Posts Tagged ‘Electoral Interventions’

Gabriel Rockhill on the Myth of American Democracy

March 2, 2018

A few months ago, the Franco-American philosopher Gabriel Rockhill published a very interesting piece in Counterpunch arguing that, contrary to how the country sees itself, America isn’t and has never been a democracy. He notes that the British imperialists, who founded the Thirteen Colonies, weren’t interested in spreading rights or democracy, and that the Founding Fathers were also anti-democratic. They were like most of the other Enlightenment thinkers in that they were keen to defend to property from the mass of the propertyless, whom they associated with misrule and the mob. He points out that at the time the suffrage only extended to men of property, and excluded the poor, women, First Nations and slaves. The notion that the country was a democracy first appeared with Andrew Jackson, who styled himself as a democrat purely as an electoral pose without doing anything to extend the franchise. He writes

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

He then goes to argue that America today is also not a democracy. It has elections, but in fact the American people aren’t governing themselves, but merely choosing which members of a plutocratic ruling class they want to govern them. And his last point is that the anti-democratic nature of American politics is shown very clearly in how often America has interfered in the elections of foreign nations – either through manipulation, or by invasion – when those countries haven’t elected the leaders America wants.

The article’s well worth reading, and is at https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/13/the-u-s-is-not-a-democracy-it-never-was/

Douglas Adams made a similar point in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On one of the fictional worlds described by the Guide, there are two races. The planet’s society is stratified, so that one of the races is the ruling class, and the other their subordinates. But it is a democracy. Ever so often, elections are held, in which the subordinate race goes off to vote for whichever members of the dominant race they want in power. But the position of the dominant race and their right to rule is never questioned.

I don’t know whether this is one of the other Hitchhiker books, or if it was just in the radio series. But it’s a good satirical description of the way western class politics works. It’s probably more true now than it was in Adams’ time, as the Blairites and the Tories come from the same middle class, and promote the same free market, neoliberal policies, which the rest of us are expected to support uncritically. It’s time to break this class monopoly on power.

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Putin and Trump, and Bill Clinton’s Interference in Russian Elections for Yeltsin

February 14, 2017

There’s increasing concern and speculation that Putin really does have some kind of ‘dirty’ dossier on Trump, featuring some rather unsavory things that the Orange Generalissimo may have done with prostitutes during business trips there.

But America also has a very long and deeply unpleasant history of interfering in the elections of independent states around the world. At its most extreme this takes the form of coups, but the US has also exerted its influence through more subtle means, like the financing of opposition candidates and parties, covert propaganda, threats to withhold aid and so on.

William Blum has a entire chapter on the US ‘Perverting Democracy’ in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. And it includes a very, very long list of mostly developing nations, whose democratic processes the US government has attempted to suborn.

But one of the nations whose elections the Americans tried to influence was rather more important on the world state. In 1996 Bill Clinton and his team intervened in the Russian elections to secure the victory of neoliberal privatisers and booze-sozzled corrupt drunk, Boris Yeltsin. Blum writes

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Although the Americans were working independently, President Clinton’s political guru, Dick Morris, acted as their middleman to the administration, and Clinton himself told Yeltsin in May that he wanted to “make sure everything the United States did would have a positive impact” on the Russians electoral campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the final goal line. The American’s scripted a Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting in April to allow the Russian to “stand up to the West”, to match what the Russian Communist party-Yeltsin’s main opponent-was insisting they would do if they won.

The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing etc., urged more systematic domination of the state-owned media, and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. With a virtual media blackout against them, the Communists were extremely hard pressed to respond to the attacks or to shout the Russian equivalent of “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It is impossible to measure the value of the American consultants’ contribution to the Yeltsin campaign, for there’s no knowing which of their tactics the Russians would have employed anyhow if left to their own devices, how well they would have applied them, or how things would have turned out. But we do know that before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favoured by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent. “Democracy” declared Time magazine, “triumphed”. (pp. 230-1).

Putin is a murderous thug, who has had journalists and members of the opposition beaten and killed. And the Communist party was responsible for horrific repression. Gorbachev’s reforms, if allowed to continue, may have created something positive, and established Communist Russia as a true ‘workers’ state’, where working people had real power, both in elections and over their boss and his decisions at work. But he was overthrown by the hardliners before he could complete it.

As for Yeltsin, his rushed privatisation of anything that wasn’t nailed down resulted in economic meltdown. Millions of ordinary Russians found themselves thrown out of work, in a country that did not have any unemployment benefit schemes, because the state had always provided work. So too did massive inflation wipe out ordinary Russians’ pensions and savings. It’s partly as a reaction to that chaos that Putin was elected. He’s a thug and a strongman, but he offers his people stability and prosperity.

It’s grossly hypocritical for American politicos to whine about Putin interfering in their democratic process, when America has been doing just that all over the world, including Russia, since World War Two. The latest victim of American interference was Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution, far from being a spontaneous display of democracy, was carefully orchestrated by various American state NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy.

So as far as this issue is concerned, I’m sure that there are now many people in Russia and abroad who feel this way: ‘Payback’s a b*tch’.