This article was originally published on Liberation News, 04/13/2013
The U.S. political establishment likes to claim that this country is one of if not the most democratic states in the world. Other countries opposing its agenda are lambasted as “undemocratic” whatever their actual governments and objectives may be, and the “spread of democracy” is often cited as pretext for U.S. military and covert intervention in other nations.
At home, pundits and politicians say that the U.S. system of representative government and universal suffrage guarantees every citizen a voice in government. Domestic voices calling for revolutionary change—especially those who advocate moving beyond the capitalist system—are labeled as opponents of democracy, just as governments of countries targeted for regime-change are.
Much of the legitimacy of the current system of government in the U.S. is based around this story—that the U.S. government and society is democratic and that the wishes of the people are carried out by their representatives. So how accurate is this story, and how democratic is the USA really?
A study recently conducted by Maplight.org, a group devoted to campaign finance reform, revealed that in the 2012 election, the average cost of a successful Senate campaign was a staggering $10,476,451. A seat in the House cost, on average, $1,689,580. The group compared these figures to the median household income in the U.S., $52,762, and the median home value, $186,200.
What do these numbers mean? Obviously the cost of running an election campaign for national office in the U.S. puts it far beyond the means of the average citizen. Many workers, especially those working minimum-wage jobs and living paycheck to paycheck, would be unable to leave work long enough to run for election and still pay their bills, even leaving aside the massive expenditures required to sustain a campaign.
It follows from this that to win high office in the United States, you must either be (at least) a millionaire, or be able to seek and win the approval of people or organizations with millions to spend on a political campaign. Since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, corporations can spend without limit to make sure that candidates who will reliably serve their interests are elected.
'The principle governing this country's supposed democracy is far less “one person, one vote” than it is “money talks,"'
This ensures that the views and demands of the working class receive minimal attention in national government. The principle governing this country's supposed democracy is far less “one person, one vote” than it is “money talks,” and the end result of that principle is that voters may choose between two or three people who have been vetted and found acceptable by the established representatives of the capitalist class. In other words, we get to choose who in elected office will be oppressing us for the next two or four years.
This sort of false choice is emblematic of the problems inherent in most freedoms to be found in an ostensibly liberal capitalist society. Citizens are often (although not always) free to consume whatever news sources they like—although most of the news is presented from the viewpoint of people wealthy enough to own a printing press, broadcasting station or TV network. Citizens are free to go where they want—if they can afford to.
Democracy for the minority
The Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin said: “In capitalist society, under the conditions most favorable to its development, we have more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always bound by the narrow framework of capitalist exploitation and consequently always remains, in reality, a democracy for the minority, only for the possessing classes, only for the rich.”
This is a problem that cannot be solved without a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, a struggle grounded in militant action in the streets against false choices and against the rule of, by and for the rich. It must be a fight for real majority rule.