Editorial from the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist
The world today is divided into 140 or so states, each with its own flag, its own Head of State, its own government, its own nationalism and above all, since institutionalised violence is the essence of the state, its own armed forces. Only a minority of these states even pretend to be democratic. The rest are dictatorships of one kind or another in which the ruling minority uses the most vile means, including torture and murder (as documented by organisations such as Amnesty International), to preserve its power and privileges. We refer here not only to the host of military dictatorships in Asia, Africa and Latin America but also to the state capitalist countries like Russia and China where the privileged ruling classes have reached the depths of cynicism with their claim to have established a classless socialist society.
Even the “democratic” states are only democratic in the limited sense of allowing their subjects a say from time to time in the choice of the personnel to fill certain important posts on the administrative side of the state. This is not to say that universal suffrage, the right to express and propagate dissenting views from the ruling ideology, the right to organise and to go on strike are not of vital importance. They are and nobody needs to tell us that they had to be achieved by years of struggle against the direct ancestors of the present ruling class, but in themselves they do not amount to anything like democracy in its full sense of a society run by and in the interest of the whole people.
Freedom to cry ''exploitation” from the roof tops does not in itself abolish exploitation; indeed it can be used to give the impression that exploitation no longer exists, as is done by defenders of capitalism in countries like the United States, Britain and Canada. According to them the populations of these and other countries with the same kind of political regime form national communities with a common interest and elections there are about choosing the men and women to administer the common affairs of these communities in the interest of the whole population. This claim is as false as that of the ruling class in Russia to be the mere servants of the community in a classless society of equals. It ignores the fact that society, even in the so-called democratic countries, is divided into antagonistic classes.
Throughout the world, in all countries irrespective of their political regime, the means for producing and distributing wealth are monopolised, either privately as individuals and companies or collectively through the state, by a minority class. As a result the rest of the population of any country are economically dependent on the monopolising minority, being obliged to sell their mental and physical energies to them for a wage or salary far below the value of the wealth they produce and which the minority appropriate. Wherever a class is deprived of the fruits of its labour exploitation exists, and it exists just as much in the United States, Britain and Canada as it does in Chile, Russia or South Africa.
As they take place in class-divided societies, elections in the 'democratic countries” are not about choosing delegates to run social affairs in the common interest; they are about choosing the men and women who are to run affairs in the interest of the minority class which monopolises the means of life. The task of those elected is to use the powers of the state machine to further the interests at home and abroad of the capitalist class of the country concerned. At home this involves maintaining "law and order”, upholding the established social order where the law grants the members of the minority capitalist class property rights in the means of production; the interests of the capitalist minority must be protected against the "enemy within", i.e. against the majority class of wage and salary earners wherever they take action to defend their living standards, by strikes and other forms of industrial action, against the ever present downward pressures exerted by capital. Abroad it involves protecting and furthering the commercial interests of the capitalist minority over markets, sources of raw materials, trade routes and investment outlets by the threatened and if need be the actual use of armed force. To this end each state has to arm its forces with the most destructive and most devastating weapons it can afford. Hence the arms race, continual local wars and the ever present threat of another world war.
Elections, such as those which took place last year in the United States, Canada and Australia, are thus about who shall fill the top posts in the state and run affairs in the interest of the established capitalist class. The choice that is offered is not really a choice at all since the main parties involved all stand for the same system. This is obvious in the case of America where the Republican and Democratic parties are openly mere rival gangs of political place-hunters, but is also the case in countries like Britain, Australia and New Zealand where one of the contending parties claims to represent the interests of the working class. Experience over the years of “Labour" governments shows that in practice they are just as anti-working class as any government formed by openly pro-capitalist parties. This is inevitable since the capitalist system can only function in one way: as a profit-making system in the interest of the profit-taking class. No government could change this economic law of present-day class society. On the contrary, all governments are obliged to abide by it and apply it whatever their original intentions might have been.
Politics in these countries is a game of ins and outs remote from the lives of ordinary people who, even though they participate in this game by exercising a “choice” when given the opportunity, generally do so without illusions since they know by experience that it makes very little difference to their everyday lives which party—which particular gang of place-hunters—wins. Politics is seen, and presented, as a sort of never-ending TV serial in which various media-puffed personalities vie with each other for power and place. No wonder most people don’t want too much to do with “politics". This is how it is today, but it need not always be so. When socialist understanding has spread sufficiently amongst the majority wage and salary earning class in these countries elections can be turned against the minority capitalist class. But until this happens the spectacle will go on and the use to which democratic forms are put will remain a farce that is an insult to the intelligence of thinking men and women.
So throughout the world, state power is exercised for the benefit of minorities, even if this power is sometimes exercised by people who have been chosen by the exploited majority class living in the country concerned. It could not be otherwise since state power and minority rule are inextricably linked: states exist precisely to uphold and protect minority rule and privilege, To create a truly democratic world the people of the world must take democratic political action to abolish all the states into which the world is currently divided, along with all the privileged classes whose interests they serve, and establish in their place a global classless community with a democratic unarmed world administration. Only then will we be able to talk of democracy. Only then will have been created the framework within which can be solved once and for all manifestly world problems such as disarmament and the threat of war, pollution and the plundering of non-renewable resources, and mass hunger, disease and ignorance,