You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Their hollow talk about democracy

By Paul D'Amato | February 21, 2003 | Page 9

WE ARE brought up being told that government expresses the "will of the people." But phrases like "the people" disguise the fact that the U.S. is divided by class.

Formally, my vote is equal to that of a billionaire. But experience tells us that the economic difference between us is more decisive in terms of who sets government policy. The existence of formal or legal equality and rights disguises the fact that some people are more equal than others and have more rights than others.

Take freedom of the press. Clearly, the fact that media king Rupert Murdoch and I both have "freedom of the press" is like saying that Bill Gates and I both have the "right" to buy a mansion. I doubt that a realtor would accept my "Monopoly" money over Bill's greenbacks. In short, the media barons of the world have far more "freedom" to disseminate media than the vast majority of us do--because they control it.

The Russian socialist Bukharin put it this way: "How can there be a 'common' will for bourgeoisie and proletariat? It is manifest that the very phrase about a will common to the whole nation is humbug if the words are intended to apply to all classes.

"But this fraud is necessary to the bourgeoisie, necessary for the maintenance of capitalist rule. The capitalists are in the minority. They cannot venture to say openly that this small minority rules. This is why the bourgeoisie has to cheat, declaring that it rules in the name of 'the whole people.'"

The workplace is the one place where the undisputed sway of those who run the economy is transparent. Since the corporations own and control the factories, mines, hospitals, oilfields, land and so on, they have a "right" to hire and fire at will, and they have a "right" to decide how work is conducted, when it is conducted and by whom.

The one weapon that workers have to redress grievances--the right to strike--while sometimes granted in the abstract, is consistently removed whenever an actual strike breaks out, or if it threatens to be effective. Many recent examples--from the West Coast longshore workers to New York City transit workers--come to mind. Economically, our "freedom" boils down to our right to sell our labor to various employers out to exploit us for maximum profit.

The extremely limited character of our freedoms becomes clearest in periods of social crisis, like wars or revolutions, when laws are transformed into tools of repression. "They hate our freedoms--our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other," Bush said of the "terrorists" after September 11.

And so, in order to forestall another attack, the Bush administration has been busy curtailing these freedoms. Bush the unelected is fond of bandying the word "freedom" around when talking about foreign and domestic policy. But this talk rings hollow in a country where a tiny clique at the top decides on how, when and against whom to wage war.

National "discussions" aren't a way for ordinary Americans to make decisions, but a one-sided monologue in which the government (in consultation with various corporate executives) makes its case for things it has already decided to do, whether we like it or not.

This method--removing democratic rights whenever they threaten to become a nuisance--isn't new. During the First World War, for example, the U.S. government passed laws making it illegal to even criticize the president or U.S. allies, let alone advocate a "regime change." Thousands of radicals were rounded up and arrested or deported.

"Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich, that is the democracy of capitalist society," wrote the Russian revolutionary Lenin. That is why the fight for real democracy today, rather than the rhetoric used to disguise inequality, is in the hands of the working class.

Home page | Back to the top