the Armenian Weekly for publishing this important statement by six Armenia based activists and intellectuals who argue that the velvet revolution must extend beyond political democratization and economic growth and include a vision toward social justice and economic democracy.

    I first came across this open letter in the Armenian language section of Hetq in late June and have been dreaming about seeing an English translation of it published somewhere. I believe that this call to action is just as relevant today as it was in June.

    Thank you also to Vincent Lima for his outstanding translation of this piece!

    • This is the same group of “intellectuals” that were silent for the past 20 years while loudly applauding Serge Sargisyan in Boston. Although some of the points made are natural and valid, no one in the current administration suggested otherwise. The premise of this story is not correct and strongly suggests hidden motives. I would take a wild guess that the authoritarian thugs and corrupt-ARF are on a mission to discredit the current administration. The ARF continues to make its choice to team-up with the oligarchs and support corruption for the past 20 years. It is clear from the recent elections in Yerevan – with 0.22% of the vote – the ARF has no credibility.

  3. Great article- an economically inclusive Armenia can be a more successful Armenia that is more independent of outside influences – and by engaging all members of our society we can build a resilient and sustainable state.

  4. Economic Democracy is a new term for me. I do not know nor envision how does it work in terms of marketing, consumerism, simple basics that derive a market namely supply to meet a demand. But somehow the term reminds me of much tested and failed economic systems such as socialism or even communism. That does not mean I am for an unregulated, “laissez faire” market and a government unresponsive to social needs. Other than being a fancy term, I simply do not understand what “economic democracy” entails and how does it differ from the failed economic systems I noted.

    • It’s more of an approach, rather than a system. “Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that proposes to shift decision-making power from corporate managers and corporate shareholders to a larger group of public stakeholders that includes workers, customers, suppliers, neighbors and the broader public. No single definition or approach encompasses economic democracy, but most proponents claim that modern property relations externalize costs, subordinate the general well-being to private profit and deny the polity a democratic voice in economic policy decisions.”
      More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_democracy

  5. What’s interesting is that there is a new political party that is created, Kaghakatsu Voroshum, which is rooted in Social Democracy and social justice. Their official platform will be public in early November.
    It would be interesting to see if any of the points made in this article would be included by the new party.

  6. I read the article and the comments several times but I am still confused.
    Who are these 6 activists? what is their background? what do they do in life?
    Information/data about them will be very helpful.
    A new fancy term ” economic democracy” has been introduced. Sounds good. But what is it really? In the real world and pragmatically how is it supposed to work?
    Vart Adjemian

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