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Wed Mar 14, 2012, 06:49 AM

What if democracy is just an illusion?

New Haven, CT - Karl Marx never visited the United States, but he nevertheless understood the country, because he understood capitalism. As you know, there's no American ideology that's mightier than capitalism. Equality, justice and the rule of law are nice and all, but money talks.

In their 1846 book The German Ideology, Marx and co-author Frederick Engels took a look at human history and made a plain but controversial observation. In any given historical period, the ideas that people generally think are the best and most important ideas are usually the ideas of the people in charge. If you have a lot of money and own a lot of property, then you have the power to propagandise your worldview and you have incentive to avoid appearing as if you're propagandising your worldview. Or, as Marx and Engels would put it: The ruling ideas of every epoch are the ideas of the ruling class.



The ideas of the one per cent become the dominant ideas because the one per cent convinces the 99 per cent that its ideas are the only rational and universally valid ideas. Consider free-market capitalism. The idea says that growth provides prosperity to all, that government governs best when it governs least, so there's no need to discuss the redistribution of wealth. That's neoliberalism and that idea has been the only acceptable economic policy since the Clinton era. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was its greatest champion. After the collapse of the housing market, he said he was dead wrong. Even so, the idea remains dominant. Why? Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but the ruling class happens to make a lot of money from a free market.

Americans tend to look askance at Marx and I don't blame them. He was, after all, the father of socialism, as well as the guy associated with Josef Stalin, who was, you know, a homicidal totalitarian dictator. But as philosopher John Gray has noted, Marx got a lot wrong about Marxism but he got a lot right about capitalism. He understood that ideas don't exist in bubbles - they have a concrete material context and have a human cost.

The late Steve Jobs, for instance, was a man of ideas. He was widely considered a visionary and a prophet of technology, and Jobs took great pains to encourage that way of thinking. After his death, however, Mike Daisey, the acclaimed playwright and monologuist, revealed something about Jobs that should have been plain to see - Jobs' prophecies came at the expense of poor Chinese sweatshop workers who make iPads and other Apple products for middle-class Americans to buy at affordable prices. The Great Man theory of history is more like intellectual cover (or what Marx called the illusions of the ruling class), for the exploitation of labour.

It's hard to imagine a better illustration of Marx's theory of the ruling class than Citizens United, the 2010 case brought before the US Supreme Court in which the majority decided that political action committees (or PACs) cannot be subject to campaign finance laws. PACs do not formally represent candidates and instead, express their own political views. So the money they spend is more like free speech. Therefore, political money is speech protected by the US Constitution's First Amendment.



SNIP.......


John Stoehr is the editor of the New Haven Advocate and a lecturer at Yale.



http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/03/2012311123627435712.html

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Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 17 replies Author Time Post
Reply What if democracy is just an illusion? (Original post)
Ichingcarpenter Mar 2012 OP
TBF Mar 2012 #1
socialist_n_TN Mar 2012 #2
Odin2005 Mar 2012 #14
bayareamike Mar 2012 #4
TBF Mar 2012 #5
bayareamike Mar 2012 #6
TBF Mar 2012 #7
bayareamike Mar 2012 #8
Starry Messenger Mar 2012 #3
MichaelMcGuire Mar 2012 #9
Starry Messenger Mar 2012 #10
MichaelMcGuire Mar 2012 #11
socialist_n_TN Mar 2012 #12
Starry Messenger Mar 2012 #13
Odin2005 Mar 2012 #15
white_wolf Apr 2012 #16
TheKentuckian Apr 2012 #17

Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Wed Mar 14, 2012, 09:15 AM

1. Hmmm.... quite a little bit of nonsense within this article.

I agree that the democracy is largely an illusion in this country and that Stalin was not the most benevolent leader out there, but did Marx really get so much wrong? I'd argue the opposite - I see very little that he got wrong and our country's economic woes are proving him more and more correct as we go along.

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Response to TBF (Reply #1)

Wed Mar 14, 2012, 09:47 AM

2. Yep. Leaving any differences about Stalin aside.......

This is another one of those "half-Marxists" ideas as I call them. They can see that Marx was right about so much, but they can't see the remedies that Marx prescribed are just as valid as his observations on capitalism. Ergo, they do the "Marx was right about..., but..." IOW, half-Marxist.

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Response to socialist_n_TN (Reply #2)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 09:15 PM

14. I guess I'm a half-Marxist, then.

I consider his historical model Eurocentric and simplistic and his claim that Socialism would follow Capitalism to be wishful thinking, as if a new ruling class could not appear.

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Response to TBF (Reply #1)

Wed Mar 21, 2012, 12:02 AM

4. "Not the most benevolent leader"

is a hell of an understatement. The guy was a power hungry, paranoid megalomaniac.

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Response to bayareamike (Reply #4)

Wed Mar 21, 2012, 09:58 AM

5. I'm not arguing that one on here -

a bunch of us agreed when we started this forum that we are not going to rehash the Stalin vs. Trotsky thing and we were serious about moving beyond that.

If that sentence I wrote means nothing to you then you may be visiting the wrong group.

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Response to TBF (Reply #5)

Thu Mar 22, 2012, 04:52 PM

6. No, I think I'm in the right group

Just adding my two cents, is that okay?

Edit: I studied Marx extensively in college; I completely agree that he continues to be proven correct. His contributions and critiques of modern economics (post-Ricardo/Smith) are immense.

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Response to bayareamike (Reply #6)

Thu Mar 22, 2012, 05:40 PM

7. Then you should understand why we've taken that position -

I'd really prefer if we keep any Trotsky or Stalin bashing out of our discussions for the sake of moving forward.

Our TOS for this group (it's pinned above) -

Welcome to the Socialist Progressives Group. Posts in this group should generally be supportive of socialism and socialists. We are largely anti-capitalist and will not tolerate red-baiting. We welcome leftists of all persuasion as allowed per the admin's TOS. Democratic (ballot box) socialism, revolutionary socialism, Syndicalists and autonomists are all ok. Pure black flag (as opposed to red/black) anarchists who would rather organize with any anarchist than socialists, including anarcho-capitalists and libertarians, will not be welcome. If you don't know what kind of anarchist you are, cool, so long as you don't hijack and red-bait. This includes no "you're a dictator-lover" if you support the Russian Revolution. CPUSA members, please chime in.

Social Democrats are welcome with the explanation that if someone believes in "regulated" capitalism and social programs, they're a Keynesian, not a socialist. We welcome your questions as long as you're pleasant and don't red bait or shift the discussion away from socialism. You'll find many of us support Obama and his re-election given our two-party system, but this is not the forum to talk about the intricacies of elections - see Politics 2012 for those conversations. We are more concerned with safe-guarding the working class gains we've made in this country thus far and encouraging the peaceful transition to socialism. Please no Trotsky or Stalin baiting, we've all seen it fracture groups and do not want to fight that battle again.



http://www.democraticunderground.com/1024881

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Response to TBF (Reply #7)

Thu Mar 22, 2012, 06:26 PM

8. Ah, gotcha.

I wasn't trying to bait anybody into a debate about Stalin or Trotsky or any other Bolshevik for that matter.

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Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Wed Mar 14, 2012, 04:06 PM

3. Democracy isn't an illusion--it's a goal to attain by the working class.

The problem with ideas like this, that the wealthy control everything so just give up, is that they don't promote any progressive way forward. We all laugh at Simpson's episodes like "" target="_blank">I Voted for Kodos", and it is true that our candidates can seem like bad carbon copies of each other at times.

But struggling for greater access to suffrage still knee-caps the ruling class--they wouldn't try for things like Citizens United and blocking different marginalized groups from voting if they didn't find the process threatening. Sorry to quote my blog here, but these texts aren't digitized yet, otherwise I would quote from an online original source:

“As Lenin persistently emphasized, the fight for democracy is at the heart of the class struggle" (Henry Winston, Strategy for a Black Agenda, 1973)

William Z. Foster also illuminated the basis of the anti-racist people's force which is the chief foe of racist monopoly: “The workers, as Lenin points out, develop bourgeois democracy to the utmost, and then make the leap to Socialist democracy. The fight for socialism is a struggle, by democratic means, for the highest form of democracy, which is completely unachievable under capitalism.”

“These democratic freedoms the working class also struggled to establish, defend and expand; but it fought, too, for its own specific democratic demands-higher wages, shorter hours, popular education, Negro people’s rights, the right to organize and strike, social insurance, protection of women and children in industry, etc. to all of which, historically, the ruling class has been opposed. These working class demands, fundamentally different in substance from the limited democracy of all American bourgeois leaders past and present, are the roots within the framework of capitalism, of what will eventually mature under socialism as proletarian democracy.” (William Z. Foster, History of the Communist Party USA, 1947)



Creating apathy for democratic processes is also a ruling class goal--a dangerous one. We might have criticisms of Obama, but the fact that he received the most votes for President ever in the nation's history made the ruling class go apeshit. We can all see it in the insane attacks on people's rights going on right now. People who can afford to be apathetic are probably not from one of the groups under attack. (I'm looking at you Mr. Yale Lecturer who wrote this article...)

This isn't the time to just sigh and say that it's all just an illusion. Sorry this is so long, but I feel strongly about this. Marxists don't say that democracy is an illusion--we look at the conditions in the world we live in, survey the obstacles, and plan a way through.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #3)

Fri Mar 23, 2012, 07:41 PM

9. Completely agree.

 

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Response to MichaelMcGuire (Reply #9)

Fri Mar 23, 2012, 09:36 PM

10. Nice to see you Mr. McGuire

Thank you for reading all of that. I'm afraid I got kind of ranty.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #10)

Sat Mar 24, 2012, 05:27 AM

11. Passion for democracy is always worth getting ranty about. (nt)

 

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #10)

Sat Mar 24, 2012, 09:54 AM

12. I think that's ALL of us Starry........

If you don't go into rant mode every now and then (or maybe a LOT of "now and then"), you ain't paying attention.

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Response to socialist_n_TN (Reply #12)

Sat Mar 24, 2012, 01:05 PM

13. That is true!

I just feel sorry for people who know me sometimes. lol.

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Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 09:17 PM

15. Economic power is political power.

He who gots the gold makes the rules. Capitalism is incompatible with Democracy because the Economic Elites can just buy the government they want.

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Response to Odin2005 (Reply #15)

Mon Apr 2, 2012, 08:19 PM

16. It's the real Golden Rule...

He who has the gold makes the rules.

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Response to Ichingcarpenter (Original post)

Sun Apr 8, 2012, 02:03 AM

17. They can become one all too easily.

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