Jun 282017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The most striking feature of recent elections is not ‘who won or who lost’, nor is it the personalities, parties and programs. The dominant characteristic of the elections is the widespread repudiation of the electoral system, political campaigns, parties and candidates.

Across the world, majorities and pluralities of citizens of voting age refuse to even register to vote (unless obligated by law), refuse to turn out to vote (voter abstention), or vote against all the candidates (boycott by empty ballot and ballot spoilage).

If we add the many citizen activists who are too young to vote, citizens denied voting rights because of past criminal (often minor) convictions, impoverished citizens and minorities denied voting rights through manipulation and gerrymandering, we find that the actual ‘voting public’ shrivel to a small minority.

As a result, present day elections have been reduced to a theatrical competition among the elite for the votes of a minority. This situation describes an oligarchy – not a healthy democracy.

Oligarchic Competition

Oligarchs compete and alternate with one another over controlling and defining who votes and doesn’t vote. They decide who secures plutocratic financing and mass media propaganda within a tiny corporate sector. ‘Voter choice’ refers to deciding which preselected candidates are acceptable for carrying out an agenda of imperial conquests, deepening class inequalities and securing legal impunity for the oligarchs, their political representatives and state, police and military officials.

Oligarchic politicians depend on the systematic plundering Treasury to facilitate and protect billion dollar/billion euro stock market swindles and the illegal accumulation of trillions of dollars and Euros via tax evasion (capital flight) and money laundering.

The results of elections and the faces of the candidates may change but the fundamental economic and military apparatus remains the same to serve an ever tightening oligarchic rule.

The elite regimes change, but the permanence of state apparatus designed to serve the elite becomes ever more obvious to the citizens.

Why the Oligarchy Celebrates “Democracy”

The politicians who participate in the restrictive and minoritarian electoral system, with its predetermined oligarchic results, celebrate ‘elections’ as a democratic process because a plurality of voters, as subordinate subjects, are incorporated.

Academics, journalists and experts argue that a system in which elite competition defines citizen choice has become the only way to protect ‘democracy’ from the irrational ‘populist’ rhetoric appealing to a mass of citizens vulnerable to authoritarianism (the so-called ‘deplorables’). The low voter turn-out in recent elections reduces the threat posed by such undesirable voters.

A serious objective analysis of present-day electoral politics demonstrates that when the masses do vote for their class interests — the results deepen and extend social democracy. When most voters, non-voters and excluded citizens choose to abstain or boycott elections they have sound reasons for repudiating plutocratic-controlled oligarchic choices.

We will proceed to examine the recent June 2017 voter turnout in the elections in France, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. We will then look at the intrinsic irrationality of citizens voting for elite politicos as opposed to the solid good sense of the popular classes rejection of elite elections and their turn to extra-parliamentary action.

Puerto Rico’s Referendum

The major TV networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) and the prestigious print media (New York Times, Washington Post, and Financial Times) hailed the ‘overwhelming victory’ of the recent pro-annexationist vote in Puerto Rico. They cited the 98% vote in favor of becoming a US state!

The media ignored the fact that a mere 28% of Puerto Ricans participated in the elections to vote for a total US takeover. Over 77% of the eligible voters abstained or boycotted the referendum.

In other words, over three quarters of the Puerto Rican people rejected the sham ‘political elite election’. Instead, the majority voted with their feet in the streets through direct action.

France’s Micro-Bonaparte

In the same way, the mass media celebrated what they dubbed a ‘tidal wave’ of electoral support for French President Emmanuel Macron and his new party, ‘the Republic in March’. Despite the enormous media propaganda push for Macron, a clear majority of the electorate (58%) abstained or spoiled their ballots, therefore rejecting all parties and candidates, and the entire French electoral system. This hardly constitutes a ‘tidal wave’ of citizen support in a democracy.

During the first round of the parliamentary election, President Macron’s candidates received 27% of the vote, barely exceeding the combined vote of the left socialist and nationalist populist parties, which had secured 25% of the vote. In the second round, Macron’s party received less then 20% of the eligible vote.

In other words, the anti-Macron rejectionists represented over three quarters of the French electorate. After these elections a significant proportion of the French people – especially among the working class –will likely choose extra-parliamentary direct action, as the most democratic expression of representative politics.

The United Kingdom: Class Struggle and the Election Results

The June 2017 parliamentary elections in the UK resulted in a minority Conservative regime forced to form an alliance with the fringe Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a far-right para-military Protestant party from Northern Ireland. The Conservatives received 48% of registered voters to 40% who voted for the Labor Party. However, 15 million citizens, or one-third of the total electorate abstained or spoiled their ballots. The Conservative regime’s plurality represented 32% of the electorate.

Despite a virulent anti-Labor campaign in the oligarch-controlled mass media, the combined Labor vote and abstaining citizens clearly formed a majority of the population, which will be excluded from any role the post-election oligarchic regime despite the increase in the turnout (in comparison to previous elections).

Elections: Oligarchs in Office, Workers in the Street

The striking differences in the rate of abstention in France, Puerto Rico, and the UK reflect the levels of class dissatisfaction and rejection of electoral politics.

The UK elections provided the electorate with something resembling a class alternative in the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labor Party under Corbyn presented a progressive social democratic program promising substantial and necessary increases in social welfare spending (health, education and housing) to be funded by higher progressive taxes on the upper and upper middle class.

Corbyn’s foreign policy promised to end the UK’s involvement in imperialist wars and to withdraw troops from the Middle East. He also re-confirmed his long opposition to Israel’s colonial land-grabbing and oppression of the Palestinian people, as a principled way to reduce terrorist attacks at home.

In other words, Corbyn recognized that introducing real class-based politics would increase voter participation. This was especially true among young voters in the 18-25 year age group, who were among the UK citizens most harmed by the loss of stable factory jobs, the doubling of university fees and the cuts in national health services.

In contrast, the French legislative elections saw the highest rate of voter abstention since the founding of the 5th Republic. These high rates reflect broad popular opposition to ultra-neoliberal President Francois Macron and the absence of real opposition parties engaged in class struggle.

The lowest voter turn-out (72%) occurred in Puerto Rico. This reflects growing mass opposition to the corrupt political elite, the economic depression and the colonial and semi-colonial offerings of the two-major parties. The absence of political movements and parties tied to class struggle led to greater reliance on direct action and voter abstention.

Clearly class politics is the major factor determining voter turnout. The absence of class struggle increases the power of the elite mass media, which promotes the highly divisive identity politics and demonizes left parties. All of these increase both abstention and the vote for right-wing politicians, like Macron.

The mass media grossly inflated the significance of the Right’s election victories of the while ignoring the huge wave of citizens rejecting the entire electoral process. In the case of the UK, the appearance of class politics through Jeremy Corbyn increased voter turnout for the Labor Party. However, Labor has a history of first making left promises and ending up with right turns. Any future Labor betrayal will increase voter abstention.

The established parties and the media work in tandem to confine elections to a choreographed contest among competing elites divorced from direct participation by the working classes. This effectively excludes the citizens who have been most harmed by the ruling class’ austerity programs implemented by successive rightist and Social Democratic parties.

The decision of many citizens not to vote is based on taking a very rational and informed view of the ruling political elites who have slashed their living standards often by forcing workers to compete with immigrants for low paying, unstable jobs. It is deeply rational for citizens to refuse to vote for within a rigged system, which only worsens their living conditions through its attacks on the public sector, social welfare and labor codes while cutting taxes on capital.

Conclusion

The vast majority citizens in the wage and salaried class do not trust the political elites. They see electoral campaigns as empty exercises, financed by and for plutocrats.

Most citizens recognize (and despise) the mass media as elite propaganda megaphones fabricating ‘popular’ images to promote anti-working class politicians, while demonizing political activists engaged in class-based struggles.

Nevertheless, elite elections will not produce an effective consolidation of right-wing rule. Voter abstention will not lead to abstention from direct action when the citizens recognize their class interests are in grave jeopardy.

The Macron regime’s parliamentary majority will turn into an impotent minority as soon as he tries carry out his elite promise to slash the jobs of hundreds of thousands of French public sector workers, smash France’s progressive labor codes and the industry-wide collective bargaining system and pursue new colonial wars.

Puerto Rico’s profound economic depression and social crisis will not be resolved through a referendum with on 27% of the voter participation. Large-scale demonstrations will preclude US annexation and deepen mass demands for class-based alternatives to colonial rule.

Conservative rule in the UK is divided by inter-elite rivalries both at home and abroad. ‘Brexit’, the first step in the break-up of the EU, opens opportunities for deeper class struggle. The social-economic promises made by Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing of the Labor Party energized working class voters, but if it does not fundamentally challenge capital, it will revert to being a marginal force.

The weakness and rivalries within the British ruling class will not be resolved in Parliament or by any new elections.

The demise of the UK, the provocation of a Conservative-DUP alliance and the end of the EU (BREXIT) raises the chance for successful mass extra-parliamentary struggles against the authoritarian neo-liberal attacks on workers’ civil rights and class interests.

Elite elections and their outcomes in Europe and elsewhere are laying the groundwork for a revival and radicalization of the class struggle.

In the final analysis class rule is not decided via elite elections among oligarchs and their mass media propaganda. Once dismissed as a ‘vestige of the past’, the revival of class struggle is clearly on the horizon.

Jun 012017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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On a scale not seen since the ‘great’ world depression of the 1930’s, the US political system is experiencing sharp political attacks, divisions and power grabs. Executive firings, congressional investigations, demands for impeachment, witch hunts, threats of imprisonment for ‘contempt of Congress’ and naked power struggles have shredded the façade of political unity and consensus among competing powerful US oligarchs.

For the first time in US history, the incumbent elected president struggles on a daily basis to wield state power. The opposition-controlled state (National Public Radio) and corporate organs of mass propaganda are pitted against the presidential regime. Factions of the military elite and business oligarchy face off in the domestic and international arena. The oligarchs debate and insult each other. They falsify charges, plot and deceive. Their political acolytes, who witness these momentous conflicts, are mute, dumb and blind to the real interests at stake.

The struggle between the Presidential oligarch and the Opposition oligarchs has profound consequences for their factions and for the American people. Wars and markets, pursued by sections of the Oligarchs, have led opposing sections to seek control over the means of political manipulation (media and threats of judicial action).

Intense political competition and open political debate have nothing to do with ‘democracy’ as it now exists in the United States.

In fact, it is the absence of real democracy, which permits the oligarchs to engage in serious intra-elite warfare. The marginalized, de-politicized electorate are incapable of taking advantage of the conflict to advance their own interests.

What the ‘Conflict’ is Not About

The ‘life and death’ inter-oligarchical fight is not about peace!

None of the factions of the oligarchy, engaged in this struggle, is aligned with democratic or independent governments.

Neither side seeks to democratize the American electoral process or to dismantle the grotesque police state apparatus.

Neither side has any commitment to a ‘new deal’ for American workers and employees.

Neither is interested in policy changes needed to address the steady erosion of living standards or the unprecedented increase in ‘premature’ mortality among the working and rural classes.

Despite these similarities in their main focus of maintaining oligarchical power and policies against the interests of the larger population, there are deep divisions over the content and direction of the presidential regime and the permanent state apparatus.

What the Oligarchical Struggle is About

There are profound differences between the oligarch factions on the question of overseas wars and ‘interventions’.

The ‘opposition’ (Democratic Party and some Republican elite) pursues a continuation of their policy of global wars, especially aimed at confronting Russian and China, as well as regional wars in Asia and the Middle East. There is a stubborn refusal to modify military policies, despite the disastrous consequences domestically (economic decline and increased poverty) and internationally with massive ethnic cleansing, terrorism, forced migrations of war refugees to Europe, and famine and epidemics (such as cholera and starvation in Yemen).

The Trump Presidency appears to favor increased military confrontation with Iran and North Korea and intervention in Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

The ‘Opposition’ supports multilateral economic and trade agreements, (such as TTP and NAFTA), while Trump favors lucrative ‘bilateral’ economic agreements. Trump relies on trade and investment deals with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates and the formation of an aggressive military ‘axis’ (US-Saudi Arabia-Israel -Gulf Emirates) to eventually overthrow the nationalist regime in Iran and divide the country.

The ‘Opposition’ pursues wars and violent ‘regime change’ to replace disobedient ‘tyrants’ and nationalists and set up ‘client governments’, which will provide bases for the US military empire. Trump’s regime embraces existing dictators, who can invest in his domestic infrastructure agenda.

The ‘opposition’ seeks to maximize the role of Washington’s global military power. President Trump focuses on expanding the US role in the global market.

While both oligarchical factions support US imperialism, they differ in terms of its nature and means.

For the ‘opposition’, every country, large or small, can be a target for military conquest. Trump tends to favor the expansion of lucrative overseas markets, in addition to projecting US military dominance.

Oligarchs: Tactical Similarities

The competition among oligarchs does not preclude similarities in means and tactics. Both factions favor increased military spending, support for the Saudi war on Yemen and intervention in Venezuela. They support trade with China and international sanctions against Russia and Iran. They both display slavish deference to the State of Israel and favor the appointment of openly Zionist agents throughout the political, economic and intelligence apparatus.

These similarities are, however, subject to tactical political propaganda skirmishes. The ‘Opposition’ denounces any deviation in policy toward Russia as ‘treason’, while Trump accuses the ‘Opposition’ of having sacrificed American workers through NAFTA.

Whatever the tactical nuances and similarities, the savage inter-oligarchic struggle is far from a theatrical exercise. Whatever the real and feigned similarities and differences, the oligarchs’ struggle for imperial and domestic power has profound consequence for the political and constitutional order.

Oligarchical Electoral Representation and the Parallel Police State

The ongoing fight between the Trump Administration and the ‘Opposition’ is not the typical skirmish over pieces of legislation or decisions. It is not over control of the nation’s public wealth. The conflict revolves around control of the regime and the exercise of state power.

The opposition has a formidable array of forces, including the national intelligence apparatus (NSA, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, etc.) and a substantial sector of the Pentagon and defense industry. Moreover, the opposition has created new power centers for ousting President Trump, including the judiciary. This is best seen in the appointment of former FBI Chief Robert Mueller as ‘Special Investigator’ and key members of the Attorney General’s Office, including Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. It was Rosenstein who appointed Mueller, after the Attorney General ‘Jeff’ Session (a Trump ally) was ‘forced’ to recluse himself for having ‘met’ with Russian diplomats in the course of fulfilling his former Congressional duties as a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This ‘recusal’ took significant discretionary power away from Trump’s most important ally within the Judiciary.

The web of opposition power spreads and includes former police state officials including mega-security impresario, Michael Chertoff (an associate of Robert Mueller), who headed Homeland Security under GW Bush, John Brennan (CIA), James Comey (FBI) and others.

The opposition dominates the principal organs of propaganda -the press (Washington Post, Financial Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal), television and radio (ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS/ NPR), which breathlessly magnify and prosecute the President and his allies for an ever-expanding web of unsubstantiated ‘crimes and misdemeanors’. Neo-conservative and liberal think tanks and foundations, academic experts and commentators have all joined the ‘hysteria chorus’ and feeding frenzy to oust the President.

The President has an increasingly fragile base of support in his Cabinet, family and closest advisers. He has a minority of supporters in the legislature and possibly in the Supreme Court, despite nominal majorities for the Republican Party.

The President has the passive support of his voters, but they have demonstrated little ability to mobilize in the streets. The electorate has been marginalized.

Outside of politics (the ‘Swamp’ as Trump termed Washington, DC) the President’s trade, investment, taxation and deregulation policies are backed by the majority of investors, who have benefited from the rising stock market. However, ‘money’ does not appear to influence the parallel state.

The divergence between Trumps supporters in the investment community and the political power of the opposition state is one of the most extraordinary changes of our century.

Given the President’s domestic weakness and the imminent threat of a coup d’état, he has turned to securing ‘deals’ with overseas allies, including billion-dollar trade and investment agreements.

The multi-billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates will delight the military-industrial complex and its hundreds of thousands of workers.

Political and diplomatic ‘kowtowing’ to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should please some American Zionists.

But the meetings with the EU in Brussels and with the G7 in Siciliy failed to neutralize Trump’s overseas opposition.

NATO’s European members did not accept Trump’s demands that they increase their contribution to the alliance and they condemned his reluctance to offer unconditional US military support for new NATO members. They showed no sympathy for domestic problems.

In brief, the President’s overseas supporters, meetings and agreements will have little impact on the domestic correlation of forces.

Moreover, there are long-standing ties among the various state apparatuses and spy agencies in the EU and the US, which strengthen the reach of the opposition in their attacks on Trump.

While substantive issues divide the Presidential and Opposition oligarchs, these issues are vertical, not horizontal, cleavages – a question of ‘their’ wars or ‘ours’.

Trump intensified the ideological war with North Korea and Iran; promised to increase ground troops in Afghanistan and Syria; boosted military and advisory support for the Saudi invasion of Yemen; and increased US backing for violent demonstrations and mob attacks in Venezuela.

The opposition demands more provocations against Russia and its allies; and the continuation of former President Obama’s seven wars.

While both sets of oligarchs support the ongoing wars, the major difference is over who is managing the wars and who can be held responsible for the consequences.

Both conflicting oligarchs are divided over who controls the state apparatus since their power depends on which side directs the spies and generates the fake news.

Currently, both sets of oligarchs wash each other’s ‘dirty linen’ in public, while covering up for their collective illicit practices at home and abroad.

The Trump’s oligarchs want to maximize economic deals through ‘uncritical’ support for known tyrants; the opposition ‘critically’ supports tyrants in exchange for access to US military bases and military support for ‘interventions’.

President Trump pushes for major tax cuts to benefit his oligarch allies while making massive cuts in social programs for his hapless supporters. The Opposition supports milder tax cuts and lesser reductions in social programs.

Conclusion

The battle of the oligarchs has yet to reach a decisive climax. President Trump is still the President of the United States. The Opposition forges ahead with its investigations and lurid media exposés.

The propaganda war is continuous. One day the opposition media focuses on a deported student immigrant and the next day the President features new jobs for American military industries.

The emerging left-neo-conservative academic partnership (e.g. Noam Chomsky-William Kristol) has denounced President Trump’s regime as a national ‘catastrophe’ from the beginning. Meanwhile, Wall Street investors and libertarians join to denounce the Opposition’s resistance to major tax ‘reforms’.

Oligarchs of all stripes and colors are grabbing for total state power and wealth while the majority of citizens are labeled ‘losers’ by Trump or ‘deplorables’ by Madame Clinton.

The ‘peace’ movement, immigrant rights groups and ‘black lives matter’ activists have become mindless lackeys pulling the opposition oligarchs’ wagon, while rust-belt workers, rural poor and downwardly mobile middle class employees are powerless serfs hitched to President Trump’s cart.

Epilogue

After the blood-letting, when and if President Trump is overthrown, the State Security functionaries in their tidy dark suits will return to their nice offices to preside over their ‘normal’ tasks of spying on the citizens and launching clandestine operations abroad.

The media will blow out some charming tid-bits and ‘words of truth’ from the new occupant of the ‘Oval Office’.

The academic left will churn out some criticism against the newest ‘oligarch-in-chief’ or crow about how their heroic ‘resistance’ averted a national catastrophe.

Trump, the ex-President and his oligarch son-in-law Jared Kushner will sign new real estate deals. The Saudis will receive the hundreds of billions of dollars of US arms to re-supply ISIS or its successors and to rust in the ‘vast and howling’ wilderness of US-Middle East intervention. Israel will demand even more frequent ‘servicing’ from the new US President.

The triumphant editorialists will claim that ‘our’ unique political system, despite the ‘recent turmoil’, has proven that democracy succeeds … only the people suffer!

Long live the Oligarchs!

James Petras is author of The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East. Read other articles by James, or visit James’s website.