The word “democracy” is Greek in origin. Literally it means “rule of the people.” In a democracy, the control of society is supposed to be held not by the elite, but by everyone, equally. Democracy is often held up as the opposite of a dictatorship, in which a small group has the power.
The U.S. government portrays itself as a shining example of democracy. Children are taught from their first days of school that the U.S. has a democratic government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Formal elections are held up as proof of this democracy. Every few years voters can go to the polls and vote for a candidate for president, Congress, governor, the state legislature, mayor, city council and so on. This, the ruling class tells us, is democracy.
But how democratic is the U.S. really? Every candidate who wishes to have a chance of winning a major election needs a great deal of money. The majority of this money comes from Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and National City. The media, which has a disproportionate influence on the decisions of voters, is privately owned by wealthy corporations as well.
The majority of people in this society are members of the working class, yet only a tiny minority of the politicians are ever workers, especially workers of color. Most major politicians come from the ruling class or are hired agents for that class. Both former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney were themselves wealthy capitalists, as are many members of Congress.
The U.S. economy is not operated in a democratic fashion. The workers and oppressed live under a dictatorship of the capitalists. If the owner of a factory wants to make machine guns instead of medical equipment, the workers at the plant have no recognized right to challenge that decision. If that same factory owner decides to close the plant down and lay off everybody, no one can legally stop the owner.
Workers spend 40 hours or more a week under the dictatorship of the bosses, if they are lucky enough to have a job. The rest of the time the workers purchase the bosses’ electricity, eat the food the bosses make money on, sleep in the houses the banks own, and pay interest to the banks on credit cards.
This situation makes it impossible for the capitalist government to operate above the class situation on the ground. Even if the politicians aren’t tied directly to the capitalist class, it is impossible for them not to be pressured by the tremendous power and wealth of the bosses. The state and the government do not stand above society — they were set up in the beginning to protect the interests of the ruling class.
Capitalist governments operate in the same way that capitalist economies run — as a dictatorship of the capitalist ruling class. Capitalist democracy acts as a democracy for the rich and as a dictatorship against the workers and oppressed. The institutions of government and the procedures for elections are intended to allow capitalists to settle disputes among themselves. They do not empower workers with the democracy they need in their economic and political lives.
Workers have been able to win some rights from the capitalist dictatorship, but these rights were won as concessions to workers’ struggle. Continual struggle is necessary to prevent the capitalist dictatorship from rescinding the rights and freedoms won. Despite the insistence of politicians that elections represent real democracy, it’s clear who really runs the show. The dictatorship of the capitalists can be seen in the trillions of dollars in handouts Presidents Bush and Obama have given to the banks in the midst of the worst economic crisis for workers since the Great Depression. The continuation of troops in Iraq and the escalation of war in Afghanistan also demonstrate the limited impact elections can have under capitalist democracy.
The U.S. is about as democratic in its conduct internationally as it is at home. When the U.S. invades nations, it insists that it is “spreading democracy.” But the U.S. government has propped up brutal dictatorships all around the world when the interests of the ruling class of bankers and capitalists were threatened by a people’s movement.
In Chile, when the people democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende as president in the 1970s, the U.S. sent in the CIA to overthrow him and then installed General Pinochet, a brutal dictator who massacred thousands of innocent people and suspended all civil liberties.
All across the world, the “democracy” the U.S. champions has been revealed as a cover for profit and exploitation. If a leader serves the interests of U.S. bankers and capitalists, he is support- ed by the U.S. government. If a leader opposes them, he is often labeled a “dictator” who must be “removed” in the capitalist government and the press.
Real democracy would mean the working class majority rules. Real democracy would mean democratic control of the factories, mines, offices and farms, with directors elected by the workers, from among the workers. The government would be an extension of this workers’ control. It would coordinate and plan pro- duction to meet people’s needs and prevent the capitalists from retaking power. The type and amount of items produced would be determined by societal needs and not by the profit motive.
Such a democracy can only exist after the capitalist ruling class is destroyed. Then real democracy, the democracy of the workers and oppressed, would exercise a dictatorship over the remnants of the former capitalist ruling class until such a time that classes have withered away along with the police, courts and jails that protect them.
- Getting a grip on how U.S. ‘democracy’ works – by Vince Copeland