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The Two-Party System Is Facing Its Biggest Challenge In 70 Years

24 Mar

 

From Maine to Missouri, states are bucking the establishment to push radical electoral reforms.

MARCH 19 | APRIL ISSUE – In These Times

WE ARE IN A MOMENT OF NERVOUS, SEMI-PANICKED REFLECTION ABOUT THE HEALTH AND PROSPECTS OF THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM. Take The Atlantic’s March essay, “America Is Not a Democracy.” It begins with the story of how a private water company in Oxford, Mass., apparently derailed a public buyout pushed by locals who were angry about high rates and poor service. The plan was voted down at a town hall meeting mysteriously packed with people who had shown little previous interest. “Even in this bastion of deliberation and direct democracy,” writes Yascha Mounk, “a nasty suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of power are not controlled by the people.”

With good reason. Polling shows that Congress is profoundly out of tune with the will of the people on almost every issue, from gun control to single-payer healthcare to action on climate change. In a Gallup poll released this past fall, only a third of respondents said the two major parties “do an adequate job of representing the American people.” Sixty-one percent thought a third party was needed—the highest number in eight polls taken over 15 years.

One path forward is to engage each issue and press for change within the existing dysfunctional system. But if there is a game-changing and achievable solution that solves some of the most profound problems at once—ending the stranglehold of the two major parties, multiplying the representation of minority voters, decreasing polarization and boosting voter engagement—doesn’t it deserve serious attention from progressives?

Such a solution—proportional representation (PR)—is already used in 94 democracies around the world. In those countries, there are more parties to choose from. Elections focus more on issues and less on individual candidates. The power of money is diluted, because coalition building takes priority over personal attacks. And there are more women and minorities in office.

In the United States, a semi-hidden history attests to PR’s transformative power. Introduced into the New York City Council elections in 1936, PR unleashed a wave of democratic engagement and diverse representation. Communists and other minority parties claimed 50 percent of the seats and broke the Democratic machine’s monopoly. In Cincinnati in 1951, PR put an African-American attorney, Theodore Berry, on the cusp of becoming mayor, until the establishment closed ranks and shut him out. A total of 24 cities adopted PR in the early decades of the 20th century.

The Red Scare, coupled with racism, squashed those experiments. New York City abolished PR in 1947, largely because it empowered Communists. Cincinnati did so in 1957, to block the rise of African Americans on the city council.

Now, in response to growing the glaring failures of our democracy, PR is being advanced at the local level from Maine to Missouri to California.

 

 

HOW IT WORKS

The biggest barrier to PR today may be inertia. Polling shows that its appeal transcends ideology, but the two-party tug-of-war is so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine a different way.

PR also has a marketing problem. Its name seems designed to make eyes glaze. And there are endless variations on how it could be implemented.

But set aside the marketing problems and the mechanics, and briefly consider PR’s basic claims.

The case for PR holds that the maddening things about American democracy are built into our legislative maps and our voting procedures; dysfunction and disenchantment are features of our electoral system, not bugs.

The basic principles of reform are simple. The first is that a legislative district need not be the domain of a single representative, but should be represented by multiple people—a reform called multi-member districts. The second is that voting should be about ranking the candidates, not choosing the single best person—a reform called ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Multi-member districts can create space for racial and ideological minorities, who may have trouble winning more than half the vote but can attract a loyal bloc, enough to come in second, third or fourth and earn a seat. Multi-member districts also defy gerrymandering. In a single-member district that’s split 60-40 along party lines, the 40 percent minority gets no representative. A ruling party can game the system by creating many such slim-margin districts in its favor, disenfranchising a sizable portion of the opposing party’s voters. But in a multi-member district, the 40 percent gets a share of the seats.

RCV breaks the grip of the two-party system in another way, by solving the problem of spoiler candidates and boosting voter engagement. In RCV, a voter’s second-choice candidate receives her vote if her first choice is eliminated. The same is true for her third choice if the second choice is eliminated. And so on. If the 2016 presidential election had been non-partisan and ranked-choice, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voters could have been at peace, knowing that by marking the other Democrat as their second choice, they would still be casting a vote against Donald Trump—even if their first choice didn’t win.

These two ideas can be applied independently, but they’re more powerful in combination. Alone, multi-member districting has some risks. For instance, under certain circumstances, it can actually suppress rather than increase minority representation (if “block” voting allows one party to win all the seats). Ranked-choice voting corrects that. Used together, multi-member districts and RCV dissolve the two-party monopoly and give outsider candidates a real chance.

 

 

A perfect storm of dysfunction, corruption and diminishing democracy is driving the recent revival of support for PR. The GOP’s radical gerrymandering of legislative districts, and the flood of corporate dark money since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, have spotlighted how our political system is rigged against democracy in favor of wealth and power. (That’s in addition to Donald Trump’s constant laments about the rigging of the system and his incessant efforts to rig it for himself.)

In that grim context, PR’s bold and hopeful vision for how our system can work better is gaining traction and winning converts. It’s a solution well suited to this moment of democratic dysfunction and a flowering of local experiments.

“We’re in a crisis whose depth is not fully understood yet,” says Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a national advocacy organization working to promote PR. “People are hoping they can fix it with Band-Aids, and I don’t think they can. And as that sinks in, more and more people will see that PR bends things toward the changes that we need to make.”

 A CRUSADE IN MISSOURI

Several cities and states are now exploring one or both reforms. On June 5, Santa Clara, Calif., (pop. 126,000) votes on a measure that would establish both multi-member districts and RCV for city council elections. On June 12, Maine votes on a referendum that would establish RCV for state and federal offices.

The Santa Clara bill would mark the first time a city has adopted multi-member districting and RCV since the 1950s. Only Cambridge, Mass., currently elects its city council using RCV in multi-member districts.

The elections in Maine and Santa Clara are bellwethers that proportional representation is gaining momentum. A nascent effort in Missouri captures the kind of passion and faith it can inspire.

In late 2014, a retired high school economics teacher, Winston Apple, drafted a ballot petition that would create a PR system for Missouri’s state government. It didn’t get enough signatures the first time around, and he filed it again in late 2016. Since then, he’s been working to build support for it by coordinating with progressive groups around the state. They need about 160,000 signatures by May 6 to put it on the November ballot.

Apple is a member of Our Revolution and a self-described “political revolutionary.” He’s also a candidate for Congress in Missouri’s 6th District.

He originally wanted to put seven reform measures on the ballot this fall. When his coalition partners asked him, for the sake of simplicity, to choose one, he chose PR. “If we can get that on the ballot and passed this year, then in 2020 we will elect a genuinely democratic legislature that will pass all the rest of the ballot measures,” Apple says. “It’s a gateway to getting all the rest of the good stuff done.” His coalition partners include several chapters of Our Revolution and members of minor parties that would benefit from a PR system, including Greens and Libertarians.

 

 

Most reform initiatives, like the one in Maine, push for only ranked-choice voting rather than full PR, because RCV is more familiar and less disruptive. Apple’s petition does the opposite. It would create eight larger state legislative districts, each with 10 representatives, cutting the total number of House seats approximately in half.

Apple proposes a “list” system similar to the parliamentary democracy of many European countries. Voters cast their ballot for a party, not individual candidates. Parties fill their share of seats in the legislature according to the results of their primary elections. If a party wins three seats in a district, for example, the party’s top three primary vote winners are seated.

Apple, who’s from Independence and bears a bit of a resemblance to Harry Truman, says he designed it that way because it puts the focus on issues, not personalities. He has a Midwestern earnestness, and he approaches his role of political revolutionary with the energy of a convert. He’s written “a manifesto for the reform of public education,” Edutopia, and he’s working on a book about Keynesian economics that argues the federal government should become the employer of last resort.

For his mission to change Missouri’s electoral system, he’s created a website, GovernmentByThePeople.org, with two short videos that explain the basics of proportional representation, in addition to essays that describe it in painstaking detail. And he takes his cause on the road. In early February, he went to a three-day summit called “Unrig the System” at Tulane University in New Orleans. The summit’s goal was to “convene the brightest minds from the Right and Left to fix American politics.” The slate of speakers included both Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, and Steve Hilton, a Fox News host.

People not formally scheduled to speak at the summit had a chance to pitch their ideas for a brief talk. Attendees voted on the pitches, and the winners got to speak at an event on the last day. Apple was among the winners.

“I think I convinced a whole lot more people that if we can only make one change, proportional representation is the one we should make,” he says. “It’s just a numbers game. The vast majority of people have no idea what it is or how it works. I’ve found that if you say, ‘This will break the two-party monopoly, and independent candidates will have a fair chance of getting elected,’ they say, ‘Where do I sign?’ ”

MAINE LEADS THE WAY

FairVote expects that the Missouri initiative will be a hard sell, especially the idea of voting for a party’s slate rather than individuals. “I tend to be skeptical that a list system will be successful in the U.S,” says Drew Spencer Penrose, FairVote’s law and policy director. “We’re used to voting for candidates, and we’re also used to big tent parties.”

Penrose and Rob Richie believe the path to victory for PR is a series of city and state-level reforms that evolve into a movement for federal PR over the next decade or so. A bill already in the House, the Fair Representation Act, would implement both multi-member districts and RCV. It currently has only four co-sponsors but serves to keep the item on the agenda for a future, more progressive Congress.

The referendum in Maine would establish ranked-choice voting for all state and federal elections, which is a more modest and less disruptive reform than combining it with multi-member districts. Think of RCV as the gateway to full PR.

 

 

RCV has strong appeal in Maine because of the spoiler problem that’s plagued its recent gubernatorial elections. In the most recent election in 2014, Democrats and Independents split their votes between two candidates who got 43 percent and 8 percent of the vote, respectively. The result was the re-election of the radical right-wing Republican governor, Paul LePage, with 48 percent of the vote. LePage, known for spouting racist paranoia about out-of-state drug dealers (“half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave”), comparing the IRS to the Gestapo and telling the NAACP to kiss his butt, earns consistently low approval ratings. He almost certainly would have lost under a ranked-choice voting system, since he likely wasn’t the second choice of people who voted for his challengers.

San Francisco adopted RCV in 2004, and three more California cities followed in 2010. A FairVote analysis found that the percentage of people of color winning office in those cities rose from about 41 percent prior to implementation of RCV to nearly 60 percent afterward. In all, 12 cities nationwide now use RCV in municipal elections. Santa Fe, N.M., used it for the first time in March.

The path to RCV in Maine shows how its establishment-busting power both threatens the two parties and galvanizes grassroots support. Maine voters first approved the system’s use in 2016. Republicans and some Democrats in the legislature joined forces (citing a complicated Maine Supreme Court ruling) to delay implementation until 2021. But in Maine, voters can repeal recently passed legislation through a “people’s veto.” Advocates for RCV used that provision to put it back on the ballot in June.

All the drama around RCV has likely helped its chances in Maine. As FairVote’s Penrose points out, “We’re not only seeing people who want ranked-choice voting, we’re seeing people outraged at the state legislature for trying to thwart the will of the people.”

A June win in Maine would take effect in November, making it the first instance of RCV’s use in Congressional elections, and establish a state-level model for how the United States can begin moving toward a better system.

“The first statewide use would be a sea change,” Penrose says. “You’d be able to point to a place that’s already using it. I could just say, ‘It’s the Maine system.’ I think we’d start seeing the impact right away.”

 

 

GERRYMANDER NO MORE

It’s curious bordering on bizarre that proportional representation doesn’t attract more interest and resources from progressives. It cuts the Gordian knot of entrenched problems in U.S. politics, achieving many of the movement’s most cherished goals, notably by increasing representation among minority populations and by making votes for third-party candidates more relevant. In an era that’s been defined by playing defense, it offers a realistic plan for democratic revitalization that flips the script on the GOP’s anti-democratic impulses.

Gerrymandering is a classic example. Progressives and Democrats have been doing triage and playing catch-up on this front since the electoral tidal wave of 2010, when Republicans won control of a majority of state legislatures and used that power to gerrymander districts and dominate every level of government.

Some hope is on the horizon: Courts have ruled recently that the GOP-drawn maps in several states—Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina—are unconstitutional. And Barack Obama and his U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, have turned gerrymandering reform into a high-profile issue.

But for supporters of proportional representation, the problem is deeper than the way districts are drawn. The problem is that single-member districts are inherently vulnerable to deck-stacking. And the solution isn’t simply to redraw them.

“There’s so much simplistic analysis of the problem, because people want it to be fixed easily,” FairVote’s Rob Richie says. The attitude is that “we just need to fix gerrymandering, and the two party system will be fine. And we don’t have to really change things. We can just kind of pretend. But that’s fake. We’re in a moment where this is an inescapable conversation. We just have to prepare for that, and show the path.”

The June votes in Santa Clara and Maine will indicate whether the push for proportional representation is gaining traction. Whatever happens with those votes, though, and even if Winston Apple’s effort to get his initiative on the ballot in Missouri falls short, PR is beginning to sink roots in America. That it will grow and flourish isn’t inevitable, but it may offer our best hope for tapping the kind of transformative democratic energies we’ve been searching for.

“I’d like to reform the government by tomorrow afternoon and be at 100 percent renewable energy by 4 o’clock,” Apple says. “But we’re going to have to be more patient than that. And I think proportional representation, honestly, is the biggest issue that we can deal with right now. In the states where we can get it passed, those states are going to have genuinely democratic elections. And be the envy of the rest of the country.”

THEO ANDERSON, a Chicago-based writer, has contributed to In These Timessince 2010, covering the progressive movement’s engagement with electoral politics and the history and development of the Right. His doctoral dissertation at Yale traced the early 20th-century origins of the progressive and conservative movements. 

Source: The Two-Party System Is Facing Its Biggest Challenge In 70 Years

 

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Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire 

25 Feb

Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire

 

“It wasn’t until the administration of Barack Obama that the deadly gaze of the United States began to really re-focus on Latin America, with Venezuela as its main target.”

Ajamu Baraka, BAR editor and columnist 21 Feb 2018

Only in the world of comic-book fantasies is the United States a friend to the oppressed in Africa or anywhere else on the planet. In the real world, the U.S. is a predator, colonial/capitalist nation. But like the imagined nation of Wakanda, in the latest cultural assault on critical mass consciousness, “American exceptionalism” and “make America great again” — two slogans representing both sides of the imperialist coin—ruling class interests are obscured and the people are reduced to working against their objective interests and being accomplices to imperial lawlessness.
In every part of the world, the United States is engaged in maniacal, criminal assaults on democracy, basic human decency and common sense. From its support for armed jihadists groups in Syria and its illegal occupation of that nation, transferring heavy military equipment to its puppet regime in Ukraine, supporting unending war in Afghanistan, to the military invasion of African, the commitment to maintaining U.S. global dominance has moved war and militarism to the center of U.S. strategy.

But nowhere is U.S. criminality more apparent and unrelenting than right here in the Americas where the Pan-European project was born in 1492. That was the year “Europe” was born, emerging from its relative cultural backwardness using with terrifying efficiency the only advantage it had over the more civilized people of the region—armor protection and steel weapons—to slaughter the people, take the land and begin the 500-hundred-year nightmare the people of the world have suffered ever since.

 

 

The commitment to maintaining U.S. global dominance has moved war and militarism to the center of U.S. strategy.”
Today, the barbarism of the Pan-European project continues under the tutelage of what history will record—if humanity survives—as the most violent, racist, oppressive human experience ever to have emerged in the short span of human existence on Earth: the United States of America.
After centuries experiencing the horrors of genocide, slavery, military dictatorships, environmental destruction, and neoliberal exploitation, the people of Latin America began to slowly extract themselves from the clutches of the hegemon from the North. Social movements and peoples undeterred by coups, structural adjustment and death squads started to take back their history in Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and the rest of the continent. Venezuela has led the way, proclaiming the dawn of a 21st century socialism that would create the new society and the new human in the process.
Because of imperial overreach, the same trap that has ensnared other empires in decline, the U.S. was preoccupied with attempting to manage the mess it had created for itself as a result of the disastrous belief that it could fight two major wars simultaneously. So, while it was bogged down in Western Asia and the so-called “Middle East,” the full force of the U.S. repressive apparatus was not deployed against the fledgling people’s movements and the nominal capture of the state by those movements in Latin America. Of course, the United States helped to engineer a failed coup against Hugo Chavez and it continued training police and military forces in the region. But it wasn’t until the administration of Barack Obama that the deadly gaze of the United States began to really re-focus on Latin America, with Venezuela as its main target.

“Venezuela has led the way, proclaiming the dawn of a 21st century socialism that would create the new society and the new human in the process.”
In what appears on the surface to be a ludicrous position, Barack Obama declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security on three different occasions. However, the United States is the enforcer for the global capitalist system and the head of the white, Western, capitalist united front. With that in mind, seeing Venezuela as a threat made sense. Venezuela has been the driving force for the nations of the Americas south of the U.S. border attempting to free themselves from the yoke of U.S. imperialism.
The Trump administration took up with enthusiasm the policy of destabilization, subversion, and economic warfare that was intensified under the Obama administration. Violent regime change is now clearly the objective of the administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the Venezuelan military to overthrow the government while on a visit to the region and reports have surfaced of military forces from Colombia and Brazil being deployed to their respective borders with Venezuela. Another clear sign that the lives of the people of Venezuela will be sacrificed with violent regime change is the collapse of the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the counter-revolutionary opposition that had been taking place for almost two years. Up until just a few days ago, it appeared an agreement was in place for a peaceful political resolution.

 

 

“Violent regime change is now clearly the objective of the administration.”

The move toward a violent intervention became more apparent when discussions abruptly ended as the opposition decided not to sign an agreement designed to move both parties toward an eventual political resolution.
Concerned about the general disarray among the opposition and the fact that the ruling party and government won 18 out of 23 governorships in regional elections in October 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would not recognize the results of the upcoming Presidential election to be held April 22. All the evidence points to the administration, along with the Venezuela oligarchy, opting for a strategy of regime change, even though it will result in mass slaughter and the dictatorship that the United States pretends to be opposed to in Venezuela.
The moves by the Trump administration represent an ominous re-introduction of the worst imperialist excesses of the late 20th century, where violent coups were the preferred response to any threats to the rule of capital and U.S. imperialist control. Yet, what is even more ominous about the situation unfolding in Venezuela is that unlike a few decades ago, when there was a vocal and active radical and left opposition to U.S. imperialism, the left and many radicals in the U.S. are in open class collaboration with imperialism.
The left in the United States and Western Europe has completely abandoned any idea of solidarity with the global South’s revolutionary projects. A bizarre example of the reactionary nature of the European left was the European Parliament awarding the Sakharov Freedom Prize to the Venezuelan “opposition,” a group that has openly attacked journalists and burned alive two dozen people of primarily Black or dark complexions who they assumed were probably government supporters because they were poor and black. Clearly for the representatives in the European Union’s only democratic body, the integrity of the press and “Black lives” really don’t matter!

“Anti-imperialists must support national independence, especially when a nation is in the cross hairs.”
The courageous struggle of the Venezuelan people to defend their national sovereignty and dignity in the face of the murderous intentions of their North American neighbors and the racist obsequious Venezuelan oligarchy deserves the support of all true anti-imperialists. Whatever failure or internal contradiction we see in the Bolivarian process does not outweigh the principle that anti-imperialists must support national independence, especially when a nation is in the cross hairs of the greatest gangster nation on the planet.
For those of us who inhibit the colonized Black and Brown zones of non-being, as Fanon referred to them, to not resist the white supremacist, colonial/capitalist patriarchy at the center of the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination is moral and political suicide.
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson orders the Venezuelan opposition to undermine the agreement to stabilize the situation in Venezuela while simultaneously undermining the internal Korea efforts toward de-escalating the tensions between North and South Korea, we see the familiar hand of classic European colonialist divide-and-rule tactics that propelled them to global dominance and continues to give Western imperialism a leash (lease?) on life.
But for James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and all the Mad Dogs of empire, the people of the world have seen behind the curtain and are not impressed with the diversionary smoke and fire of your weapons and bellicosity. The people know they have the cure for the virus that affects you, but you will not be happy with their treatment plan.
Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch. His latest publications include contributions to “Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. 

 

Source: Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire | Black Agenda Report

 

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Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story

24 Feb

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Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story

The Cold War displaced the legacies of the New Deal. Time and Trump are now displacing Cold War legacies. Where capitalism was questioned and challenged in the 1930s and into the 1940s, doing that became taboo after 1948. Yet in the wake of the 2008 crash, critical thought about capitalism resumed. In particular one argument is gaining traction: capitalism is not the means to realize economic equality and democracy, it is rather the great obstacle to their realization.

The New Deal, forced on the FDR regime from below by a coalition of unionists (CIO) and the political left (two socialist parties and one communist party), reversed the traditional direction (to greater inequality) of income and wealth distributions in the US. They shifted toward greater equality. US history thus illustrates Thomas Piketty’s argument in his 2014 Capital in the 21st Century about long-term deepening of inequality that can be punctuated by interruptions. Indeed, the New Deal reversal was such an interruption and featured just the sorts of taxation of corporations and the rich that Piketty favors now to correct/reverse capitalist inequalities.

Yet, after World War Two the resumption of capitalist accumulation undid the New Deal and has since returned modern global capitalism to new depths of inequality. What Piketty proposes now again as a remedy proved then to be merely temporary. The reversal was itself reversed. After 1945, corporations and the rich devoted their profits and their high incomes/wealth to buy even further control of the two major political parties. That extra control enabled them to undo the New Deal and to keep it undone.

US history thus exemplifies more than capitalism’s tendency to deepening inequality and the use of taxation to reverse that inequality. It also teaches us how and why that reversal was unable to be more than temporary. That lesson implies skepticism about whether tax-based – or indeed, any – reversals can be more than temporary given capitalism’s proven success in undoing them. Such skepticism hardens when parallel evidence emerges from other capitalist countries’ likewise merely temporary reversals of basic tendencies to deepening inequalities.

The conclusion to be drawn from the US story is not that efforts to reverse deepening inequality are foredoomed to failure. It is to face the fact that mere reforms such as tax law changes are inadequate to the task. To make reforms stick – to overcome temporariness across so many histories – requires going further to basic system change. Because capitalism tends toward deepening inequality and can defeat reversals by keeping them temporary, it is capitalism that must be overcome to solve its inherent inequality problem.

 

 

Capitalism presents a parallel problem in its structural contradiction to democracy. The “democracy” label that so many modern nations use to describe themselves has always been a misnomer. The political sphere was indeed, at least formally, a place where governmental decisions were made by persons accountable eventually to a one-person-one-vote election. In that precise sense, those required to live with a decision exercised the democratic right to participate in making that decision via the accountability of governmental officials.

However, the economic sphere was never organized in a parallel democratic manner. The leaders of enterprises – the owners, shareholders, and the directors they chose – made all the basic enterprise decisions. These included deciding what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues (or surplus or profits) of the enterprise. The leaders were not at all accountable to the people – all the other employees – who had to live with the results of those basic enterprise decisions. The latter were excluded from participating in key economic decisions affecting and shaping their lives. In short, “democracy” has been applied to societies whose political/residential sphere was at least formally democratic but whose economic sphere was decidedly not.

The ideological rigidity of most brands of anti-stat-ism across US history served nicely to keep the focus forever on state/public versus individual/private in thinking and acting about social change. Democracy was redefined in practical terms as the liberty of the individual/private from the intrusion of the state/public. The democratic quality of the individual/private enterprise – the central structure of the economy – was exempted from analysis or even from view in terms of its structural incompatibility with democracy. Legalistic equations of capitalist corporations with individual person-hood also helped to distract attention away from the undemocratic structure of the corporation. Likewise, the US government’s commitment to a “democratic foreign policy” fostered the reproduction elsewhere of the same undemocratic economic structure that characterized the US.

 

 

 

The right wing of US politics has long understood and responded to social movements for equality and democracy as threats to capitalism. Its leaders built their coalitions by working to mobilize public opinion against those movements as threats to the “American way of life.” It built its ideology on the notion that democracy meant a state kept from intruding on the lives and activities of persons and enterprises rendered as equivalently “individuals.” Equality to them meant equality of opportunity, not outcomes: and then only if opportunity was strictly disconnected from the wealth, income and social position each individual was born into.

The left wing of US politics has always tried hard to sustain the notion that capitalism was not only compatible with egalitarianism and democracy. It would also be strengthened, not threatened, by moving capitalist society closer to equality and democracy. In practical terms it contested against the right wing by insisting that the mass of people – the workers in capitalist enterprises – would become disaffected from and disloyal to capitalism if it indulged its anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic tendencies. Capitalism, it argued and argues, will be strengthened not threatened by less inequality and more democracy.

Both left and right – and their expressions in the leaderships of the Republican and Democratic Parties – live in fear, conscious or otherwise, that the mass of people, the working class, will become disaffected from capitalism. “Populist” is the currently popular epithet that expresses this fear.  Both parties contest for the support of the leaders of capitalism – major shareholders and the corporate boards of directors they select – by offering their alternative strategies for avoiding, controlling, or safely channeling mass disaffection with capitalism.

 

 

The GOP offers a mix of (1) repression for egalitarian and democratic (i.e., populist) social movements, (2) support and subsidy for capitalists, and (3) symbolic gestures and policies pandering to certain sectors of public opinion (fundamentalist religion, patriotism, nationalism-anti-immigration, and so on). The Democratic Party offers a mix of limited, gradualist support for movements toward less inequality and more political democracy. It offers itself as the means to bring marginalized groups into full participation in capitalism, thereby keeping them from populism. Each party leadership deplores populists and tries to associate them with the other party. Democrats especially see populism in Trump; Republicans and quite a few centrist Democrats see it especially in Bernie Sanders. Both parties rarely refer to “capitalism” per se. Both proceed as if no critique of or alternative to capitalism exists or makes any sense.

Not only the Republican Party, but also the Democratic Party support, serve and reinforce the capitalism that stands as a basic obstacle to economic equality and democracy. Because those goals are never achieved they have long served as objectives to which both Parties offer lip service. The absurd contradiction of their shared position is now giving way to the recognition that the necessity for system change is the lesson of US history. If, in place of capitalist enterprise structures, a transition occurred to worker cooperatives with democratic organizations and procedures – likely to distribute net revenues far less unequally among enterprise participants than capitalist structures did – it would have removed a key obstacle to a broader social movement toward equality and democracy.

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Richard Wolff is the author of Capitalism Hits the Fan and Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens. He is founder of Democracy at Work.

 

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Source: Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story

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