The main pro-capitalist newspaper L’Express on 3 July, 2016 ran an editorial “A-t-on atteint les limites de la démocratie?” (“Have we reached the limits of democracy?”). The editorial is of course referring to bourgeois democracy because in the minds of such editorialists, there is no other structure for conceptualizing “democracy”.
And to answer the editorialist, it does indeed seem true that bourgeois democracy is becoming incoherent. It is indeed displaying all manner of limitations. Under the stress of capitalism’s increasingly obvious inability to provide everyone on the planet with an ordinary good life – of peace, a bit of ordinary security, a job and regular income, a home, food and clothing, health and education – this limited form of democracy, designed to cover up the exploitation of the majority, inevitably becomes discredited. It is just not good enough. And this is for the simple reason that capitalism itself is not good enough, and capitalism is the system that limits democracy so grotesquely. Though capitalism with its bourgeois democracy is better than previous forms of rule – theocracies, monarchies, etc. with their slavery and caste systems – and better than military rule of any kind, it is nevertheless the economic system that perpetuates a residual form of slavery, aptly called “wage slavery”. As this wage slavery gets more cruel, under crisis conditions, the weak form of democracy it offers as a placebo gets exposed.
Let’s look at the phenomenon in relation to what’s going on in the two main political parties in both Britain and the US right now. We will see that consensus about the way in which they elect their leaders is wearing thin. Economic crisis is exposing it.
In the US, Republican electors have voted, through a laborious process of Primaries, for Donald Trump – someone who was not supported by the Republican Party as such. Those who consider themselves real Republicans are just left to “pez nene bwar dilwil” or grin and bear it, as it were. He is indeed a populist and demagogic candidate for the Presidency. And his candidacy threatens to split the Republican Party. Donald Trump represents more than anything the disaffection of working and middle class people with the bourgeois democratic establishment of the Republicans.
And the Democrats very nearly, and in this case with reason, elected someone who is not a Democrat at all. Bernie Sanders is an independent Senator. But his good score is despite the fact that he is not at all a demagogue. But it does mean that a non-Democrat could win the Democratic Primaries. His good score also represents more than anything the disaffection of working and middle class people with the bourgeois democratic establishment in the Democratic party. In both cases, it is the effects of declining capitalism like factory closures, under-employment, lack of affordable housing, health care and tertiary education, that drew support to non-status-quo candidates.
And, in both cases, the system for choosing a candidate is no longer consensual. It has provoked a lot of putting into question of the respective electoral systems for Primaries.
In Britain, too, controversy reigns after the Brexit vote bringing down the Prime Minister. There is a system in the Conservative Party that involves voting amongst Parliamentarian Conservatives in order to choose a new leader, always eliminating the candidate with least votes, until only two are left, then the membership of the Party gets to choose between the two. But this time, when down to two, one of the candidates withdrew, so Theresa May will tomorrow, 13 July become Leader of the Conservative Party (and Prime Minister). The mass vote has thus been by-passed. Here, too, the broad masses voted in a referendum to leave Europe. This reflects the same problems as in the USA: factory closures, under-employment, housing, health care and tertiary education problems, that under capitalism are seen as inevitable results of a god-given free market. And the Conservatives have come up with the very same Minister of the Interior who was in favour of staying in the EU, to replace David Cameron who resigned because he was in favour of staying in the EU and lost.
In Labour, there is a different, but similar, story. Jeremy Corbin, the Leader of the Opposition, lost a no-confidence vote by Labour MPs two weeks ago. He lost massively, by 172 to 40. He is not resigning though because he was elected as leader, he says and it is true, not by the MPs but by the entire membership. So, here, too, there is a strange lack of consensus. The Labour Party could even split: MPs are massively against Corbin, while the broad membership has only just elected him. He was elected for the same reasons as people wanted to leave the EU: they are fed up with unaccountable politics in times of job losses and reduction of social services.
The editorial that we referred to at the beginning of this article, goes on to give as proof that bourgeois democracy has reached its limits by saying that the results of the Bruit vote put into question “democracy”, which the editorial defines as “counting votes instead of bullets”. This seems a non-sequitur. But it reveals how they, as an elite, know better. The Bruit vote, the editorial says, means democracy is being replaced by “populism”, “demagogy”, and rule by the “uneducated”. In France, the editorial guesses, a referendum might well go the same way, so should be avoided. Even sovereignty, they add, is now undermined by the UK-USA joint communiqué threatening Mauritius not to dare to claim Chaos in the ICJ. “C’est malheureux, mais c’est ainsi. Le système ‘One man, One Vote’ … est en panne. ”
Since the editorial cannot conceptualize reality beyond capitalism, it can only think up various end-games: they actually suggest that rule by a drawing of lots would be better than the rule by bourgeois democracy! Well, if these ideologues are the kind of support that bourgeois democracy is getting, it is high time for us all to think about abolishing the capitalist system, itself, and replacing it with a system in which private individuals cannot reduce other individuals to wage slavery. In such a system proper democracy, with decentralized power, with the right of recall and with increasing equality for all, will all become possible.