NEW DEMOCRACY, October 8, 1996
by Dave Stratman
It's easy to dismiss the electoral process as "fake democracy," which it certainly is. But the process plays a role in American society that is too important to ignore.
CAMPAIGNS AS JOB INTERVIEWS
A few years ago I went to a house-party for a candidate for Boston City Council. It was a week before the primary, and the candidate, seeking our support, said to us, "The Archbishop and the Vault [the most powerful bankers and businessmen in Boston] are closely watching the primary. If I do really well, I can get their support for the general election in November."
This was a revealing comment. For politicians the electoral process is a "job interview" before their potential employers. As the Boston candidate's remark revealed, however, the potential "employers" are not the voting public but powerful people behind the scenes. The electoral process is both a smokescreen and a testing ground. It is devised to hide the real power-holders behind the illusion of democracy. The monied elite pump generous amounts of wealth into both parties, to make sure there's a good show. The media and politicians focus the public eye on misleading issues, while they restrict the range of debate, so that ideas which challenge capitalism or reveal the real powers in society never surface. "Democracy" is reduced to pulling a lever every four years.
At the same time, the electoral process serves to test and identify and develop the politicians who can most effectively represent the interests of the real power-holders. The corporate leaders and financiers stay out of sight while they closely observe the qualities of the candidate. Does he or she have the rhetoric that can deceive and control large numbers of people? Can he divide people effectively? Confuse them? Is he greedy and ambitious and vain enough to be completely reliable?
The winner of the presidential election puts together an administration to run the government, much as a person hired by a corporate Board of Directors to be Chief Executive Officer (CEO) puts together his team to run the company. The CEO is given considerable leeway to administer the corporation and accomplish the goals of the Board in his own way.
Clinton has earned four more years from the Board of Directors. He has accomplished feats in office that George Bush (or Bob Dole) could not. After promising to oppose NAFTA, Clinton pushed it through. After promising to expand jobs programs, Clinton instead decided to "reinvent government" and added 250,000 government workers to the unemployment rolls. After promising national health care reform, Clinton cleared the way for an unprecedented and catastrophic takeover of health care by corporations and insurance companies. After promising welfare reform, Clinton delivered the most brutal attack on poor women and children in 60 years. No Republican could have accomplished so much for so few.
PLAYING A ROLE
Most people understand that politicians lie and don't deliver on promises that would benefit working people. What is less well-known is that the politicians are playing a role, as surely as if they were actors in a TV soap opera. The role of the Republicans is to push the business agenda openly. The role of the Democrats is to push the public discussion as much as possible in the direction of business, while disarming critics of the corporate system. In all the debate over controlling the deficit, for example, not once did Clinton reveal that the deficit was designed by Reagan to dismantle the Great Society. Instead he narrowed the deficit debate to the question, "How many years should it take to balance the budget?" As more people understand the sham nature of the electoral process, fewer participate. Fake democracy, however, still has poisonous effects. In 1980 Ronald Reagan received barely 51% of the votes in an election in which only 50% of the eligible voters cast a ballot. And yet, though he had the support of a mere 26% of the electorate, media and politicians alike claimed that Reagan had a "popular mandate" to carry out his vicious policies. The illusion of popular approval bestowed by fake democracy can convince people that politicians who in fact represent only the interests and outlook of a small elite really do represent the voice of ordinary people. The effect of this is devastating. It can make people feel that they are all alone in opposing the policies of a "democratically-elected" politician, and that change is impossible.
WHAT ABOUT A "THIRD" PARTY?
There have been numerous attempts in the last few years to break out of the two party system: the New Party, the Green Party, Ross Perot's Reform Party, and others. At a convention in Cleveland this June, about 1200 delegates representing several labor unions and other organizations founded a Labor Party. The strategy of forming alternative parties, however, including a Labor Party, is a very bad one:
*The problem we face is not simply that the Democratic Party represents the monied interests rather than working people. The problem is that the electoral process itself is a spectacle put on to create the illusion of democracy and hide the real wielders of power. Creating a "third party" or a "labor party" legitimizes the process and strengthens the illusion. It encourages people to accept as a serious means of social change a process that is designed precisely to prevent change.
*At a time when the greatest need is to break free of capitalist institutions to build an authentic working class movement, alternative parties channel the energy of the rank-and-file back into the structure of power controlled by capital and its agents.The Labor Party in particular will depend for electoral success on many of the very leaders and institutions which continue to betray the working class in struggles such as the Caterpillar strike and the Staley lockout and the day-to-day life of unions.
*The Labor Party makes no claim to be anti-capitalist. As it tries to succeed at the electoral game, the Labor Party will very likely try to silence any voices in its ranks which may openly oppose capitalism.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Our real power to change the world lies in the fact that most people share the dream of a better world. The only way to realize this enormous potential power is by openly declaring our goals for a new world, so that we may build a movement to achieve one. We in New Democracy believe that the best strategy is to build a movement of working people for democratic revolution. This movement should openly challenge capitalist goals, values, and power with the goals and values and power of working people. It should aim to overthrow capitalism and reshape all of society on principles of solidarity, equality, and democracy.
In every workplace and community there are already struggles in which people are resisting capitalism in some way. We should relate the specific issues in these struggles to the larger conflict in society between the capitalist class and the working class, and pursue the struggles in ways that strengthen the understanding and confidence of everyone involved that we can change the world.
Take the Detroit newspaper strike, for example. The best way for the strikers to win their contractual demands and also to win on the larger issues which underlie the strike is openly to build a revolutionary working class movement. We recommend that the strikers "go...to auto plants and machine shops and hospitals and offices and shopping malls....armed with literature which explains the goals of their strike and the goals of a working class movement. They should call on other workers to help build a general strike...in Detroit and spreading as far as possible." This general strike should aim at building the revolutionary movement, as well as at the immediate goals of the strikers. Such an effort would begin the era of democratic revolution B an era that will shake the world.