The following was written as a letter to the editor of my college’s newspaper on November 9th, 2016, the day after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. I wrote it out of frustration at the moralizing of the Democrats and their reactionary socialist pawns, who condemned Trump’s election while refusing to acknowledge the realities of American imperialism and exploitation. This marked my first break with democracy and my first attempt at a critique of it. It was written quickly and for a non-communist audience, so it is far from sophisticated. I never sent it to the newspaper because I thought the strength of liberal reaction at the time would render it moot.
November 9th – I didn’t vote in the presidential election. I have no regrets about this. I’ll never vote again. I gave up on the electoral system of government long ago, finally understanding that a ballot is a poor representation of any person’s interests. The error which I confess now is not that I participated in an election in the wretched Land of the Free, but that I was an accessory, through my rhetoric and actions, to the ideal of democracy. Like the gutless progressives who rail against “corporate capitalism”, as if capitalism had impurities which could somehow be filtered out, I railed against “bourgeois”, “capitalist”, and “liberal” democracy, while professing my support for vacuous concepts of “workers’ democracy” and “democratic socialism”. After the spectacle which took place last night, I now realize, after far too much time, that democracy and the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie are one and the same, and that “democratic socialism” is a petty-bourgeois conceit. It wasn’t so much the idiotic race towards 270 electoral votes that swayed me as it was the bleating by liberal patriots, and even some popular socialists, about the disgrace and injustice that the mystic democratic ritual did not turn out in their favor. It seems that liberals were untroubled by the process of raising, slaughtering, and slicing open the sacrificial offering, and were only distraught once the entrails did not appear in their favor. By this slicing I refer, of course, to the grating ideological spectacle of the presidential race, which consumed two years and hundreds of millions of dollars, which used every oppressed group as objects in a bizarre, cultic ceremony, before casting them, like the emperor Tiberius, off the sea-cliff. I also refer to the history of the bourgeois state in general, and the American imperial project in particular, as these are the sources of democratic pride, that system’s beacon to the world. Democracy is, at its core, representation by force. In earlier British and American democracy, women, enslaved people, freedmen, Indigenous peoples, and poor white men were represented “virtually” by white, male property-owners. Propertied white men, it was thought, had the most stake in society, to such a degree that they subsumed the interests of all other groups. This representation was by force of arms in every sense; it served only to organize and legitimize the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and had no objective connections to the interests of the represented. Though the right to vote has been slowly expanded (democracy defuses dissent through the carrot-and-stick approach of expanding the franchise), the principles remain the same. The voter steps into the booth (or opens the envelope, as in Oregon) and checks the box next to one of several predetermined capitalist representatives, who become their quasi-feudal lords for the duration of the term by the divine rite of the ballot-box. The elected representative, be they congressman, judge, governor, or president, has no further connection to the voter or the voter’s material interests, but, crucially, their position as representative is enforced by the coercive power of the state. The socialist candidates who pop up on ballots from time to time are there because they have agreed to take part in the democratic ritual and its outcome. This is the tradition which liberals cherish, and which they believe has been violated. They are somehow surprised that this ritual which is so dear to them, with its origins in slavery and genocide, has anointed a white-nationalist real-estate tycoon and TV star to be their king. I don’t understand what they’re thinking.
I know that the petty-bourgeois progressives in this country are now gnashing their teeth and muttering about “corporate” and “big-money” politics, as if this alone were the illness afflicting democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Democracy is the structure of capitalist politics, and, by association, capitalist accumulation. The progressive position reflects an ideal of “pure” politics, which is nothing but folly. Politics is the medium of material distribution. Even if a proletarian candidate were to be elected and seated, that person would control only a part of the capitalist state structure, which cannot be extracted from the whole, and thus they would be an enabler of the capitalist economy. In this scenario, there is an additional problem relating to the concept of representation itself. If this imaginary proletarian candidate were elected, they could not possibly account for the interests of all those they claim to represent. Their actions in office would therefore be a simulation of those interests rather than the real thing, which is the fatal flaw of representation itself. If, as the materialist method asserts, classes rather than individuals drive history, it is incomprehensible how people who call themselves socialists could place their faith in the leadership of one person.
What, then, is the answer to democracy? It’s clearly not a party dictatorship as existed under Soviet state-capitalism, which, as it claimed to be a proxy for the proletariat, degenerated into a representational fetish. Neither is it a nationalist dictatorship, which seeks legitimacy as a representative of an invented national interest. The only solution to the problems of democracy and capitalism is their opposite, workers’ councils and free communism. The proletariat and all groups within it must exercise direct political power through the councils, using temporary delegates when necessary. The whole class, not one party or another, must rule despotically over society, until the basis of class and the state – private property – ceases to exist, and human liberation replaces political rights. This is the dictatorship of the proletariat, based on the examples left to us by the revolutionaries of Paris, Munich,Ukraine, Kronstadt, Shanghai, Berlin, Hungary, and Chiapas. It will also follow the examples of the billions of workers who are not mentioned among the famous revolutionaries, those who struggle against capitalism by their daily survival. The free communist world will not be democratic. Quite the opposite: it will be liberating.