Democracy and class society: Introduction

May 29, 2008

November 4, 2008, is Election Day in the United States. Tens of millions of people will cast their vote for the next president of the United States.

The 2008 elections have several interesting features. It will most likely be remembered as the one where the leadership of the Democratic Party—a handful of mostly white men closely tied to the corporate elite—decided to stage a primary race between an African American man and a white woman.

In addition, the 2008 presidential election is set to be the longest and most expensive in the history of the United States. A Jan. 23, 2007, New York Times article estimated over $1 billion will be spent convincing voters for whom they should vote.

Despite these milestones and the mobilization of the voting public every four years, very little will change for working and poor people on Nov. 5. The prospect for fundamental improvements in the quality of life for poor and working people will not be any greater based on who wins the election and takes the oath of office on January 20, 2009.

This is because this electoral exercise takes place in the context of a society based on the primacy of private property and the rule of the capitalist class. The elections, like other institutions of society—the culture, media, courts, police, army and prisons—are all designed to justify a social order where 1 percent of the population controls more wealth than the bottom 80 percent.

Elections in this context are not really based on “one person, one vote.” In spite of the rhetoric, bourgeois democracy is based on wealth. It is one dollar, one vote; ten dollars, ten votes; a million dollars, a million votes. Federal Elections Commissioner Michael Toner confirmed this in the Jan. 23, 2007 New York Times article mentioned before: “Top-tier candidates are going to have to raise $100 million by the end of 2007 to be a serious candidate.”

Exposing the sham elections

The Party for Socialism and Liberation, as a revolutionary socialist party in the United States, understands that a primary function of bourgeois elections is for the ruling class to strengthen its hold on the consciousness of the working class. At the same time, the PSL sees the possibility of using the elections as a forum to raise revolutionary ideas—to expose the sham that the elections are.

To that end, the Party for Socialism and Liberation is running both national and local candidates in the 2008 elections. As our campaign statement explains on

We want to speak to the tens of millions of working-class and oppressed people who desire real change but will not get it through the capitalist electoral process. We want to fight shoulder to shoulder with our class—the working class—in every struggle against the profit system. We want to be a catalyst to raise working-class consciousness in every arena.

The PSL’s 2008 campaign is meant to inspire more working-class organizing, agitation and revolutionary consciousness. We will take the ideas of socialism—a better, more just society and the way forward for humanity—to the workers and poor people in the United States. The PSL’s campaign will open a much-needed avenue for workers to wage political combat against the capitalist establishment and their corrupt representatives.

What is not at stake

The contest between the Democratic and Republican parties is a fight between different groupings in the capitalist class over who will control the government purse strings. Whoever sits in the White House or controls Congress will dole out billions of dollars in the execution of the day-to-day operation of the capitalist system.

To that end, both capitalist parties appeal to the voters by crafting their message and choosing their candidates so that they have the best chance of getting the most votes. The Democratic Party is more willing to try to tap progressive sentiments among the workers—and divert them away from mass struggle. The Republican Party is more oriented toward promoting backward and racist ideas in the same working class. But both are equally dismissive of the millions and equally responsive to the tiny corporate and banking elite.

The Democratic Party is willing to mass market “change.” But it promises to still carry out the war in Iraq, bail out the banks and investment firms from the sub-prime crisis, try to solve the economic crisis on the backs of the working class, demonize China and support Israeli genocide.

Neither big-business party will reverse the trend of the polarization of wealth. Neither will mobilize the masses towards independent mass action against Big Oil’s right to make profits, while people freeze to death because they cannot pay for winter heating oil. Neither party will put the right to a job, a home and an education ahead of the right to profit off the labor of others.

The 2008 elections will come and go. The struggles against racism, poverty and war will continue; and these struggles will be as necessary as ever. The need will still exist to build an independent working-class movement to change society so that those who work and produce the wealth of society can benefit from their labor. The Party for Socialism and Liberation looks forward to being a part of building that movement.

Understanding bourgeois democracy—to overthrow it

This issue of the magazine is divided into three sections. The first, “Democracy for the ruling class,” provides a historical analysis of how societies through human history have been organized. Marxists look at human existence and the organization of society starting from the material conditions and class relations. Prior to the emergence of social classes, “democracy” as such did not exist, even though we might call many of the forms of organization in those societies democratic. But in the much-vaunted examples of democracy, like ancient Greek society or the French Revolution, democracy represented a form of class oppression.

“Democracy and U.S. imperialism,” includes historical and current analyses to understand the nature of U.S. capitalist democracy and how it functions. The Constitution and the Supreme Court, idealized as the pinnacle of democracy, serve to maintain and validate the domination of the capitalist exploiters over the working class and oppressed. The struggle for enfranchisement compared to the history of racist disenfranchisement, along with the impact of the union movement, show how the class struggle has forced the capitalist class to make concessions—but is always trying to take them back.

Finally, “Democracy and the working class” aims to show how workers can win real democratic rights—by organizing unions under capitalism, but more importantly through struggle for their own political power. In Cuba, despite facing the challenges of developing the country’s economy in the face of the U.S. blockade, workers enjoy expanded democratic decision-making powers unheard of in the most advanced bourgeois democracy.

This issue of Socialism and Liberation is written from the perspective of revolutionary optimism. We hope the reader takes away a sense of struggle and hope for the future after reading it.

By bringing the tools of revolutionary Marxism to bear, fighters for democratic rights can turn the rulers’ ideological arena into a field of combat. In the end, the illusions of bourgeois democracy cannot support the contradictions of class society. It can fall; it must fall.

This is the historic task that is the reason for publishing “Democracy and Class Society.”

The life and legacy of Harry Haywood

The life and legacy of Harry Haywood

The following article was originally published on Liberation News in 2011 and accompanies this Liberation School article on Haywood's contributions to the "Black Belt" thesis. Introduction There is an old saying that “history is written by the victors.” While subject...