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Know Your Enemy: James Madison versus Karl Marx; On the need for a faux-democracy


"If elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure." — James Madison (1787)

James Madison, coauthor of the Federalist Papers, a "Founding Father" and fourth President of the United States of America, uttered these words in the summer of 1787 (see caption to the ←), proving more than 30 years before Karl Marx was even born that the threat of communism requires a faux-democracy in order "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Of course Madison was specifically talking about England but his point was that the same would happen here and that is why he went on to say that, "Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body . . ."

Maybe Madison foresaw what Marx would say sixty years later: "The proletarian can free himself only by abolishing private property in general."

Here I do want to say that I think Marx was only partially correct and that I agree with folks like Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert who have said there is more to class than just relations to the means of production. Albert put it nicely when he said that, 

Marxism’s class-oriented leftism was very good on ownership relations. There is no denying that. It rejected private ownership of the means of production, rightly, and it understood the difference between owning capital, on the one hand, and owning only one’s ability to do work, on the other. Understanding class relations meant understanding the impact of ownership on motivations, power, and income, which was substantial and important, indeed. The problem wasn’t that paying attention to ownership was a bad idea, but that there is a critically important class that is obscured from view by having an exclusive focus on ownership relations. That is, when one set of non-capitalists has a relative monopoly on information relevant to decision making, higher incomes, and more status, and another set enacts instructions with little access to broader information, levers of decision making power, status, and higher income—this, too, is a class difference affecting motivations, incentives, life conditions, and life perspectives.  

I routinely bring up Tom Fergusson’s Investment Theory of Politics in order to demonstrate how this "protection" is done. Blocs of investors utilize their abilities to make campaign donations and fund candidates, propelling them into office. When you have the money to finance a campaign that saturates your name in the minds of voters and leaves your opponents in the dusty dark you tip the balance in your favor.

Let’s be clear. The "democracy" we live in is not our democracy. It belongs to the rich, aka the ruling class or the Lords of Capital. It’s theirs and they have been kind enough to let us choose from the pre-chosen options to ensure their "invaluable interests" are protected from the rabble that, if given authentic democracy, would render it "insecure." I.e. we would put an end to their Class War.

This faux-democracy is a chain that binds us to their interests. This is the kind of shit C Wright Mills had in mind when he said that, 

Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them — and then, the opportunity to choose. 

Their democracy does not provide this basic freedom, not in the political sphere and certainly not in the economic sphere where we are ruled by private and state tyrannies.

Remember how the organizers for Obama, the so-called "Obama’s grassroots army," spent all of their time and energy to get the man elected and how they were motivated by what Chomsky called "Obama’s message of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ [that] offered a virtual blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes"? This was financed by the corporate money he received and which buried McCain.

On the night of his election he sent his supporters an email that said, "We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next."

Wow. He will "be in touch soon about what comes next." Talk about foreshadowing of events to come. Those who got him elected would not and have not been a part of his policy making except for the Lords of Capital who made sure he had the funds needed to hoodwink voters – those assholes have played a major part in policy making.

As soon as Obama took office he began having secret meetings with health insurance executives to craft a corporate welfare bill masked as healthcare reform. He began hosting financial responsibility summits where Social Security was attacked. He staffed his economic team with folks like Geithner and Summers.

The grunts, those lowly grassroots organizers that took his bait hook, line and sinker (his "army") are just a bunch of ants that take marching orders.

And that’s what voters are in this rigged system: ants. In fact, we’re worse. We are spectators. We watch some spectacle that we know is a farce but then we take it serious come November and vote for our "team" and pretend that if our side wins we will get what we want and not the same old song and dance.

Our power in this tragedy is not in encouraging these heathens by voting. Don’t get me wrong: voting has a tactical value, even in this society, but it should not be the fulcrum of our social activities. Paul Street made an excellent point on this in his book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics

When progressive activists are constantly fighting rearguard battles against an in-power hard right, they have little time or energy to advance their positive objectives and build their strength. At the same time, the Democratic Party is more effectively exposed as captive to corporate and imperial interests when it holds power and to put the rubber of its real-world agenda and commitments–generally well to the right of its campaign rhetoric (especially its primary campaign rhetoric)–on the road of policy. It’s harder for the Democrats to pose as a "left" opposition party when they actually hold office.

There is an orthodoxy that sees voting, or electoral politics, as the basic feature of a democracy. This is often the dividing point between liberal leftists and radical leftists. Now that we have the Obama administration and he has exposed himself as a fraud, much of what we should have gathered with past Democratic administrations, getting others beyond the orthodoxy of electoral politics is part and parcel of having the "time or energy to advance [our] positive objectives and build [our] strength." This also compliments nicely the comment Noam Chomsky made that "sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome."

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