Real Democracy - The Art of Seeing


José Saramago

In this article, I look at how a nobel prize winning author's, José Saramago's ideas are reflected in the Real Democracy Movements goals.

When the old man picked up the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, he referred to himself in the third person as ‘The apprentice’.   

“The apprentice thought, 'we are blind', and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.”

José Saramago followed up that book ‘Blindness’ with another entitled ‘Seeing’.  In the same fabled land where the population had gone blind and then recovered, they now have an election and 83% of the population, when they go out in the later afternoon to vote, cast a blank ballot.  This brings about a constitutional crisis which leads to the Government threatening to, and then abandoning the population fleeing to another city and making that the capital.  The ‘blankers’ are a threat to society.  One Cabinet minister in the book refers to this act of casting a blank ballot as ‘a dept charge launched against the system.’  The apprentice simply writes the people exercise ‘the simple right not to follow any consensually established opinion.’

What Saramago is playing with is the idea that this very apathy in terms of selecting their rulers rips through the corridors of power like a hurricane.  The people see through the production that is modern social democracy.  That’s where the title emerges ‘Seeing’ is all about seeing through what something purports to be, for what it truly is.  So in the farce that follows, you have a state of emergency, the government threatening to pull out, and leave the people on their own, leaderless.  This all comes to pass, but life continues as normal for people and the chaos threatened by the government never arises.

I think a lot of the wisdom of this great writer has permeated through society (2 million copies of his books sold in his native Portugal) and he has had a broader appeal with his books being translated into 25 different languages.  

The idea; the kernel of truth that is contained in the book ‘Seeing’ is the same as what is reflected in the Real Democracy Now movement which we’ve seen emerging in Spain.   Saramago the anarcho-communist unfortunately did not live to witness it but the old man would be smiling with this example of people seeing through the process.   Inspired by the determination of the Egyptian people in changing their world, the Spanish youth have been moved to action.  A questioning of the system like this is never tolerated by the authorities for long.  We could see that with the brutal suppression and ‘clean-up’ operation that went on in Placa du Catalunya in Barcelona.

The protestors see through the circus of voting for one political party over another, when the true agenda gets revealed to all via the European Pact.  In this country we’ve seen that changes in government or in the color of those parties that make up the government will make no difference to the policy implemented by them.  Austerity and cuts are here to stay and paying the debts due to speculation is being firmly placed on the backs of the working people. 

Ollie Rehn’s gang will get their pound of flesh and they’ll be ably aided by our politicians.  The real pact is that the elected government, whoever they are, delivers a bound, silenced and compliant public to the bankers and bondholders.  All this democracy does is give us a choice as to who binds us to the debts.

The Euro pact is evidence of this – it is a moment in time when we see who is really pulling the strings.   When you went down to vote in the last election you did not vote for the European Central Bank or the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, but they are the ones who are writing the play book for our governments.

Real Democracy is an idea that will have to be fought for.  Real democracy will have to be built again.  It certainly is not what we have at the moment, and it does not come from the stroke of a pencil every 5 years.  All you get from that is a new stooge for the bankers.

Essentially the idea remains the same.  The idea of democracy is a simple one, but it has been co-opted and corrupted for years.  Some would argue that it has only bloomed for short moments of time.  It is only by working together, all of us that we can get back to that idea of real democracy.  Saramago in all his wit and wisdom knew that.  His books might just show us how to get there.

WORDS:Dermot Freeman