The Movement For a Democracy of Content

The Movement For a Democracy of Content

The Movement for a Democracy of Content was a revolutionary political organisation active from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.

With groups in the UK, the US, West Germany and South Africa, the "Movement" is best known for publishing the influential political magazine "Contemporary Issues" and for its involvement in the 1957 Azikwelwa Bus Boycott in Johannesburg.


The genesis of the Movement lay in the June 1947 publication of a magazine called "‘Dinge der Zeit’" (‘Contemporary Issues’). The first few issues of "‘Contemporary Issues’" were shrouded in mystery, as nearly every contributor chose to write under a pseudonym.

The man credited with being the Movement’s leading theoretician was "Joseph Weber", a German former member of the Trotskyite group, the IKD (Internationale Kommunisten Deutschlands). Weber, also known as "Ernst Zander", "William Lunen" and "Erik Erikson", remained one of the most frequent contributors to ‘Contemporary Issues’ until his death in 1959. The most prominent members of the Movement in its early years tended to be German émigrés; a mix of former Trotskyites and social democrats such as "Max Laufer", "Ulrich Jacobs" and "Fritz Besser". There were also South Africans living in exile such as "Pierre Watter", "Richard McArthur" and "Stanley Trevor".


The Movement opposed having a rigid ideological programme, and its founders refuted the idea of giving “solemn assurances of promises” [Editorial, 'Contemporary Issues, Vol. 1, Issue 1, June 1947] . The nearest thing it had to a programme of ideals was Weber’s contribution to ‘Contemporary Issues’ in 1950, entitled ‘"The Great Utopia’" [Jospeh Weber, "The Great Utopia" from "Contemporary Issues (Winter, 1950)] . Ideologically, it Western notions of parliamentary democracy and Soviet communism, seeing both ‘ideologies’ as mutually reinforcing one another. Yet the Movement for a Democracy of Content was not a political party in any conventional sense.

Its followers also rejected the traditionally leftist notion of ‘class struggle’, instead believing that a “majority revolution” [ [ Notes and Reviews ] ] was possible. They hoped to undermine existing power structures by providing answers to a wide range of important, and frequently neglected, topics through the pages of "‘Contemporary Issues’".

Essays on topics such as the Aboriginal experience in Australia would often appear alongside articles discussing Diderot; while other writers would discuss everything from nuclear power and urban development to food biology.


The Movement’s influence on mainstream politics was marginal, and its leaders prone to feuding. However, it dedicated its energies to a number of important struggles in the 1950s. The German group was particularly active in opposing West German remilitarization. The New York group campaigned hard in support of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, while also causing a stir with Murray Bookchin’s articles about synthetic chemicals in food.

The Johannesburg group, founded by Afrikaans poet and activist, "Vincent Swart" and his American wife Lillian, experienced particular success campaigning against the Apartheid government on several local issues. The most notable was the organisation and leadership shown by Dan Mokonyane during the 1957 Azikwelwa Bus Boycott' [Dan Mokonyane, 'Lesson of Azikwelwa', Nakong Ya Rena, London] . As part of one of six groups charged with organising the Alexandra Township People’s Transport Committee, Mokonyane successfully helped the people of the township to oppose a price hike by the local bus company [ [ Sowetan - News ] ] .


External links

* [ Marcel Van Der Linden, The Prehistory of Post-Scarcity Anarchism: Josef Weber and the Movement for a Democracy of Content (1947-1964)]
* [ Dan Mokonyane, 'Lesson of Azikwelwa', Nakong Ya Rena, London, 1979]

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