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Why Democracies evolve into Dictatorships
by James Cooke
14 Aug 2006
It took only six years with Bush Jr. as President to give birth to a new generation of radical political activists, journalists, and commentators, whose main concerns are subjecting the insane policies of the President to exposure and condemnation; this, it seems, constitutes the foundation for nearly the entire realm of real political opposition in the U.S. The strategy here is limited to educating people about the destructive policies of the Republicans and hoping that in response, a protest or political movement will evolve powerful enough to either reform or displace those in power. Education of course, is absolutely crucial in transforming any dissident organization into an entity capable of action and results. However, by focusing only on the policies of the Republicans, without explaining the larger framework from whence they came, political education is greatly hindered, limiting the potential for effective action.
Undoubtedly, the neo-conservative movement is treated with mystical awe by those responsible for criticizing it. Liberal commentators continue to respond with hysterics or dumfoundedness at the ability of Conservatives to destroy civil liberties while thus far waging three preemptive wars (yes Lebanon is a U.S. war). It should have been clear by now— with the media and Democrats suppressing or supporting the most blatant atrocities engineered by the Republicans— that larger forces are at play.
Historically speaking, the transition from democracy to dictatorship has appeared in various forms, including military coup, civil war, election tampering and ‘emergency’ situations requiring ‘special’ powers— with Bush’s growing authority fitting into the latter two categories. Although dictatorial forms differ radically in their appearance, at bottom there remain essential common features.
A dictatorship cannot be formed from the heavens; there must be in every instance a background of interests and groups that aide the regime by finances, apologetics, or aggressive support. These interests too have a historical background, originating from their position as beneficiaries of the economic arrangement of society. Dictatorship has been, with few exceptions, performed in the service of a minority; these dictatorships have always represents the interests of the financial elite. By limiting the definition thusly, we are able to make connections with the fascists of Italy, Japan, and Germany, to the century-old dictatorships of the neo-colonial world.
It is in the interests of any ruling class to maintain government control by Democratic means, since the effort in maintaining order is less taxing, and the ease of channeling discontent through compromise and concession is increased. It must be asked then: why do these groups, who already contain tremendous wealth and prestige, trouble themselves by resorting to the barbaric and complicated policies that are implied by dictatorship, rather than keeping the less-conflicted relationships that are found under a more democratic government? We must dismiss the shallow answers of ‘greed’ or ‘insanity’ out of hand, especially when there are much more sensible answers.
To the dismay of the ruling classes, the social conditions of society change in a way they have no control over. As corporations follow the rules of profit-making, they inadvertently create at the same time an ever-widening polarization of wealth. As the rich get richer, and the poor poorer, social conditions gradually change, until the exploited classes suddenly start making demands, or begin acts of ‘anarchy’—strikes, protests, factory occupations, and rebellion. Social inequality in the U.S. has had staggering increases in the last 10 years, to the point where there are now (realistically) 45 million people living in poverty, 2 million in prison, and with the processes of a profit-based globalization and harsher criminal penalties in place, the numbers will inevitably rise.
A dictatorship is thus the necessary evil born out of the natural processes of capitalism. Heightened executive powers are needed to suppress civil unrest, create social stability, and insure the industries essential to the ‘nations’ economy are not disrupted by strikes; destroying civil liberties that allow protest, organization, and freedom of expression are timeless policies in combating a disgruntled populace.
Explaining dictatorship as a result of social inequality is especially relevant to third-world nations, where ‘order’ is needed to ensure that the countries are ‘stable’ enough to be used as a source for markets and raw-materials for their colonial masters; however, this explanation cannot be applied across the board.
For industrialized nations, the causes of dictatorship become more complex. In addition to social polarization, 1st world nations are also involved in constant economic and regional expansion— a phenomenon easily traced to the interests of the capitalists pulling the strings. A government is only as powerful as the corporate might behind it; the interdependence of nation-state and corporate interests is revealed by the fact that both are ruled by the same laws of the market, meaning, that at bottom, each are governed by the processes of either expansion and growth, or stagnation and decline. In the same way that stagnation in the corporate world equals recession or depression, so too are these principles reflected by the mediators of financial interests— the nation-state. For a country to be in decline means that its global influence is waning; it has lost influence over foreign nations, preventing the exploitation of raw materials and favored market access for manufactured goods, or rather, the country in question is unable to supply the basis for the corporations within its boundaries to dominate globally— thus, the goals of the nation-state and the corporation cannot be separated.
The activities of the present-day United States are a case in point. The U.S. has been compensating for its declining economic position with military adventurism to control the vast oil reserves of the Middle East. Proof of this assertion can be candidly found in the writings of the now-infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In their
’Statement of Principles’, it says:
”We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We are living off the capital -- both the military investments and the foreign policy achievements -- built up by past administrations. Cuts in foreign affairs and defense spending, inattention to the tools of statecraft, and inconstant leadership are making it increasingly difficult to sustain American influence around the world. And the promise of short-term commercial benefits threatens to override strategic considerations”
Advocating this perspective gave the Neo-cons immense credibility within the world of big-business, who responded with record-setting campaign contributions and— in an important first step in destroying Democracy in the U.S— managed to get Bush ‘appointed’ President by the Supreme Court.
The aggressive foreign policy of the Republicans, which has found unanimous reception throughout most sections of the ruling-elite, has created immense dissatisfaction and opposition from the majority of the population. To deal with this hostility, the repressive measures detailed in the Patriot Act and illegal NSA spying program have been used to monitor, intimidate and quell protest.
Much of the same measures used to deal with third-world resistance are used likewise to handle the political opposition in the United States. Aside from having a virtual monopoly on Democracy by disallowing third-party candidates from the ballot, there are other clever tactics being employed.
The Orwellian ‘War on Terror’ has proven to be the most effective strategy that both parties continue to use in order to install fear, destroy civil liberties, and promote war. The government has effectively applied the especially-vague term ‘terrorist’ to apply to political opposition groups. Organizations like Green Peace, Food Not Bombs, and Independent Media have been— in different localities— placed on the ‘terror watch list’. This is not some random mistake, but a deliberate attempt at intimidation, revealing— aside from preemptive war— one half of the motive for the ‘war on terror’. The new ambiguous war-slogan has reached such ridiculous proportions that environmental protest-groups are called ‘eco-terrorists’, while drug traffickers are ‘narco-terrorists’— the potential for this euphemism is seemingly unlimited. In fact, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that we are told that any criticism of the government’s policies is equal to helping the ‘Islamic fascists’.
Behind the conservative shift of nearly every industrial country in the world is the worsening profit-crises suffered by their respective corporate managers. Since the short-lived ‘tech boom’, there has only been desperateness and uneasiness voiced by international commerce, who has successfully been treading water by forcing slave-wages on the emerging economies of China and India, and thus creating the need to reduce wages and benefits everywhere. Once again, the profit-crisis is yet another inherent feature in the processes of capitalism, which creates ‘lack of demand’ –or excess supply— by constantly lowering the wages of workers to increase profit, while continuing to flood the markets of the world with products. This process takes on an especially-dangerous character when the competing industrial nations are facing the same problem, while trying to increase their positions by acquiring— by any means necessary— the worlds last remaining key-resources and markets.
Society is not, nor has it ever been, an independent arbiter of interests. Corporate profit rates— depending heavily on the impoverishment of their workers— are often used to measure the economic health of a nation. In times of economic growth and social stability, Democracy seems like a fine thing, even if there are broad layers of society who suffer from generational poverty or the horrors of homelessness. Although the world—and especially the United States— experienced unprecedented growth after World War II, these conditions have reached their natural limit. The conditions that created the foundation for class and international peace have turned into their opposite.
Exposing the policies that are destroying our freedoms while yelling ‘this cant be happening’ can raise political consciousness to a considerable extent, but it cannot direct discontent towards a sustainable solution. Impeaching Bush or defeating reactionary congressmen will not alter the current course of events undertaken by the bi-partisan agreement on militarism and war. It also seems incredibly naïve to think that the Democrats— many of whom are Ivy-league graduates and multi-millionaire businessmen— are ignorant of the motives of their so-called rivals; the Democrats are not simply ‘uninformed’ about the nature and basis of imperialism, nor can they be persuaded to take a radical path— the party itself is based solidly on the same corporate foundations as their supposed rivals. This demands an independent strategy. Any course, if it is to be effective, must be based on the interests of the majority of the population, in stark contrast with the minority who benefit from the profit-system. The interests of the wage-earner, in comparison to that of the stock-holder, are elaborated and promoted by the program of international socialism.
This work is in the public domain