In ancient Athens the citizens gathered in the agora, the market place, to debate the affairs of the city state and vote on them. They did that with every issue that arose, including the appointment of military commanders. It has been called the “classic” democracy. In fact, only a fraction of those living in Athens could debate and vote.
Slaves, women and foreigners had neither voice nor vote. Those citizens who made up the Athenian democracy were therefore a narrow, privileged caste, consisting of, maybe, a fifth of the population, or less.
Those who voted in the 2 November US elections have a relationship to the rest of the peoples on the globe which calls to mind the Athenian suffrage-bearing caste and its privileges vis-à-vis the rest of the people.
What the winner of the 2 November elections — as we go to press on 3 November, it looks like George W Bush — does and does not do, whether it be to make war, refuse to make or keep ecological treaties, or change America’s trading policy, will have a huge effect on the lives of every person alive on the earth and on hundreds and millions not yet born.
But only US citizens have a voice in it. And amongst US citizens only a tiny proportion has had influence on what happens in the election and what will happen afterwards.
Every citizen has a vote, but the rich, those who control or can buy newspaper, TV, radio and telephone time, have, so to speak, a great deal more than their own vote. They have been able to influence and appropriate for their own choice of candidate the opinions and thus the votes of millions of less powerful Americans.
Between them, Bush and Kerry spent $2 billion — that is $2,000 million! — on their campaigns.
They are both rich men, but they did not use their own money. They relied on open or camouflaged donations from rich citizens. In order to get that money they made explicit or “nod-and-a-wink” pledges to their donors to do what they want done by government, or they contracted debts that will be repaid in political favours.
Those who own or can buy the use of the opinion-forming media, in their turn, form a thin, privileged political caste in relation to the millions of “ordinary” US voters.
While under the American system all are democratically equal and all have only one vote, some are a very great deal more equal than others, and exercise massive influence on how millions of votes are cast.
In this election, those who paid for the victor’s vote-gathering election campaign have won a massive “bonus” in power and long-term influence.
The winner will be able to nominate no fewer than four Supreme Court judges, for life, or until they choose to retire, as imminent retirements cause vacancies for the President to fill.
Under the US constitution, there is a three-way division of power between the President, Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives) and the Supreme Court.
The Court can veto legislation. Its decisions — on issues like abortion, for example — can become the law of the land.
A second-term President Bush will thus have the power to shape the social and political character of the Supreme Court for an indefinite number of years ahead.
It is not only the Presidency. To win a seat in the Senate costs, it has been estimated, on average $25 million and upwards. Like the President, the Senator’s road to Capitol Hill is paved with donated gold and the political debts which it incurs.
Those who donate small amounts have no influence on how the Senator votes. The representatives of large donors have been seen, before the Senate is due to vote, telling their man or woman, the supposed representative of large numbers of ordinary Americans, which way to vote!
George Bush is the crude and open representative of the rich in America. John Kerry carried the hopes and the support of most “ordinary Americans” in the election. But he too depended for the hundreds of millions of dollars he spent — he spent even more than Bush — on large donations from the very rich. One thing is for sure: they did not give it expecting to get nothing in return…
This is not the democracy defined a century and a half ago by President Abraham Lincoln, “government of the people, for the people, by the people”.
This, within the shell of mass democracy, is the rule of the rich for the rich by the rich. This is not “democracy”; this is what Marxists call “bourgeois democracy”. This is “pluto-democracy”, under which the very rich rule.
It is the single greatest crime of the Blairites, who have hijacked the Labour Party and in office pursue Thatcher-Tory policies, that they do their best to make bourgeois democracy in Britain as empty and as much of a sham as it is in the USA.
“Plutocratic democracy” is a travesty and a bourgeois mockery of democracy. In March 1919, the founding conference of the Communist International, meeting in Russia, where in October 1917 the working class had seized power, adopted theses on “Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, written by Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the workers’ government that ruled Russia.
Writing at a time before television and mass radio, the “mass media” consisted of newspapers he wrote:
“In no civilised capitalist country does ‘democracy in general’ exist. All that exists is bourgeois democracy’…
“‘Freedom of the press’ is another of the principal slogans of ‘pure democracy’. And here, too, the workers know… that this freedom is a deception while the best printing presses and the biggest stocks of paper are appropriated by the capitalists and while capitalist rule over the press remains, a rule that is manifested throughout the world all the more strikingly, sharply, and cynically, the more democracy and the republican system are developed, as in American for example.
“The first thing to do to win real equality and genuine democracy for the working people, for the workers and peasants, is to deprive capital of the possibility of hiring writers, buying up publishing houses, and bribing newspapers. And to do that the capitalists and exploiters have to be overthrown and their resistance suppressed.
“The capitalists have always used the term ‘freedom’ to mean freedom for the rich to get richer and for the workers to starve to death.
“In capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion.