FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Democracy or Corporations

As I was saying before I was so strangely interrupted, there’s not much place for democracy in modern America. What elements of democracy exist are trammeled up by corporate control. It’s even more true now than it was when American philosopher John Dewey observed eighty years ago that “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business” — and therefore “attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”

Dewey meant that political reforms don’t make much difference if business domination remains in place. “Power today,” he wrote, “resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country, even if democratic forms remain. Business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda, that is the system of actual power, the source of coercion and control, and until it’s unravelled we can’t talk seriously about democracy and freedom.”

Democracy and capitalism are of course contradictory, because democracy is egalitarian and capitalism depends upon inequality. Democracy means one person/one vote, as even the Supreme Court recognizes in theory, while capitalism requires a majority who must rent their talents of head or hands to another (much smaller) group who are said to have a peculiar relationship (“ownership”) to the fields and factories necessary to produce food, shelter, and whatever other commodities they wish. The history of democracy is that it is always opposed by political and economic structures designed “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority” — the goal of the US Constitution, according to its principal author.

We have the forms of political democracy in this country, if rarely the substance. But we don’t have even the forms of economic democracy. Crucial economic decisions, such as what society should make or build, and consequently what jobs are available, are in the “private” hands of the boards of directors of major corporations. We take this undemocratic control for granted, with the thought that there is no other way.

“The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance,” wrote Alex Carey, “the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

In the US each year more than a *trillion* dollars (almost 20% of the total worth of goods and services produced in the country) is spent in a quite conscious campaign (called “marketing”) to teach you that you should be a docile employee (or student, sort of a trainee employee) and an isolated consumer, sitting by yourself in front of the TV or computer screen, except when you’re at work (when you might do the same thing); that it’s probably a little dangerous to have much to do with those around you (except when you’re out establishing your own rather exploitative “relationships”); and that in fact no other way to live is possible.

A now-forgotten German social scientist remarked at the dawn of the capitalist age, “According to Adam Smith, society is a commercial enterprise. Every one of its members is a salesman. It is evident how political economy establishes an alienated form of social intercourse as the true and original form and that which corresponds to human nature.”

The subtle but quite effective limitations on democracy were brought home to me in the recent election campaign, in which I was the Green party candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 15th district. What was perhaps most surprising was the unstated but common assumption that I was somehow trespassing — invading territory that by rights belonged to political professionals, Republicans and Democrats — no others need apply. It was as though I had set out to practice medicine without a license. People working hard to overcome Illinois’ prohibitive requirements for signed petitions for a third party to get on the ballot, were told to leave property public and private. (“You can’t do that here!”) Media outlets that formerly employed me suddenly seemed to think that it was wrong (“unfair”) to do so. I could apparently talk and write about politics all I wanted — on the condition that I not try to do anything about it, such as run for office.

Democracy means that you have a chance to get together with others on an equal basis (not just as an audience), get the information you need, and take decisions that actually change things. To pull a lever every two or four years (or even less frequently) for one or the other of two carefully pre-selected candidates is not democracy. Suppose one wanted to vote against the Bush administration’s murderous intentions towards Iraq in this election just past — whom did one vote for? Both self-described major parties supported the war. “America has a one party system,” asserted the late African leader Julius Nyerere. “With your usual exuberance, you have two of them,” he said, perhaps over-generously.

CARL ESTABROOK teaches at the University of Illinois. He ran for congress last year on the Green Party ticket. He can be reached at: galliher@alexia.lis.uiuc.edu

 

 

More articles by:
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail