The Truth About Electoral Politics

Chuck0's picture

by Michael Chisari

This is an adapted version of a post and subsequent threads that appeared on the website.

We hear constantly that the USA is a "democracy", as though everything that occurs in this society is due to the will of the people. This is completely false, and any basic knowledge of history and political science will prove this point.

Our state is an Electoral Republic. We choose, every so many years who will rule for the next term. In the case of the president, our vote can be completely overwritten by the Electoral College. Therefore, a Green Party candidate has no opportunity to win the presidency unless the Electoral College has a large contingency of Green Party members.

Average citizens have almost never had the opportunity to perform the actions necessary for a true democracy. Actions such as proposing legislation and voting directly on issues are left up to those who are elected, in the hopes that they will represent those who elected them. Unfortunately, as anybody who has studied centralized political systems will readily admit, they are very easily corrupted by wealth and power.

My contention is that this is how the "founding fathers" intended the process. We cannot forget that those who signed the Declaration of Independance and crafted the Constitution were not landless farmers, or slaves, or even independant merchants. They were wealthy aristocrats who came from well-endowed families. Thus, it was in their best interest to craft a political process that would serve the needs of themselves and those like them. Their goal was a "plutocracy" and they have certainly achieved one of the greatest plutocracies in history.

But intentions aside, there are many flaws with calling the U.S. a "democracy," since it ignores the fact that even the false electoral democracy exists only on the governmental level. The vote, whether in the false electoral sense, or the true and direct sense, does not exist when a citizen enters institutions such as their place of employment, or even public institutions such as public schools. "Democracy" is something that is distant, unattached, and meaningless, and yet it is immortalized in the rhetoric of the political parties.

True democracy cannot exist unless it is a) localized, with each community receiving the autonomy to make the decisions that affect their livelihood, b) pervasive, so that the vote is carried into every part of society, whether organization, production, education, etc., c) participatory, such that nobody is excluded from proposing ideas, modifications, or a repeal of what already exists, d) egalitarian, where no person is given greater weight over anothers, e) tolerant of dissent and disagreement, both of which are necessary for a healthy society, and f) when representatives are necessary, those representatives can be immediately recalled and replaced if they do not represent the will of those they represent.

The internet will not further the "democracy" that we currently have. It may open great possibilities for true democracy, but the electoral sham that we have to deal with cannot be reformed. It can only be destroyed and replaced.

I will not be voting in the next election, nor in any election after that. I refuse to give my name to a system which can so easily be diverted and corrupted. Does this imply that I am apolitical? Far from it. But in a system which insists that individuals cannot make a difference, I will use everything in my power to do so. If this means breaking their laws, so be it. There are ills that need to be cured, and apathy is the only criminal element in dealing with those ills.

Questions answered by Chisari

Then why do politicians spend so many millions of dollars and so much personal energy trying to get your vote? If your vote didn't matter, they wouldn't bother campaigning.

It doesn't matter to us, but of course it matters to the people who want to get elected!

Voting isn't all you can do, and it shouldn't be. But it's one thing, and it can be an important tool when combined with other methods.

As long as people don't just vote, sit back, and think they've changed the world, voting is fine. But for the most part, voting for leaders, especially since all the crap that has come out of it, usually sucks. For instance, what about Hitler, or the Bolsheviks being voted into power? How many dictators have been voted into power in South America because of deceptive campaigns?

If we were in the middle of a revolution, I would *very* strongly suggest that people not vote.

I'm a bit unclear about the distinciton you're making here between private property and personal possessions --- clearly a toothbrush is a personal possession, and a house is private property; but what about a computer?

Both a house and a computer are personal possessions. The difference between personal and private is this:

Personal is based on using what you own. You use the house you live in, you use your computer, etc.

Private is based on *not* using what you own. When people "own" ten houses, do they use them? No, you can't possibly use more than one house at a time, so those other nine houses become "private" property. A person "owns" them only because a peice of paper backed up by the violence of the government says that they own them.

Most people even in the US don't have much property that is they either leave to rot, or pay people to use. That class of people is very small.

The idea of Capitalism is: Tool to the capitalist, computer to the capitalist, tractor to the capitalist, etc.

Communism is: Tool to the state, computer to the state, tractor to the state, etc.

Anarchism is: Tool to the worker, computer to the hacker, tractor to the farmer, etc.

That's how anarchists view the difference between private and personal property.

Wow, cool: an interesting political debate on slashdot! :) [Feel free to take offline, if it's easier]

Nah, some of these slashdotters need to think outside the box once in a while. :)

Isn't that to a certain extent an artificial distinction? Example: assume I am single and live in a house which, under the current legal system, I own. I'm seriously injured in a car crash and hospitalized for two months; do I lose the ownership of my house while i'm in the hospital, because i'm not using it? Or (perhaps more realistic) what if i'm in a work situation that requires me to split my time 50/50 between two cities on the opposite side of the country, and I have a house in both cities?

Well, one thing that you're inadvertently doing is applying anarchist principles to a non-anarchist society. The whole idea of "work" is radically different under anarchism, but that's a whole other debate. :)

Whenever you try and apply anarchist principles to a decidedly unanarchist society, you get some really strange contradictions. This is why free software sparks so many debates, since it is based on anarcho-communist principles (communal ownership of production, rulerless organization, etc.), yet it exists within a capitalist society.

I'll try to address the question as best I can. If you're not going to be occupying the house for a long period of time, there is nothing stopping people from just moving in (especially if there is a severe housing shortage). The difference is that there probably will be a social understanding (under anarchism, violence enforced laws are replaced by social understandings about acceptable behaviour) that you shouldn't just move into somebody's house if circumstances have forced them out, but they will be moving back in.

In an anarchist system, who enforces the distinction between personal and private? If i'm buying a house from you, because you're moving to another city, how do you know if i'm going to use it (in which case it's personal) and not rent it out?

In an anarchist system, who enforces your ability to charge rent? Remember, the idea of anarchism isn't based on "who enforces what", but "what would happen if nothing was enforced?" The distinction between private property and personal property only exist because government helps make that distinction (which is why state socialism is such a dismal failure, because it doesn't fully understand the relationship between the state and capitalism).

I suppose that's one way to view it. On the other hand, usually they "own" the property because they made an agreement with someone else who owned it (say the first person was using it, to simplify) to exchange [x] for the ownership of the property; to invalidate that agreement would require violence of another sort, wouldn't it?

If there are four empty farmhouses, I can "buy" them from somebody who "owns" them, and that's fine, I can brag all I want about how I own four farmhouses. I can even rent them out, but what happens when the people who live in them refuse to pay rent? Who backs up the contract? What if somebody who needs a place to stay moves into the empty farmhouse? Who forces them out? Without violence, and by extension, without government, there is no such distinction. The only property that can exist is personal property.

Sure ... it's hard to avoid doing that, tho, as I'm not well versed enough in anarchist thought to have an image of an anarchist society to apply them to. :)

Understandable. I'd say the best example of anarchist communities within our society are a) anarchist squats, b) camping trips, or c) open source software. Now, the problem is that all of these and more may capture the basic essence of anarchism, but they still keep with them the baggage of our society (drug use, anti-social behaviour, etc). But they come a lot closer than, say, the military. :)

(1) this assumes that I know enough of the people around me that this social understanding would actually have force. In *contemporary* society, that often isn't true --- I don't, for example, know my neighbors, nor have particular interest in knowing them; I don't see that changing in the near future.

A *huge* problem with society as it is: People just don't care about their neighbors. Honestly, I don't blame them. I'm currently living in a bourgois suburb of Chicago that I absolutely loathe. I have no reason to talk to my neighbors, nor would I want to.

A big part of anarchist organizing nowadays is not attempting to forcibly smash the state, but instead creating social groups (such as Anarchist Soccer with the hopes of getting people the hell out of their houses and into groups where people can talk.

Chumbawumba (yeah, their music sucks, but they're pretty cool anarchists, and they write well) wrote a great essay about how, the more society becomes privatized, and the more people are separated from eachother, the easier it is to control people. That's why churches are outlawed in a lot of South American dictatorships, not because of a hatred of religion, but because when people gather together, they start spreading ideas. Which is why the Internet is so damn dangerous.

(2) how does anarcho-socialism deal with the 'free rider' problem? (Boiled down to the essence, this is asking how you get your lazy/cheap housemate to buy toilet paper; more generally, it's a question about how you prevent people from profiting off of the efforts of others. Socialism doesn't have a good answer to this, and neither does capitalism [although it's more masked in capitalism, as the free riders *appear* to be productive]; does anarcho-socialism?)

If people, very simply, do not want to work *at all* (remember, work under anarchism is a very social affair, and definitely not the ridiculous grudgery that it is under capitalism and socialism), then the community at large is under no obligation to provide for him/her anything. Chances are, most communities would provide basic needs (clothing, food, housing), but you want Internet access? Electricity? Access to any other resource that the community helps provide? Well, then you might want to volunteer at the Internet Service Collective, or the Electricity Co-op, so that people don't have such a crappy impression of your work ethic.

Honestly, I doubt that very many people would go *their whole lives* without working. People get bored pretty quick with doing nothing. The idea of "freeloaders" is usually a scapegoat for people who's skills aren't "economically viable" or who are old or sick or disabled, or live in a place with high unemployment and very few jobs. Everybody can provide *something* to society.

Presumably I could use force to eject the person not paying rent, right? Unless they could use force to prevent me from doing so, or there were some *effective social sanction* against my doing so ...

A community would have to make a commitment to non-violence. If anybody breaks that commitment, then the community has a right to defend the victim. Self-defense would be the only kind of "violence" that would be tolerated.

This is why anarchists are so often viewed as being violent. Many of the stereotypical anarchists-of-yore were part of a small movement called "propaganda-by-the-deed" that sought to use assassinations and bombings to extract revenge on people in power who had committed heinous acts of violence against the working class. The idea was to use these actions to spark revolution.

Most anarchists today see "propaganda by the deed" as a dismal failure, and definitely don't seek to resurrect the movement. Although nobody really feels particularly *sorry* for the industrialists who had hundreds of workers attacked and killed, and because of this were targetted by anarchists.

This is the center of the problem I have believing in anarchism -- I don't understand what, in the absence of a government monopoly on force, would prevent individuals from using force. I suppose you could depend on everyone agreeing not to use force --- but then the entire community is vulnerable to anyone who violates that agreement, and the incentive for individuals to violate it is going to be fairly high ...

If a community of 5000 people agree to not use force, and 10 of those people break the agreement, would it be hard for the remaining 4990 people to step in? Remember, the majority of people do *not* like violence, and usually are never involved with anything more than a fistfight or two. Food for thought, anyways.

I'm no study of political theory, but this is certainly not what anarchy means to me! Does not anarchy support the idea of no government?

Right, governments are replaced with directly democratic, egalitarian communities. Laws are replaced with social understandings. Police and military are abolished.

So anarchists have faith in human nature, eh?

Not necessarily. Check out this quote:

It is the belief that power corrupts, and that people become irresponsible in their exercise of it, that forms the basis for much of their [anarchists] criticism of political authority and centralised power. Power must be dispersed they say, not so much because everyone is always good, but because when power is concentrated some people tend to become extremely evil.

John Clark, The Anarchist Moment

You believe that if there is no government, and no governing law, that the farmer is going to keep his tractor? What if the farmer down the road owns a bunch more land and has a gun? Can't he just take the first farmer's tractor? Heck, can't he enslave that farmer- and his family?

Violence == Force;

Force == Coercion;>heiriarchy;

Heirarchy != Anarchy.

When people use violence in order to increase their wealth, why that's called Capitalism, my friend.

Sorry I don't have time to go through you FAQ's, I really am interested to know if my take on anarchy is incorrect.

Definitely incorrect. Remember that anarchist thought goes back to the 1700's, and in many cases the Greek and Roman times (although I forget the name of the philosopher from that era). A lot of people have recommended anarchism for a long time.

I would highly recommend going through the FAQ. It's really a fantastic resource.

Somebody who wants to destroy government and replace it with a society based on equality and freedom is an anarchist. Somebody who just wants to destroy government, with no idea what to do afterwards is just a nut.

But the Anarchists I knew in about trouble-makers. These cats not only disrespected authority (perhaps rightfully), but pretty much disrespected humanity in general.

A person can call themselves a "Christian", and yet be completely ignorant of what being a Christian means, no? Same with being an anarchist, anybody can call themselves an anarchist, and a lot of people do, but there is a minority who has no clue what it means. Usually, they're the drunk punk-rocker fashion anarchists who have never heard of Kropotkin.

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