Elections - Highlight of Democracy Ruthless Criticism

Elections –
Highlight of Democracy

[Translated from Socialistische Gruppe]

I. Elections – authorization of state representatives by the ruled

In an election, a choice is made for the personnel who will remit the laws and lead government business for a certain period of time. Elections sort the members of a community into leaders and led – the latter choose the former to set up a state apparatus whose most important offices are decided by the election and who manage the national business from their offices. It is clear from the start that elections are in no way an intervention by the citizens into the really essential relations between the state and its citizens. The question why and for what they need a trustworthy and thoroughly organized state rule with powerful posts and elite office-holders is always removed from the voters in practice.

What is most important in an election is what is not up for vote, but is quietly checked off with a vote. This is nothing less than the entire system of political rule over them: the state apparatus; the tasks to which it dedicates itself; the functions it performs; the “cause” of the nation; and the fact that it needs leaders to take care of it – thus, everything that the masses of citizens get to experience as a restriction of their material freedom, as the misery of their working lives, everything that is demanded of them by the private and ruling powers as a socially organized burden. All this is approved in the act of voting – the casting of votes is an affirmation of the principle of being ruled and the reasons of state: elections turn the subjects into unconditional advocates of the power exercised over them.

Voting abstracts from the interests of the voters; the yes to being ruled is reflected in the election itself:

In being elected, those political candidates who are chosen by the people’s vote earn the right (either as the responsible government or as the “tough” opposition) to make themselves the embodiment of the community. They are authorized by the election to execute state necessities against their people, in whatever ways they judge necessary. And the politicians do not estimate this freedom of politics slightly. Because, with the election, the voters have asked them to lead state business, and thereby explained that they themselves are incompetent. The election gives the citizens an opportunity to intervene into personnel questions in order to be united with the policies. And when politicians give the essentially redundant statement, against critical voices from the people, that nevertheless they were democatically chosen as the best option, hence complain by referring to their authorization that the critics are obligated to shut their mouths and should not say a word about the subject in contention.

II. The conversion of criticism of state rule into democratic anti-criticism

An election puts before the voters the decision as to who to invest with the power that they must obey, something which is not up for debate anyway. This event makes them idealistic trustees of state rule in that they are unconditional advocates of the power exercised over them; in the interests of state power, they are permitted to critically examine the candidates for the offices up for grabs. In this sense, state rule is the criteria by which the candidates must prove themselves and allow themselves to be measured – not so much the reality of state power, but an idealized image of it which sees the establishment, maintenance and exercise of state rule merely as an assistance for living a decent bourgeois life under the “given conditions” and the government authority as a protective power for a “responsible” people's community at home and abroad. Such a twisted view of political power is the premise for all voters’ opinions about the uses the candidates promise to make of their offices. All critical attention is on the success that the candidates swear to achieve and can actually demonstrate in their well-presented performances – and for this reason, well-trained democrats examine a candidate’s success in convincingly putting across this performance. It is this criticism to which those candidates who are not elected fall victim. However, for the political elite as a whole, which takes this path into office, such an examination is not hard to put up with because the criterion that voters measure them by is no different than the one by which the candidates want to prove themselves at all costs: the power which is connected with their office would be firm in their hands; they use it so that it never gets damaged, but increases – and themselves with it; they seek to establish themselves as unchallengeable and ultimately indisputable ruling personalities and cut a good figure before the voters; they aim to become one with the power entrusted to them so that the office and their name become interchangeable… The criticism of power to which a free election challenges the voters – the subjects of rule – is most decidedly anti-critical, both with regard to state rule itself, as well as the candidate’s lust for power.

III. The democratic “maturity” of a nation

Democratic elections do not take place everywhere, but according to the democratic state, they should take place everywhere. It is no coincidence that this noble export item originates in the so-called “stable democracies” of the North. Only in these countries do elections proceed in an orderly way and the counting of votes re-establish the political peace which the electoral competition temporarily and calculatingly calls into limited question. This is because everything is so firmly regulated that there is even the freedom to choose between alternatives for the who and how of state power – without this power itself or its exercise being called into question. Here the law rules independently of the electorate’s decision. It dictates how all citizens are to pursue their interests; by systematically authorizing and restricting all citizens, it ensures domestic peace and a functional cooperation between all the conflicting and competing interests in society. Even state power itself is functionally divided into executive, legislative and judicial branches, thus organized into an autonomous system of division of responsibilities that entrusts the holders of power with fixed tasks within a framework of virtually objective state aims, and so transforms them into fundamentally interchangeable public servants. This way, nothing gets out of control when the different parties compete for the highest state offices and invite the electorate to decide their bickering: their competition is about who can better manage state business; they do not compete over the state’s aims and the criteria for national success – this is the premise for all their debates.

Elections are most successful in those societies based on capitalist exploitation that have well-organized and stable communities. They are based on force and rule because only the power of the state establishes and protects the power of private property in the means of production and thereby excludes the vast majority of their subjects from using them. The modern capitalist state has reinforced even their hopeless role as servants under the command and use of the capitalists with a universal set of rights, thus making wage labor into a respectable source of income with legally protected claims and obligations, which to that extent is equal to the wealthy and exploiting class’s source of income. Proletarians and factory masters are obligated to deal with each other on a contractual basis and abide by labor contracts, the content of which is profitable work – for capital, of course! The state even assigns their interest – which disturbs the capitalistic workplace as soon as it asserts itself – in dependable living costs, short work times and decent working conditions where it belongs, i.e. in its subordinate place in the community; then it protects it. If they put their trust in this protection, the wage laborers are in principle ready to select that power which makes them wage dependent in the first place. Certainly, they must still take the next step and process their inevitable disappointments correctly, sorting their continual discontent in two ways. On the one hand, simply nothing can be done to improve their condition because “that’s just the way things are” and everyone must make a living; and on the other, where the law entitles them to complain about their hardships and unfair disadvantages, to accuse the government of failure to meet its real tasks as rulers. This is how wage laborers, in the name of the ruling power that imposes their unpleasant living conditions on them, become critics of their rulers, who treat them in accordance with their social status. If they do not take their grievances too seriously, but mostly show understanding for the inevitable and limit their political discontent to a vote for the party they regard as the lesser evil, thus if they remain passive with their active right to vote, then the state can depend on them and democracy is stable.

Those in a democracy who seize the passive right to vote and get voted into positions of power are active; the will of the democratic sovereign is a product of the political demands pursued by them. If they strive to compete against their colleagues for the confidence of the voters, they impose again and again on them the unreasonable demand to distinguish between rule as an impartial objective law of living together which they need and the personnel who rule: between the bad ones who they should send into retirement and the good ones who would execute these beneficial objective laws correctly and so should be chosen to do it. Electoral contestants take up every existing or excitable dissatisfaction among the people, translate it into an annoyance about their abandonment and/or the mistakes of the powerful in the exercise of their official duties and demand agreement with this version at all costs. They explain to the public that the systematic hardships that accompany their economic position are the results of avoidable mistakes by a sitting government and offer themselves as state leaders. Those in office, against the opposition which denounces the damage to every possible interest as “mistakes,” insist on the objective necessity of their actions in view of a situation in which the opposition could do no differently; they have in truth “no plan” and “talk is cheap” because they have no responsibility. In the final result, the hostile advertising strategists say to the people which sacrifices they need under their command as one community, which they need anyway – for the native country, the economy, jobs – and therefore the suspicion is unwarranted that there is an interest at work that is hostile to the masses and which the state validates with its force.

IV. The democratic seal of quality: good leadership

This democratic feat of presenting the electorate with alternatives so that they affirm that they have no alternative attains its very essence when rival candidates present themselves as persons who can deliver strong leadership and only wish to distinguish themselves from their rivals by demonstrating their leadership qualities. The voters who can be asked by such power-seekers the question “who is the best for our country” freely admit with their vote that they need leaders and have no problem having their living conditions dictated by ruling powers – nor are they interested in the objectives and criteria by which the ruling elite makes such decisions. In its complete form, the freedom which elections contribute to also has certain cultural presuppositions: it demands of the voter the willingness to be impressed by strong leadership and affability, by stage-managed debates and rejoicing party members, by catchy advertising slogans and all the fuss carried out for their sake. It demands the ability to make a comparative appraisal between the bragging of rival political chieftains and to somehow find these prominent personages “impressive.” This freedom demands that voters be so idiotic as to make individual opinions of taste about political ruling powers’ personal character – whether at the level of cheering or on the basis of a “personal impression,” it is in the role of an ideal image consultant or know-it-alls who judge the political persuasiveness of candidates according to how well they come across. The pluralist public sphere that characterizes functioning democracies distributes its contemptuous or respectful assessments on the most varied levels and for every set of standards, thus educating the public in the competent and critical enjoyment to be had in a partisan personality cult, in whose presentation they are fervent participants.

V. Backing up the exercise of state rule

Despite the ubiquitous harmony and respect for the law, the successful integration of the exploited class into the community and the successful political formulation of demands, democrats do not rely on the harmony between the rulers and their basis: by exposing the state personnel to judgment, they save the state itself from the discontent of those damaged by its rule, as well as the risk of being dependent on the people’s consent – and yet, nevertheless, they have reservations about allowing the mob so much influence on state authority. Namely, on both sides: its effect on the exercise of rule, as well as on the necessary freedom of the ruling personnel – somehow even with the democratic division between unquestioned reasons of state and its executors, the grumbling of the masses and the danger of getting voted out of office strikes democratic officials as not completely safe.

If there is an election on the calendar or even several a year, professional democrats express their concerns about the course of state affairs. Government falters and necessary decisions go unmade because politicians must maintain the goodwill of the voters and cannot take action with the required resoluteness: the exercise of power suffers from the fact that the politicians compete and the competition gets to be decided by the people who are governed, who in the opinion of competent democrats are the most incompetent in the whole country.

Moreover, the stupid rabble spoils the nation’s political customs – in grotesque reversal of the real relation between voters and candidates, the organizers of the democratic personality cult hold the addressees accountable for all the nonsense that they throw at them. This is why election campaigns, the political education program for the holiest act of democracy, the process by which the political will of the people is formed, has the worst reputation: the information given by the politicians during an election campaign is not to be taken at face value; after all, the ladies and gentlemen are competing in an election campaign and must beguile the people. Promises are as necessary as they are dubious: the democratic sovereign needs to be deceived – of course, it can’t be a case of deception in the true sense of the term if the opposing party denounces it immediately; though blunders will always be made here and there.

This is why the empire of democratic freedom does not remain content with complaints about the impossibility of explaining politics to the subjects while having to also gain their favor. The constitutional state, as an organizer of an election, takes precautionary measures so that the hardly calculable – even if constantly calculated – voter's mood can screw nothing up. It decides on the admission and non-admission of parties and limits the “constitutional curve” within which the people cast their vote. Its laws regulate the procedure of the vote – majority rule or proportional representation – and establish useful clauses that keep minorities away from parliaments. Its organs supervise the electoral process as well as the counting of votes and reserve to themselves the right to decide any disputes. Major parties that compete against each other in election campaigns cooperate in passing laws that allow them to raise the money necessary for modern advertising campaigns from the national budget and exclude the not-so-well established parties from competing with them, as well as from access to the mass media; the fact that in stable democracies electoral success is mainly a question of advertising money is undisputed. It also does not contradict democracy if participation in the vote is restricted to those who prove their civic responsibility by passing a highly complicated and often ridiculously tricky registration process.

Nowadays, the trick which once served in the model country of democracy to obstruct every chance of unwanted electoral success to blacks and other subhumans has by no means become extinct: the deliberate zoning of electoral districts to prevent disagreeably surprising election results – “gerrymandering” has been developed to perfection in the USA’s most modern two parties system to ensure the long term electoral success of one party. This practice betrays how much democratic politicians suffer from the general rule that gives this form of government its all-important seal of quality: that they as rulers are separable from their identity with the power which they temporarily wield until revoked by the next lost election. After that, they make every effort to grow into their share of political power and not to do just any old job – to perform official duties personally, at least when they talk about it. They want to represent the cause of the nation better and more convincingly than anybody else, especially the other parties. Democratic leaders see their own election defeats as bordering on coups and acts of treason – they are unjust every time.

Therefore, it is only fair if they do everything in their power – as long as they have it – to prevent an electoral defeat. Its normal for them to destroy their rivals morally and criminalize them with the help of the scandals exposed by state investigators; they spy on their opponents with illicit means in order to foil their election campaign strategies; campaign managers “organize” electoral votes in nursing homes or by repeated voting; the counting is tampered with a little; etc. etc. ...

Forgery and trickery are illegal, of course, and if it is discovered, it is definitely punished. Certainly, the line between legal and illegal tactics is vague, and the temptation to produce good results with unofficial means is always there. In the end, however, and under protest, good democrats set the procedure of the election above their own rivalry; they do not want to endanger the reliable Yes to the state which an election contributes to and for which they all compete. Therefore, the defeated candidate confesses his defeat and congratulates the winner, however sourly and deceptively, and congratulates the winner for winning the confidence of the people; the winner thanks the loser for his uninhibited confession of defeat, states his respect for him, expresses that the election campaign that has split the people is now healed and he himself is now the president of all the citizens. In healthy democratic states, winners and losers of the election recognize themselves as alternatives of the same thing. They know that the opposition defines the goals and the success of state power the same as they do. Their willingness to adapt themselves politely to the constitutional structure and dismiss their harsh election campaign rhetoric about the decline of the homeland makes clear that they were, really, only in rivalry in one way: there is only room for one at the top position for which they applied. Under such circumstances, the losers of the election can also live with the result, of course; democracy also holds an honorable little place ready for them: they have to sit on the bench of the “tough opposition“ and be content with the portion of power and money which are connected with it until next time.

If political alternatives to the state program are asserted in the country that deny in practice that there is no alternative, or if the subjects no longer want to play their role as an electorate and instead take charge of their interests themselves, then they dispense not just with the government and its program, but even with the democratic vote. With its emergency acts the state codifies – completely constitutionally – the extreme conflict between itself and its citizens. If unquestioning agreement is not given to it so that even its mode of production is on the agenda, it clarifies for the last time that the democratic procedure is a means for its practice of state rule – with the merciless use of the police and the armed forces, what else?