2000s >> 2003 >> no-1191-november-2003

Editorial: Total recall and true lies

So second-rate film actor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been elected Governor of California. A sad reflection of the abysmally low level of political understanding of that section of the California electorate who voted for someone, apparently on the basis of his screen image as an “action man”, in the belief that he would be able to solve the problems generated by capitalism in the same way that he always triumphs in his films. It might be thought that they would have learned their lesson after the failure of Hollywood screen cowboy, Ronald Reagan, to live up to his movie image. Apparently not.

But it is not so much this that we want to comment on as the right of recall. This – where voters have the right to recall from office someone they have elected, for not carrying out their wishes – is a key democratic principle. We don’t suppose there will be State Governors in Socialism but there will certainly be elected assemblies and perhaps some elected officials; in the socialist conception of democracy, such elected people should be subject to recall if, in the opinion of a majority of those who elected them, they have failed to carry out the mandate conferred on them. For, in socialism, all elected persons will be delegates chosen by the community to carry out some task on their behalf. It is therefore only normal that, if they fail to carry out this task properly, the people who elected them should have the power to revoke their mandate, i. e. to recall them and mandate someone else in their place.

Such a conception of democracy is alien to what has come to pass as “democracy” under capitalism. The right of recall exists in the constitution of the State of California and of a number of other US States only because at one time bourgeois democrats in America were more radical than they are today. But capitalism corrupts everything it touches and has been able to distort this basic democratic principle to fit into its conception of politics, where democracy is not a question of the community mandating delegates to carry out some task on its behalf – if only because as a class-divided society there is no community under capitalism – but that of choosing between two or more rival elites, a competition between rival gangs of professional politicians.

This reduces politics to choosing every few years which leader or leadership team is going to administer the political side of capitalism. Voters are not citizens participating in the self-administration of their common affairs, but are essentially only an audience whose role is limited – like that of the crowds in the Coliseum in Ancient Rome – to giving the thumbs up or the thumbs down to some outgoing leadership team seeking re-election.

This is not democracy, and it doesn’t work either in that the leaders never live up to their promises. Not necessarily because they are liars or tricksters or self-seekers (though many of them are of course) but because capitalism, despite their promises, just cannot be made to run without causing insoluble problems for the great majority of people, i.e for those who, with their dependants, rely to live on the wage or salary they are paid for the sale of their mental and physical energies.

They – we – make up the vast majority of the electorate but have not yet learned to use the vote in an intelligent way – not to elect capitalist politicians to govern capitalism in the only way it can be, as a system that has to put profits before people, but to send delegates into all elected assemblies mandated to put an end to capitalism. Of course, in keeping with the socialist conception of democracy as a participatory democracy, this assumes that people outside the elected bodies have also mobilised themselves and are ready to play their part in establishing socialism.

Last month’s recall election in California was not really an exercise in democracy, but rather a variation on the futile exercise of kicking out one leader and replacing them with another. But leaders can’t do anything for us. Changing leaders changes nothing. Only we can change things, by taking matters into our own hands and, as just stated, organising to send mandated socialist delegates to elected bodies instead of falling for the empty promises of capitalist politicians.

Arnold Schwarzenegger will fail to solve the problems wage and salary workers in California face just as much as the less charismatic ex-Governor Gray Davis did and all other politicians everywhere always do and always will. What is required is not a change of leaders but a change of society. Let’s terminate capitalism.

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