The recent Venezuelan election is teaching us a thing or two or even three, about matters concerning modern political governance. For a start, the electoral process was impeccably clean. In the words of Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States; ‘The Venezuelan election process is the best in the world.’ Secondly, the political contestation between the two candidates was based on principles that are profoundly different from each other, the usual smearing rituals that accompany such political campaigns notwithstanding. Because of the stark differences in the philosophies/principles advocated by the two contestants, the populace could not remain simply apathetic, hence was cajoled to make its own decision based on the elaborated and insinuated facts, one way or another. Out of the 91% registered voters, a solid 81% of them cast their votes! Why is it difficult to galvanize such broad, substantive and highly transparent election elsewhere?
In the western world, where the concept of ‘democracy’ has been around (in one form or another) longer than many of the other places, the on-going election processes are geared to choosing between individuals/parties that essentially promote the same ideology. The regular elections bring out only the nuances of the same ideology and nothing much! One side effect of such going-ons is; it discourages many (in fact the majority) would be voters from getting involved in the electoral process (lack of choice). Some construe this as an indication of a certain level of contentedness in the status quo. Naturally those entrenched in the prevailing state power, institutionally and structurally, push this viewpoint to the extreme. For example in the USA, it is not only people’s vote that propels a president to power. A person must also secure the required votes from the Electoral College before she/he assumes the presidency. This is one structural condition that was put in place by the founders who were not all that trusting of the beast’s (human mass) judgment. The very word ‘beast’, which we frequently employ as a short hand for the general public, itself is a Jeffersonian coinage. But what is this ‘democracy’ animal in the first place?
We will try to deal with this important concept by utilizing the primary/first principle approach. The ancient Greeks who were originators of many clear ideas phrased these deep-rooted concepts unambiguously, unlike us today. Democracy is a Greek word that is formed by joining ‘demos’, which means people and ‘kratos’, which means power. Therefore ‘democracy’ is people’s power or ‘people’s rule’, just like autocracy is made up of the words ‘autos’ = self and ‘kratos’, to define a rule by an individual. Aristocracy is a rule by the ‘selected’ few, (aristos = excellent) etc. Mind you, based on this original definition, ‘democracy’ is not a process leading to something, rather it is (more or less) an end; ‘the rule of the people.’ How one gets there, i.e. the process by which ‘democracy’ is achieved, is an altogether different animal. For instance, if the process is conducted by ‘the will of the people’, but leads to an end that systemically undermines people’s interests, (versus, say monied interests) then we cannot call such a state a ‘democracy’, even though it came into being via the procedure of one person one vote. What are the features of ‘democracy’ = ‘people’s rule’? See Weisbrot’s article next column.
The undue preoccupation with the process, rather than the final objective, ‘people’s rule’ = ‘democracy’ is another one of modernity’s clever twisting of notions that harbor subversive potential. For instance, ‘plutocracy’ is the ‘rule of wealth’ (ploutos = wealth) or the ‘rule of the wealthy’ to be precise, just like what obtains in the US. Anyone aspiring for higher offices in the US better be filthy rich or else the game will be up even before it begins. We believe the recent US Supreme Court ruling has unequivocally asserted the plutocratic nature of political governance there. In its ruling, it effectively stated that corporations have the same rights as breathing citizens and shouldn’t be constrained from political campaign contributions! Since corporations are not feeble like humans, particularly in the departments of money and longevity, they will end up calling the shots in the all too important human construct that goes by the name‘society.’ Welcome to the brave new world of 21st century!
In Venezuela the recent contestation was actually between the ‘rule of wealth’ versus the ‘rule of people’ and it seems the latter had won convincingly, at least for the time being. But don’t count the ‘rule of wealth’ out yet. Since wealth is aplenty in Venezuela, in the form of ‘black gold’, it would be naïve to assume ‘democracy’ = ‘rule of people’ will still continue to hold sway down the line. According to reliable sources, Venezuela sits on the largest reserve of oil in the world (Saudi Arabia’s position is no more convincing.) Unfortunately, whoever has such massive resources won’t be immune to the wrath of empire, just ask Iraq, Iran, etc.
Unlike the US, the Venezuelan election was not about electing someone to fill an important post, based on the same old ideology and very superfluous personal values such as; ones’ looks, charm, oratory, etc, etc. Many in the west, particularly those entrenched state operators, just don’t like the look of such a clean election leading to a ‘democracy’= ‘people’s rule.’ Imagine if this catches up everywhere, what would happen to the old ‘democracies’, or ‘plutocracies’? See Amy Goodman’s article on page 50. Whether we like it or not, the global beast is becoming increasingly aware of its position/predicament in the prevailing lopsided system. Following are clippings from an address by a former president of the United States of America.
“You know how much I raised to run against Gerald Ford? Zero. You know how much I raised to run against Ronald Reagan? Zero. You know how much will be raised this year by all presidential, Senate and House campaigns? $6 billion. That’s 6,000 millions.” This is a new way of injecting money into the perpetually corrupt U.S. politics — money paying for power. There is no point in taking these donations in secrecy. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, can simply be dispensed by wealthy individuals through an investment that guarantees them the favor of those who control the functions of government. We have one of the worst election processes in the world right in the United States of America, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money.” The 87 year old former president has issued a warning saying that this is a threat to democracy and expressed his hope that “the Supreme Court will reverse that stupid ruling.” Jimmy Carter. Good Day!