Elections worldwide

Elections are not just happening in the UK this year: around the world there have been national elections in South Africa, Bangladesh, Mexico, Taiwan, Indonesia and Pakistan already. The United States is due to have an election in November. There have even been elections in Russia and Iran and European Parliamentary elections. There may be more, but what is certain, is that a majority of the human species will vote in national-level elections at some point in this year.

This is something worth taking on board: particularly for ourselves as socialists who maintain that a worldwide revolution is possible. It becomes conceivable that in one particular year, socialist movements could win elections not just in a preponderance of states, but with a majority of the species on the planet.

This is the first time in recorded history that so many people will be engaged in this way, and the likelihood is that such occurrences will become more common. Yet, despite the spread of democracy, we still see the overall rule by a minority. The capitalist class holds sway both within and between states. The evidence is that democracy is a form of government that supports and promotes minority rule.

The first factor to take into account is the very division of the world into nation states. Many electrons have been sacrificed in recent stories about Georgia’s new Foreign Agents law (widely seen as a pro-Russian imposition to cut out western NGOs and other bodies). Yet, the UK has recently passed a similar law which makes it an offence to work as an agent of a foreign government. As it is worded, it’s not entirely inconceivable that were a part of the World Socialist Movement to win an election anywhere in the world, it could lead to our members being proscribed (as we would be acting as part of a single worldwide organisation).

On top of that is the process that can be most easily demonstrated in Russia and Iran. In both countries, great steps are taken to restrict who is able to stand, with candidates being vetted by an electoral commission. Whilst in the abstract, this could lead to protest votes being cast for smaller parties (since there are multiple candidates in the elections) the bombardment of propaganda is one-sided so people feel there is no point to voting against the incumbent (or, in many cases, will be persuaded that he is the best candidate).

In Iran, this results in very low turn-outs, down to 40 percent. In Russia, there are suggestions that the vote is inflated by outright ballot fraud and box stuffing (there are no independent observers in Russia, so it’s hard to say).

This process still happens in the ‘open’ democracies in some ways, where the barriers to standing are financial, time availability and co-ordination. Concentration of wealth gives the capitalist class minority the head start in being able to organise around winning elections.

Counting the ballots is a vulnerable point in electoral politics, hence why Donald Trump has been able to maintain his claims of voter fraud. This technique was pioneered in Kenyan Presidential elections, and works by filling the airwaves with claims of cheating, backed up by having enough energised supporters to mean the claims cannot be easily ignored. Clearly, this approach is backed up by clever psychological studies of group behaviour. All over the world, skilled professionals are paid precisely to game any election rules to try and support one faction over another.

Even where such blatant fixes aren’t in place, the whole structure of representative elections is actually stacked towards minority rule. In practice, parliaments and legislatures only ever have one vote: who is the government? Handing power to an individual executive in practice creates an elected monarch. The so-called division of power much vaunted by liberal doctrine simply frees up the executive branch to behave as it wants, with parliaments being oversight committees on the activity of the executive.

That is not to say they have no influence. Parliaments can threaten to obstruct the executive and rob it of authority. Indeed, this is a way in which minority politics operate, since it is in the interest of parliamentarians to form minority factions which threaten the overall majority, and quietly exact policies from the executive in return for their continued loyalty.

Likewise, the existence of the executive allows for a band of courtiers who jockey for position and patronage: they have privileged access to information (especially timings of announcements) and the ability to co-ordinate easily because their numbers are small and they are personally known to one another. They can offer each other jobs and opportunities to make contacts.

Here again, the inequality of wealth rears its head. The small number of courtiers can themselves be courted, and if not outright bribed, they can be made aware of the revolving door between politics and business: comfortable sinecures await those who prove sufficiently pliant to business interests. If they all move in the same circles, they form a common way of looking at the world which means they do what is needed without even having to be asked.

Informal networks and factionalising are almost inherent to human society and cannot be eliminated, but the more open and diffuse the decision structures are, the less these traits can have an effect on the outcomes of decisions. The fact that the billions who vote are in effect insulated from the day to day decisions by the election of intermediaries in parliament simply exacerbates the opportunities for scheming and domination.

Election and delegation of defined functions would continue to be an essential part of running a society based on common ownership, as would (indeed) some representative bodies. The abolition of concentrated private wealth and the active participation of the billions in ensuring that as many decisions are taken as closely as possible to the public gaze means that we can look to transforming the current means of deception and fraud into a means of liberation and effective administration for us all.


Next article: The myth of consumer sovereignty ➤

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