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The consequences of unequal development
The thesis that unequal development cannot be overcome within the framework of capitalism entails fundamental consequences as to the identification of the issues that are really on the agenda of necessary and possible political changes in the modern world. In fact this thesis defines the 'system' not only by its attribute of 'capitalist' (an accurate but insufficient description), but also by its inequality and polarization in capitalist expansion.
All the key questions of our age must be situated within the overall problematic framework, including questions of 'socialist transition' (the East), the stability of central capitalist societies (the West), and the crisis peripheral capitalist societies (the South).
The unequal character of capitalist expansion, that cannot be overcome within the framework of capitalism, objectively requires that the world be remade on the basis of an alternative social system; and the peoples of the periphery are obliged to be aware of this and insist upon it, if they want to avoid the worst, that is, reaching the point of genocide, the real danger of which is amply shown by the history of capitalist expansion.
The form of challenge to the capitalist order from revolts at the periphery, obliges us to give serious reconsideration to the issue from 'socialist transition' to abolition of classes. Whatever one said, and whatever shading one gives, the Marxist tradition remains handicapped by its initial theoretical view of 'worker revolutions' initiating, on the basis of relatively more or less advanced forces of production, a relatively 'speedy' transition, characterized by democratic power of the popular masses. If it is described as 'dictatorship the bourgeoisie' (through the means of a proletarian state of a new kind that should rapidly 'wither away'), it is nevertheless much more democratic than the most democratic of bourgeois states.
But this is evidently not the reality. All the revolutions so far that have sought to be anti-capitalist have taken place in the peripheries of the system: all have found themselves confronted by the problem of development of the forces of production and the hostility of the capitalist world: none of them has achieved any form of genuinely advanced democracy; all have reinforced the statist system. To the degree that, more and more frequently, doubt is cast on their claim to be 'socialist' and their prospects one day, however remote, of achieving genuine abolition of classes. On some views they are no better than particular forms of capitalist expansion.
The essential issue is clearly not that of 'describing' these systems, but of understanding their origin, problems and specific contradictions, the dynamic they initiate or foreclose. In taking this point of view we arrived at the thesis that it was a matter of national and popular states and societies; we say popular and not bourgeois or socialist advisedly. We also reached the conclusion that this national and popular 'phase' was inescapable, and imposed by the unequal character of capitalist development.
These systems, therefore, face the task of development of the forces of production and are founded on social groups who reject the thesis that this development can be attained by a simple 'adjustment' within the framework of world capitalist expansion. They are the product of revolutions led and supported by forces in revolt against the effects of the unequal development of capitalism. Hence these systems are contradictory and conflictive combinations of various forces, perhaps three in number. One, socialists or those potentially socialist, express the aspirations of the popular social forces that are the source of the new state. Another, the capitalists, express the fact that at the actual stage of development of the forces of production, capitalist relations of production are still necessary and that by this token they are called upon to locate the real social forces to support the maintenance of these relations. But the existence of these capitalist relations must not be confused with integration in the world capitalist system. The state is there precisely to isolate these relations from the effects of integration in the system dominated by central monopoly capital. The third category of real social forces operating here, which we describe as statist, has its own autonomy. It cannot be reduced to a disguised form of capitalist relations (as statism really is in the capitalist Third World), nor to a 'degenerate' form of socialism. Statism represents its own real and potential social forces.
The state here fulfils a specific role, different from that it fulfils in the centres and the capitalist peripheries. It is the means to national protection and assertion, the instrument of what we have celled 'de-linking', in the sense of subjection of external relations to the logic of an internal development (one that it is not simply 'capitalist'). It is the pole of the conflictive - articulation of the relations between the three 'tendencies' indicated.
Of course, this state is not analogous from one country to another of this world called 'socialist'. It is the product of specific concrete histories, in dynamic evolution, whereby combinations between the conflictive forces indicated are shown over time and space. But these are always strong states, precisely because they have 'de-linked'.
The question of 'democracy' must be viewed in this framework. For complex, special reasons related to the history of Marxism, these systems are not democratic, to say the least, despite their material achievements to the benefit of the popular masses and the varying degrees of support they may enjoy from the latter. The problems facing these societies cannot be overcome except by a development of democracy. This is so because democracy is an inescapable precondition, essential to ensure the effectiveness of a socialist social system. Social relations founded on workers' co-operation rather than their surrender to exploitation are unimaginable without a complete expression of democracy. Will the 'really existing socialist' countries, as they are described, reach this stage? Or will they remain stuck in the impasse of their rejection?
It is here that we find the basic issue of 'internal factors', not in the capitalist peripheries, where the internal factor, although an explanation of past history (peripheralization) has nowadays a very restricted autonomy under the burden of 'external' constraints. By comparison, the internal factor has become decisive in the national and popular states. In this sense we find again that there is no historical 'inevitability'. And by 'internal factor' we mean, of course, the dialectic of the triple contradiction described above.
The description 'national and popular' should then be attached to those societies of the East embarked upon a long historical phase whose essential task is to efface the heritage of unequal development - in the knowledge that this cannot be achieved by playing the 'adjustment' game within the world system, but on the contrary by taking the side of de-linking. The ideological description 'socialist societies' must be abandoned (as they are not such), and even the description as societies engaged in building socialism. Even though in the countries of the East they cling to this description of socialist, or at least of socialist construction (or transition). There are not only bad reasons for this attachment (intellectual laziness or dogmatic habit, or more seriously the desire to deny the real problems with the assertion that socialism 'has been achieved'); there are also the good intentions of those who merely want to say that the objective is socialism and that such an objective is possible and not utopian. The latter are quite ready to acknowledge that the historic task of effacing the effects of unequal development is far from being achieved, and that the 'transition' to socialism is and will be long, complex and even uncertain as to its outcome. Use of the expressions 'underdeveloped socialism' or even 'primitive socialism' is a mark of their courageous perception.
There is no great inconvenience in retaining the term 'socialist construction', provided that it accompanies a rejection of the ingenuousness - or false ingenuousness - of the prevailing official ideological portrayal of the issues facing these societies. In this portrayal the state is regarded as the very expression of the socialist forces; the capitalist trends operating in the society are alien to it; the 'fine' it inspires is always more or less correct (except for a few 'flaws' to be cleared up some day or other). In the same ideological confusion, the issue of relations of production is grossly oversimplified, or taken out of the discussion: public ownership is no longer regarded as solely a necessary preliminary to the transformation of relations of production, but as a sufficient condition for these to become ipso facto 'socialist'. When 'capitalist forces' are mentioned, it is es 'vestiges' confined to a 'capitalist' (or 'commodity') sector, distinct from the 'socialist' sector and defined by continuation of private ownership.
The issue arises in a totally different way. The state is itself at the centre of the social conflict between the various trends in effect. In all sectors of activity the relations of production are ambivalent and retain the essential aspects of capitalism, in the technical handling of labour, hierarchical submission, and so on. These aspects are not merely 'vestiges' of the past; they correspond to objective needs with continuing effect. At the same time, abolition of private ownership, commitment of the state to 'serving' the people (this commitment inherited from the popular and anti-capitalist character of the revolution is not mere lip service: rejection of unemployment, aspiration for less inequality, fierce loyalty to national independence are real concepts), concern for society and these commitments, are factors that make the progressive reinforcement of the socialist forces possible. The outcome depends, therefore, on the complex issue of the genuinely advanced democracy these forces must insist upon.
This formulation of the 'transition' in terms of the national and popular society leads to an out and out rejection of the current thesis of 'socialist' construction and 'revolution by stages', whereby the so-called national democratic stage will be followed by that of socialist transformation.
The classless society, as the ultimate aim, demands by definition real control by the workers over the means of production, and all aspects of social life, that is, the practice of advanced democracy (or even the disappearance of the state).
The 'socialist transition', if it means anything at all, must include the characteristics of this aim and ensure progress towards them.
This is a different argument from the thesis of rapid super-session - within a few years - of the so-called national democratic phase by socialist transformation. In the first phase, the new authorities carry out great reforms that capitalism in its peripheral form has not accomplished, including a radical land reform. But then nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy (finance, transport, heavy industry), planning and control of external relations (de-linking in the sense of subjecting them to the logic of the internal plan) signal the move to a second phase, that of 'socialist' construction, marked by the abolition of forms of private ownership, including 'collectivization'. The move from the first stage to the second is, as can be seen, little more than substitution of forms of (state and co-operative) public ownership for mixed (public and private) ownership. The thesis stops there; it takes out of the discussion the content of the ownership in question. Public ownership is equated with socialism, whereas it is no more than a precondition for it: no consideration is given as to whether the actual operation of society permits control of the means of production by the producers (through an advanced social and political democracy constantly progressing).
The reality has undermined this thesis. The socialism that is supposed to be built is constantly confronted by a resurgence of commodity and capitalist relations of production, demanded to ensure greater efficiency in the necessary development of the forces of production. Fifty years after the 'victory of socialism' in the USSR (after the end to the NEP and collectivization) the issue of the 'market' came back on to the agenda. Twenty years after the Chinese Cultural Revolution was supposed to have solved the problem, the same previously 'abolished' - relations had to be re-established.
These evolutions show that the long phase of transition cannot be regarded as having in the first round settled the issue of non-socialist social relations, this does not rule out the possibility of socialist construction. Still less that in these circumstances we must resign ourselves to accepting preliminary development of the forces of production through the means of capitalism. The latter, under the conditions of peripheral expansion, is intolerable by virtue of the contradictions it provokes. The anti-capitalist revolution is on the agenda of what is objectively necessary. But this initiates a longer period of 'post-revolutionary 'conflict' very different from the ideological and mystical vision of 'socialist construction'.
Instead of hollow dogmatic incantations, we need to analyse the post-revolutionary experiences in the concrete terms of the tripartite conflicts (of socialism, capitalism and statism) that underlie the current evolutions. This concrete analysis prevents the acceptance of the notion of a more or less generally valid 'mode!', just as it prevents the various experiences from being treated as an expression of the gradual achievement of a 'genera! line'. We must rather stress the differences in the experiences, their advances and retreats, their impasses and the super-sessions of these. In that spirit, we should note that Maoism did not reproduce the Soviet model in the essential area of relations between towns and countryside. In the same way Mao's call for an attack on the party-state, in marked contrast with the deification of the Soviet party-state, prevents us regarding Maoism as a reissue of Stalinism. The flexibility characteristic of the Chinese, Yugoslav and Hungarian systems seems from this point of view to indicate a potentially more promising future that the dogmatic statist rigidity that has enclosed the Soviet Union and some other countries in impasse. But the latter is not necessarily 'definitive', as recent evolutions of Gorbachev's USSR show.
Undoubtedly, the question of relations between the 'plan' and the 'market' (a cover for the tripartite socialism-capitalism-statism conflict) is not the only aspect of the inescapable contradictions of the post-revolutionary society. No less decisive is the conflict between 'statist authoritarianism', and democracy and popular control of the forces of production. Advanced democracy cannot be a spontaneous product of the 'market', as capitalist ideology supposed and as some self-management illusions have also suggested.
Some analysts propose treating the socialist countries (the USSR in particular) as semi-peripheries. This proposition assumes that the world system includes all the regions of the world, regardless of their political and social regime. It further supposes that external determination by the system is equally decisive for all in the same way. It therefore reduces the internal factor to virtually nothing, and as if it were the same everywhere. Our thesis stressing the so-called 'socialist' rupture (that I prefer to call national and popular delinking of a socialist bent) restores the pre-eminence of the internal factor peculiar to these societies; it shows the limits of worldwide expansion of capitalism and rejection of it. The arguments adduced to 'prove' that the countries of the East are fully 'integrated' in the world system are always superficial. It is thought to be enough to say that these countries 'trade' with the West - increasingly; that they have never shown a desire for autarky (what they have was wished upon them): that they openly express the desire to increase their foreign trade (and that the West is the obstacle). The argument can be turned on its head. If the countries of the East want to increase their trade it is because they largely control how it is used and can use it to strengthen their independence, and they control it because they have de-linked. If the West is hesitant it is because it is aware of the 'danger' of reinforcing the socialist countries. The situation is quite different in West-South relations, where the peripheral societies (including semi-peripheries such as Brazil) have not delinked and for that very reason do not control their relation to the world system.
A thesis that extrapolates to the utmost the trends in the 'socialist' countries for 'reintegration' in the world economy argues that the future will be one of a re-established single, world market. The thesis paints a broad historical sweep of oscillating movement. A single world market, constituted in the 19th century in the framework of British hegemony (a Sterling standard), threatened from the end of the century by the rise of rival imperialists, maintained more or less until 1914, ceased to exist during the German-US 30-years war(l914-45) for succession to Britain, to be re-established in the framework of United States hegemony. This market was threatened for a while by the rise of the countries of the East but is being rebuilt. This time the rate of oscillation would be quicker, as the distance separating the countries of the East and China from the West would not allow them to stand alone, especially in disunion. We should add that the attitude shown by the countries of the East to those of the South indicates the priority afforded by the former to the maintenance of a network of multilateral world exchanges. But this raises a series of side issues there is no space to discuss here.
Not long ago the received wisdom was that the Russian revolution, followed by China's, had irrevocably divided the earth into two - the capitalist system on the retreat, and the socialist system on the advance. Whether Russia's 'really existing socialism', as it is called, was perfect or perverted (the old Trotskyist thesis) is not the issue. Moreover, the so-called Maoist thesis substituted the socialism achieved in China for the 'restoration of capitalism' in Russia. The defeat of the Line of the Four and the triumph of Deng Xiaoping clearly struck a blow against this range of views on the capitalism-socialism conflict. China appeared to differ less and less from the Soviet Union in the essential structures of social and political organization, so that the former and the latter were regarded as variants of a perverted 'really existing socialism', of a new society of specific classes or of modalities of capitalism. Moreover, should it not be remembered that China and Russia alike seek further integration into a world system from which they had previously been isolated against their will?
The drift of the analyses could then gradually crystallize around the following theses: first, the so-called socialist revolutions are moments of constitution of social and political forces capable of bringing forward national strategies of modernization and development; second, the accomplishment of these tasks passes through a moment of 'separation', or isolation, from the world capitalist system; third, the development of the system gradually wipes out the original illusions about its 'socialist' character; and fourth, finally the system aspires to reintegration in the capitalist world order.
André Gunder Frank has gone furthest in this field in the most systematic way. Noting that Russia and China appear as 'semi-peripheries' (above all, I believe, if one takes account of the place and role of the state in their evolution rather than the simplistic development criteria of economism), that their revolutions come within a B cycle of contraction of capitalist expansion, between 1914 and 1945 (to adopt on his behalf Kondratieff's language on the succesion of A and B cycles of capitalist expansion). Frank propounds the thesis that in the B cycles some semi-peripheries (or 'peripheries') 'de-link' to emerge as centres (or semi-peripheries) reintegrated in the following A cycle, corresponding to a higher stage of capitalist development and thereby consolidating this development. This occurred before the 20th century and is still occurring; hence the so-called socialist revolutions are bringing nothing new.
The logic of this thesis must, we believe, be taken still further. If it is the case, that is if the aspects of global movement indicated are the most significant, the thesis means that it is nation-states that constitute the decisive historical subjects, and not the popular classes that enter their composition. Within this perspective the world expansion of capitalism should necessarily lead to the emergence of new ripe 'centres', taking their place in the global system of interdependence, and eventually challenging the hegemonies in situ, and so on. Undoubtedly this conclusion does not necessarily conflict with Marxism. For the thesis does not prevent the societies in question being class-based societies, giving rise to capitalist exploitation (including the statist form that purports to tee 'socialist'). It does not prevent the ruling classes of the states in question being precisely those exploitative bourgeoisies. It does not necessarily adopt the nationalist ideology of the 'common good' of the various components (whether classes or not) of the national society. But it acknowledges - albeit sorrowfully - that the popular classes have not reached the maturity that will allow the autonomy of their plan for an eventual classless society. These classes are therefore manipulated and their intervention channelled and 'recuperated'. Everything happens as if they were ready to believe in the supremacy of common national interests, to the benefit of the classes that lead them. The 'nation' is, therefore, in the fullest sense, at the current stage of inadequate maturity of class consciousness, the decisive historical subject.
This thesis is not ours. We subject it to a double critique. First, the social systems of Russia and China cannot be reduced to capitalism (capitalism cannot exist without the competition among capitals) nor can the one be reduced to the other. Second, it is incorrect that in the previous B cycles certain backward formations should come to emerge through a phase of 'de-linking', such as Russia and China in the 20th century. The new centres that emerged one after the other until the end of the 1 9th century immediately integrated into the world system, and increased their active participation in it, without 'de-linking' in any way, at any time. But they are masters of their external relations, which is another matter. In other words, there was no contradiction then between the construction of new centres - new hegemonic national bourgeoisies - and the 'constraint of worldwide expansion'. This is a new contradiction and means that worldwide expansion has reached a qualitatively new level.
There are, admittedly, some apparent moments of 'de-linking' before our epoch. We prefer to call them moments of 'debilitation' of integration in the world system. Some peripheral societies in the 19th century withstood the effects of the crisis in this way. That some of these cases - notably in America - suggest, by the positive local reaction to this debilitation, that 'development is not synonymous with integration in the world system' is clear. The fact that none of these experiences is crowned with the emergence of new centres clearly illustrates the qualitative difference between the de-linking of our epoch and the debilitation of world integration in earlier epochs.
The 'de-linking' that follows the socialist revolution is in fact voluntary and positive, even if it is also imposed by a strategy of imperialist counter-attack that fails over the long term. This is the first difference in regard to the debilitations of integration withstanding the effects of crisis. In addition it is associated with strong social and ideological changes. And this factor is not without significance, even if the association is with a myth of socialist construction, a 'new', 'classless' society, a 'new man', a 'cultural revolution'. For it is precisely this association that allows of a criterion of rationality independent of that of world capitalism. This de-linking is also one of the indispensable aspects of the emergence of a new social mode - whether socialist or not. Its 'reintegration' in the world system therefore remains dubious. The eventual intensification of exchanges is not synonymous with integration.
A further step must certainly be made in making the analyses more concrete. One must distinguish the Soviet Union from Eastern Europe, China and other countries of the socialist Third World (Korea, Vietnam and Cuba). Without going into this complex subject, let us offer our broadly intuitive conclusions: first, the USSR would not accept a 'reintegration' that threatened its internal political system: second, China would not accept a 'reintegration' that threatened its pursuit of independent development; third, by contrast, the Eastern European countries might, if circumstances allowed, 'cross over to the West', but the risk would be reduced to the degree that a margin of autonomy (Hungarian and Yugoslav style) were allowed them, in conjunction with acceptable and accepted internal social changes.
In this framework, we support the view that, whether one likes it or not, de-linking is associated with a 'transition' - outside capitalism and over a long time - towards socialism. This raises a host of other questions: that this transition is not the one conceived by Marx perhaps, or by the Second International, or even by the ideology of the systems in question (Bolshevism, the current Sovietism, Maoism, Deng's ideology!: that it is not linear; that its still distant point of arrival is largely unknown. After all, socialism has still to be built. As Silva Michelena aptly put it, if in 1500 one had been asked what capitalism would be, one would doubtless have furnished inadequate replies, even supposing one could then have imagined that what one was building was capitalism. How then will the USSR and China solve their problems, if they manage to do so? By evolution or by revolutions (those Mao expected)? How will these transformations articulate with other socialist break-throughs? So many questions that evidently are without a priori answers.
The problems facing the capitalist Third World countries in the aftermath of their political liberation were no different in character from those facing the so-called socialist countries. With the exception that here, the strategies were even more marked by the fact that, even in the cases of prior radicalization of the struggle for independence, the option in favour of popular content and de-linking was handicapped by bourgeois aspirations and the illusions the bourgeoisie had about their plan. So why has the Third World not yet embarked upon the path of building a national and popular state? Why does it stick to trying to build a bourgeois national state in imitation of the central capitalist state? Of course, this situation is not produced by ideas devoid of a social base: it is the expression of certain classes and social strata of bourgeois inclination, which dominated the national liberation movement (that is, the revolt against the effects of the unequal development of capitalism) and still dominate the state that emerged. History teaches us that the bourgeoisies of the periphery have attempted this construction at every stage of world capitalist expansion, although in the forms appropriate to the time. As history shows too, these attempts have always been brought down by a combination of external aggression and the internal limitations peculiar to each of the attempts.
The issue of democracy
The issue of democracy in the socialist countries and in those of the Third World must be seen in this framework.
Bet us be clear: the critique Marx made of bourgeois democracy - in regard to its formal and limited character - is entirely correct. Meanwhile this democracy has not been offered by the bourgeoisie to its people, but conquered - belatedly - by workers' struggles. The capitalist mode of itself does not require democracy. The hold of its social dynamic lies elsewhere, in the competition of capitalists and individuals.
Capitalism separates economic and social management, governed by fundamentally non-democratic principles, from political management, governed nowadays by the principle of democratic election. We might add that this democracy operates only when its social impact is annihilated by the exploitation of dominant central positions in the world capitalist system, when the labour movement has renounced its own plan for a classless society and accepted the capitalist 'rules of the game'.
At the periphery, democracy is even more limited and is only the expression of the crisis of the normal despotic system of capitalism. Latin America, Korea, the Philippines and perhaps others in the future, provide glaring examples of the violent political contradictions that shake the Third World in crisis. Latin American desarollismo of the 1950s argued that 'industrialization' and 'modernization' (in bourgeois style and in the framework of closer integration in the world system) would of themselves bring democratic change. 'Dictatorship' was regarded as a hangover from a supposedly pre-capitalist past. The facts have shown that modernization in the framework of this bourgeois plan has merely 'modernized dictatorship' and replaced the old oligarchical and patriarchal systems with an 'efficient and moderns fascistic violence. But the bourgeois plan itself has not achieved its proposed results: the crisis has revealed the vulnerability of the construction and the impossible 'independence', that for some legitimized the dictatorship. But are not the democratic systems imposed in these circumstances confronted by a terrible dilemma? Either the democratic political system accepts subjection to the demands of world 'adjustment': it can then not envisage any significant social reform, and democracy will not be slow to become part of the crisis. Or the popular forces, seizing the channels of democracy, will impose these reforms: the system will then come into conflict with dominant world capitalism and glide from the bourgeois national plan to a national and popular plan. The dilemma of Brazil and the Philippines come within this conflict.
The popular option requires democracy. This is so because democracy is a necessary internal condition for socialism. Once the hold of capitalist competition is broken, social relations founded on workers' co-operation and not their surrender to exploitation become unimaginable without the complete expression of democracy.
In the socialist countries, despite national and social achievements and the support this wins from the popular masses, the rejection of political democracy reveals the preponderance of the statist dimension over the socialist tendencies. The situation is still worse in the radical Third World countries. Here, the absence of political democracy works in favour of private or state capitalism and drives the system down into a bureaucratic capitalism that, by definition, carries the further danger of compradorization. In the socialist countries this is not a real danger, as the national and popular state (although non-democratic) has solid historical foundations, so that either the situation will go on stagnating in the relative cul-de-sac in which statism has trapped it, or the society will resume its forward march. By comparison there is no shortage of failures by Third World radical states and their recompradorization.
In all cases, democracy is the sole means within the national and popular society of reinforcing the chances of socialism, isolating the internal capitalist relations of production from comprador integration in the world capitalist system, and reducing external vulnerability.
But what democracy are we talking about? This is not the place to disparage the heritage of Western bourgeois democracy: respect for rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech, institutionalization of electoral procedure and separation of powers, checks and balances, and so forth. But we should not stop there. Western democracy has no social dimension. The people's democracy at moments of revolutionary social change (the USSR in the 1920s. Maoist China, for example) have also taught us much about what 'people's power' should be, if we allow this much-abused expression its real meaning. To stop at Western democratic forms without taking into consideration the social transformations demanded by the anti-capitalist revolt of the periphery, is to remain with a caricature of bourgeois democracy and thereby condemned to alienation from the people and extreme vulnerability. For our democracy to take root it must at once take a position that goes beyond capitalism. In this, as in so many other domains, the law of unequal development operates.
This is the prospect that imperialism cannot accept. That is why the campaign on 'democracy' orchestrated by the West stresses some sides of the issues and ignores others. For example, it equates multi-party politics and democracy. Undoubtedly the 'single party' has in fact become the most frequent expression of statist domination. But it has also often been a product of the effective achievement of national and popular unity; this is the case of the Chinese Communist Party for example and some other organizations emerging from the liberation struggle. In these cases the creation of 'alternative parties' might be an artificial procedure that has no place on the agenda of the popular struggles. Democratization of the party, its separation from the state, a clear distinction between state and civil society, openness of the party and social institutions (genuinely independent trades unions, peasant co-operatives, and so on) to debate and confrontation, are the necessary reforms with which the Western false friends of the Third World peoples refuse to credit democracy.
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