Democratic Springtime 2011: Democratizing our Dysfunctional World System

Glen T. Martin

The “Democratic Spring” of 2011 expresses what people around the world have felt for a long time.  In nation after nation both nonviolent and armed resistance to dictatorship and tyranny has erupted. This rebellion is significant and indicative of the sentiment of people’s worldwide. The World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) has chapters in many countries around the world from which people are demanding democracy, not only for themselves, but for the people of Earth.

Much of the uprising in this democratic springtime has taken place in the Arab nations of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and elsewhere.  There was even incipient resistance in Saudi Arabia, where massive force was used to prevent its overt appearance.[i] I was in Bangladesh in December 2010, where people are struggling against fundamentalist religious and military forces to preserve their democracy that was established in 1971. In India as well, as Vandana Shiva has eloquently described in her book Earth Democracy, the struggle for democracy is vibrant and widespread.

A similar upsurge has even taken place in the United States and Great Britain where masses of people in both nations have come out in demonstrations, civil disobedience, and other forms of resistance against the ruling class attempt to break the unions, cut fundamental social services, and solidify corporate domination over the political process.[ii]  Many articles have appeared in the alternative press in these countries detailing the facts of the vast accumulation of wealth in the hands of the rich that has continued even after the crash of 2008, as well as the steps taken by politicians representing corporate domination to further that wealth and reduce the opportunities of ordinary people.[iii]

The democratic revolution erupting this spring, however, will not succeed under the current world system, which is heavily stacked against democracy and the welfare of the people of Earth. This world system has two major components that work together to ensure the rule of a tiny fraction of the Earth’s population over the rest of us. It works, in other words, to ensure that democracy does not work and cannot work.  These two interrelated components are global corporate capitalism and the global system of “sovereign” nation-states.  In this system, the elites in government and the elites in business work hand in hand to make laws and regulations benefiting corporate wealth-accumulation through laws benefiting corporate interests including privatization programs, security arrangements protecting corporations, interest and rent payments, access to cheap resources, and access to cheap, exploitable labor. [iv]

This global system is protected by the world’s imperial hegemon, the United States, with 730 known military bases in all corners of the world and significant economic and political leverage over nearly every nation on Earth.[v]  This system ensures the accumulation of private wealth in the hands of the banks and large corporations (including the ruling class within the US) through a balkanization of the world’s peoples into easily manageable nation-state components. Sometimes the Pentagon and US espionage systems are taken by surprise as happened recently in Tunisia, where largely nonviolent massive protests rapidly toppled a US supported dictator early in 2011 and served as a catalyst for the “Democratic Springtime” throughout much of the Arab-speaking world, giving the people of Tunisia at least some hope of creating for themselves an effective constitutional democracy.

A largely nonviolent revolution soon followed in Egypt resulting in the deposition of another US supported dictator, with the Egyptian army refusing the dictator’s orders to fire upon the protestors. However, forward movement toward democracy in Egypt remains stalled since the army has assumed control of the country, an option for “governing” regularly supported by the US since its ascendency to hegemony after the Second World War.[vi]  The US has now swung into action to help suppress the spread of democracy in the Arab world.  It has made an agreement with Saudi Arabia not to interfere with Saudi military invasion of Bahrain to protect the autocratic government there and has remained silent as governments in Yemen and other Arab countries fire upon unarmed protestors to stifle democratic dissent.[vii]

The current nation-state system allows political trouble in one part of the world to be quarantined and eradicated by the global hegemon and its imperial lackeys (Britain, France, etc.). If international manipulation of the victim country fails to succeed (bribes, economic threats, etc.), then hegemonic interests will be protected by overt force. Direct invasion and colonial control (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), once accomplished, may result in withdrawal and installation of neo-colonial puppet dictators who use political surveillance and torture to prevent outbreaks of democracy and other such rebellions against the poverty, marginalization, and misery of the masses.[viii]  The principle on non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states applies in general to all nations except the imperial superpower, which routinely attempts to influence elections, fund right wing media, bribe officials, and use all means of pressure to keep its global empire in conformity with the needs of corporate investors.

When the imperial interests of the former colonial powers dictate military intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, then the principle of non-interference is quickly jettisoned, as in the case of Libya after the democratic springtime spread to that country. The dictator in Libya was not a puppet of the imperial powers but a vocal critic of Western hypocrisy. In addition, he had control of significant oil resources not directly in the hands of the multinational oil cartels. For both these reasons, he had to go. Suddenly, “humanitarian intervention” was the theme of the day, and a UN agreement to a simple no-fly zone was interpreted by the US, Britain, and France as near unlimited discretion to militarily support the rebels against the forces of the official Libyan government.  Again, the balkanization of the world into particulate nation-states allowed the imperial forces to ensure domination of a portion of the world’s people in the service of their “national interests.” There is no doubt, however, that democracy will not be allowed to triumph in Libya.

The balkanization of the people of Earth into nation-state compartments is essential to the maintenance of the world capitalist system and the US Empire.  World citizens who wish to free human beings to become self-determining participants in “one world democracy” often do not realize the extent to which the balkanized system of sovereign nation-states must necessarily be preserved by the global ruling class.[ix] Many world federalist organizations support the democratization of the UN, for example, and the democratic spring of 2011 has enlivened them to push, in the name of the aspirations of the people of Earth, for a World Parliament to directly represent people within the UN organization to complement the existing General Assembly (that represents only governments).[x]

The present world system, however, is promoted and protected by the UN organization, which largely mirrors the world system as described above.  The UN Charter recognizes the “sovereign integrity of its member states” (Article 2) and places all effective power in the hands of the Security Council, dominated by its five permanent members, all of whom have aspirations to global power and, at the very least, regional hegemony.  In addition, the entire UN system has long been colonized by global capitalism so, for example, GATT (the General Agreement on Treaties and Trade) has been transformed into the adamantly “free trade” World Trade Organization (WTO). The principle of “national sovereignty” means that nations may or may not sign treaties, that they have no compelling reason to comply with treaties they have signed, and that they may even sign treaties (so called international laws) while exempting themselves from compliance (as the US has repeatedly done).

The UN allows the global superpower almost free rein to use UN “international laws” in its own interest, and, when these do not serve its interests, ignore them, as it did with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Many world federalists correctly perceive that the UN has an extensive worldwide infrastructure that could be very useful to global democracy, but they fail to realize that piecemeal reform of the UN system will not result in global democracy. The imperial dominators hold all the cards that will certainly be used to block effectiveness of reform, including the effectiveness of a global people’s assembly that might be created to complement the nearly powerless General Assembly.

The World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) does not share the apparent naiveté of many world federalist organizations regarding the world system represented in the UN.  The WCPA understands that piecemeal reforms of the UN system cannot be successful in the face of the forces ranged against global democracy (at least not in time to prevent planetary ecocide or nuclear omnicide).  The WCPA has long supported, however, an Article 109 Review Conference in which the nations in the General Assembly vote to reexamine the UN system. 

In an Article 109 review conference, the UN would have the option to replace the UN Charter (representing the current undemocratic world system) with the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (representing true global democracy: The Earth Constitution provides for a truly democratic tri-cameral legislature with the authority, and supporting institutions, to pass enforceable world laws for the people of Earth. A Review Conference that ratified the Earth Constitution would be an optimum result for the people of Earth. The General Assembly could easily become the core of the House of Nations, the global voting mechanisms that are currently set up by organizations like Vote World Parliament and the People’s Congress could elect the representatives to the House of Peoples, and the presently functioning Provisional World Parliament could become the core of the House of Counselors.

By the simple act of replacing the UN Charter with the Earth Constitution, moreover, the UN High Commission of Human Rights could become the core of the World Ombudsmus created by the Constitution, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) could become benches of the World Supreme Court system, the WTO could be converted to the democratically run World Financial Administration, and UN Peacekeeping forces could be converted into the civilian World Police. Moreover, the transformation would be decisive. It would not become a mere cosmetic modification of the current world system of domination and exploitation. For the Constitution creates genuine world democracy with enforceable world law, with the power and mandate to require multinational banking and corporations to serve the needs of the people of Earth, and with the power to disarm the nations and bring them into conformity with the democratic rule of law.

The Provisional World Parliament has already taken other steps to promote this integration. For example, the Education Act (WLA 26) allocates major funding to a number of U.N. agencies that promote education in the world as soon as these agencies ratify the Earth Constitution. It names the following agencies for allocations: U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), U.N. University (UNU), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), U.N. Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and U.N. University for Peace (UPAZ). Unlike the U.N., the Earth Federation government will not be dependent on the voluntary donations of sovereign nation-states but will have entirely sufficient funds to serve all human needs, including massive worldwide educational development.[xi]

However, even though the WCPA fully supports a UN General Review Conference that would open up the possibilities outlined here, it is likely that the global hegemon will veto any attempt to make this happen.  In our judgment, it is very likely that the people of Earth will have to directly ratify the Earth Constitution independently of the UN system, attracting those nation-states to their cause who realize that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain through joining the Earth Federation under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  The democratic springtime of 2011 offers a taste of the hopes and dreams entertained by the people of Earth.

But these hopes and dreams can only be realized through the founding of a new social contract for the Earth. The UN is not a social contract but a treaty of sovereign nations colonized by the world’s hegemon.  It is not likely that it can be modified to become a genuine democracy.  There will be subversion and resistance every step of the way.  But ratifying a new founding document (that cannot be altered or compromised prior to its ratification) offers a tremendous hope to the people of Earth.  There is great strength in placing our hopes in a founded global social contract.

Perpetual compromise with the forces of global capital and imperialism is unnecessary here.  The people of Earth can rise up and shout “enough!”  They can found a new world system predicated on equality, freedom, peace, prosperity, and justice from the very start.  Only such a founded Earth Constitution can really transform the present undemocratic world system.  Reforming the UN is ultimately not a significantly viable option.  Democratic freedom for the people of Earth demands a global social contract in the form of a transparent, completed document: the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

[i]  Noam Chomsky, “On Libya and the Unfolding Crises,” Interviewed by Stephen Shalom and Michael Albert, March 31, 2011.  Z-Net:

[ii]Andy Kroll, “Return to Wisconsin: the Beginning or the End?”  Tom Dispatch, March 31, 2011.

[iii] Zachary Roth, “Off-The-Charts Income Gains For Super-Rich,” by Zachary Roth. The Lookout – Yahoo News, April 8, 2011.

[iv] Terry Boswell and Christopher Chase-Dunn, The Spiral of Capitalism and Socialism: Toward Global Democracy. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 2000.

[v] Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the end of the Republic. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2004.

[vi] Michael Parenti, Against Empire. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1995.

[vii]  Chomsky, op.cit.

[viii]  Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008.

[ix] Belitsos and Tetalman, One World Democracy: A Progressive Vision for Enforceable World Law. San Rafael, CA: Origin Press, 2005.

[x]  Andreas Bummel, “Towards a Global Democratic Revolution: A Global Parliament and the Transformation of the World Order,” April 5, 2011. Internet circulated article.

[xi] Glen T. Martin, The Earth Federation Movement: Founding a Global Social Contract. History, Vision, Documents. Pamplin, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press, 2011.

Glen T. Martin is Professor of Philosophy at Radford University, Virginia, USA, Secretary-General of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), and President of the Institute on World Problems (IOWP).  His web site is