Monday, November 19, 2012

Marching in the footsteps of the Levellers

Creating a real democracy to replace our deficient, defective system is obviously no simple task. However, the positive outcome of an assembly called around producing an Agreement of the People for the 21st century shows that the project is gathering momentum.

A diverse range of groups and individuals have formed a steering group to complete work on revising the draft Agreement presented to the assembly that was held in London at the weekend (You can watch a live stream here, here and here).   

When finalised, the Agreement will be presented as the framework for a new democratic constitution for Britain. The idea is that the Agreement should embrace political, economic, social, legal, environmental and other rights.

The assembly heard proposals to complete the work within six months and to then launch a campaign to win mass support for the Agreement, to create a movement that will fight for it.

Working groups came up with many proposals to improve and amend the present draft text. These will be incorporated into the process of producing a final Agreement.

Among the many action points was a commitment at an early stage to try to create global links with other progressive organisations and groups. How this can happen was established in the assembly itself, when a representative of Revolucion Democratica from Chile was able to take part in a working group via the internet.

The need to extend participation in the process through online forums (with links to each other) and make use of video presentations was a key proposal which the steering group will work on when it meets for the first time. 

Also crucial will be the search for allies amongst networks of community groups, trade unions, activist organisations and those struggling against the state over cuts, attacks on human rights and for climate change action. This is clearly going to require resources – human and financial – so fund raising will be crucial.
Support from creative artists is already forthcoming. “The Revolution Will Be Networked” assembly drew inspiration from performances by poets Chip Grim, Cristina Viti and Adnan al-Sayegh. 

The Agreement of the People project takes its inspiration from the struggles of the Levellers and Diggers during the English Revolution in 1647. A new constitutional settlement was needed to complete the switch from the absolute power of the monarchy to parliamentary power.

When the Levellers put forward their Agreement at the famous Putney Debates at meetings of the Army Council of the New Model Army, it emphasised democratic control of power, the rule of law, regular elections, a wider franchise.

Theirs was the first attempt in history to create a constitution, to say how the country should be governed. Although there were two more drafts, the Levellers’ agreement was defeated. Parliament became sovereign but there was no democracy to go with it.

Leveller ideas surfaced again in the American and French revolutions. The famous words in the US constitution about holding “these truths to be self-evident” and “certain unalienable rights” sound like Leveller language.

Fast forward to the 21st century and, although the right to representation has long been won, the state has undermined this through a direct alliance with corporate and financial power. A market state has established a stranglehold over society.

The plan to produce an Agreement of the People for the 21st century builds on work done by democracy activists in the previous decade and the Real Democracy working group of Occupy London.

Created at the end of 2011, the group took as its starting point the initial statement of Occupy London, that the “current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust”. The group has championed analysis, debates and discussion about our flawed political/state system as well as the English Revolution.

Seven groups have initially declared their support for the development of a new Agreement. This is significant because it cannot be the property of one organisation. It has to win broad support.

The time is right historically to consider what a real democracy would and could look like. We are in good company historically speaking. We are a line that goes back to the Levellers, the Diggers, the Chartists, the Suffragettes. We are with Tom Paine and John Lilburne and many other fighters for democracy and against state oppression.

We know that the tide of history is with us and not the status quo. 

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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