I don’t think one needs to be particularly intelligent or insightful to know that something is desperately wrong with capitalist democracy. The system is ailing, there is no doubt about it. Not only is the international capitalist system suffering from problems but the democratic system (the one that capitalists have tried for so long to convince us in inseparable from capitalism) is genuinely in crisis – fewer people vote each year, the faith that the system is meaningful is dying all around us. There are surely many reasons that capitalist-democracy is suffering but I believe that the primary reason is fairly simple. One needn’t be a Marxist to understand that socio-economic systems all eventually become self-destructive. The very drive toward greater profit is the cancer that infests the system of capitalism. The fundamental goal of any capitalist enterprise is the achievement of greater and greater profits, and one of the primary ways to gain these profits is to get a greater and greater share of the market. In other words capitalism drives toward a monopoly – the opposite of itself. The pressure toward greater concentration of corporate power was recognized as a problem at the end of the 19th century and movements in many countries began to attempt to address the dangers involved in such a movement. In the US this effort was referred to as the “Progressive Movement.” The result of these efforts were laws in most countries against the operations of monopolies, or so-called anti-trust laws.
Throughout much of the 20th century capitalism functioned under increasing pressure from electors to maintain more workers’ rights, but there were also pressures to increase the general distribution of wealth, greater protections for the poor and vulnerable, etc. However, toward the close of the 20th century, capitalism began to fight back against this pressure. Through globalization, currency movements, and most of all corporate media control, the agenda of corporatism began to undermine the gains that people had made for the past decades. Corporations began to get larger and more powerful and they used this power to operate as de facto monopolies. They not only compelled governments to serve their interests they used their ideological power to convince populations that despite ever increasing wealth overall, the system just couldn’t afford to let people have decent pensions, environmental controls, workers rights, unions, etc. In other words, despite the existence of more social wealth than ever before existed, the corporate ideology effectively convinced people that they had to be satisfied with less and less and that they had to begin to work harder and harder for a smaller piece of the pie. The result, of course, has been a growing gap between the rich and poor, as well as ever greater social, political, and economic control in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Education subsequently declines and people become ever easier to convince to act against their own interest, or to simply not take part in the political system at all.
The result of all of this political and economic upheaval is that people are beginning to realize that they are getting poorer at the very same time that the rich are getting unbelievably richer. But they are also loosing faith in their political institutions because they know something is wrong but they aren’t hearing many answers. And when they do hear real answers, real economic limits to corporate power, they are told by those very corporations that such answers are nothing short of communist plots. And those with enough knowledge to reject the corporate propaganda know that any one country attempting to make changes to the corporate agenda on its own is going to face some pretty stiff attacks from all over the globe. And so the dilemma deepens. We have government leaders that are little more than corporate servants who are willing to sell out the safety of the very planet just to increase corporate profits. As a matter of routine such governments are willing to ignore or break the very laws that they were elected to uphold just to ensure that their corporate sponsors can make a few more percentage points.
We in Canada saw a prime example of this ideology in action yesterday as our so-called Prime Minister gave a major speech to an international audience once again touting the lie that the problem with international capital is essentially that working people expect too much – they expect real pensions and some form of protection from real poverty. It is, of course, an absolute and utter lie, but he pushes the agenda nonetheless. If a society has more wealth than ever before and yet states are going bankrupt, then the problem is not the worker’s relatively modest demands.
Of course, power, particularly economic power, has a terrible tendency to be shortsighted. Corporations, like the aristocracy in the lead up to the Revolution in France, are desperately trying to maintain their money and power even as they creates the conditions for their own demise. The greater the inequality of wealth, the more you impoverish the people while the corporations are increasing their wealth, the harder it will become to hide the contradictions in the system and the more likely it will become that people will eventually seek to not only change the system but to seek revenge on those who have benefited from the deception and the inequality. Avoiding the 1917 revolution in Russia would have been pretty easy – a concerted effort at democratization and industrialization would have easily undermined the revolutionary cause. But the Russian aristocracy had become convinced that their power was part of a natural order, the only way things could be. I dare say that the corporate class of today as adopted a similar belief structure. How many times have you heard a rich man in a suit or a rightwing politician tell you that there is no alternative to our present system? They tell us that we cannot mess with the capitalist order or that it is a ‘natural’ system. Well I imagine that as the Russian aristocrats faced the barrel of a gun and the French aristocrats were led up the steps of the guillotine, they were deeply confused – “How can this be?” they must have thought to themselves.
Well it happened then, and it can happen again. If there is anything like a “natural” order in the world – it is continual change.