A much abused word

The word “democracy” gets thrown around a lot in this country. Most of the time it is used to prettify a political system that pretends to carry out the wishes of the majority of the people through elections, while in fact the system serves the interests of capital: the big banks and insurance companies, the corporate polluters of the earth, the exploiters of labor.

And billionaire bigoted realtors like the current prez. He was elected “democratically,” wasn’t he? In fact, he is a living example of how big money buys political office in a capitalist “democracy.”

These super-rich have the unrestricted ability in this “democracy” to buy politicians and votes. They set aside funds to get their stooges (or themselves!) elected just as they set aside an advertising budget. While there have recently been a few notable exceptions, big money still gets its way in the vast majority of elections.

And then there’s the “Democratic” Party. For decades, the liberals in this party showed what they meant by democracy with annual dinners extolling Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Rarely mentioned, of course, not even as a footnote to all the praise, was the fact that both were big slave owners and Jackson a murderer of Native people. And that the Southern states, so solidly in the Democratic Party camp while these dinners were taking place, found segregation compatible with being “Democratic.”

Democracy, in the view of those early Democrats, Jefferson and Jackson, was completely compatible with slavery, with treating human beings as property to be bought, worked nearly to death and sold “down the river” where the enslaved people might never again see their spouses, their children or their friends.

Chattel slavery was finally defeated. Many who fought against it in the Civil War, Black and white, did so for reasons of principle and humanity. But for big capital in the North, the main factor was not a yearning for democracy. It was that chattel slavery was a less productive, less profitable mode of production than the system which replaced it: wage slavery.

Under chattel slavery, a bonded workers’ death was a material loss for the slave owner.  Under wage slavery, whether the worker lives or dies is of not much interest to the boss, as long as there are other workers available to be hired and exploited. Chattel slavery was replaced by a system that still relies on super-exploitation of people of color and jails them by the millions — in profit-making prisons — for the crime of being poor.

Capitalism these days is not very popular, especially among the younger generations who are appalled at what this profit system is doing to the world. Yet it still has its liberal defenders. One of them recently wrote an op-ed column for the New York Times worrying about “America’s Coming Oligarchy.” (Coming? Isn’t it already here?) Michael Tomasky points out that, surprise, the rich are getting richer. This is a threat to our great democracy, he writes. And who does he cite? Why, Thomas Jefferson, who according to Tomasky was appalled at the growing disparity between rich and poor. (Again, no mention of the disparity between the wealth of Jefferson and those he enslaved.) All this leads him to the conclusion that “democratic capitalism” must be preserved.

“Democratic capitalism” has been around for a long time. It coexists with imperialism and racism and sexism and war — while sometimes grumbling about them. The “democratic” part is a cover for what is basic about capitalism: exploitation of the workers by the super-rich, which is at the root of everything else that is intolerable.

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