The Shibboleth of Capitalist ‘Democracy’ Part II: Liberal Republicanism vs Direct Self-Governance

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This means replacing what in fact is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (a dictatorship hypocritically cloaked in the forms of the democratic bourgeois republic) by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means replacing democracy for the rich by democracy for the poor. This means replacing freedom of assembly and the press for the minority, for the exploiters, by freedom of assembly and the press for the majority of the population, for the working people. This means a gigantic, world historic extension of democracy, its transformation from falsehood into truth, the liberation of humanity from the shackles of capital, which distorts and truncates any, even the most “democratic” and republican, bourgeois democracy. This means replacing the bourgeois state with the proletarian state, a replacement that is the sole way the state can eventually wither away altogether.

V.I. Lenin – “Democracy” and Dictatorship

‘Liberal’ political movements have not achieved any discernible level of political change in recent history. The Arab spring failed to bring true democracy to the middle east. The Occupy wall street movement, despite all the protestations of liberals, has been an abject failure. The American ‘right to protest’ did not seemingly apply to the occupy movement as the police forcibly ejected, beat and pepper sprayed them. Nor did it stop the FBI from declaring the movement to be a ‘terrorist threat‘. The occupy movement has not had even one iota of the impact of it’s right-wing counterpart, the ‘Tea party’, despite being at least equal in popularity, simply because the tea party’s right-wing economic goals comport with the objectives of the ruling capitalist class, and the occupy wall street agenda of egalitarianism does not. Left-Liberals in the US may claim that the voices of millions of peaceful protesters in the street cannot be ignored. Yet, with these democratic movements, including those in developing nations such as the Turkish protests against Erdogan, and the Egyptian revolution, and even first world movements like occupy wall street have all had (literally) millions of people out in the streets, resulting in some of the largest protests in human history. Yet, Erdogan remains in power in Turkey, real democracy has failed to materialize in Egypt, and the American political establishment remains recalcitrantly committed to neoliberal economics. The Bolivarian movement in Venezuela, despite having parliamentary power for over a decade, both failed to fully implement socialism and was defeated in the elections following the death of Chavez. This is fully attributable to the parliamentary and incrementalist methods the leaders of the Venezuelan movement have restricted themselves to. Despite over a decade of socialist power, large swathes of the Venezuelan economy remain curiously privatized.

Even the ‘victories’ of the social-democratic/left-liberal movements of the early 20th century in western countries exemplified by the ‘New Deal‘ in America and the Left-leaning parties in Europe occurred in the context of the post-world war two geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union and it’s Marxist ideology. Moderate leftists in those times could not have achieved the concessions they did without the specter of revolution haunting the dreams (or rather, the nightmares) of the wealthy elites. To use a ‘Trumpist’ term, the moderate left was able to ‘talk past the sale’. With this ‘threat’ to their power ostensibly eliminated, the capitalist ruling class sees no reason to continue with even moderate concessions to working people. After all, why should they continue to contribute even a portion of their wealth to social programs or egalitarian wealth redistribution when the potential downsides are so minimal. With the ‘fall of Communism‘, the capitalist elites of western societies were finally able to reveal the naked nature of their power without pretense or consequence. The left-liberal demand for egalitarian concessions using protest is an empty and toothless threat which is not (and will not) be taken seriously except in the context of some radical alternative. With the defeat of all these movements, we must dispense of the notion, once and for all, that protest alone can change governments or even government policy. But why are peaceful protests not enough? Certainly, I would not suggest that leftists stay home instead, but I would also not suggest that voting can result in radical change, or indeed anything beyond perhaps staving off the most blatantly reactionary of policies. This misunderstanding is a result of fundamental left-liberal misconceptions about the nature of the state and power.

Liberals often claim that we have ‘freedom of speech’ in America. This is true to a degree, but ideas that are not strictly illegal to espouse are still subject to the ‘soft tyranny’ of American society, including investigation by authorities in order to find some other pretense of prosecution (this was the case with the FBI and the civil rights movement of the 20th century, and will certainly be the case with future left-wing movements). Even without explicit governmental intervention, the right-wing citizens of America can practice soft tyranny through social ostracization, economic ostracization and even physical assault. Right wing militias are free to open carry weapons, intimidate protesters, and seize federal buildings while the protesters themselves are beaten and pepper sprayed by the police. If an Islamist or left-wing group had engaged in similar action, the authorities would not hesitate to use violence and engage in a firefight with those individuals, but thus far, these right-wing groups have been given somewhat of a pass. This is because the government fears the reaction of sympathetic right wing elements in the populace (such as with the Oklahoma City bombing) were they to use brutality against these groups. More importantly, the idealized ‘Americanism’ espoused by groups like the Oath Keepers comports fully with the capitalist ideas of the ruling class and thus they are tolerated to a degree that would be unthinkable with their hypothetical counterparts. Given the obvious right-wing bias of the American government, the childish opposition to guns on the left is puzzling. Liberals may decry policemen as brutal racists who use their arms and authority to harass and occasionally kill minorities and other individuals, but then will turn around and claim that only policemen should have guns. The right-wing types of the country will always have firearms regardless of their legality, and would be even more motivated by a weapons ban. Indeed, if firearms were made illegal, many right-wing gun owners would resort to machining fully automatic weapons in their basements, thus increasing, rather than decreasing their firepower. There is no way to stop this other than banning simple machine tools and blocks of steel (not to mention the nascent 3d printing technology), which obviously cannot be done. The notion that gun control is somehow ‘left wing’ or progressive is one of the greatest fallacies of the so-called ‘left’ in America today. In fact many gun control policies have their roots in reactionary politics. Gun control in California, for example, was partly a reaction to the Black Panther movement, and indeed, historically, many gun control laws have their basis in racism. To use a modern example, a liberal may say that convicted felons should not own firearms. However, we all know that there is a racialist component to the justice system of the United States. To disarm based on felony convictions would (and does) immediately preclude a non insignificant portion of the black population, as well as other people of color, from owning firearms legally. Liberal arguments for gun control, in fact, smack of elitism and anti-working class bigotry, as they imply that the working class, the poor, and the marginalized cannot be ‘trusted’ with firearms. If the government were more representative of the population, a case for gun control might be more reasonable. The right wing distrusts gun control because it distrusts the government which enforces it. But the true left should be even more distrustful, given the right-wing orientation of the American government: the American government is a ‘bourgeois state’, a capitalist state, the primary purpose of which is to enforce capitalism and property rights. In short, the government is a government of the wealthy elites, not the people, and does not have the people’s bests interests in mind.

Furthermore, even if an ostensibly left wing government were to come to power in a capitalist democracy despite these enormous hurdles against it in the first place, it would still face other problems imposed by the structure of a capitalist government. Unlike people, governments are not ‘created equal’. A particular government system is not equally suited towards running all types of political economy efficiently. A capitalist government like that of the United States for example, would be a very unwieldy tool in the hands of even the most committed leftists. It would be analogous to trying to take a paperclip and use it to open the lock on your house every day after getting home from work, rather than using one’s keys. Every radical change in society necessarily requires an intervening period of austerity. The length and severity of this transitional phase depend greatly on the degree of internal and external interference in the socialist program, as well as the social, material, and technological conditions of that country. It may last weeks or perhaps months in the best case scenario, although in the worst case it may last years. In this transitional period, the capitalist ruling class, having it’s profit, power, and privilege threatened, would react with unimaginable vitriol (even to the point of violence or a coup, as it has done historically) and do it’s utmost to undermine the new government at all costs. All sorts of legal and political objections would be brought against the new government’s programs, slowing socialist nationalization to a snail’s pace. The left-wing government would be forced to attempt socialism using a political structure designed to preserve the status quo, retard progress, and stymie change. In the meanwhile, the bourgeois would use their remaining influence and power to sow economic chaos through society, protract the transitional period of suffering as long as possible, and attempt to use their control and influence, including the media, to manipulate the fickle and low-information portions of the public into blaming the new government, rather than those obstructing it. Rather than seeing the economic labor pangs as the prerequisite to the birth of a new society, the public would seek to murder the movement in it’s womb, aborting the revolution before it could truly be completed. This is precisely what happened to the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela, and precisely why using the existing structure of capitalist government is a fallacy to begin with.

Many people conceive of socialism as a tyrannical system imposed upon the masses by an elite. In fact, socialism is an authoritarian democracy, whereas capitalism is a liberal tyranny. That is, socialism is a democracy of the working class, while using authoritarianism against the (now former) oppressors of society, that is, the capitalist class, who want to restore their rule. Capitalism is precisely the opposite – it uses the structure of political liberalism towards the end of capitalist class rule (This is what Marx meant by ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, respectively). To use a popular anarchist saying, ‘if voting changed anything, it would be illegal’ (the same could be said of other liberal-democratic ‘rights’). It should be understood that capitalist ‘rights’ (especially property ‘rights’) are not ‘freedom’, but rather, the means by which workers are deprived of their actual freedom – the freedom to have a say in how the economy is run.

In order to have true political democracy, we first must have economic democracy i.e. socialism. But since socialism cannot be effectively achieved by participation in capitalist democracy, the whole rotten apparatus of capitalist democracy must be first replaced in toto. The first step towards this sort of thing, in my opinion, would be something like a ‘constitutional convention‘ to change the constitution to be directly democratic, so citizens could directly vote on laws on a national scale.

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