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Whoever wins in November

| Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 2014 midterm elections are a week away. Although the outcome is uncertain, one thing is certain. Whoever wins in November, not much will change.

Congress is known for party bickering and gridlock while working people struggle through a recession that has long since ended for the elite. It’s easy to understand why most people would see a broken system. The political system isn’t broken at all, however. In fact, it is functioning perfectly. People tend to act in their own interests, and Congress is no different. The average member of Congress has a wealth of capital investments, and so naturally has different economic interests from the large majority of society that labors for a wage.

Keeping a mind on these different interests, the political structure begins to make sense. The electoral structure does not favor popular will. In the 2012 elections for the House of Representatives, Democrats received 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, yet Republicans received 33 more congressional seats. Voting districts cobbled together by politicians acting in their own interests disenfranchised whole societies.

Both parties cheat the voters through gerrymandering; the Republicans have just been more effective lately. Party leaders play their own game to determine the outcome of elections. Sometimes the winner of their game coincides with the winner of the popular vote; sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not that the popular vote is totally irrelevant; it’s just one factor among many that determines a result that will be hailed as the people’s will.

When you read your ballot, you will have the illusion of choice. Republican vs. Democrat. This dichotomy, and the rage with which pundits and politicians fight over it, makes you think you are seeing a wide field of political options. But whichever you elect, neo-liberal free trade agreements will be signed and financial policy will be focused on the good of the stock market over the good of working people. Bombs will fall on South Asia; Palestine will starve, and coups will be instigated against Latin American democracies that challenge U.S. business interests.

One might respond that major similarities exist because most Americans support those policies. The problem is that political opinions are formed under institutional control. People base their views on their understanding of the world, which they receive from news and media outlets. When most of these outlets are controlled by just a few corporations, the information we receive about the world is regulated by a small class of people with very real political and economic interests.

In spite of this, our history is filled with radical movements. The Industrial Workers of the World, the old Socialist Party of America, the Black Panthers — all were suppressed. Over time, the mechanisms of control became more sophisticated. The First Red Scare saw mass arrests and political trials, but by the 1960s and 70s, the FBI could infiltrate and subvert organizations with false flag operations and just a few political assassinations.

In part, this system functions so well because there is no mastermind. No one is sitting in a room pulling the strings. Political suppressions are obviously intentional, but our current power structures are largely the result of a capital-owning class just acting in its own interests day-to-day. It doesn’t take leaders of state and industry plotting to undermine democracy. The system just adds up through the functions of its constituent parts.

The complexities of a constitutional convention and the fact that it would have to be called by the very elite which profits from the present system offer little hope to redrawing the rules through internal reform. Direct action is necessary. A mass movement with a cohesive program can fundamentally transform the political and economic structures of society. Given the role of the economic elite in controlling the state, it is only through democratizing the economy that regular working people can seize more control of their society at large.

So, if you want to vote, go vote. From election to election, there are some differences between candidates that you may find valuable enough to support one over another. Do the bizarre calculus of human suffering and decide who may cause the least. But when history looks back on the exploitation of working people or the abuse of the poor or the crimes of American imperialism, crying that you chose the lesser of two evils will not be an absolution, but an indictment. If you participate in the system without also protesting it, you are responsible for its ills.

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