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<nettime> The Limits of Electoral Politics
Bureau of Public Secrets on Thu, 24 Oct 2002 04:28:53 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The Limits of Electoral Politics


THE LIMITS OF ELECTORAL POLITICS

Roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of "government":

        (1) Unrestricted freedom
        (2) Direct democracy
        (3) Delegate democracy
        (4) Representative democracy
        (5) Overt minority dictatorship

The present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e. between overt
minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a facade of token
democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would
progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3). . . .

In representative democracy people abdicate their power to elected
officials. The candidates' stated policies are limited to a few vague
generalities, and once they are elected there is little control over their
actual decisions on hundreds of issues -- apart from the feeble threat of
changing one's vote, a few years later, to some equally uncontrollable rival
politician. Representatives are dependent on the wealthy for bribes and
campaign contributions; they are subordinate to the owners of the mass
media, who decide which issues get the publicity; and they are almost as
ignorant and powerless as the general public regarding many important
matters that are determined by unelected bureaucrats and independent secret
agencies. Overt dictators may sometimes be overthrown, but the real rulers
in "democratic" regimes, the tiny minority who own or control virtually
everything, are never voted in and never voted out. Most people don't even
know who they are. . . .

In itself, voting is of no great significance one way or the other (those
who make a big deal about refusing to vote are only revealing their own
fetishism). The problem is that it tends to lull people into relying on
others to act for them, distracting them from more significant
possibilities. A few people who take some creative initiative (think of the
first civil rights sit-ins) may ultimately have a far greater effect than if
they had put their energy into campaigning for lesser-evil politicians. At
best, legislators rarely do more than what they have been forced to do by
popular movements. A conservative regime under pressure from independent
radical movements often concedes more than a liberal regime that knows it
can count on radical support. If people invariably rally to lesser evils,
all the rulers have to do in any situation that threatens their power is to
conjure up a threat of some greater evil.

Even in the rare case when a "radical" politician has a realistic chance of
winning an election, all the tedious campaign efforts of thousands of people
may go down the drain in one day because of some trivial scandal discovered
in his personal life, or because he inadvertently says something
intelligent. If he manages to avoid these pitfalls and it looks like he
might win, he tends to evade controversial issues for fear of antagonizing
swing voters. If he actually gets elected he is almost never in a position
to implement the reforms he has promised, except perhaps after years of
wheeling and dealing with his new colleagues; which gives him a good excuse
to see his first priority as making whatever compromises are necessary to
keep himself in office indefinitely. Hobnobbing with the rich and powerful,
he develops new interests and new tastes, which he justifies by telling
himself that he deserves a few perks after all his years of working for good
causes. Worst of all, if he does eventually manage to get a few
"progressive" measures passed, this exceptional and usually trivial success
is held up as evidence of the value of relying on electoral politics, luring
many more people into wasting their energy on similar campaigns to come.

As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, "It's painful to submit to our
bosses; it's even more stupid to choose them!"

[Excerpts from "The Joy of Revolution." To see the complete text, click
http://www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev.htm .]


BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS
http://www.bopsecrets.org


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