Who Controls the Political Power?

February 10, 2012

The experience of the Workers Party is that amongst the people, there is widespread and growing disillusionment with the political system and political process.

This disillusionment stems not only from the fact that the government and the politicians ignore the needs and demands of the people; it also reflects the fundamental reality that the people are not in control of the direction of society. But if the people are not in control of their own social environment, of their society, they are not in control of their own lives.

In fact, the people are facing grave problems on all fronts. Take the economy as an example. While the economic conditions of the vast majority continue to deteriorate, the government remains unwilling or unable to do anything about the problems of unemployment, low wages and part-time jobs, or to get the economy out of a state of chronic stagnation. Rather, instead of helping the people in these times of hardship, federal, state and local governments have been drastically cutting back investments in education, income support for the unemployed and poverty-stricken, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Government has arbitrarily decided that the solution to the problems is “deficit-reduction” and that the deficit will be reduced by cutting social programs. No one in government ever seriously mentions the possibility of reducing the deficit by eliminating its causes – the huge, parasitic military budget or the extortionist interest ($450 billion/year) paid by the government to the big bankers. In other words, without a thought about the will or voice of the people, the government has unilaterally decided to implement the agenda of the economic elite. It is not the people who are deciding the economic priorities and policies of the government.

How does the government get away with this?

The problem is, that despite all the propaganda about “U.S. democracy,” the current political system denies the people the right to govern and to control the direction of society. While we are told that the system is based on “political equality” and “rule by the people,” reality reveals a system of privilege, designed to keep all the political power in the hands of the economic elite and to completely exclude the masses of people from the political power.

To begin with, the people are denied the means to translate into practice the rights which are proclaimed. Everyone knows that big money is “more politically equal” than any other section of society and that those who control the mass media are “more free” than everyone else to express their ideas and influence public opinion.

Of course the standard argument of the defenders of the political status quo is that the system of elections gives the people the ultimate say so.

But on examination, we see that this system also enshrines and legitimizes political privilege. For one thing, once elected the government officials are free to rule – to do whatever they want – without any accountability or control by the masses of people. This is why politicians are best known for their record of broken promises. In fact, most of the real business of government is carried out on a continuous basis by a huge bureaucracy operating either under the authority of the executive branch or on an autonomous bases. The people have no role in selecting or supervising this power. Government agencies which enforce environmental and safety standards, which define and implement labor law, etc. are completely outside the control of the masses of people. So too, the Supreme Court, which has taken on itself the authority to determine the ultimate law of the land, stands completely above the will and control of the people.

For another thing, the people have no role in selecting the candidates. This crucial right is given to the Democratic and Republican parties, which have a legal near-monopoly over access to the ballot. But if the candidates for office are handpicked by the big parties and the big business interests which fund these parties, the people, in fact, have no choice at all.

In other words, under the present set-up people are reduced to voting cattle. The political role assigned to the masses of people is nothing more than voting every two or four years for candidates selected by the economic elite. The business of governing is reserved, in the main, to a large administrative bureaucracy and the people have no direct say in any government decisions or policies.

To resolve the political problem and take control of the direction of society, the masses of people must take the question of democracy into their own hands. The people must demand and create the means whereby the slogans of political equality and rule by the people are guaranteed in practice and not left as empty phrases to legitimize the rule of the economic elite. The people must demand and create the mechanisms which insure their control over elected officials and which give the people a direct role in governing and deciding affairs. The two big parties must be deprived of the right to nominate the candidates and this right of selection must be given to the people themselves.

Such changes in the political process can only be brought about by those who have a stake in creating a genuinely democratic system – by the working class and broad masses of people who need solutions to the problems facing society and who are not benefiting from the status quo of economic and political privilege.

We can work in the direction of creating such changes by not allowing the political discussion and political agenda to be monopolized by the big parties and the mass media. We can work to develop widescale discussion in which the people put forward their agenda, their aims for society. In other words, we must work to resolve the political situation in favor of democracy by developing the independent political movement of the working class and people.