Democracy as Class Apartheid


The clearest evidence that what is called democracy under capitalism is nothing more than an ideological shield for protecting the free market and naturalizing class differences is that its pretense to freedom, openness and the so-called rule of law fall apart the moment the hegemony of capital is challenged.  The challenge is represented as a threat to national security and is used as an excuse to stage a "constitutional" coup d'etat that installs a security junta in place of democracy and suspends freedom of speech, human rights, freedom of the press, presumption of innocence, and the right to dissent—the very rights that are said to separate democracy from totalitarianism.

The Aschroftian security junta put in place in the US now has put thousands of people in jail since 9/11 without their "rights" to consult a lawyer and has invented new "legal" categories that deprive even US citizens of their constitutional rights.  It has put phones under wiretap and posted gendarmes of capital on almost every oppositional website and now routinely opens e-mails and puts places of public meeting under surveillance.  Its agents treat ordinary citizens as members of an imaginary fifth column and criminalize the most innocent activities in a democracy—debate and dissent.

The security state is now making citizens spy on each other.  US propaganda has always attacked countries that do not follow its brand of crony capitalism as despotic because, for example, they prohibit workers from forming unions.  The actual political character of these independent unions under capital is now becoming clearer when the union bosses, in the name of a patriotic fight to preserve "our freedom", are recruiting the working class itself as sheriff's deputies of an Aschroftian security state.  James Hoffa, the boss of the Teamsters Union has offered the services of its 500,000 members to serve as the eyes and ears of the new Department of Homeland Security;  other union bosses are competing with him in spying on fellow citizens in the workplace who are different, that is, who are exercising their rights under the Constitution of the US.  Keep in mind that this is the very document that is said to separate the civilized (US) from the barbarians (the rest of the world).

To the new junta, to dissent is to be disloyal and unpatriotic and therefore abnormal.  Consequently, it subjects all those who wish to openly discuss their acts of dissent and resistance in the courts to psychiatric examinations as if they are insane to exercise their right of self-defense by confronting the state face-to-face.

In the new security state, everyone is treated as an agent of the "enemy" (without which bourgeois democracy cannot acquire its own political identity) because the ruling class knows that the surface consensus and the appearance of peace in daily life is just that—a surface effect.  Underneath the consensus coerced by economic necessity, there is suppressed anger and outrage at class differences that have reduced many Americans to a life of daily misery and humiliation without access to even the most basic necessities of food, education, and medicine so that a minority can live a life of unlimited luxury.

The junta has executed a coup d'etat inside the country and unleashed war outside its geographical borders--a war, which seems to have been planned well before the 9/11 attacks to help transnational capital in obtaining the rights to appropriate the oil and labor of central Asia.  As with all wars, this one too is an apparatus of transferring wealth from the working people of the world to transnational capital.  The political dividend of the war has been that it not only has repressed the right to dissent but also hidden the fact that the US economy is in a tailspin, social security exists only on paper and Medicare without prescription drugs is a cruel hoax.  A cultural slogan—patriotism—is once again used to cover up an economic reality—to deprive working people from basic economic assistance—education, food, health care—in order to fill the pockets of the ruling class by tax cuts and redirecting government expenditure.  Billions of dollars are now channeled to the weapons industry and its allies to make more sophisticated weapons when hundreds of students in inner city schools have to share a few outdated computers!

But the scandal of bourgeois democracy is no longer containable.  Even members of the capitalist oligarchy can no longer deny it.  In an interview on BBC's "Newsnight", Dan Rather—described as "America's newsman" by Laura Ingram, the fascist commentator who on her daily radio show cited Rather's comments as an unpatriotic act of betrayal—talks about the censorship and repression in the US today.  In The Guardian's story on the interview (May 17, 2002), Rather states that the fear of being labeled "unpatriotic" prevents journalists from "asking the toughest of the tough questions".  What is most telling in his interview, however, is not what he says.  He is the lackey of capital (remember his cynical crying on David Letterman's show to prove his patriotism).  The telltale sign is the image he uses to compare the current situation in the United States with apartheid in South Africa.  He says, "There was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented.  And in some ways the fear is you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck".

Freedom of the press has become a sad joke in all capitalist "democracies".  In Israel, a state that is held up as exemplary of democracy and an instance of openness in a region said by the US State Department to be dominated by censorship, CNN and BBC are being dropped from cable TV because they do not say what the State of Israel sees as the truth and show footage of the actual daily atrocities of the Israeli occupation force that demonstrates the State of Israel to be a new regime of apartheid treating Palestinians as non-humans.

Indeed bourgeois democracy is the legtimization of an apartheid much more pernicious than the open segregation that ruled South Africa.  It is an apartheid based on class:  the haves and the have-nots.  Capitalist propaganda has actually managed to persuade people that there really are no longer any have-nots by marking the poor as "bums", "lazy", and not real human beings.  Therefore they don't really count.  Class apartheid is concealed by talk about freedom of speech (which is supposed to render all equal) and "human rights" (which is actually the code for individuals' rights in the market), but even that formal freedom is now, in the security state, denied to citizens.  What is left of bourgeois democracy is a garrison state guarded by the FBI, CIA, National Guard and the Army and ruled by corporate oligarchs whose criminal practices in amassing wealth once again reminds us that bourgeois democracy is a political apparatus to hide the fact that property is theft and bourgeois liberty is a device to protect the thieves by naming their stealing of the congealed labor of people "free entrepreneurship".  The thieves of labor are now on daily display.  As a correspondent for the BBC put it ("World News", June 26, 2002), there is corruption at the heart of American capitalism.

People are being distracted from this constitutive corruption by more and more aggressive talk about liberty and democracy.  One of the most transparently ludicrous attempts at such diversions is George Bush's demand—announced with a straight face—that the Palestinians disregard their elected leader (in an election supervised by Jimmy Carter and other world leaders) and "select" a new leader with whom capital can do business.  The fact that "reform" and "elections" for Bush are code words for total surrender by the Palestinians to transnational capital becomes absolutely clear when he supplements his demand for a "free" election by adding that "Palestinians will lose aid if they keep Arafat" (The New York Times, June 27, 02) in a free election.  Bush can talk so "boldly" about democracy and free election because he "knows" that democracy and election are rituals of legitimization of the interests of capital and the "elected" is always already selected.

 THE RED CRITIQUE 4  (May/June 2002)