There Is No Franchise for the Vast Majority of the American Population
June 22, 2016
The American political process is full of contradictions between “theory” and “practice.”
The prototypical illustration of this is the buildup of the repressive apparatus of the state in the name of “democracy.”
With the rise of the working class movement in the 19th century, the state apparatus was turned more and more against the working class and popular movements. Since that time, a myriad of repressive laws and bureaucratic regulations have been used to hamstring the workers’ movement. Whenever a strike of the workers threatens the interests of the capitalists or a popular movement begins to gain strength, the government turns to its huge apparatus of repression and attempts to turn the matter into an issue of “law and order.” In addition, the U.S. state is an instrument of war used by U.S. imperialism to spread its empire throughout the world. So too, the nonstop propaganda about the “threat of terrorism” is used to impose a straitjacket on political life and to trample on the democratic rights and civil liberties of the American people.
And nothing stays in the same place. The executive branch of government has, through the Department of Homeland Security, concentrated in its hands wide-ranging new powers to carry out surveillance and intelligence gatherings. The Obama administration exempts the DHS from various provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, thus allowing it to keep secret files on political organizations and activists. Through the DHS the executive has also been given new police powers to intervene in “national emergencies,” “civil disturbances” and local police matters. So too, the government has passed various laws, such as the USA Patriot Sunsets Extension Act, which criminalize dissent and political opposition, invade privacy and expand the powers of the secret police (C.I.A., etc.), allow the government to imprison people without due process. It has unleashed a reign of racist terror in the immigrant communities and endeavored to single out and persecute various individuals and organizations opposed to the war program. It has carried out mass deportations, police violence, racist profiling, repression of community and charity organizations, police harassment of entire neighborhoods including places of worship, etc. It has also imposed a program of government indoctrination and chauvinism in the public schools.
The government is also using the bogey of “terrorism” as an excuse to put the entire economy of our country at the disposal of the Pentagon arms merchants and other big capitalists.
In order to justify this growing fascism, the capitalist politicians have no arguments. They can do nothing but deny reality while rehashing the pabulum taught in high school civic classes – that “American democracy,” is a system in which the “elected” representatives listen to and respond to the will of the people.
What is the real history of the political power?
The government established by the Constitutional Convention did not place sovereignty in the hands of the people, but rather, was designed to create “good and efficient” government immune from the “excesses of pure democracy.” This was accomplished through the creation of a republic or representative democracy, which was structured to create multiple definitions of citizenship in order to prevent the development of a compact majority while “refining” the popular will. In particular, the republic thus constituted aimed at preventing the “tyranny of the majority” or rule by the propertyless masses, which would undermine the rights of private property in the means of production. The founding fathers aimed at using the republican form to provide “legitimacy” for the supreme power, but the role of the people was not to rule. The power to rule, as defined in the very first Article of the Constitution itself, was vested solely in the government. The people were consigned the role of giving their “consent.”
Today, more than 200 years after the framing of the Constitution, the U.S. government has certainly undergone various changes in form. Through the struggles of the working class and broad masses of people, the franchise has been extended to include practically the whole population over age 18. Today, the Senate is now elected by popular vote. But along with these changes, other changes have taken place as well. The power of the executive branch of government has grown to such an enormous extent that it not only makes policy behind the backs of the people, but in open violation of U.S. laws and the Constitution itself. Interest groups and lobbying have developed on a wide scale, both to enlarge the field of operation of big money, but also, to create, in Alexander Hamilton’s terms, more “multiple definitions of citizenship.” The monopoly owned mass media have spread their nets everywhere. The government has given official sanction to the electoral monopoly of the Republican and Democratic Parties, which have almost sole legal authority to nominate candidates, and which as political organizations have no other reason for existence except to gain the spoils of office. In short, the people are, more than ever, completely excluded from governing and even from the discussion over the policies and direction of the government. The people’s participation is reduced to the role of “voting cattle,” while the business of governing is carried out behind closed doors of Congressional committees or the executive bureaucracy. The people are consigned the role of giving their “consent.”
The recognition of powerlessness – of being excluded from the political process and from governing – is so widespread that nearly every current and prospective government official is forced to promote their platform as “reformist” and/or to promote themselves as “the alternative to politics as usual,” as the “anti-establishment candidate,” etc. Amongst other things, these empty claims only highlight the complete separation between word and deed that is a typical feature of capitalist politics. The images of Trump and Sanders as “homespun” leaders is punctured by the reality that their candidacies are entirely creations of the monopoly owned media. These two men, who are each in their turn, advertised as a way to break the “Washington gridlock” refuse on principle to hear the pro-social demands of the people. Instead they participate in a blockade of silence – ignoring our demand for peace and working to repress and marginalize the anti-war movement, ignoring our demand for immediate relief for the unemployed and poverty stricken, ignoring our demand that the government “Stop Paying the Rich,” ignoring our demand for an end to the militarization of the economy and a moratorium on the debt so that the public funds can be used to guarantee the economic rights and well-being of the people, ignoring our demand for the immediate end to the criminalization and deportation of immigrants, ignoring our demand for the end to police repression and state-sponsored racist attacks, etc., etc., etc.
No, these “revolutionary” candidates are not “outsiders” nor do they represent an alternative to “politics as usual.” They are not in opposition to the Republican and Democratic parties, but part and parcel of the same political apparatus which has a stranglehold over American politics and is bleeding the entire society for the sake of the monopoly corporations and billionaires.
The reality is that humans, by nature, need to and want to affect their social environment. But the plain fact is that the vast majority of Americans cannot affect anything by voting. We are disenfranchised.
And we do not just mean the tens of millions who are, de jure, denied the right to vote – the millions of immigrants, the millions of black Americans who have been convicted of felonies because of their skin color and are barred from voting, or the 16 and 17 year olds. We do not even refer only to the denial of the right to self-determination for the Native nations who are barred from their own specific representation in Congress. Although these facts alone are far more than enough to prove that, under the present system, voting is not a human right and that the people are not the sovereign power.
The problem with the present social system is that it suppresses and negates the role of the people as the makers of history and the creators of society. People would eagerly vote if it were a fact that it would cut their taxes, or prevent their sons and daughters from going to war or guarantee their retirement income or health coverage. Sovereignty is not a “gift” or privilege bestowed on us by the government. It belong to us by virtue of our humanity and throughout our history we have claimed our rights only through struggle against the arbitrary, dictatorial power of the exploiting classes. So it is today. We will continue to assert our rights and our humanity by carrying through the struggle to take the future of our country into our own hands.
The demand of the times and the real challenge of the elections is precisely to help organize the independent political movement which gives expression to the aspirations and interests of the hundreds of millions of Americans who are locked out of the current system.