The US presidential elections
In November the American people will elect a new President to lead the United States for the next four years. The US Presidency embodies the roles of chief executive, “chief legislator”, head of state, commander-in-chief, and party leader. But the Office also embraces two additional roles, seldom discussed in the media or noted in the textbooks. The first is as guardian of US capitalism, a role fulfilled by advancing the wealth and power of giant US corporations and their wealthy investors. The second is that of protector of the wider economic system based on private ownership and profit, a role acquired after the second world war when, as Gerald Haines, former diplomat and senior historian of the CIA put it, the United States “assumed, out of self-interest, responsibility for the welfare of the world capitalist system”.
So what difference will the victory of one candidate over another in the presidential election really make to the ordinary American? The short answer must be very little. In practice the election is little more than a public relations exercise where American people are given their ‘sixty seconds of democracy’ to select an emissary of the owning class to safeguard and, if possible, to expand its class interests over the next four years. Since the function will be to represent the owning class, the victor and his government will have to pursue policies that ‘stimulate’ profit regardless of the hardships this may cause the wider population. At the same time they must appear to represent the interest and welfare that wider population. This profit imperative is not because the election is being held in America but because the world’s dominant economic system is the profit system (capitalism) and any election to government in society as presently constituted involves choosing one of the political parties that embrace the ideology of capitalism.
In present-day society government has a class nature. Government is not the even-handed arbiter between business and ordinary working people, as many would wish us to believe, but the champion of the owning class with its overarching legal right to exploit ordinary working people. The function of government is to defend the property rights of this owning class and to perpetuate their mastery over society. As far back as 1776 Adam Smith, a great advocate and defender of capitalism, was frank about this: “The necessity of civil government grows up with the acquisition of valuable property . . . Till there be property there can be no government, the very end of which is to is to secure wealth, and to defend the rich from the poor.”
The capitalist class, by virtue of its monopolistic ownership of society’s means of production and distribution, dominates society politically and has shaped all institutions, customs and social behaviour to give expression to its own interests and safeguard its continuing mastery over the world and its people. Under these conditions the meaning of ‘democracy’ has mutated from a process commonly understood to mean the ‘rule of the people’ into a device that does no more than elect a ‘safe pair of hands’ to protect private property and control social and political life to perpetuate this class domination. It functions through the pretence that government represents ordinary working people while actually following an agenda diametrically opposed to their interests. We have the right of consent, but nothing more.
In the quest to preserve this pretence, control of public opinion is crucial. So the media functions to peddle distortions and untruths that blur this reality, to keep public opinion placid and render ordinary working people isolated and ineffective, so leaving the interests of the ruling class unchallenged and supreme. The US media add credence to the myth that the Presidential election carries real choice by eagerly analysing every minute perceived difference between the candidates, bombarding the electorate with patriotic rhetoric and fine sounding ‘promises’ while enthusiastically expounding the lie that the candidates share a common interest with ordinary working people. Their propaganda is heavily loaded with corporate and business ideology and praise for the virtues of the ‘free-market system,’ designed to perpetuate the fallacy that capitalism and democracy are inextricably linked, indeed synonymous. Whether the American electorate will choose George W. Bush or John Kerry is at this stage difficult to determine. What is incontestable is that the outcome will not be of benefit to the America’s (or the world’s) wage and salary earning class over the next four years.
In the US, in fact, all the signs are that things will get worse. In the first 18 months of George W. Bush’s presidential term, unemployment increased by 33 percent and the US median income for families returned to where it was in 1989, which is below what it was in the 1970s. In addition 1.5 million more Americans were added to those already without health insurance, bringing the total to 41 million. After the forthcoming elections, what is likely, whoever takes power, is a further dismantling of welfare mechanisms for the poorest, a weakening of organised labour and healthcare provisions and a loosening of regulations to control pollution. American business interests will certainly demand the elimination of everything that interferes with capitalism’s domination of US society and its ruthless pursuit of profit. This will inevitably lead to increased labour ‘flexibility’ (i.e. worker insecurity), a lessening of already minimal employment rights, an abolition of all remaining ‘not-for-profit’ services and a rise in poverty levels triggering a further widening in social and economic inequality. When profitable corporations will continue to export their operations to other countries where they will ruthlessly exploit cheap labour to reduce costs. David Roderick, then still president of US Steel, neatly underscored the truth that profit has no allegiance to people or country, when he declared in 1984: “Our primary objective is not to make steel but to make steel profitably” (interview in film Business of America).
In foreign policy the President will defend the overseas investments and interests of US corporations and the ‘world global order’ of capital accumulation. Where corporations see a further opportunity to expand their profit base into another country, US government influence will be exerted to transform that country’s economy, culture and political life in order to integrate its productive structures into the international system of capital accumulation. If the indigenous people cannot be peacefully persuaded to open up their country to outside exploitation, pretexts will be found for military intervention – something that has occurred time and time again since the second world war.
Meanwhile, ordinary working people in the United States will be subjected to a campaign designed to induce fear over ‘terrorism’ or any other conveniently intimidating bogeyman. The US is well practised in this method of social control. As early as 1957 none other than General Douglas MacArthur had warned against this propaganda. “Our government,” he said, “keeps us in a perpetual state of fear – keeps us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervour – with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil . . . to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”
So the outcome of the US Presidential election is essentially irrelevant to American working people. Indeed, every election is irrelevant to working people when the electorate is confronted with the conventional political parties whose policies do no more than perpetuate the mastery of the capitalist class.
But while these elections may be irrelevant, that is not to say that ordinary working people in America, or elsewhere, should turn their back on the electoral system as such. Once the world’s working people demand socialism, the electoral system can be utilised to effect the revolutionary act of abolishing capitalism by signalling that a majority of ordinary people fully understand and want to effect that change. So we should not be fooled by the myth that there is no alternative to capitalism, that it will always be with us. It will not, it is true, simply collapse. But its structure rests primarily on the effective control of public thought aimed at persuading people that the society that exists is ‘good’ and works in their interest. Yet, ultimately, force is always on the side of those who are governed and when ordinary people decided to end the misery and change society the numerical superiority of ordinary working people will make their demands unstoppable.
It is only in socialism, a classless society without privilege or distinction, where the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth are commonly owned and controlled by a genuine democracy of ordinary people that we will foster real social harmony and nurture individual self-fulfilment. Production, no longer tied to profit, will have but one objective: to satisfy people’s needs, and since exchange will be replaced by free access to the necessities of life, money and wage slavery will become obsolete in a world that can sustain an abundance. Free from servitude, insecurity and the corrosive influence of material interests, men and women will finally embrace real liberty to develop their limitless creativity and exercise equal participation in society’s welfare.
A socialist society will have no place for leaders or government. The periodic election of Presidents, Prime Ministers and other representatives to governments, whose function is to protect class interest of wealth and privilege and perpetuate our servitude will disappear. The socialist message to the American people is that they should think long and hard about what their new President will represent before casting their vote.