Structural Problems of the Democratic Party


The Democratic Party USA, in its latest act to close the U.S. Senate to the public, is showing belated signs of some sort of life. The sort of life being shown, however, may be the last gasps of an irrelevant organism.

One cannot forget that Senators belonging to the Democratic Party played a willing part in helping along the imperial agenda of the so-called neo-conservatives. Under Bill Clinton’s presidency, the Democrats helped in bleeding the Iraqi nation of all ability to defend itself, in the process mass murdering at least half a million innocent children through their support of the sanctions imposed on Iraq.

Democrats actively helped to maintain a situation in which Iraqi infrastructure including roads, bridges, sewage systems, hospitals and schools were bombarded at will, while essential medical and educational goods were denied the ordinary people. To this day, there are people being prosecuted in the United States for acting “illegally” against those barbaric sanctions in order to bring much needed medicine and school materials to Iraqi people.

You may also remember that in 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry was advocating a war policy as ferocious in intent as that of George W. Bush’s, and was indeed chiding the President for not doing enough in Iraq, more specifically not doing enough in Fallujah! After the elections, of course, George W. Bush did “do enough” in Fallujah.

But, even if those ghastly episodes are forgotten, we should not forget that Democrats have helped undermine severely civil liberties in the U.S., by their willing approval of characters like Alberto Gonzales and Condoleezza Rice to two of the highest cabinet posts under the current Bush administration, at a time that both were (and are) on record supporting the policy of systematic torture and detention-without-charge, not to mention their approval of doctrine of preemptive war-making in which the decision to wage war is handed to the executive branch.

As pointed out by Ron Jacobs, “Like the [neo-cons’] Project for a New American Century document, the Democrats’ paper [Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy] uses the tragedy of 911 as a starting point. It continues by supporting the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq while decrying the fact that no other capitalist country except for Britain is paying the same price for those adventures as the United States is. As it rambles on, the paper emphasizes repeatedly the Democratic Party’s tradition of aggressive military intervention throughout the Twentieth Century: Korea, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, and so on. The intention of this litany is to prove that the Democrats are just as warlike as the so-called GOP neo-cons,” (Is It a State of Crisis Yet? Alternative Press Review, October 29, 2005).

Do not forget that this same Democratic Party USA was responsible for the extreme escalation in the invasion of Vietnam. Under President Johnson, the U.S. troop presence in Vietnam shot up to half a million soldiers. As a result of which military escalation between three and five million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians were murdered. Back then, too, you see, they had to stay the course.

There are concrete and analyzable reasons for the lack of true oppositional sentiment on the part of the Democrats, if not for the treachery required of the pundits paid to portray them as something they are not. There are likewise deep, structural reasons for the fact that some Democrats feel that they should be more Republican than thou, and, exactly at a time when the Iraq war/occupation is starting to be increasingly perceived as a disaster for the interests of the ordinary U.S. citizens, they propose to send 80,000 more troops to Iraq!

There are also deep reasons why the official opposition being expressed to the Iraq war/occupation, or, as the case may be, to judicial nominees, is increasingly from the ranks of those historically allied to the Republicans, in fact, and not the Democrats, unless we are talking about the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party; i.e., about three or four people in the Congress! Three or four people vociferously opposing the war in the Congress, in a country in which, according to the latest polls, merely something like a third of the population supports the President’s war/occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. How is this a democracy?

But, due to the diligent efforts of the punditry classes, we are invited to be blinded to the fact that the Democrats are not able to formulate anything, much less a viable opposition, because they really are redundant for the time being. Of course, they have to pretend they are relevant, that they are a real party with a real constituency; such behavior is part of their social function.

To be effective political representatives of the status quo, their function is, partly, one of keeping the people at the officially designated political trough and keeping them there only. They have played this function well, and as a result throughout the twentieth century any and all oppositional sentiments were absorbed into the Democratic Party, where they subsequently suffered premature deaths. Now, the Democrats are at it again; right after the Libby indictment, seeing that it is safe to say something, they are play-acting as ‘opposition’ in the lead up to next years’ congressional elections.

[Of course, as it turned out, and as Jeffrey St. Clair exposed in Counterpunch (see, Blood on the Tundra, Betrayal in the Rotunda; November 4, 2005), in that closed session the Democrats capitulated on yet another front that had been a ‘Democrats’ Pet Issue’, which was to concede to the oil industry drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.]

But, let’s step back and see what some of the structural reasons are for the Democrats becoming increasingly redundant. Take one of the traditional strongholds of the Democrats: organized labor. As Steve Zeltzer (among others) has pointed out, since the dawn of NAFTA, for whose passage the Democrats played a key and energetic role, the party has essentially had its base dismantled.

As Zeltzer points out in his article, Business Unionism & the AFL-CIO’s Crisis, “US capitalists, and the Democrats and Republicans whom they control no longer need their alliance with the trade union bureaucracy. They have shifted production out of the United States using NAFTA and the WTO and they have instituted a tough-going deregulation and privatization program supported by the Democrats that has destroyed or whipsawed heavily unionized sectors from trucking, airlines, rail and communication,” (Labor Action Coalition, February 2005).

In other words, the union base of the Democrats has disintegrated due to the improved conditions for a higher degree of mobility for capital; at the earliest signs of diminishing returns on profits, the U.S. capital can (with little cost that can in turn be recovered quickly) take flight, if they so desire, to a mere six feet south of the border into Mexico, and enjoy a far higher rate of profit.

Further, now thanks to CAFTA, again passed with great help from the Democrats, capital can now take a slightly more distant flight and go, say, to Nicaragua or El Salvador, countries the CIA helped to ruin, and enjoy even bigger rates of profit, exactly due to the devastation (and the desperation that comes with it) brought on them by the U.S.

This higher mobility has not only eroded the life conditions of the organized labor, but has also undermined the middle classes, resulting in an unprecedented gap between the upper and the lower classes in the U.S. In short, the Democrats have undone almost the entirety of their social base.

At the same time that they have helped the U.S. capital-owning classes along the path of more mobility — thereby destroying the historical social conditions for the long-term survival of their own base — Democrats have had to raise increasing percentages of the money needed for their political campaigning from the rich and the corporations; as opposed to from a popular social base.

In doing this, they naturally are more overtly beholden to the corporations, at the same time that they have helped to hand over the political campaigning, i.e., the ‘getting out the vote’ process, to advertising agencies; as opposed to allowing the real issues of concern to people to find their way into the public discourse that matters most to the lives of the citizens of the United States.

There is also another component involved here, which runs deeper and goes beyond the Democratic Party’s specific trajectory. Historically, from about early twentieth century, the function of policy writing started a migration from inside the actual political parties to think thanks and foundations. In other words, the writing of the political parties’ platforms was no longer a bottom-up transfer (through different mediations) of the needs and demands of the party base dictated to the party leadership (which should be the case in any classically defined political party). The writing of the platform was turned, instead, into a technical task that had to be done by experts with detailed knowledge of economics, political structures and social research, etc.

According to a University of Massachusetts/Boston professor, Thomas Ferguson, lecturing us in late 1980s, the decoupling of the task of ‘policy writing’ from the task of ‘getting out the vote’ started as a conscious effort by the U.S. ruling classes, beginning toward the end of the nineteenth century, in response to too many voters turning out to vote; due to the prolonged and successful agitation by the Populist Movement. In other words, the ruling classes watched in horror, as the voter turnout peaked in the 1880 presidential elections as something like 85% of the eligible voters showed up to vote! The voter turnout remained high until the1896 elections (about 80%), and started its steady decline ever since.

So, the rulers saw how close they came to getting licked by real democracy, and they didn’t like it. As a result, they started introducing all manner of qualifications for voting, in effect starting a “legal” process of disenfranchisement by other means; by introducing arbitrarily whatever measures that guaranteed them a lower voter turnout; English literacy tests, poll taxes, strict registration requirements, to name a few.

By the time women’s voting rights were granted in 1920, thereby expanding the suffrage, the process of disenfranchisement by other means had found some sophistication. The so-called Progressive Era had had successes in, among other areas, ‘de-politicizing’ the bureaucracy and the policy writing function of the political parties was well on its way to the desks of the so-called experts and technicians.

So, in effect a long process of decoupling people from politics has been taking place in the US for a long time now, and on two fronts. First, the working people (not the capitalists) have been taken out of politics in the sense that their demands are no longer the real stuff out of which platforms for political parties are constructed, and based on whose needs political campaigns find any meaning. Second, people are taken further out of politics in the sense that each election year, false menus of “issues” are presented as the only relevant topics worth discussing; menus, which in reality, are put together by corporations, who pay the bills for politicians’ political road shows, when their campaign seasons are in full swing.

So, political campaigns have effectively been turned into road shows, yet the pundits are astounded at the level of “apathy” among the voters!! Voters are not apathetic! They are very realistic in fact. They are the wiser for not showing up at this phony circus that presents itself as “democracy”. The truly apathetic, in fact, are the ones who show up to vote for more of the same.

At this historical moment, Democrats are so ideologically bankrupt that they simply cannot formulate any new ways that would further the interests of their ultimate paymasters, the ruling capitalist classes in the U.S. And corporate owners know this. The U.S. corporations know that one of the best ways to beat the “diminishing returns” game is to acquire monopolies, and the only way to get monopolies is to act through the state (including the armed forces of the state). And the political party that represents this stance least ambiguously and most forcefully right now is the Republican Party.

That, and only that, can explain why it is that Republicans (in the executive branch as well as in the legislature, and in the punditry circles) are more creative, more confident, which allows some of them to show independence of thought and enough agility to bring to the attention of their brothers and fellow travelers that, hey, maybe they are giving the game away too overtly! As in, they have such a large political field of maneuver that they can present even the opposition side of the political topics of importance, for example, war in Iraq.

It should be remembered that at some point in the 1960s, the Republicans’ presence in the U.S. Congress was limited to one third of the Senate and to about one quarter to a third of the House. We can set that as a benchmark, if you like, to the limits of the shrinkage possible for the Democratic Party USA. At the rate they are stampeding over to Republican ideals, however, the Democrats may well break that record!

Now, here is the clincher as far as the real Left is concerned: Pity any ‘progressives’ who still pin their hopes on the Democrats, those true asses of this miserable U.S. political scene! If there ever was a time ripe enough for a third party to form and present a clear platform and seize the day in the USA, now is it!

In case some object that there already exist at least a few third parties, it should be pointed out that what is needed is for all these smaller parties to unite. We ALL need to unite!

We must pose this question to ourselves every morning as we wake, and every night as we go to bed: Why is it that the political representatives of capital, in all their myriad opinions and colorings, from open fascists in the Republican Party all the way to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party can peacefully sit in the same legislature and get along and pass legislation that tastes delicious to their capitalist paymasters, and we cannot unite among ourselves?

Are we not screaming bloody murder at how they are carving up Iraq by divide-and-conquer ways and means? Well? Who’s dividing us other than ourselves? Can the hundreds of thousands of people, who marched on Washington DC on September 24, and the hundreds of thousands in the Million More Movement afford not to sit together in the same political party; a big, national party of a real, pluralistic Left?

A pluralist left is the only way forward, and the only way out of this splintered, divisive, sectarian, backbiting situation that we on the Left are in now. Let us unite and seize the day now!

REZA FIYOUZAT is a freelance writer and analyst. He keeps a blog at Revolutionary Flowerpot Society, and may be reached at



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