Elections and Alienation 

Elections and referendums are events in bourgeois “democracy” which give the people a brief sense of power. The people use this as an opportunity to show their anger – as with Brexit – once in few years because they are unable to meaningfully influence any policy decisions of government. Real democracy involves the constant engagement of the people in decision-making, while bourgeois “democracy” denies it. Once the elections have passed, voters are left to live with the decisions that are made by the elected. Eventually the people lose interest in the process which has no role in making their lives better. 

This alienation has its origin in the capitalist mode of production. Production in a capitalist system is a process where labour power is employed in the act of labour to transform nature to suit the needs of the society. At the end of the working day, the products of labour become the property of the capitalist. In other words, workers are alienated from the products of their labour. On the other hand, the worker who previously handled the tools to produce commodities, after the advent of big machines, becomes an appendage of the machine which handles the tools. The sophistication of the machinery makes the worker increasingly worthless. This feeling of alienation and worthlessness reflects in their social life, as the worker starts to internalise the idea that he won’t be able to change or influence anything. Workers lose interest in everything that influences their life, including politics. The capitalists enjoy the apathy of workers, while positions of power are occupied by their class. 

Real democracy is one which has representatives from all sections of society, but if we observe the composition of bourgeois parliaments, we see a high percentage of millionaires occupying them. The economic power of the bourgeois class translates into political power which it uses to design policies to strengthen themselves further. Elections are turned into expensive affairs which eliminate less rich parties from contesting. 

The US has two major corporate-funded parties with largely the same policies, with the people having little to choose between. A Chinese journalist once said: “In the US there are two major parties with no change in policy; but in China it is a single party system but you can have a change in policy.” 

In a bourgeois “democracy” everybody has equality in the sense that everyone has one vote, it has the same value, whatever the economic or social status of the voter. But this political equality doesn’t bring economic equality: in fact, inequality is on the rise. Why does this happen in spite of “democracy”? 

Capitalism gives us the right to vote to choose who should oppress us and would deny democracy in the workplace. This results in decisions made by the few but affecting the many, in terms of low wages, lay-offs, lock-outs, outsourcing, off-shoring and job loss, and so on. Unless the workplace is democratised there won’t be real democracy, because the contradiction between social labour and private profit has to be eradicated. 

In Left-wing Communism: an infantile disorder, Lenin criticizes the opportunists who supported bourgeois “democracy” instead of the power of the Soviets. The Soviets (council or assembly) ensured that every section of society was represented and participated in debates to influence the policy decisions to the benefit of their respective social group. In other words, Socialism is the extension of political democracy to economic democracy. 

     The contradiction between labour and capital is sharp at the point of production: that is why Marx calls the proletariat a revolutionary class because they are in a direct fight against capital. Hence it becomes necessary for the worker to fight for socialism, which emancipates them from exploitation by eradication of the private ownership of the means of production. Bourgeois “democracy” would rather allow fascism to come to power through its elections, as with Hitler, than democratise the workplace. 

     What can communists do in a bourgeois “democracy” in an election?   

Elections should be used as an opportunity to force political parties to include progressive measures in their election manifesto that benefit the working class, and to expose them when they don’t deliver. Communists should put forward their progressive agenda for transformative changes. People do think, often rightly so, that there won’t be major changes in their lifetimes due to elections, but a debate can be constructed about what will cause a change: about alternative ways of organising production by democratising the workplace, for example. These debates have to take place in communities and workplaces to politicise people who have been alienated by the capitalist mode of production. 

    Communists should have no illusions about  elections and expose the limitations of bourgeois “democracy”, as in the words of Mark Twain: “If voting made a difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”