The grand illusion
How the 1 percent gain the “consent” of the 99 percent
Andrea Bauer
volume:  
volume 37
issue 4
August 2016
imagestuff

“"Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly when … he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them. …" — V.I. Lenin, from The State and Revolution: The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State

Photo: Puppets by Folkmanis

The elections process in the United States: Is this what democracy looks like?

The widespread support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who share the message of “the system is rigged” however much they disagree otherwise, shows that people are skeptical. Very skeptical — with plenty of reason.

The great idea of democracy is that the majority rules — not the royal family, not the feudal lords, not the church. Does the majority rule today? Not hardly. We may march in the millions against war or climate change or police brutality; we may loudly tell the pollsters we want universal healthcare or full abortion rights or better treatment of immigrants or $15 Now and a union; we may vote resoundingly against public money going to build the city’s third private sports stadium. It doesn’t matter. A corporate minority decides — and that has been true since long before the Supreme Court gave this reality the open stamp of approval in its Citizens United decision.

There are those — like Sanders, like presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party — who say that the electoral system can be fixed. The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) is all for improvements like instant run-off voting, proportional representation, voting rights for prisoners and people with criminal records, and abolishing all the laws that keep minor-party candidates off the ballot. (Check out related articles at socialism.com.) But can it actually be fixed? Nope. Elections are a linchpin of the whole capitalist system.

While real democracy is elusive, the façade of democracy is important to those who want to stay in power. Outnumbered, the minority needs some sort of acquiescence with its rule unless they set up a police state, which is expensive and unstable. They prefer that the electorate vote on who should oppress them for the next four years, as Lenin wrote paraphrasing Marx.

So, given people’s distrust of politicians and the process, how does the electoral system survive?

The politics of fear. This does double duty as a strategy for both 2016 candidates.

Trump’s whole campaign is built on scare tactics — fear of Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, terrorists, China, the global economy, the 1-percenters who aren’t him. Scandal-plagued Hillary Clinton hopes to ride to victory on the fear of Trump.

This is the Democrats’ go-to strategy: You may not be overly fond of me, but take a look at that other guy! His election would mean the apocalypse!

In fact, the president is the representative of the ruling class as a whole. Trump sells himself as politically independent because of his wealth. But that’s bogus. If he were to become Capitalist-in-Chief and do something seriously threatening to the status quo, Wall Street would find a way to make him gone.

Amnesia to the rescue. The Democratic strategy of panic over the Republican opponent also relies on forgetfulness about the actual record.

Remind me again: Who was it that started most of the U.S. wars of the 20th century? Who took away welfare? Who signed NAFTA? Who gave the prison-industrial complex the gift of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act? Who holds the record for most deportations? Oh, right, Democrats.

This amnesia is cultivated by Democratic Party cheerleaders who head up most of the movements, including and especially the labor movement, and by the media, with its attention-deficit-disorder 24-hour news cycle.

False promises. These are the politicians’ stock in trade: I will lower your taxes. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll keep out the immigrants. I’ll make life better for immigrants. I’ll bring back jobs from overseas. I’ll create jobs with a green economy.

Everything is promised to everybody, but the overall message is that I’ll make your life better.

But when was the last time this was true for the working class, for the majority? It’s been a long time, and that has nothing to do with any specific candidate. It’s because capitalism is in a persistent crisis, and there are few crumbs to be had for working people and the poor.

I’m one of you. No matter how rich the candidate, how much of a Washington insider, their campaign cannot be complete without a populist appeal.

For politicos of every persuasion, this pitch is first of all to the mythical “ordinary American.” For right-wingers like Trump, it’s combined very effectively with the politics of divisiveness.

Democrats, on the other hand, have to make sure that the pitch extends to the special constituencies they rely on — unionists, women, Blacks, other people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. How better in these times than to put an African American or a woman at the head of the ticket? For all his wrongness, Trump is right about one thing: Clinton is playing the woman card. Her feminism is as faux as her populism.

There is no alternative. It’s a two-party system, so you have to vote for either the donkey or the elephant, right?

Well, no. A whopping percentage of eligible voters, ranging recently between 38 and 46 percent, just opt out.

But there is another choice, a positive, proactive one. Register a protest vote against the scam: vote socialist! To read the FSP’s recommendation for this election, click here.

Elections resolve nothing, in the end. Class struggle does. Mass, militant movements of people who need a different system the most do. To make a real difference, join an organization that fights for fundamental change — something elections will never bring. This writer happens to have one I can recommend, and you can find about how to contact us at socialism.com by clicking the Get Involved tab.

Yes, there is life after November!

Also see: Vote socialist!

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.