About the need to criticize capitalist democracy

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at marx.econ.utah.edu
Wed Aug 7 19:28:48 MDT 1996

>>>>> Karl Carlile found it difficult to believe that I meant the
>>>>> following message seriously:

>> The lack of a "constitution" is a conscious spoon policy.  The
>> capitalist democratic procedures with explicit written laws, due
>> process, rights, etc. are conflict management, on the premise that
>> conflicts cannot be resolved but must be managed.  The Spooners
>> refuse to manage their conflicts, in order to get a shot at
>> resolving them.  The reforms which you are proposing, Karl, would
>> be a gigantic step backward for the Spoon collective.

Since it is important to have a Marxist critique of capitalist
democracy, I will try to elaborate a bit.

Explicit written laws must be criticized because you cannot resolve
conflicts by going through a catalogue of all possible cases.  The
first thing a lawyer learns in law school is: don't try to judge the
case by its merits, but ask the question: who violated which law.  The
law books bring the state as a third party into all conflicts, and
they make sure that the state is always right.

Due process is a safeguard against the misuse of power.  It is
valuable as such, but it leaves the power relation intact.

The trouble with rights is that they turn into duties at the flick of
an eye.  The right to a job very quickly becomes the duty to hold a
job.  Rights of different individuals can also come in conflict.
Socialists who demand the right to a job act as if socialism was a
device to solve the problems of capitalism (i.e. unemployment).
Socialists should demand that both social wealth and social labor
should be shared fairly.

All this democratic formalism is really only desirable if you live
in the conditions of capitalist competition.  As a whole, Marxists
have so far utterly failed to expose democracy for what it is.
(The only exception I know is the Marxistische Gruppe.)

Here is something about elections too:

Capitalist elections are not a medium by which the voters tell the
rulers what to do, but they are a big circus by which the rulers gain
the "mandate", i.e., obligate the masses to accept whatever measures
they sign into law.  They are also a mechanism to manage
discontent.  The capitalistic democratic state is a form of power
which not only demands obedience but also consent.  Otherwise people
would use their freedom not for "free enterprise" but for plotting the
overthrow of the state.  The consent which it does manage to garner
makes it seem invincible, but it is also a big Achilles heel.

Hans Ehrbar.

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