By the time Election Day rolls around, any conscientious voter who wants to listen to all sides, weigh the merits of the several contenders, and vote with a clear understanding of the issues should be in a state of total confusion. For how can one evaluate the claims and counter-claims? What credence should be given to political promises, seeing how often they are made cynically with never an intention (nor even the possibility) of making good on them?
Some voters will be so discouraged or so skeptical that voting can have any real influence on the way our lives are run, that they will turn their backs on the whole electoral process. Others will vote with no real expectation of improving things; they will settle for the “lesser evil” in the hope of keeping the worst scoundrel out of public office. And they will feel that they have thereby made a realistic compromise.
Meanwhile, the news media will say the “good citizen,” should support the party of his or her choice. He or she must use the vote, not waste it.
It would appear that the voter has to make a choice from this list:
1. Vote the straight Republican ticket.
2. Vote the straight Democratic ticket.
3. Vote for an independent, third party such as the Greens or Libertarians
4. Cross party lines and pick the “best” candidate
5. Stay home, because it makes no difference. (And a sizable and probably earnest minority, suspicious of elections, will)
6. Reject the electoral process and try other means, like lobbying, confrontation, trashing, demonstrations, community-level activism or violence.
Granted that politicians are corrupt or corruptible; that the cost of campaigning favors the rich, the well-organized and the influential; that repressive election laws all but silence dissenting groups; that the fateful decisions are made not in legislative halls but in corporation boardrooms. Granted that the American ideal of democratic, representative government has been largely thwarted by the workings of history and that power has been usurped by the private owners of the nation’s industrial wealth, who now constitute the de facto government.
Who says we must use our votes to ratify this usurpation?
What the opinion molders do not mention is the obvious yet significant fact that both major parties (and their would-be reformers) support the capitalist system. Their candidates differ at most on how to cure the mortal ills of capitalism. But they support it—every one of them. And they don’t deny it. The deception lies in their claim that legislative tinkering with capitalism can cure the mess we’re in. But that mess is the direct result of capitalism and cannot be cured by reforms, no matter who applies them.
Let’s be specific.
This country will have continued unemployment, poverty, racial discrimination, urban decay, pollution and rape of the environment not because the people don’t care but because the capitalist owners don’t care—or care about profits more. This country will continue to experience inflation because it’s the direct result of deficit financing, which capitalism can no longer do without. This country will continue to find it profitable or expedient to make war, in Southeast Asia or elsewhere, as long as capitalism rules. This country will continue to support dictatorships abroad as long as capitalist influence and markets are at stake. This country will continue to whittle away the rights and privacy of its citizens and, by terror and intimidation, to curtail the right of dissent because capitalism is fighting for its very existence and holds nothing else sacred.
We say “this” country and not “our” country because it isn’t our country in an economic sense. We, the working-class majority, don’t own it and we don’t control it. When it does become our country—owned, operated and administered by the majority—we can easily solve all our problems. And not until then.
That is central to how you ought to think about your vote. Viewed thus the choices boil down to two.
1. Support capitalism and leave things as they are. (Vote for Democrats, Republicans, liberals, etc., or simply don’t vote.)
2. Vote and work for socialism.
Free elections mean, above all, a free ballot—giving the people a chance to nominate candidates of their choice, to hear the different positions of those running for office, and to have all political views represented at the polls. Such a free ballot does not exist in the United States today. In each of the 50 states, only the major political machines of the rich and powerful, the Democratic and Republican parties, are automatically placed on the ballot. All minority parties—in other words, all those aside from the two ruling parties which stand for essentially the same thing—face the most stringent ballot laws in the various states. In other words, while the major parties of rich capitalists and politicians are given the top ballot slots automatically, minority parties, with fewer funds and smaller numbers, must make tremendous efforts even before the campaign starts just to qualify for the right to participate in what is supposed to be a free and open election.
Political campaigns are more and more decided by access to the media. The corporate broadcasters, who make their profit by exploiting public airwaves, consistently refuse to cover any activities but those of the major party candidates—candidates who represent the same ruling-class interests as the broadcasting corporations themselves. Is this what free elections are all about? A media circus between candidates from almost identical parties. Does democracy mean a choice between a Democrat who represents capitalist interests and a Republican who represents capitalist interests? If access to the ballot is locked up tight, if it is given only to the entrenched capitalist parties who bring their empty promises to the voters each year, then American elections will be nothing more than hollow formalities that change nothing.
Based on their performance over many decades, the American people know by now what the major parties have to offer—more of the same. The deepening seriousness of this country’s problems requires revolutionary ideas and revolutionary solutions. Only by opening up the ballot to new ideas, new alternatives and new programs can the American political process once more become a weapon in the hands of a people struggling to solve the problems they face.