Editorial from the December 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Who won a majority in the US elections? Actually, neither Bush nor Gore. The non-voters did—by far. More people chose that option than voted for both Bush and Gore put together. Not that it made any difference who won since everyone knows that the Republican and Democrat parties—whose champions were both millionaire members of the ruling class—stand for the same thing: the maintenance of capitalism at home and abroad.
The farce in Florida did, however, raise an important point that will still be relevant in socialism: the need to have clear agreed-on standing rules for deciding how to count votes and settle any disputes before the vote takes place.
For socialism will of course be a democratic society with elections and referendums.
It is also a basic tenet of the Socialist Party that the establishment of socialism involves the capture of political power via the ballot-box. For this to happen presupposes the existence of a "bourgeois democracy". But while such an arrangement is undeniably preferable to political dictatorship we don't entertain any illusions about the nature of this "bourgeois democracy". It is a very limited kind of democracy indeed.
Under this kind of democracy, the population is permitted to choose between representatives of different political parties to supposedly "represent" them in parliament. This is more or less the extent of popular participation—once every other year in America—in the "democratic process"; thereafter control is surrendered to the politicians. But the politicians themselves are constrained to operate within parameters set by the economic system for which they stand. Based upon minority ownership of the means of living, capitalism can only ever operate in the interests of the capitalist minority, not the electorate as a whole.
There are other aspects of bourgeois democracy, such as free speech, which are similarly compromised by the nature of the system. In this case by the disproportionate power it bestows on those who own and control the media. And even where workers are able to exercise some measure of democratic control over their own organisations, such as trade unions, their capacity to influence events is limited by the essentially defensive nature of such organisations and their inability to circumvent the dictates of the profit system.
Socialism, by bringing to an end minority ownership, will remove these fundamental structural impediments to genuine democracy. Along with this, it can be assumed, it will bring about a marked change in the form of decision-making—from representative democracy (a weak form of democratic control) towards stronger manifestations of democratic control, notably the use of mandated delegates and direct democracy—aimed at encouraging popular participation and preventing the emergence of a new ruling class in the form of a decision-making elite.